More and more, around the globe, fish is what’s for dinner. The average person eats more than 20 kilograms (44 pounds) a year, double the level of the 1960s. With rising incomes in developing nations — China especially — driving demand, fish and seafood now account for almost a fifth of the animal protein people consume. But all those fish dinners are taking a heavy toll on ocean populations. Even though more than half the fish humans eat are farm-raised today, we’re still pulling too many fish from the sea. Dwindling stocks risk triggering clashes among fishing nations, job losses in an industry that provides a living for one in ten of the world’s people, and in some places, even hunger.
About 90 percent of the world’s fishing grounds are being harvested at or beyond their sustainable limits. Some varieties, such as the southern bluefin tuna, are threatened with extinction. Shrinking supplies off the coast of western and central Africa have raised concerns about future food shortages there. In the Mediterranean and Black seas, catches have fallen by a third since 2007. Fishing rights have been a source of friction in the South China Sea, where China and Southeast Asian nations have overlapping territorial claims. Indonesia has taken to blowing up foreign trawlers it’s seized for fishing illegally in its waters. And fishing could prove to be a flashpoint in the U.K.’s talks to leave the European Union, as British boats aim to cut competition from foreign fleets and unwind quotas that limit catches.