November 6, 2006


Seafood study stirs debate in UK fishing industry


World fish populations would be depleted and lessen the amount of food for humans by 2048 if current trends continue.


At present, marine biodiversity has declined substantially, with 29 percent of species already in collapse, a report by a team of researchers warned in the latest issue of the journal Science.


By 2048, all species would collapse, which means a decline of 90 percent from the maximum catch. This would apply to all species, said Boris Worm, lead author of the study.


When species are lost, the productivity and stability of the whole ecosystem is affected, the study said. The loss of biodiversity makes the ecosystem weaker and less able to recover from shocks like global climate change, pollution and over-exploitation, Worm said.


Weakened coastal ecosystems are also vulnerable to invasive species, disease outbreaks and coastal flooding, the scientists reported. 


Meanwhile, the UK fishing industry has derided the study as "superficial".


Seafish, the UK seafood industry body, and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) said the study does not deal with reality and take into account protection efforts.


Calling it a doomsday prediction, the SFF chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, said the study takes a ridiculously long timescale and does not mention the efforts being made in Europe to recover stocks.


Armstrong said the study failed to take into account the 1992 Johannesburg convention, when world environment leaders agreed to try to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2015. The study took a lot of basic assumptions and come out with a sweeping statement, Seafish said.


Fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw took a more restrained approach, saying the warning represents the world's biggest environmental challenge after global warming. Ruling out a complete ban on cod fishing, Bradshaw said a "zero catch" would see "the end of all fishing in the UK".


The UK government had already clamped down on illegal fishing and set fishing quotas to protect fish stocks, Bradshaw added.


The UK fishing industry would have to be closed down if catching cod is banned as almost every part of the industry uses it in one way or another, Bradshaw said.


Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National party, disagrees with the findings, saying that while some stocks are low there are others, such as haddock stocks, on a 30-year high, he said.


The study on marine biodiversity trends was one of the most wide-ranging ever conducted.


Researchers first analysed the results of 32 experiments on species on small local scales. Next they tracked 1,000 years of change in species diversity across 12 coastal areas. Trends affecting economically and ecologically important species were also looked at.


Then the study looked at catch records for 64 ocean-wide regions spanning the years 1950 to 2003 which produced 83 percent of global fisheries yields over the past 50 years.


Despite its doubts, Seafish is now commissioning its own scientists to review the study. It believes steps such as voluntary closure by the fishing fleet of areas around the coast and growth in certification of sustainable fisheries have been ignored by the study. Furthermore, there are now more robust seafood sourcing policies from large retailers and better regional management of fisheries, Seafish said.