Popularly Eaten Fish Stocks in 1900 vs 2000 (Infographic)

Image: Information is Beautiful/CC 3.0

In the nifty Gif image above, which was created by Information is Beautiful's visual data guru David McCandless, we're treated to a devastating sight: The stocks of popularly eaten fish, first in 1900, and then one hundred years later. The difference, suffice to say, is stunning. And depressing. Despite the fact that some sorta-kinda good news about over-fishing not having depleted the world's fish stocks as comprehensively as once thought, the data visualized here speaks for itself. The planet's fish are still in deep shit:The fish stocks that comprise the graphic above are: bluefin tuna, cod, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, mackerel, pollock, salmon, sea trout, striped bass, sturgeon, and turbot. Many of these are now vulnerable or endangered, McCandless notes. The data in his visualization was compiled largely from a study by Dr. Villy Christensen, from the University Of British Columbia. He and his colleagues "used ecosystem models, underwater terrain maps, fish catch records and statistical analysis to render the biomass of Atlantic fish at various points this century."

Over in the Guardian, McCandless explains an interesting takeaway from his research behind the visualization:

Researching this image, I read Professor Callum Roberts' harrowing book, The Unnatural History Of The Sea. He uses historical accounts of the ocean to depict the sheer fecundity of the sea in the times before industrialised fishing. These early accounts and data on the past abundance of fish help reveal the magnitude of today's fish stock declines which are otherwise abstract or invisible.

They also help counter the phenomenon of "shifting environment baselines". This is when each generation views the environment they remember from their youth as "natural" and normal. Today that means our fishing policies and environmental activism is geared to restoring the oceans to the state we remember they were. That's considered the environmental baseline. The problem is, the sea was already heavily exploited when we were young.

Which means we're basing our policy decisions today on an ecosystem that was already pretty thoroughly degraded and depleted from its natural state.

Staring at that flickering image, it's pretty hard to imagine that we could ever get back to the 1900 levels in an industrialized world where 1 billion people depend on fish as their daily source of protein. It's sort of like, I don't know, trying to imagine that the same industrialized world could stabilize the carbon concentration in the atmosphere at 350 parts per million.

At the rate things are going, I just don't see it happening.

Get more info about the visualization and the data behind it at Ocean 2012.

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Fish

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