Overfishing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea falls to lowest level in a decade

The percentage of overfished stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Sea has fallen below 60 percent for the first time, following a decreasing trend that started a decade ago, according to a report launched today.

While overfishing remains a concern, The State of Mediterranean and Black Sea Fisheries 2023 report (SoMFi 2023) records a drop of 15 percent in this figure over the last year, an improvement consistent with a continuous reduction in fishing pressure, which has fallen by 31 percent since 2012.

The report is the flagship publication of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). For the first time, this year’s report also includes data on the region’s marine aquaculture sector.

Fisheries and marine aquaculture generate revenues of more than USD 20 billion

The GFCM, a regional fisheries management organization, is responsible for wild capture fisheries and marine and brackish water aquaculture across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Fisheries and aquaculture together produced nearly 2 million tonnes of seafood in 2021, figures in SoMFi 2023 show. Economically, the two played an equally important role, generating revenues of more than USD 20 billion and supporting 700 000 jobs along the value chain.

“This special edition of SoMFi paints a complete picture of this vital sector, reinforcing just how important it is for livelihoods, food security and nutrition in our region,” said GFCM Executive Secretary Miguel Bernal. “We have worked intensely with the countries and their experts to collect and aggregate the best-quality data, and this is what makes SoMFi a key tool to support decision-making and monitor progress towards achieving sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea,” he added.

Positive trends in fisheries, but sector remains under stress

Although excessive exploitation of fish stocks has fallen significantly, fishing pressure in the Mediterranean and Black Seas is still at twice the level considered sustainable. However, the report also demonstrates that the GFCM’s continued focus on expanding management plans and technical and spatial measures is having positive results for key commercial species. Stocks of European hake in the Mediterranean, turbot in the Black Sea and common sole in the Adriatic Sea, all covered under dedicated management plans, showed a striking reduction in overfishing, some of them already revealed signs of biomass rebuilding.

Some stocks under management plans show a larger than average reduction in fishing pressure. Notable examples include a 77 percent reduction for common sole in the Adriatic Sea, which has now reached sustainable exploitation rates, and a 73 percent reduction for turbot in the Black Sea.

Guided by its 2030 Strategy and incorporating FAO’s vision for Blue Transformation, the GFCM implements 10 multiannual management plans involving nearly 7 000 vessels and protects sensitive species and vulnerable marine ecosystems, including deep-water corals, , as well as essential fish habitats such as spawning and reproductive grounds , with ten fisheries restricted areas covering more than 1.75 million square kilometres in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Across the region, catches are still largely dominated by small pelagic fish, mainly European anchovy and sardine. In the Mediterranean, 55 species comprise 90 percent of the catch, while in the Black Sea just five species make up the same proportion.

Overall capture fisheries production levels have remained stable in recent years, with Türkiye, followed by Italy and Tunisia, bringing in the most landings.

Small-scale vessels make up the vast majority of the fishing fleet and provide more than half of the total employment. Although they only account for about 15 percent of catches, these vessels bring in nearly 30 percent of total revenue.

Aquaculture is a rapidly growing sector

SoMFi reports that, in contrast to capture fisheries, the region’s marine aquaculture sector is growing significantly. Marine and brackish water aquaculture production has nearly doubled over the last decade, increasing by up 91.3 percent, with revenues also up by 74.5 percent.

The three main production methods used in the region are marine cages, ponds, and suspended culture, while the most commonly farmed species are gilthead seabream, European seabass and Mediterranean mussel.

Türkiye, Egypt and Greece are, in this order, the three largest regional producers, together accounting for 71 percent of the total volume.

This special edition of SoMFi arrives just one year after the previous SoMFi. It communicates its findings in a condensed format and sets the series on a new biennial cycle, with the next release scheduled for 2025.

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