OSLO (Reuters) – The number of fish in the oceans has fallen by half since 1970 due to overfishing and other threats that led to the fishing grounds “on the verge of collapse,” the environmental group WWF said on Wednesday.
The populations of some commercial fish such as tuna, mackerel and bonito, fell during this period by nearly 75 percent, according to a study by WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL, for its acronym in English).
Marco Lambertini, CEO of WWF International, told Reuters that poor management was taking the ocean “on the verge of collapse.”
“There is a massive, massive decline in species that are critical” for both the ecosystem and food security of billions of people, he said. “The ocean is resilient, but has a limit,” he added.
The report noted that fish stocks, marine mammals, birds and reptiles had fallen 49 percent between 1970 and 2012. As for fish, the decline was 50 percent.
The analysis indicated that 5,829 people had tracked 1,234 species, including seals, turtles, dolphins and sharks. Said ZSL data represented almost twice that past studies.
“This report suggests that billions of animals have been lost in the oceans of the world only what I have lived,” said Ken Norris, director of science ZSL, said in a statement. “It is a terrible and dangerous legacy to leave our grandchildren,” he added.
Damage to coral reefs and mangroves, home to many fish, adds to problems among which overfishing. Other threats include coastal development, pollution and climate change, which is warming and acidifying waters.
The study noted that the world’s fishing fleets were too large and that subsidies remained amounting to 14,000 to 35,000 million dollars a year.
Later this month, governments are planning to adopt new sustainable development goals at the UN, including ending overfishing and destructive fishing practices by 2020 and restore fish stocks “in the shortest possible time.”
Marine catches fell to 79.7 million tonnes in 2012 compared to 82.6 million in 2011, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Safeguarding the oceans can help economic growth, cut poverty and increase food security, says the text.
Overfishing in the oceans is simply capturing the wildlife that inhabits its waters in too high quantities to the captured species can recover.
The first situation of overfishing occurred in the early nineteenth century, when humans decimated the whale population in order to get fat for the manufacture of oil used in the lamps of the time. Some of the fish we eat, including cod, Atlantic herring and sardines of California, were also captured in such increased quantities that were on the verge of extinction in the mid-twentieth century.
These regional and isolated highly damaging to the food chain in nature, exhaustion became a global and catastrophic proportions in the late twentieth century event.
When did it start?
Marine scientists know what time began the widespread overfishing in the seas. And they have a pretty good idea of when it will end, unless action is taken.
A mid-twentieth century, international efforts to increase the availability and accessibility of protein-rich foods resulted in joint government initiatives to increase fishing capacity. Policies, loans and subsidies aimed to further increase multiplied rapidly this large industrial fishing operations, which soon replaced the local fishermen in their role as providers of seafood worldwide.
These large commercial fleets aimed at profiting the most used extremely aggressive techniques depleting stocks of the oceans, and developed methods and increasingly sophisticated technologies for finding, extracting and processing the species caught. Consumers will soon get used to having at its disposal a wide range of species of fish at affordable prices.
But in 1989, when catches from the oceans were around 90 million tonnes, the industry had peaked and their yields have fallen or stagnated since. Reservations for major species such as orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna have plummeted. In 2003, a scientific report estimated that industrial fishing had reduced the number of large fish that live in the ocean 10% of the existing population before the industrial stage.
When will it end?
Due to the collapse of populations of large fish, commercial fleets venture into ever deeper parts of the oceans and point to lower levels of the food chain for sustainable catches. This so-called “fishing esquilmadora” is causing a chain reaction that is disrupting the delicate balance of the biological system ancestral seas.
A study of data on catches in 2006 and published in the journal Science predicted tragically if fishing rates were held constant, the global fishing for all species would collapse by 2048.
What does the future hold?
In the past 55 years, as fishing for all species has been shrinking yields, man has begun to realize that the oceans once thought infinitely vast and rich are actually quite vulnerable and sensitive. If we add pollution to overfishing, climate change, habitat destruction and acidification, we have a system in crisis.
Many scientists say that most fish populations could recover with a more active fisheries management, better implementation of legislation regulating the catch and greater use of aquaculture. And in many regions, there is reason for hope. However, illegal and unsustainable exploitation still abound in the industry. And an audience that has grown accustomed to having abundant seafood, and is indifferent to the plight of the oceans complicates efforts to repair the damage we have caused.