A recent study published in Nature Communications (Thurstan et al. 2010) has demonstrated that there is strong evidence for dramatic declines in the availability of bottom-living fish and a complicated reorganisation of seabed ecosystems since the industrialisation of fishing in the nineteenth century. Previously in 2009 the European Commission had estimated that approximately 88% of fish stocks were overfished, but this was based on data that only went back between 20-40 years, whilst commercial fisheries are centuries old. Consequently management decisions based on the European Commission decline estimates have been called into question, since in light of this new data it appears as though bottom-living fish populations have experienced far greater declines than previously thought.<!–more–>
Thurstan et al. have gathered data on the annual landings of bottom-dwelling fish for bottom trawl catches in England and Wales that date back to 1889 using UK Government records that had previously been overlooked. They corrected the information to account for increases in fishing power over time as well as the recent shift in the proportion of fish landed abroad, making it possible to estimate the change in landings over time per unit of fishing power: a measure of the commercial productivity of fisheries. Using this method it became apparent that over the past 118 years the landings per unit fishing power have reduced by 94%, which equates to a 17-fold decrease.
For more information on the worldwide problem of overfishing be sure to check out this website, whilst more detail on the findings featured in this post can be found here in the original publication.