By Umberto Bacchi
ROME, Feb 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Global profits from fishing could grow by tens of billions of dollars if depleted fish stocks were allowed to recover, bolstering the livelihoods of millions of people and feeding the world's growing population, the World Bank said on Tuesday.
Overfishing costs more than $80 billion a year in lost revenues as dwindling supplies require extra effort to find and catch increasingly scarce fish, according to the study by the World Bank.
Millions of people depend on fish to survive, and fish will be vital to feeding the world population that is predicted to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050, the United Nations has said.
Due to overexploitation, however, trawlers must sail further and longer to catch fish, leading to higher costs and lower profits, the World Bank said in a study titled "Sunken Billions Revisited."
If the supply of fish rose to its optimal level of 600 million tons, profits of the world's fisheries could jump to an estimated $86 billion from $3 billion a year, according to the study.
"Giving the oceans a break pays off," said Laura Tuck, World Bank vice president for sustainable development.
It would take five years to reach that healthy level if all fishing were brought to a halt and 30 years if fishing were reduced 5 percent a year, it said.
Some 30 percent of fish stocks were overfished in 2013, up from 10 percent in 1974, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said.
Replenishing global stocks means more fish could be caught with less effort, leading to increases in the average weight and price of a catch, said Charlotte De Fontaubert, a co-author of the study by the Washington-based World Bank, which conducts research and makes loans in developing countries.
"Once the fisheries have recovered, it is going to cost much less to go out and fish. They are going to catch much more and much higher quality," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
De Fontaubert said the urgency of reducing fishing was heightened by a ballooning demand for sea products, driven by population growth and economic development, and global warming, which scientists say is a threat to underwater life.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)