That old sign hanging on that old oaken door with the words, “Goin Fishin,” will soon be a relic of the past if we don’t stop over- fishing the world’s oceans. A new study headed by Wilf Swartz and presented in the journal, PLos ONE, stresses that the global catch of fish over the last five decades has increased more than 500%. Numbers begin in 1950, with 19 million tons and go up to 87 million tons in 2005.
The reason 1950 was chosen as the starting point for this research concerns the fact in that year the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations began issuing annual compendia of global fisheries statistics.
Only 0.1% of the earth’s productive waters have been designated off-limits to fishing, and these sources are being milked until they are almost dry. Warnings about over fishing are certainly not new, but this study added a new twist. Rather than looking at individual fish stocks, this research group focused on the amount of primary production, which refers to the tiny organisms at the bottom of the food chain needed to maintain current catch levels.
According to co-author of the report, Daniel Pauly:
“This method allows us to truly gauge the impact of catching all types of fish, from large predators such as blue-fin tuna, to small fish such as sardines and anchovies.”
The global impact of fishing on the ecosystem, which includes all species across the food chain from herbivores to top predators, cannot be fully assessed by the study of single-species catches. Quantifying the expansion of and limits to fisheries over the years by studying primary production sources is a direct way to measure the ecological carbon footprint of the fishing industry.
The growth in marine fisheries catches for more than half a century was only made possible through exploitation of new fishing grounds. Their rapidly diminishing number indicates not only a limit to growth but also the urgent need for a transition to sustainable fishing.
What does all this mean to the average consumer buying a can of tuna at the supermarket?
Perhaps a lot more rethinking of that old “bounty of the sea” idea is in order?
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