Billions of people around the world rely on fish as a source of protein and fishing is the principal livelihood of millions. Maintaining the balance of exquisite life in our oceans is just as critical to life on land.

But many of the world's fisheries have been pushed beyond their biological limits. Some are even at the point of collapse. Overfishing is a major problem globally, due largely to poor fisheries management and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Fisheries management is very complicated, across national and international jurisdictions, and often out of sight in the deep sea. However, out of sight is not out of mind. We're working with some of the best minds in ocean conservation to protect our oceans and to restore fish stocks. Because there are not plenty more fish in the sea.

Impacted species


New WWF analysis suggests that 85% of global fish stocks are at risk of IUU fishing. It's estimated that IUU fishing accounts for 10-31% of the global fish catch, valued at US$10-23.5 billion annually. This haul risks the sustainability of target fish, as well as the myriad other marine species that comprise the ocean's complex food webs. It also threatens the viability of legal fishing operations and therefore the economic and social well-being of coastal communities. In turn, this jeopardises the world’s seafood security. The global fishing fleet is 2.5 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support. Natural fish reproduction can simply not keep up with the demand. As a result, 24% of fish species are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion; 52% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited and have no ability to produce greater harvests; and several important commercial fish populations have declined to the point of being threatened.

What we're doing

As always, globally and locally, WWF is forming alliances and working with partners to reduce the impacts of overfishing our oceans.
Urangan boat harbour= Queensland
© WWF-Aus / Jim Higgs

Addressing the problem

WWF is working with a variety of stakeholders to reform fisheries management around the world. We champion sustainable practices that conserve ecosystems, sustain livelihoods and ensure food security. Our vision sees healthy fish populations and productive, non-polluting aquaculture supporting Traditional Owners, commercial and recreational fishers, aquaculture farmers and the community.

Sunlight illuminating coral= Great Barrier Reef
© Troy Mayne

Striving for sustainable waters

Australia has a global reputation for good environmental management, but some of our fisheries, including those that access the Great Barrier Reef, are not well managed. The Reef's fisheries are still paying the price for management decisions of the 1960s and 1970s that allocated far too many commercial fishing licences in an ill-guided attempt to stimulate regional and rural economies. Far too few measures also limit how much recreational fishers can take from the ocean.

A large= great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)= about 4m in length= cruising
© naturepl.com / Alex Mustard / WWF

A vision for our Reef

WWF-Australia has coordinated the development of a new vision for the Reef's fisheries with the support of local environmental groups, recreational fishing groups, commercial fishing associations, fishing tackle industry representatives and scientists. And we're doing our best to reduce impacts on threatened species such as turtles, dugongs, sharks and inshore dolphins.


Overfishing continues because our precious marine resources are poorly managed. Current regulations are not strong enough to limit fishing to sustainable levels and even where laws do exist, they are inadequately enforced. Poorly arranged Fisheries Partnership Agreements allow foreign fleets to overfish in the waters of developing countries, and pirate fishers are sophisticated and active. In fact, IUU fishing occurs across all types of fisheries, within national and international waters. Technological advances have made large-scale fishing easier, and government subsidies have kept too many unsustainable fishers on the water. A lack of sound fisheries conservation and management in many parts of the world also means that the impacts of overfishing are poorly understood. Just 1.6% of the world's oceans have been declared marine protected areas (MPAs) and fishing is allowed in 90% of them. MPAs protect habitats such as coral reefs from destructive fishing practices, provide refuge for endangered species and are designed to allow depleted fish populations to recover. Fishing that targets top-order predators like tuna and groupers can disrupt the delicate balance of entire marine communities.

Yellow fin tuna shoal caught 275ft purse seiner fishing nets.
© naturepl.com / Doc White / WWF

How you can help

Be a responsible seafood consumer and ask for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) independently certified seafood.