Over 75% of the world marine fisheries catch (over 80 million tonnes per year) is sold on international markets, in contrast to other food commodities (such as rice). At present, only one institution, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) maintains global fisheries statistics. As an intergovernmental organization, however, FAO must generally rely on the statistics provided by member countries, even if it is doubtful that these correspond to reality. Here we show that misreporting by countries with large fisheries, combined with the large and widely fluctuating catch of species such as the Peruvian anchoveta, can cause globally spurious trends. Such trends influence unwise investment decisions by firms in the fishing sector and by banks, and prevent the effective management of international fisheries.