Fisheries around the globe generate a whopping $246 billion in annual revenues, according to a new study that for the first time tallies the value of all the indirect industries linked to the lucrative but fragile resource.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia added up the worth of several sectors supported by the commercial fisheries, finding that the total benefit was three times higher than the landed value of the fish alone.
Rashid Sumaila, director of the university's fisheries centre, said the research shows the true value of international fisheries in terms of jobs and how much they support individual incomes around the world.
"Fish contribute significantly to global well-being through revenues, jobs and through household incomes," Sumaila said in Vancouver before Tuesday's release of the study by the Pew Environment Group.
'It's much more than just the landed value.'—Rashid Sumaila, UBC
"If you consider what the fish pump into an economy through processing, the restaurants and even agriculture, it's much more than just the landed value."
Fish landings had been valued at about $80 billion annually, but researchers found the figure soared once everything from can manufacturing to feed for livestock and boat building were factored into the overall value.
Sumaila said Asia was responsible for generating more than 55 per cent of the total value of the fisheries, with the economic impact there standing at $133 billion annually.
Researchers estimate that household incomes from marine fisheries is more than $63 billion a year, with every dollar of landed value supporting 75 cents of additional household income globally.
The total economic value of fisheries in North America was pegged at almost $30 billion a year.
Sumaila said the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April showed how far the industry's reach extends into the economy, as threats to shellfish and other fisheries affected everything from tourism and food services to local spending and jobs.
But the authors, who are releasing four related studies in the Journal of Bioeconomics, say that the benefits from the fishery could be greater and could feed more of the world's poor if stocks were properly managed.
Up to $36B loss due to overfishing
Technology has allowed fleets to go farther and deeper in the quest for fish, causing more than half of the world's exclusive economic zones to be overfished, the research asserts. The report says that creates so-called catch losses — the difference between actual landings of overfished species and what could be sustainably caught.
In 2000, the authors contend, the landed value loss was as high as $36 billion, with catch losses estimated at 10 million tonnes in 2004.
Europe had the highest catch losses, followed by North America and Asia.
Sumaila argues that if stocks belonging to poor nations had not been overfished, the additional fish catch in 2000 could have fed millions of undernourished people.
"You are depriving hungry nations of the potential to feed themselves good, wild fish," he said.
"You're undermining the future, because when you're overfishing, where do you go next?"
The report, which used data from 146 maritime countries, also finds that billions of dollars are poured into subsidies that boost the number of people fishing and further deplete the resource.
Global subsidies amounted to about $27 billion in 2003, with the bulk going to fuel, boat-building and other practices that the authors say only add to overfishing.
Sumaila said governments should be funnelling money into marine protected areas and licence buybacks rather than subsidizing the fisheries' growth.