Assessing the sustainability of the world’s marine fisheries

Photo Credit: Christian Aslund / EyeEm. Getty Images.

Key findings

Over the past 50 years, the world has witnessed a massive decline in the health of its fisheries. Quite simply, we are removing fish from the ocean at a far greater rate than they can naturally replenish.

Fisheries are big business – with a staggering 109 million tonnes of marine fish caught globally in 2018. These fisheries provide millions of people with income, food and nutrition – yet many fish stocks are being severely misused.

The Global Fishing Index is a comprehensive report on the state of marine fisheries around the world. A world-first assessment of the governance and sustainability of fisheries in 142 coastal states, the Index uncovers critical gaps leading to overfishing and calls on governments and businesses to declare their intent and demonstrate action to reverse fisheries decline.


Half of fish stocks are overfished – and nearly 1 in 10 have been driven to collapse.

Of the 1,439 stocks assessed, almost half (45 per cent) have been depleted to less than 40 per cent of their pre-fishing population – our definition of ‘overfished’. Additionally, nearly 1 in 10 have been driven to collapse.



52 per cent of the global catch is from stocks that lack sufficient data to determine if they are sustainable or not.

Without this information, policy makers are unable to effectively manage fisheries to ensure sustainable use. There is a severe information gap in coastal fisheries – 29 countries have not assessed a single national stock, despite the importance of these fisheries for local jobs, food and nutrition.


With few exceptions, countries are not delivering against global sustainability commitments.

Based on the state of fish stocks and local governance systems, no country is on-track to restore all fish stocks to sustainable levels of abundance in the next decade. No country gets an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade, and just ten countries get a ‘C’ grade – the highest grade achieved. Nineteen countries get an ‘F’ – as nearly all fish stocks are unassessed or overfished and there is little prospect of improving without considerable advances in management.



Most fisheries lack science-based management.

Here’s where countries are falling down: (1) fisheries data are not consistently collected or analysed, (2) data aren’t being used for management, and (3) laws and policies aren’t being enforced. For example, only 41 per cent of countries apply harvest control rules – pre-agreed rules that guide management action based on stock status – in their most valuable fishery.


Key stakeholders, including local fishing communities, are unable to effectively participate in management.

Despite their importance in enabling effective management, few countries empower important stakeholders – notably local fishing communities – to meaningfully participate in management processes. For example, nearly 40 per cent of countries lack “bottom up” forms of governance, such as community-based or customary management.

CAll to action

We are calling on governments, businesses and local communities


Set ambitious targets to restore fish stocks and follow through with management action.

Governments and businesses need to set strong, time-bound and measurable targets to restore fish stocks and improve management. These targets should be accompanied by clear action plans, with progress regularly monitored and reported.


Establish systems to collect and publish fisheries data.

Establish and expand data collection programs to additional fisheries and work to integrate other types of information, including stakeholder knowledge, into decision-making processes.


Embed evidence in fisheries management, using a precautionary approach where uncertainty is high.

Adopt evidence-based management measures and strategies, such as catch and/or effort limits and harvest control rules, in all fisheries.

How you can help

There are a number of ways you can help end overfishing and ensure there is seafood for future generations.



Address the worst problems first – including overfished or unassessed stocks and critical governance gaps. You can use your country’s Index results as a starting point.

Adopt evidence-based policies that promote sustainable fishing, including science-based catch and fishing effort limits, rebuilding plans, and harvest control rules.

Invest in improving fisheries management – explore what has been successful elsewhere and work to adapt and replicate to meet local needs.


Seafood businesses

Audit your supply chain and require full disclosure about fishing practices and activities from your source companies and vessels.

Shift sourcing toward suppliers that show commitment to and progress towards good fishing practices and management.

Advocate for, fund and implement policies that will increase the sustainability of fisheries in your supply chain. For example, via supporting third-party certification and credible fishery improvement projects.



Get informed – learn about where your seafood comes from, who caught it and whether it’s sustainable or not.

Press for change – Urge government and industry leaders to take action to improve the state of fisheries.

Consume consciously – where possible, opt to purchase only seafood that is sustainable and well managed.


Local fishing communities

Drive innovation to develop fit-for-purpose solutions for your fisheries.

Push for policy change, individually or as part of a cooperative or fisher association.

Collaborate with scientists, managers, and other groups to identify and mitigate threats to local fish stocks and ecosystems.