Wealthier Nations Have Near-Total Dominance Over Fishing on High Seas

Using artificial intelligence to analyze 22 billion data points from satellite tracking devices on fishing vessels, U.S. researchers have discovered that 97 percent of high-seas fishing is controlled by wealthier nations, a finding that sheds light on the uneven distribution of increasingly scarce marine resources. 

Reporting in the journal Science Advances, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara also found that even within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of less-wealthy countries, the fishing fleets of wealthier nations are responsible for 78 percent of all trackable fishing activity. On the high seas, the study found that fleets from just three nations — China, Taiwan, and Japan — account for 52 percent of all fishing activity. 

The UC Santa Barbara researchers said that government-sponsored subsidies to fishing fleets in wealthy nations have contributed to their dominance. The scale of fishing carried out by these state-subsidized fleets is so enormous, the researchers said, that 6,500 semi-tractor trailer trucks could fit inside the largest trawl net deployed by industrial fishing vessels.

Douglas McCauley, a UC Santa Barbara marine biologist who is a co-author of the study, said the findings vividly demonstrate how the fishing fleets from wealthier nations are able to outcompete fleets from less-wealthy nations, depriving local populations of crucial food and income.

“Seafood keeps millions of people on our planet a hair’s breadth away from diseases associated with malnutrition,” said McCauley. “This means that accurately describing these patterns by which seafood is shared matters as much for our own future as it matters for the future of fish.”