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article imageNo longer plenty of fish in the sea

By Kimberley Pollock     Feb 19, 2011 in Environment
There are more small fish and less large fish in our oceans as a result of overfishing, scientists reported at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington.
DiscoveryNews reports University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers have found that bigger fish such as cod, tuna, and groupers have declined worldwide by two-thirds giving smaller fish including anchovies, sardines and capelin a chance to double their population. Villy Christensen presented the findings at the conference and is quoted as saying:
“Overfishing has absolutely had a 'when cats are away, the mice will play' effect on our oceans."
Interestingly, the research did not use government or fishing industry figures. Instead Christensen and his team conducted an in-depth analysis of more than 200 global marine ecosystem models and extracted more than 68,000 estimates of fish biomass from 1880 to 2007.
"It is a very different ocean that we see out there," said Christensen in the DiscoveryNews report. "We are moving from wild oceans into a system that is much more like an aquaculture farm. Currently, forage fish are turned into fishmeal and fish oil and used as feeds for the aquaculture industry, which is in turn becoming increasingly reliant on this feed source," he said.
The rise in aquaculture seems to be directly linked with reducing fish numbers. The independent website overfishing.org states that in 2009 it took 17 times more effort to catch one tonne of North sea fish than it did 100 years ago. Another member of the UBC research team, Reg Watson, says in the DiscoveryNews report: "It looks like we are fishing harder for the same or less result and this has to tell us something about the oceans' health. We may in fact have hit peak fish at the same time we are hitting peak oil."
On their website Greenpeace reports that half of the world’s tuna comes from the Pacific, island nations but that the region gains little from fishing in their waters.
The majority of fishing vessels come from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the European Union and the United States. Each of these countries make access agreements with Pacific Island countries to fish in their economic exclusion zones.
The access fees agreed to pale in comparison to the enormous profit made by foreign nations when they sell Pacific tuna. On average, they receive a mere 5-6 per cent of the value of tuna caught in their waters.
According to Greenpeace this form of economic bullying by affluent countries is repeated in developing countries around the world and just "exports" the same "wasteful and destructive habits that have led to the declines and collapses of fish stocks back home". The United Nations reports that 200 million people in the world are dependent on fish for their food and livelihood and one in five rely on fish as their primary source of protein.
Overfishing.org has analysed United Nations Food and Agriculture statistics and reports that almost 80% of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse and that about 90% of the worldwide stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone.
The science points to an unprecedented transformation of our oceans and with over three quarters of our planet at stake lobby groups are calling for urgent and coordinated worldwide action.
Overfishing.org provides a useful list of of actions that both governments and individuals can take to protect our oceans, including a list of regional guides on what fish you can safely eat without harming our ocean biodiversity.
More about Overfishing, ocean health, Greenpeace