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Version: 2.0
(October 6, 2006)

The Collapse of Aquatic Ecologies

A recent study has shown that nearly 1/3 of sea fisheries in the world have collapsed with the remaining two-thirds being in serious jeopardy. In the industry-leading publication Science, researchers state that a collapse of all fished species may occur as early as 2048 if current fishing practices remain constant. The leader of the research, Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, "argues that fisheries based on ecosystems stripped of their biological diversity are especially prone to collapse." The term "collapse" is used to denote a 10% decrease in fish populations relative to their original yield(1).

Starting in the 1950s, new factory boats and industrial
fishing practices increased fishing yield by 5% each year for the next twenty years. Beginning in 1969, yield increased by 8% per year until the mid-1990s when fishing levels began to dramatically decrease(2). To cope with this decrease, fishermen began to use smaller netting, consequently catching smaller and smaller fish. These fish were often too young to have bred before being caught and thus the problem of low populations was aggravated.

The study did not identify over-fishing as the primary cause for decreasing fish populations. Rather, it stated that commercial fishing aggravates an already precarious circumstance. Worm states that "the way we use the oceans is that we hope and assume there will always be another species to exploit after we've completely gone through the last one." Conservationists suggest that harvesting a "sustainable yield;" that is, taking only as many fish as can be replaced by their next generation.

(1) "'Only 50 Years Left' To Fish" The BBC Online 3 November, 2006

(2) "Overfishing" Young People's Trust for the Environment

"Troubled Seas" The New York Times Online14 November, 2006