How the world’s oceans are running out of fish
A tuna transport floating tank being towed from the fishing grounds off Libya to tuna ranches off Sicily, Italy. Photograph: AFP/Gavin Newman
The future of our seas has never been more precarious. Ninety years of
industrial-scale overfishing has brought us to the brink of an
ecological catastrophe and deprived millions of their livelihoods. As
scientific guidelines are ignored and catches become ever bigger.
Is there anyone not aware that wild fish are in deep trouble? That
three-quarters of commercially caught species are over-exploited or
exploited to their maximum? Industrial fishing is
so inefficient that a third of the catch, some 32 million tonnes a
year, is thrown away. For every ocean prawn you eat, fish weighing
10-20 times as much have been thrown overboard.
These figures all come
from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which
also claims that, of all the world’s natural resources, fish are being
depleted the fastest. With even the most abundant commercial species,
we eat smaller and smaller amounts of fish every year, basically, we eat the babies before
they can breed.
North Atlantic fish stocks have been in decline for well
over a century.Unlike global warming, the science of fish stock
collapse is old and its practitioners have been pretty much in
agreement since the 1950s.
The Newfoundland cod fishery, for 500 years
the world’s greatest, was exhausted and closed in 1992, and there’s
still no evidence of any return of the fish. Once stocks dip below a
certain critical level, the scientists believe, they can never recover
because the entire ecosystem has changed.
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