The report, by WorldFish — a fisheries and aquaculture research centre — was published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month (13 May) and highlights a lack of data from specific regions in the developing world, which the authors say could "lead to underestimates of global marine catches".
Such information, they say, is important for assessing the state of the world's fisheries and for the creation of effective policies to maintain food security and secure nutrition for millions of people in developing countries, where fish from wild stocks remains a major source of protein and nutrition.
WorldFish director-general Stephen Hall, who co-authored the document, cited South-East Asia as particularly lacking in accurate data. Hall said many countries in the region had a large number of artisanal fisheries from which data was more difficult to collect.
In their own research, Ray Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fisheries, says, "we have found no available assessment of fisheries from South and South-East Asia especially China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. It appears that these countries do not routinely assess the status of their fisheries in a scientific way".
He says this is largely because of the cost involved. This is "particularly problematic" in archipelagic countries like Indonesia where artisanal fishers are scattered in so many islands.
“For large industrial fisheries, surveys are the gold standard for measuring trends in abundance, but the cost of a survey is not less for a small scale fishery than a large one,” Hilborn says.
Jeffrey Sayer, a professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Science at James Cook University, who edited the paper, says that while the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has data on fisheries worldwide, it is based on government reports and is likely to be of "variable quality" as some figures are just estimates.
Hilborn says that when countries give their catch report data to the FAO there is always the question of its reliability.
Hilborn adds: The paper emphasized that reliable data is important for the assessment of the state of world fisheries, as well as for the creation of effective policies to maintain food security.
According to the paper, there are many developing countries still dependent on fisheries as a protein source. “In those countries that are most dependent on fish, the majority of it comes from fisheries,” said Hall.
"Aquaculture in most developing countries is in a very rudimentary stage right now and in immediate terms, cannot grow quickly enough to compensate wild fisheries," Sayer says, adding that most developing countries also could not afford to import sufficient fish for their dietary needs.
Link to abstract
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.