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The End of the Line: a future without fish?

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To avert fisheries collapse by mid-century, now is the time to apply management programs, harvest limits and consumer awareness.

By Greg Seaman, Eartheasy Posted Jan 14, 2010

fish_big The End of the Line is a documentary film by Rupert Murray, based on the investigative journalism of Charles Clover, the former UK Telegraph environment editor whose 2005 book of the same name exposed the plight of the world’s oceans due to overfishing, wasteful fishing methods and the ever-increasing consumer demand for seafood.

It was only back in 2001 when scientists and global fisheries monitors noted that while the global annual catch kept rising, an indicator of robust fisheries, local fisheries around the globe were reporting declines in seafood harvests. The United Nations appointed an expert, Daniel Pauley, to figure out how to reconcile these opposing sets of data. The answer was found in China, where catch reports were overstating the actual data. Correcting for the Chinese data, it became apparent that global fisheries had peaked in 1989 and were going down each year, with many species at risk and the overall productivity of global fisheries endangered.

At current rates of fishing, according to marine biologist Dr. Boris Worm, global fisheries could collapse by 2050, and we would see the end of most seafood. He reports that the abundance of large fish has declined 90% since 1950, when industrial fishing began.

The commercial trawl fleet is particularly to blame for the widespread destruction of marine ecosystems as well as using an indiscriminant catch method which throws overboard up to a third of the catch. Trawl nets, with mouths wide enough to fit thirteen 747 airliners, scrape the ocean floor in wide strips. If all the strips were connected, researchers say, the length would circle the earth over 500 times each year.

The state of global fisheries is also due to failure of governance on national, regional and international scale.

The state of global fisheries is also due to failure of governance on national, regional and international scale. The film cites European Union ministers who voted against marine scientists’ recommendation of 10,000 tons for the EU bluefin tuna annual harvest, and raised the allowable catch to 30,000 tons. And yet even this amount was disregarded by fishermen who are not adequately policed, with resulting bluefin catches up to 6 times higher than recommended sustainable levels.

fisheries Examples of the cod fisheries collapse in the North Atlantic, which resulted in a sudden loss of tens of thousands of jobs, and the Chesapeake Bay explosion of the small cownose ray which is reaping havoc on the marine ecosystem, show an ocean out of balance. Predator species such as sharks are in decline, which led to the increase in the cownose ray, and marine ecosystems are seeing an increase in jellyfish infestations and algae bloom.

Dr. Worm sees hope, however, for the avoidance of fisheries collapse if action is taken now at all levels. He cites successful fisheries management programs in Alaska, where a 200-mile offshore fisheries zone has been established and well-monitored, and results show 10% annual fisheries exploitation versus 30% exploitation rate in the North Atlantic.

The establishment of Marine Reserves has also been helpful, with surprising results when monitored for recovery. In some areas, populations have increased fivefold in just seven years. But while there are over 4,000 Marine Reserves established worldwide, this represents only 1% of the world’s oceans. 99% of the world’s oceans are still fish-able.

Consumers are also a vital link in the fisheries management chain.

Consumers are also a vital link in the fisheries management chain. Commercial fisheries respond to consumer preferences, and we each need to make informed choices when buying seafood at restaurants, the market or the local fish dock.

The End of the Line is an important film with a serious message. And the film, as expected, has plenty of footage of harmful fisheries practices. But these scenes are interspersed with beautiful underwater footage of rich ecosystems and healthy fish populations. These scenes bring the beauty and value of our undersea riches to full view, and serve as an inspiration and reminder of the work ahead to preserve this invaluable resource.

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  • BrianP

    I see this article as a wake up call. It is not too late to save our fisheries if we all pitch in. For the average person is it not asking too much to get informed and make smart choices at the seafood counter? I have no patience for whiners who say all is lost and we are helpless to make a better future for ourselves.

  • bj

    When are they all going to realize that you can’t eat oil, money, stocks or gold?

  • John B

    Of course we could all just grow our own fish, and vegetables… all in one system using less than 10% of the water required for a soil garden…

    Google "aquaponics"… or have a look at the Australian (worlds biggest) backyard aquaponics forum

    Or take a look at my own gallery …

    Or recent TV segment…

  • Why does the Native American saying: "Only when the last tree has died, the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money," comes to mind ?

  • Crystal Admiral

    This is a clear wake up call, act now and be saved in the future. Although some countries should do more than others.

  • نيومار
  • earth warrior

    The only thing that’s going to solve the issue is a smaller population of humans that are hungry for fish. Once again that comes back around to enlightening people who oppose any sort of birth control, or voluntarily limiting family sizes. You have to treat the root cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms.

    While we’re getting our exploding numbers under control, though, the measures mentioned and proposed in the article could help limit damage that could be irreversible.

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