The end of the line?

At times over recent years researchers and the media have issued dire warnings about the state of ocean fish. According to some 2006 announcements, the oceans will be completely empty by 2048. This statement was strongly criticized at the time. Firstly the researchers had assumed that collapsed stocks would not recover in future decades. They failed to take into account the successful fisheries management measures aimed at stock recovery in the USA, New Zealand, Australia and other countries. Secondly, data from the past was projected 30 years into the future. Claims covering such a long time-frame are, however, riddled with uncertainty. Today the scientific community is agreed that the status of worldwide fish stocks calls for a differentiated approach. The European Commission provided more bad news: 88 per cent of EU fish stocks are overfished, it declared in 2009. This number has now reduced to about 50 per cent, partly as a result of stricter catch limits. However, these figures are incomplete because the European Commission based its calculations on only about one fifth of the European fish stocks for which extremely good scientific data and reliable reference values were available. Overall, about 200 different stocks are exploited in the EU. But even bad news contains an element of good. In this case it has significantly helped to publicize the problem of global overfishing. Leading fisheries scientists for a long time took the view that they knew too little to assess the actual status of fish populations, and the fishing industry generally reacted by continuing to fish at the same rate of intensity. Despite a lack of knowledge, the scientists are now more prepared to make recommendations on the sustainable management of individual stocks. Furthermore, in many places the opinion is gaining ground that we must exercise more caution in our fishing practices. Sustainable, precautionary fishing is the aim. Some nations have already enshrined this objective in law, but many others still need to do so.