Mesopelagic fishes occur in all the world’s oceans, but their abundance and consequently their ecological significance remains uncertain. The current global estimate based on net sampling prior to 1980 suggests a global abundance of one gigatonne (109 t) wet weight. Here we report novel evidence of efficient avoidance of such sampling by the most common myctophid fish in the Northern Atlantic, i.e. Benthosema glaciale. We reason that similar avoidance of nets may explain consistently higher acoustic abundance estimates of mesopelagic fish from different parts of the world’s oceans. It appears that mesopelagic fish abundance may be underestimated by one order of magnitude, suggesting that the role of mesopelagic fish in the oceans might need to be revised.