Fish stocks ‘gone in 40 years’

Humanity will have depleted the earth's fish stocks by mid-century if trends experienced since the 1950s continue, a research study has warned.

By 2048 wild sea creatures will have gone the way of the deer and wild boar once abundant in the forests of Western Europe, with a third of sea fisheries already depleted, said a group of scientists writing in Science magazine.

Overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction will accelerate over the next forty years unless a concerted effort is made to extend protection across vulnerable areas.

“Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world’s ocean, we saw the same picture emerging,” said Dr Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Canada, who led the research.

“In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems. I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are – beyond anything we suspected.”

Another researcher, Steve Palumbi from California’s Stanford University, said: “Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood.”

Researchers from Europe, North and South America cooperated to produce the study, which examined catch records, biodiversity changes, experimental data, and historical sediment records documenting marine life 1,000 years back.

The global fish catch has already fallen by 13% between 1994 and 2003, with biodiversity losses linked to declining fish stocks ‘probably more than on land,’ the group of scientists and economists said.

So far 29% of fish species around the world have already collapsed, reaching 10% of populations that had been sustained over the previous 1,000 years.

But protected areas are successful in allowing marine eco-systems to recover, with fish stocks in the regions adjacent to the protected areas following suit, the researchers said.

“The data show us it’s not too late. We can turn this around,” Boris Worm said.

“But less than one per cent of the global ocean is effectively protected right now. We won’t see complete recovery in one year, but in many cases species come back more quickly than people anticipated — in three to five to 10 years.

“And where this has been done we see immediate economic benefits.”

Goska Romanowicz

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