Friday, April 11, 2008

Scientists: Warmer seas, over-fishing spell disaster for oceans

Common Dreams, via Agence France-Presse: The future food security of millions of people is at risk because over-fishing, climate change and pollution are inflicting massive damage on the world’s oceans, marine scientists warned this week. The two-thirds of the planet covered by seas provide one fifth of the world’s protein — but 75 percent of fish stocks are now fully exploited or depleted, a Hanoi conference that ended Friday was told.

“People think the ocean is a place apart,” said Peter Neill, head of the World Ocean Observatory. “In fact it’s the thing that connects us — through trade, transportation, natural systems, weather patterns and everything we depend on for survival.” Marine ecosystems and food security were key concerns at the Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands, an international meeting of hundreds of experts from governments, environmental groups and universities. “There is a race to fish, but in wild capture fisheries right now we can catch no more,” said Steven Murawski, fisheries chief science advisor at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“We catch 100 million metric tonnes per year, and that’s been very flat globally. Our only hope is if we conserve and rebuild stocks,” he said, adding that sustainable aquaculture could help make up the shortfall. The current plunder is risking long-term sustainability with “too many fishing boats taking too many fish and not allowing the stocks to regenerate,” said Frazer McGilvray of Conservation International. “Once the oceans are gone, we’re gone. The oceans sustain the planet.”

The world has already seen the effects of over-fishing, experts said. North Atlantic cod fisheries collapsed in the 1990s, anchovies previously disappeared off Chile, herring off Iceland and sardine off California. Sixty-four percent of ocean areas fall outside national jurisdictions, making it difficult to reach international consensus or to stop illegal fishing — a growing concern as high-tech ships scour the high seas. “It’s the Wild West. It’s a very small number of boats but the technology allows them to take enormous amounts of fish,” said Neill….

Fishing fleet in Biloxi, Mississippi, photo by Bob Jagendorf, Wikimedia Commons

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