Fishing 17 Times Harder Than 1880s

The UK fishing fleet has to work 17 times harder today than it did in the 1880s to catch the same amount of fish.

[social_buttons]Researchers from the University of York and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) looked back through UK Government data to analyse the change in fish stocks since 1889. What they found was that fish landings peaked in 1937 and were 14 times higher than they are today.

The findings are published in the new online science journal from the publishers of Nature, Nature Communications.

“We were astonished to discover that we landed over four times more fish into England and Wales in 1889 than we do today,” said lead author Ruth Thurstan from the University of York’s Environment Department. “For all its technological sophistication and raw power, today’s trawl fishing fleet has far less success than its sail-powered equivalent of the late 19th century because of the sharp declines in fish abundance.”

The report looked at unused information dating back to 1889 from bottom trawl catches landing in England and Wales. Until this report, studies had been going back only 20 to 40 years and only looked at specific species. However, as the study notes, “commercial sea fishing goes back centuries” and “[calls] into question the validity of management conclusions from recent data.”

According to the research, the ‘landings per unit of fishing power (LPUP)’ declined by a whopping 84% over the past 118 years and implies “an extraordinary decline in the availability of bottom-living fish and a profound reorganization of seabed ecosystems since the nineteenth century industrialization of fishing.”

“Over a century of intensive trawl fishing has severely depleted UK seas of bottom living fish like halibut, turbot, haddock and plaice,” said Simon Brockington, Head of Conservation at the Marine Conservation Society. “It is vital that governments recognise the changes that have taken place. The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy gives an opportunity to set stock protection and recovery targets that are reflective of the historical productivity of the sea.”

Professor Callum Roberts, from the University of York’s Environment Department, said: “This research makes clear that the state of UK bottom fisheries — and by implication European fisheries, since the fishing grounds are shared — is far worse than even the most pessimistic of assessments currently in circulation.

“European fish stock assessments, and the management targets based on them, go back only 20 to 40 years. These results should supply an important corrective to the short-termism inherent in fisheries management today.”

Source: University of York

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