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November 02, 2006

Erasing The Fish From The Sea Environment

Here at work there's a break room where a tv, visible from the hall, is usually on. A few minutes ago, I walked by and CNN was running an item with an on-screen graph evidently depicting the horrific rate at which the oceans are being denuded of fish. The headline on the graph was something like "Seafood gone by 2050?"

Seafood. Humans are on the verge of erasing fish from the oceans, an unthinkable, earth-shaking catastrophe, an irreversible crime of unimaginable proportions, and CNN couches the story in terms of "seafood". As if it's an issue of the availability of fish sticks. (To be fair, it's not entirely CNN's fault. The original journal article also puts an emphasis on food species. But still.)

Here are excerpts from CNN's online story:

Clambakes, crabcakes, swordfish steaks and even humble fish sticks could be little more than a fond memory in a few decades.

If current trends of overfishing and pollution continue, the populations of just about all seafood face collapse by 2048, a team of ecologists and economists warns in a report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

"Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world's ocean, we saw the same picture emerging. In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems," said the lead author Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are — beyond anything we suspected," Worm said.

While the study focused on the oceans, concerns have been expressed by ecologists about threats to fish in the Great Lakes and other lakes, rivers and freshwaters, too.

Worm and an international team spent four years analyzing 32 controlled experiments, other studies from 48 marine protected areas and global catch data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's database of all fish and invertebrates worldwide from 1950 to 2003.

The scientists also looked at a 1,000-year time series for 12 coastal regions, drawing on data from archives, fishery records, sediment cores and archaeological data.

"At this point 29 percent of fish and seafood species have collapsed — that is, their catch has declined by 90 percent. It is a very clear trend, and it is accelerating," Worm said. "If the long-term trend continues, all fish and seafood species are projected to collapse within my lifetime — by 2048."

"It looks grim and the projection of the trend into the future looks even grimmer," he said. "But it's not too late to turn this around. It can be done, but it must be done soon. We need a shift from single species management to ecosystem management. It just requires a big chunk of political will to do it."

The researchers called for new marine reserves, better management to prevent overfishing and tighter controls on pollution.

In the 48 areas worldwide that have been protected to improve marine biodiversity, they found, "diversity of species recovered dramatically, and with it the ecosystem's productivity and stability."

While seafood forms a crucial concern in their study, the researchers were analyzing overall biodiversity of the oceans. The more species in the oceans, the better each can handle exploitation. [Emphasis added]

Everywhere scientists look these days, they are shocked at the rate of environmental degradation. It's all happening much faster than anyone expected. To make matters worse, these are nonlinear systems, which means that major qualitative changes — points of no return — can happen quite suddenly. And everything's inter-connected.

What will it take to wake us up?

Posted by Jonathan at November 2, 2006 04:06 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb