Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Primary production required to sustain global fisheries


THE mean of reported annual world fisheries catches for 1988-1991 (94.3 million t) was split into 39 species groups, to which fractional trophic levels, ranging from 1.0 (edible algae) to 4.2 (tunas), were assigned, based on 48 published trophic models, providing a global coverage of six major aquatic ecosystem types. The primary production required to sustain each group of species was then computed based on a mean energy transfer efficiency between trophic levels of 10%, a value that was reestimated rather than assumed. The primary production required to sustain the reported catches, plus 27 million t of discarded bycatch, amounted to 8.0% of global aquatic primary production, nearly four times the previous estimate. By ecosystem type, the requirements were only 2% for open ocean systems, but ranged from 24 to 35% in fresh water, upwelling and shelf systems, justifying current concerns for sustainability and biodiversity.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Vitousek, P. M., Ehrlich, P. R., Enrlich, A. H. & Matson, P. A. Bioscience 36, 368–373 (1986).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Gulland, J. A. (ed.) The Fish Resources of the Oceans (Fishing News Books, West Byfleet, UK, 1971).

  3. FAO FAO Year book 72, 113–120 (1993).

  4. Alverson, D. L., Freeberg, M. H., Murawski, S. A. & Pope, J. G. FAO Tech. Pap. 339 (1994).

  5. Roger, C. Envir. Biol. Fishes 39, 161–172 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. May, R. M., Beddington, J. R., Clark, C. W., Holt, S. J. & Laws, R. M. Science 203, 267–277 (1979).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Pauly, D. in Ocean Yearbook 6 (eds Borgese, E. M. & Ginsburg, N.) 29–37 (Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago, 1986).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Li, W. K. W. et al. Science 219, 292–295 (1983).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Post, W. M. et al. in The Science of Global Change (eds Dunnette, D. A. & O'Brien, R. J.) 392–412 (Am. Chem. Soc. Symp. Ser. Washington DC, 1992).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  10. McClatchie, S. Continental Shelf Res. 8, 329–345 (1988).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Christensen, V. & Pauly, D. Ecol. Modelling 61, 169–185 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Strathmann, R. R. Limnol. Oceanogr. 12, 411–418 (1967).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Lieth, H. in Patterns of Primary Production in the Biosphere. (ed Lieth, H. F.) 277–282 (Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, 1978).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Crossland, C. J., Hatcher, B. G. & Smith, S. V. Coral Reefs 10, 55–64 (1991).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. De Vooys, G. G. N. in The Global Carbon Cycle (eds Bolin, B., Degens, E. T., Kempe, S. & Ketner, P.) 259–292 (Wiley, New York, 1979).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Jarre-Teichmann, A. & Christensen, V. International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management Studies and Reviews 24 (in the press).

  17. Cushing, D. H. in Penaeid Shrimps: their Biology and Management (eds Gulland, J. & Rothschild, B.) 254–258 (Fishing News Books, Farnham, Surrey, England, 1984).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Kolding, J. in Trophic Models of Aquatic Ecosystems (eds Christensen, V. & Pauly, D.) 116–123 (International for Living Aquatic Resources Management, Manila, 1993).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Cousins, S. New Scient. 4, 50–54 (1985).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Christensen, V. & Pauly, D. (eds) in Trophic Models of Aquatic Ecosystems 338–352 (International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, Manila, 1993).

  21. Christensen, V. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, Council Meeting/L:25 (1992).

  22. Christensen, V. & Pauly, D. (eds) Trophic Models of Aquatic Ecosystems (International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, Manila, 1993).

  23. Pauly, D. & Christensen, V. in Large Marine Ecosystems: Stress, Mitigation and Sustainability (eds Sherman, K., Alexander, L. M. & Gold, B. D.) 148–174 (American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington DC, 1993).

    Google Scholar 

  24. May, R. M. in Theoretical Ecology: Principles and Applications (ed. May, R. H.) 142–162 (Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Pauly, D., Christensen, V. Primary production required to sustain global fisheries. Nature 374, 255–257 (1995).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing