We've Simply Run Out Of Room to Expand Fishing

fishing boats photo

photo: lamoix/Creative Commons

Sorry to be the downer on the already depressing subject of overfishing, but a new study in the journal PLoS ONE (coming to TreeHugger via Mongabay) just reinforces the notion that we're fishing the world's oceans at rates far in excess of what they can take. Though the spatial expansion of what we're fishing has actually declined since the mid-1990s, this isn't because we've gotten much better at conservation, but is "rather an indication that we've simply run out of room to expand fisheries."Those of the world of the study's lead author Wilf Swartz, whose work notes that since the 1950s the global catch of fish has increased 500%--going from 19 million tons in 1950 to 87 million tons in 2005, with the 1980s and 90s seeing the greatest expansion.

At the start of that period the greatest ecological impact of commercial fishing was just off the coasts of Europe, North America and Japan. Today only 0.1% of Earth's productive waters have been designated off-limits to fishing, and we're eating out of those waters like there's no tomorrow.

Which is something we've been told time and time again recently. So how is Swartz' research different?

Rather than looking at individual fish stocks, this study focused on the amount of primary production (the tiny organisms at the bottom of the food chain) needed to maintain current catch levels.

Report co-author Daniel Pauly says,
"This method allows us to truly gauge the impact of catching all types of fish, from large predators such as bluefin tuna, to small fish such as sardines and anchovies."

Read the study: The Spatial Expansion and Ecological Footprint of Fisheries (1950 to Present)
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More on Overfishing:
Walleye Bones Can 'Hear' the Sound of Overfishing
Overfishing is Slowing, But Only in Areas With Good Fisheries Management
How Bad is Overfishing & What Can We Do to Stop It?

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