The world?s stock of fish may be much lower than we thought, because of unreliable figures released by China about the number of fish being caught. Local Chinese officials, who wanted to impress their bosses, inflated the size of catches by Chinese fishermen. Staff promotions at the Chinese fisheries department used to be made on the basis of catch figures but the department ended this practice two years ago. Analysts using these figures assumed that fish stocks were healthier than they really were and seriously underestimated the effects of overfishing, despite the fact that it has long been known that there is a shortage of fish in some of the seas around China.

The only authority to keep track of worldwide fishing, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, reported that global fish catches amounted to around 80-million tons at the start of the 1990s and generally rose throughout the decade. Reg Watson and Daniel Pauly, from Canada?s University of British Columbia, constructed a mathematical model that predicts the catch size in different ocean regions. In most places in the world, the figures produced by the model matched the actual catches fairly well. But in China, they did not add up. The scientists say this means that China could not have been catching as many fish as it claimed. This led the FAO to believe that global fish catches have increased, while in fact they?ve been getting smaller. Since fish provide a substantial portion of the world?s protein needs, this could mean that a global food shortage is on the way.

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