Currently, only 2% of the world's oceans are under some form of protection and less than half of those ban fishing altogether.
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The decline since 1996 has largely been in fish caught by industrial fleets and to a lesser extent a cut in the number of unwanted fish discarded at sea.
"The fact that we catch far more than we thought is, if you like, a more positive thing," he said.
Carbon dioxide pollution is also being absorbed by the ocean, causing its chemistry to change and become more acidic.
This spells trouble for marine animals that are now having difficulty building shells, growing and sometimes even surviving in increasingly corrosive waters.
"Because if we rebuild stocks, we can rebuild to more than we thought before." There has been success in some places where fishing has been restricted for a few years, for example in the Norwegian herring and cod fisheries. Pauly said: "I don't see African countries, for example, rebuilding their stocks, or being allowed to by the foreign fleets that are working there, because the pressure to continue to fish is very strong.
We know how to fix this problem but whether we do it or not depends on conditions that are difficult." A 2015 study showed nearly 500 Chinese fishing vessels operating off west Africa, with scores of cases of illegal fishing, according to Greenpeace.
A more exhaustive study, taking over a decade shows that the annual catches between 19 were much bigger than thought, but that the decline after the peak year of 1996 was much faster than official figures.
The new research estimates the peak catch was 130 million tons, but declined at 1.2 million tons per year afterwards.
Plastic in animals' stomachs not only release deadly toxins, but can also lead to slow starvation by obstructing the animals' bowels.
Birds even feed plastic bits to their young, killing their fledglings en masse.
And then there is climate change and ocean acidification which threaten to flood nesting sites and disrupt food sources.