© AFP/Getty Images

Eighty-five percent of the world's fisheries are already either fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted.

Gillie Houston
December 09, 2016

Sushi lovers, it might be time to lay down your chopsticks. According to a new report by the World Wildlife Federation, the world's fish population is depleting at such a rapid pace that by 2048 there could be no fish left to eat whatsoever.

In an urgent warning about the dangers of overfishing, the WWF says that the size of the current global fishing fleet is 2-3 times what the oceans can sustainably support. This imbalance has lead to 85 percent of the world's fisheries being either fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted.

Despite the federation's dire prediction that "unless the current situation improves, stocks of all species currently fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048," chefs and restaurants worldwide continue to not only utilize severely overfished species, but even market these fish as delicacies. Bluefin tuna, in particular, has become one of the most sought-after fish by sushi chefs and consumers alike, despite the fact it is one of the most endangered species on the planet.

According to Amanda Nickson, the director of Global Tuna Conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts, the current Pacific Bluefin tuna population is at just 2.6 percent of its one-time level. "We think there's a very grave danger of it disappearing unless action is taken in the next two years," Nickson tells Quartz. The fish has become such a perceived delicacy that one Japanese restaurant famously paid $1.76 million at auction for a 490-lb. catch in 2013. Even farmed Bluefin, which would appear to be more sustainable, are often juvenile fish caught at sea and brought in to be fattened and sold.

While Bluefin have become the poster child of overfishing, many other aquatic species are at high risk, from West Coast shellfish, to Main lobster, to New England's cod population. And as one population is depleted, another is exploited. "If one species is in decline, the fisherman switch to more abundant species," says Lee Crockett, director of U.S. Oceans at Pew Charitable Trust. Crockett notes that in the case of many species "we're past the peak, we've overexploited them."

However, hope for a population's revival is not entirely lost, as evidenced by the Eastern Atlantic Bluefin. In 2010, the quota for fishing this Bluefin was slashed in order to protect the population. Since then, the numbers have bounced back enormously, and the population may soon be fully recovered. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this same process has been used to rebuild 39 fish stocks in the last two decades.

Though government quotas can help protect local fish populations, Americans still import around 90 percent of their fish supply, often from places with less strict standards for sustainable fishing. "If you're American, and you're buying fish, it's almost certain it comes from somewhere else where they don't have the same environmental standards," Crockett says.

That's where personal responsibility on part of chefs and consumers comes in. Resources like the Seafood Watch app by the Monterey Bay Aquarium help conscious eaters keep track of which fish are the best and worst options when it comes to the type, location, and how it is caught. 

Though the state of the aquatic population is dire, there are many small steps restaurants and patrons can take to aiding in its revival—and that might just mean taking a break from the chopsticks and opting for a more sustainable meal instead.