Monday, October 08, 2007

Newsflash! - UK marine species need protection ! ! !

Like we didn't fucking well know that!

There is so much scientific literature showing how marine reserves are the only way to preserve dwindling fishstocks but for some reason the legislative bodies don't take any notice. I wonder why?

As it is subscription-access I have pasted in this pertinent New Scientist editorial in full:


Editorial: For cod's sake, act now

A few weeks from now, European Union fisheries ministers will gather for a familiar pre-solstice ritual. They will sit around a table until the wee hours, and share out Europe's fish stocks. Fisheries scientists have already made their contribution to this ceremony by calling for beleaguered North Sea cod to be left alone. They have done this for seven years. For the past six, the ministers have calmly tossed Europe's fishermen a cod quota anyway. This year they probably will again.

Yet the cod keep coming back to be fought over. What is going on here? Are the scientists just plain wrong? Or are the ministers quite sensibly grabbing what they can before all the fish die in 2048, as a widely reported scientific paper predicted this week?

Well, neither. For one thing, all the fish are not going to die in 2048 - or not necessarily. That is the trend if fishing continues as usual (see "Glimmer of hope for 'doomed' fish"), but we now know how to stop the trend. We have strong evidence, as some biologists have known in their guts all along, that the ocean is a complex living machine, and that when we kill off things - any things - it becomes less good at yielding what we want from it. That includes fish. The bottom line is that if we want to keep protein production (and our oxygen source, and our pollution sink) functioning, we need to save the whale and the kelp, the copepods, the capelin and everything else.

The second-from-bottom line in this remarkable study is just as important: setting up protected marine reserves and temporarily banning fishing can reverse the declines in our seas. So long as we have not removed too much biodiversity, simply leaving the sea alone allows ecosystems to recover. Fisheries scientists already know this. They call the great global conflicts of the 20th century the First and Second Great Fishing Experiments. During both world wars, fishing boats were kept off the North Sea. The huge numbers of big fish caught after the fighting stopped showed scientists that fish stocks are affected by fishing, which must be regulated accordingly. It should be said that some fish stocks, such as hake off western Europe and Norwegian herring, are doing nicely because ministers have followed scientific advice.

Which brings us back to cod, the poster-fish for what can go wrong. Early one morning next month, bleary-eyed European ministers will probably allow fishermen to take just enough of the few cod left to allow the depleted fishery to stagger on. If they followed scientific advice for a ban on cod fishing, the number of cod would grow, and after a few years catches would boom. But that would involve short-term sacrifice, and no minister will bite that bullet. We need mechanisms to make them. Europe pays farmers not to farm but to be stewards of the countryside. Why not do the same for fishermen?

If Europe does nothing, it risks a repeat of the biological nightmare that took place in another northern sea: the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. Once thick with cod, it is now bereft of them even though cod fishing was banned there more than a decade ago. Some scientists think the cod will never come back because the ocean ecosystem has been so badly denuded - not just because the cod have gone, but because the boats are now taking shrimp and crab instead. Biodiversity can hardly recover under such pressure.

The result, as any Newfoundlander will tell you, is that people are suffering badly, and when the same thing happens to overfished seas in poorer regions of the world the effects are likely to be even worse. The real message is that we must save the biodiversity that sustains the ocean while we can, because if we go too far it may not come back.

We need to do it now. Climate change is coming and it is already making life hard for North Sea cod by causing their favourite foods to bloom too far north, or too early, when baby cod are not big enough to eat them. This in itself is a good example of how a complex ocean food web needs all its components to be operating at the right place and time.

This week's study shows the sea will need all the biodiversity it can muster for even some of the resources we value to stand a chance of surviving in a warmer world. We have not acted fast enough to prevent climate change. At least we can hold off on our rape of the sea long enough to give it a fighting chance.

From issue 2577 of New Scientist magazine, 11 November 2006, page 5

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