Redefining Progress

The Ecological Fishprint of Nations: Measuring Humanity’s Impact on Marine Ecosystems


In November, 2006, a prominent team of ecologists and economists issued this dire warning: if current fishing patterns continue, all major commercial fish species will suffer population collapses by 2048. In March 2005, the United Nations State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture report stated that 7 of the top 10 marine fish species, accounting for about 30 percent of all capture fisheries production, are fully exploited or overexploited. Another recent scientific study suggested that nearly 90% of all large predatory fish in the ocean are now gone, forcing nations to increasingly fish down food webs to meet seafood demand. The tragic state of the world’s marine fish populations and ecosystems underscores the critical need to better understand the strain humanity is placing on the ocean.


In collaboration with Daniel Pauly and the Sea Around Us Project at the University of British Columbia, The Ocean Project, and Center for Sustainable Economy, Redefining Progress has adapted the popular ecological footprint tool to more accurately quantify the impact of capture fisheries on marine ecosystems. That current global footprint accounts show that our use of fisheries is sustainable is clearly at odds with the reality of widespread overfishing. Our adaptation—the Fishprint—is a research tool for measuring the spatial extent of humanity’s appropriation of marine ecosystems that remedies some of the known shortcomings of standard footprint analysis. Our Fishprint tool can be used to assess the ecological impacts and overall sustainability of fisheries production and consumption at the global and national levels. This report provides a brief overview of the Fishprint methodology and findings. For a much more detailed look at the methods, sources of information, and results, please review the technical supplement to this report entitled Recasting Marine Ecological Footprint Accounts, available from the Redefining Progress website (


Conceptually, the Fishprint is relatively straightforward. It converts the weight of fish we consume on an annual basis in metric tonnes into an equivalent ocean area expressed in terms of “global hectares,” a metric that accounts for ecological productivity. For example in 2003 the global catch was 87 billion metric tonnes which translates into an ocean area of 60.79 billion global hectares (gha). This area can be compared to the area-equivalent of a global sustained yield catch (or biocapacity) to provide an indication of the degree to which our use of fisheries is sustainable. If the Fishprint in any given year exceeds global biocapacity, it is an indication that we are overshooting our ecological limits, depleting global fish stocks, and impairing the next generation’s ability to draw sustenance from the seas.

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