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Sea Around Us: Global fisheries data and the goose that laid the golden egg (commentary)

13 / 08 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

The end of the 2010s will be remembered as the time when the world realized that we are in the midst of a global biodiversity crisis, as illustrated by the widespread collapse of insect populations. A similar realization occurred about two decades earlier, when it became obvious to anyone with a passing interest in the matter that fish populations were collapsing all over the world under the onslaught of out-of-control fisheries. The generality of this pattern had long been contested: fish population collapse had long been seen as isolated events, each with its own cause, usually attributed to environmental fluctuations. However, the 1980s had also seen a slowing down of the global catch increases, which, since the post-WWII period, had masked localized fisheries collapses. Later, this stagnation of global catches — occasionally if optimistically described as “stabilization” — turned into a continuous decline now known to have started following 1996, the year of peak catches. For global marine catches to decline in spite of the massive increase in the size and power of international fishing fleets implies that we are essentially everywhere past the amount of fishing that generates Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Thus, the biomass (or abundance) of fish everywhere is well below that which can generate MSY. This is confirmed by multiple single species “stock assessments,” i.e., the estimation of time series of abundance of fish “stocks” based on their catch, ancillary information, and mathematical models representing the growth and decline of fish populations. Government subsidies and fisheries…

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