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First glimmer of hope in decades for Black Sea and Mediterranean fish stocks

“The latest data suggest that a corner is finally being turned on overexploitation of the region’s vital fish stocks”, the FAO said in a statement accompanying the report on the State of Mediterranean and Black Sea Fisheries (SoMFI 2020).

Although 75 percent of fish stocks remained subject to overfishing in 2018, that figure has come down from 88 percent six years earlier, the report said. In the same period, the exploitation ratio had fallen from 2.9 to 2.4 times the maximum sustainable yield – suggesting that the stocks were still being overexploited, but less so.

‘Some positive signals’

Since the last edition of the biennial report in 2018, six out of 18 fish stocks had seen an increase in biomass, and 46 per cent of assessed stocks now had high relative biomass – twice the level in the 2018 edition of the report. Improvements in priority stocks included European hake, which was showing signs of recovery in the Mediterranean, and Black Sea turbot.

“For the first time we can say that some positive signals are finally emerging in the sector”, said Abdellah Srour, Executive Secretary of the FAO’s General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, which publishes the SoMFI report. “While we know there is a lot more work still to be done before the region’s fisheries are on a sustainable footing, we are pleased that we have begun to reverse some of the most worrying trends.”

SDG target in sight

Returning fish stocks to biologically sustainable levels is one of the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by UN member states in 2015. Globally, the proportion of biologically sustainable fish stocks slid from more than 90 per cent of fish stocks to less than two-thirds in 2017.

The decline appears to have stabilized since 2008 but there had been no obvious progress towards achieving the target, which calls for “restoring overfished stocks at least to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield”. 

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