Intense commercial fishing of Southeast Asian waters threatens to wipe out many of the region's favourite seafood within 10 years, a published study warned on Thursday.
A massive, ongoing surge in both legal and illegal fishing to meet soaring demand since the 1950s has already depleted the fish population dramatically, said the report by Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy.
The density of fish in the Gulf of Thailand declined by 86 per cent between 1961 and 1991, said findings published in The Straits Times.
The amount of fish caught per hour by each trawler fell more than sevenfold.
In the Philippines, catches are now as low as 10 per cent of what fishermen used to bring in when there were fewer fishing vessels.
"Since the number of fishers, vessels and the intensity of fishing is still increasing, all resources are expected to be exploited and over-exploited in a decade," the study said.
"This is an emergency problem," The Straits Times quoted Malcolm Cook, the institute's programme director, as saying.
Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines currently rank among the top 12 fish-producing countries in the world. The crisis will have an impact not only on eating habits but also on the economies of these countries, the report said.
The livelihoods of up to 100 million people could be affected.
The declining fish stocks are pushing fishers to illegally raid seas beyond their maritime borders, creating a source of diplomatic tensions, the report said.
The study also cited an "increase in the incursion of illegal boats from non-Southeast Asian countries like China and Taiwan into the traditional waters of the region," further depleting resources.