New Oceana report shows depletion of prey fish may be starving the oceans

The SOFIA report presented today by the FAO confirms continued worldwide expansion of prey fisheries and states that 80% of the marine stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted

Press Release Date: May 13, 2010

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

Oceana released a new report today finding widespread malnutrition in commercial and recreational fish, marine mammals and seabirds because of the global depletion of the small fish they need to survive.  These “prey fish” underpin marine food webs and are being steadily exhausted by heavy fishing, increasing demand for aquaculture feed, and climate change.


Hungry Oceans finds that 7 of the top 10 fisheries in the world target prey fish. These fisheries have emerged as populations of bigger fish have become overexploited and depleted. The report concludes that the impacts of fishing activity over the past decades has been so great that the nearly all prey fisheries now cannot withstand increased fishing pressure. Hungry Oceans also finds that aquaculture is increasingly the driver behind overfishing of prey fish, as salmon, tuna and other carnivorous farmed fish become the fastest growing seafood products in the world. Changing ocean temperatures and currents caused by climate change also make prey fish populations more vulnerable. 


Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Investigation for Oceana Europe, says: “When it comes to managing a fishery or talking about overexploitation, we often forget that the disappearance of one species due to overfishing has severe impact on stocks of other species. A clear example is bluefin tuna, which disappeared from Norwegian coasts after herring populations collapsed. Nowadays the absurdity is that both tuna and its prey are overexploited in order to feed these very tunas in fattening cages”. He concludes: “Human beings’ impacts on the oceans cannot be considered alone; it is ridiculous to irrationally overexploit these species just because they are used as food by the aquiculture industry, without considering the impacts this has on the entire ecosystem”.


Hungry Oceans coincides with the release today of the biennial State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO concludes that few marine fish populations remain with the potential to sustain production increases, and more are now classified as depleted than ever before, with 80% of marine stocks currently fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. Furthermore, only ten species stand for 30% of total global catches and their stocks are overexploited or fully exploited.


The future of valuable commercial and recreational fisheries is threatened by the loss of prey fish, especially those that are currently rebuilding from historic depletion. Hungry Oceans identifies bluefin tuna, striped bass, Pacific salmon and Pacific halibut as key species dependent on prey fish.


Marine mammals and seabirds also depend on access to prey fish for their daily survival and for their young, including blue whales, humpback whales, penguins, and terns. Even species protected under national and international laws are experiencing food shortages. 


More responsible management is needed to prevent predators from going hungry. Hungry Oceans proposes a series of measures including a moratorium on new fisheries targeting prey species, conservative catch limits for existing fisheries, first priority for the needs of ocean predators and stopping fishing for prey in predator breeding hotspots.



Hungry Oceans