/ 13 August 2009

Tide turns on overfishing

Global efforts to combat overfishing are starting to turn the tide to allow some fish stocks to recover, new analysis shows.

Research from an international team of scientists shows that a handful of major fisheries across the world have managed to reduce the rate at which fish are exploited.

The experts say their study offers hope that overfishing can be brought under control, but they warn that fishermen in Ireland and the North Sea are still catching too many fish to allow stocks to recover and that 63% of assessed fish stocks in the world still require rebuilding.

‘Across all regions we are still seeing a troubling trend of increasing stock collapse,” said Dr Boris Worm, an ecologist at Dalhousie University in Canada. ‘But this paper shows that our oceans are not a lost cause.

‘The encouraging result is that the exploitation rate, the ultimate driver of depletion and collapse, is decreasing in half the 10 systems we examined. ‘This means that management in those areas is setting the stage for ecological and economic recovery.It’s only a start, but it gives me hope that we have the ability to bring overf ishing under control.”

Fisheries winning the battle against overfishing include regions in the United States, Iceland and Australia.

Pamela Mace of the New Zealand ministry of fisheries, who helped to write the new study, said: ‘Fisheries managers currently presiding over depleted fish stocks need to become fast followers of the successes revealed in this paper.

‘We need to move much more rapidly towards rebuilding individual fish population sand restoring the ecosystems of which they are a part, if there is to be any hope for the long-term viability of fisheries and fishing communities.”

The new analysis used catch data as well as stock assessments, scientific trawl surveys, small-scale fishery data and modelling results. It highlighted catch quotas, localised fishing closures and bans on selected fishing gear to allow smaller fish to escape as measures that help fish stocks to recover.

Agencies in Alaska and New Zealand have led the world in the fight against overfishing by acting before the situation became critical, says the study, which is published in the journal Science.

Fish abundance is increasing in previously overfished areas around Iceland, the north-east US continental shelf, the New-foundland-Labrador shelf and California. This has benefited species such as American plaice, pollock, haddock and Atlantic cod.

The North Sea, the Baltic and Celtic- Biscay shelf fisheries, however, are all still declining. The isolated success stories, the scientists say, ‘may best be interpreted as large-scale restoration experiments that demonstrate opportunities for successfully rebuilding marine resources elsewhere.” —