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Ending overfishing: An urgent need to protect our oceans

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SDG 14 calls for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans.  

An important aspect of achieving this goal is the elimination of overfishing which occurs when too many fish are caught too quickly, without allowing time for the population to recover. Overfishing is a major development problem, as it can lead to the depletion of marine resources and can endanger the livelihoods of millions of people. In 2021, an average of 11.6 kilograms of fish per person was caught at the global level.  

Share of assessed fish stocks by sustainability level

In 2019, over a third (or 35 percent) of the world’s capture fish stocks were classified as overfished by FAO, as measured by SDG Indicator 14.4.1 on fish stocks sustainability. (FAO monitors assessments made by governments or regional organizations for around 600 fish subspecies populations.) 

As demonstrated by this data visualization of the 2023 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals, an even larger share of fish stocks are “maximally sustainably fished” (57 percent), meaning that if capture levels were to increase, they would become overfished. Some stocks remain underfished, meaning they are not in danger, but this share has become very small (7 percent). 

Data on the proportion of sustainable and unsustainable fish stocks (SDG Indicator 14.4.1), available by major fishing areas, reveals that overfishing is worse in some regions of the world than in others. For example, in 2019, the Southeast Pacific and the Mediterranean and Black Sea had around two-thirds of their fish stocks within biologically unsustainable levels, much higher than the global average. 

Share of assessed fish stocks that are overfished

Overfishing can lead to declining fish populations, reduced fish size, and the extinction of fish species. Learn more about the problem and how we could sustainably manage our ocean resources through the data stories and visualizations of the fourteenth chapter of the Atlas.  


In the spirit of the World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives, we follow an open data and open code approach: all of the data, code, and visualizations of the Atlas are available for download and reuse. 


Javier Parada

Junior Data Scientist, Development Data Group

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