The news is astounding: Britain's fish stocks have declined by 94% since 1937. Species with the greatest declines include cod and haddock.
The report, 'The effects of 118 years of industrial fishing on UK bottom fish trawl fisheries,' published in Nature Journal on May 4th. The researchers, Ruth Thurstan, Simon Brockington and Callum Roberts, set out to validate a claim made by the European Commission (EC) that "... 88% of monitored marine stocks were overfished." Drawing upon over 100 years worth of data collected on actual catches from the UK, the researchers found fish stocks had actually declined by 94%. The authors wrote "... This implies an extraordinary decline in the availability of bottom-living fish and a profound reorganization of seabed ecosystems since the nineteenth century industrialization of fishing."
What makes this study unique is the data it used. Based on actual catches, the collection of the data began in the late 1880s when fishermen back then were concerned that bottom-dwelling fish were declining. The findings support previous studies on the decline of fish stocks, which had estimated a decline of 90% since 1900.
Today's fishing fleets must work harder and go farther to catch fish, said the report. "For every unit of fishing power expended today, bottom trawlers land little more than one-seventeenth of the catches in the late nineteenth century."
The authors urged action be taken to protect the remnants of European fisheries. "... Our findings emphasize the need for urgent action to eliminate overexploitation of European fisheries and rebuild fish stocks to much higher levels of abundance than those that prevail today."
The report concludes that the findings "... implies a massive loss of biomass of commercially fished bottom-living fish from seas exploited by the UK fleet. The loss is particularly serious as it encompasses an entire component of the marine ecosystem rather than a single species."
The European Commission manages the fisheries under the auspices of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which the researchers said did not contribute to the decline of fish stocks. The research data demonstrated the decline in stock was already occurring before the CFP was adopted in 1970.
European Fisheries Ministers are meeting in La Coruna, Spain from May 3 - 6th to discuss fishery policies. Greenpeace, which accuses Spain of overfishing in a recently released report, hung banners urging "Save our Oceans" in La Coruna in advance of the meeting.