The world’s fisheries may be seriously depleted, but a comprehensive new study shows that all is not lost–and suggests that when humans really put the effort into turning the tide, fish stocks can be returned to good health. The researchers found that efforts introduced to halt overfishing in five of the 10 large marine ecosystems they examined were showing signs of success. A combination of measures – such as catch quotas, no-take zones, and selective fishing gear – had helped fish stocks recover [BBC News].
The new study sprang from another report from marine ecologist Boris Worm in 2006, in which he made an alarming prediction: if current trends continue, by 2048 overfishing will have destroyed most commercially important populations of saltwater fish. Ecologists applauded the work. But among fisheries management scientists, reactions ranged from skepticism to fury over what many called an alarmist report [The New York Times]. Eventually the two groups agreed to collaborate on a study that would bring both their perspectives to the table, and which would determine the best ways to revive and manage the ocean‘s fish stocks.
The resulting study identified five rebounding ecosystems: around Iceland, Newfoundland–Labrador, the northeast United States, Southeast Australia, and the California Current, explains fishery management scientist Ray Hilborn. “The biggest surprise was how much progress had been made in the regions viewed as the ‘bad boys’ of fisheries,” says Hilborn. “This shows that we have the tools to manage fisheries, and they work quite well” [Nature News]. However, the scientists note that the ecosystems that are improving are in developed regions with active management and strong enforcement, and say that the situation is more dire in less developed areas.
But the report, published in Science, was certainly not all good news. In addition to looking closely at 10 ecosystems, the researchers also conducted a broad survey of the world’s stocks and found that almost two-thirds of all fisheries are being fished at unsustainable levels. Says marine biologist Daniel Pauly: “The findings demonstrate that the gap between what we could do and what we actually do is enormous in most of the world…. Here are some fisheries that work. Why aren’t they all like that?” [Nature News]
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