If current fishing trends continue, a total collapse of the global fishing industry would occur before the year 2050, predicts a study published in the November 3, 2006, issue of the journal Science. One of the study’s co-authors, Steve Palumbi of Stanford University, even went so far as to remark, “Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the oceans species together as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century for wild seafood.” The article, “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services,” caused an international outcry, but, according to a group of researchers from Norway’s Institute of Marine Research, the data overstates the situation and provokes unnecessary alarm.
For instance, the Science article defines the word “collapse” as when less than 10% of the maximum catch of a species remains. This is an incorrect definition, according to Ole Arve Misund, director of research at the Institute for Marine Research, who further contends that it isn’t species themselves that collapse, but rather fishable stocks of specific species.
The Science article also states that, since the 1950s, 65% of all the species that are fished have collapsed and thereby extrapolates a 100% collapse by 2048. “This is an oversimplified doomsday prophecy, first and foremost because it does not take into account natural oscillations which alone may be sufficient to produce reductions of more than 10% in catches from one year to another,” the Institute stated in a press release.
Institute researchers point out that the definition of “cumulative collapses” as cited in the Science article includes species and stocks that have regenerated. For instance, the Norwegian spring-spawning herring collapsed during the 1970s, but a successful management policy has resulted in a regeneration; in a few years, the sustainable fishing stock of Norwegian herring will rise to total 1.3 million metric tons a year, the Institute projects.
They say that management practices that set limits on allowable catches and that restrict fishing exports- but that focus on integrated ecosystem health as opposed to simply imposing limitations-will have a positive impact on world fishing stocks. Both the Institute researchers and the authors of the Science article agree that conservation efforts and measures to improve biological diversity should help reverse negative trends in favor of larger, more stable catches. -Patrick Tucker
Originally published in THE FUTURIST, March-April 2007.