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Seaweek 2010: Oceans of Life - ours to explore; ours to restore

So what's wrong with fish?
by David Ogilvie

Food poisoning risk

The risk of food poisoning from eating fish and seafood is far greater than that from eating beef, pork or poultry. This is because fish and the bacteria living on them flourish in the kind of temperatures found in refrigerators. Trimethylamine is the chemical that produces the 'fishy' smell we all recognise. What many people don't realise is that this odour is produced when fish begins to spoil. Fish oils decompose quickly and in the process unleash free radicals, which are linked to cell damage. Free radicals are believed to be a first important step in heart disease, cancer and the ageing process. Also, as much as 10% of raw shellfish, while appearing perfectly fresh, are infected with organisms that can cause hepatitis, salmonella poisoning or cholera.

So there is little wonder that the Center for Disease Control in the US reports an average of 325,000 food poisonings annually from contaminated seafood. In fact, this figure may severely undercount the true number of poisonings since many sufferers attribute their flu-like symptoms to something other than contaminated seafood.

With so many Americans sickened by contaminated seafood each year, the Food and Drug Administration has implemented a seafood inspection program to deal with tainted fish. The FDA's new Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan aims to limit bacterial contamination by looking at selected points in fish processing plants, where contamination is most likely to occur. But, neither this plan nor any other will actually test whether the fish anyone buys at a store is loaded with disease-causing bacteria, mercury, or anything else. Government inspectors will not routinely use the sophisticated tests that could reveal the contaminants. One hopes that the regulations may at least prevent some food poisonings caused by the improper handling of fish and shellfish.

Recent fishing issues (news articles):

Live-Fish Market Grows, Stripping Reefs (Environmental News Network, 25 January 2007)

Amid banks of bubbling aquariums, Hong Kong resident Kerry To sat back and admired his plate-size steamed grouper plucked from one of the tanks in this Malaysian restaurant and cooked live. What he and other diners don't realize is that their appetite for live reef fish - a status symbol for many newly rich Chinese - has caused the populations of these predators to plummet around Asia as fishermen increasingly resort to cyanide and dynamite to bring in the valuable catch. Entire reef ecosystems, already endangered by pollution and global warming, are at risk.

There is also a growing live reef fish trade off the coast of California, where everything from rockfish to eels are caught and sold, mostly in Asian restaurants along the coast, according to Scot Lucas of the California Department of Fish and Game. But unlike Asia, the trade is heavily regulated and fishermen are not known to use the same destructive methods. The U.N. and the World Conservation Union released a report last year warning that human exploitation of the high seas was putting many of its resources on the verge of extinction. Reef fish are prized mostly because they are cooked live. Traders are careful to ensure they arrive that way, packaging them in bags of water and placing them in coolers for trips that often stretch for thousands of miles.

Deep-sea trawling moratorium ends up dead in the water (Mail & Guardian, 24 November 2006)

Iceland and a few other fishing nations [including Canada] have successfully undermined a three-year international effort to place a moratorium on destructive deep-sea trawling. Environmentalists say that the agreement reached at a United Nations meeting [November 23] puts the commercial interests of a few hundred trawlers from a handful of nations ahead of the international community and ignores the advice of the scientific community. "Iceland refused to endorse any measures on the unregulated high seas," said Susanna Fuller, a marine biologist with Canada's Ecology Action Centre. Australia and other nations were extremely angry at Iceland's willingness to sacrifice vital fish habitat in the high seas for its short-term fishing interests.

Scientific evidence of the need to halt unregulated deep-sea or bottom trawling is overwhelming. Trawlers literally drag a large net equipped with steel rollers weighing thousands of kilograms along the bottom of the deep sea, scooping up everything in their 100m-wide paths. Everything - including cold-water corals that have taken thousands of years to grow, endangered and unknown deep-water fish and other sea creatures - is hauled to the surface and then thrown over the side as garbage. Conservationists are calling on countries that supported the moratorium to set up a global network of marine parks and reserves. "Something has to happen in the future to protect habitat or we'll simply run out of fish," Fuller said.

Bottom Trawling Hurts Ecological Systems (Associated Press, 15 November 2006)

Fishermen who rake giant nets across the ocean floor to maximize their catch are destroying unique and unexplored ecological systems, according to a U.N. draft environmental report made public Wednesday. Just over half of the underwater mountain and coral ecosystems in the world are located beyond national boundaries, leaving them unregulated and vulnerable to the damaging practice known as bottom trawling, the report said.

Trawlers' nets shatter coral and churn up clouds of sediment that smother sea life, the report said. The worst damage often occurs to underwater mountains that are home to thousands of species of coral and fish, some still unidentified by scientists, the report said.

World fish stocks near collapse (Ohmy News, 4 November 2006)

Action must be taken now to prevent irreversible global disaster
If you're looking for a good reason to go vegetarian, this may be it. Scientists have warned that the world's edible fish and shellfish stocks could collapse within 40 years. An international team of researchers discovered that 29 percent of fish stocks have sunk to, and even below, 10 percent of their 1950 levels. If fishing practices are not reformed all stocks will decline by 90 percent before 2048.
Report co-author Nicola Beaumont of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (U.K.) warns: "We must take action now. If we leave this for 10 or 20 years we will reach the point of no recovery for fisheries."

World's Fish Supply Running Out, Researchers Warn (The Washington Post, 3 November 2006)

An international group of ecologists and economists warned yesterday that the world will run out of seafood by 2048 if steep declines in marine species continue at current rates, based on a four-year study of catch data and the effects of fisheries collapses.
The paper, published in the journal Science, concludes that overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors are wiping out important species around the globe, hampering the ocean's ability to produce seafood, filter nutrients and resist the spread of disease.
"We really see the end of the line now," said lead author Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Canada's Dalhousie University. "It's within our lifetime. Our children will see a world without seafood if we don't change things."

'Only 50 years left' for sea fish (BBC News, 2 November 2006)

There will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a major scientific study. Stocks have collapsed in nearly one-third of sea fisheries, and the rate of decline is accelerating.
Writing in the journal Science, the international team of researchers says fishery decline is closely tied to a broader loss of marine biodiversity. But a greater use of protected areas could safeguard existing stocks.

"The way we use the oceans is that we hope and assume there will always be another species to exploit after we've completely gone through the last one," said research leader Boris Worm, from Dalhousie University in Canada.
"What we're highlighting is there is a finite number of stocks; we have gone through one-third, and we are going to get through the rest," he told the BBC News website.

Steve Palumbi, from Stanford University in California, one of the other scientists on the project, added: "Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood."

Report Warns of 'Global Collapse' of Fishing (New York Times, 2 November 2006)

If fishing around the world continues at its present pace, more and more species will vanish, marine ecosystems will unravel and there will be "global collapse" of all species currently fished, possibly as soon as midcentury, fisheries experts and ecologists are predicting.
The scientists, who are to report their findings on Friday in the journal Science, say it is not too late to turn the situation around. As long as marine ecosystems are still biologically diverse, they can recover quickly once overfishing and other threats are reduced, the researchers say.

But they add that there must be quick, large-scale action to protect remaining diversity, including establishment of marine reserves and "no take" zones, along with restrictions on particularly destructive fishing practices.

Illegal fishing hits tuna stocks (BBC, 5 July 2006)

East Atlantic and the Mediterranean are being stripped bare by illegal fishing, WWF has warned in a report. Traditional tuna-trap fishermen in the Gibraltar Straits have caught 80% less fish in the last three years compared with the 1990s, the report claims. It also says that demand for tuna in the UK is being driven by "fast sushi" bars and by supermarket sales. Fleets exceed quotas and some are failing to report catches, WWF says.

The fishery is running out of control, fuelled by the unrestricted expansion of tuna farms across the Mediterranean Sea and driven by the high prices paid by traders in Japan and elsewhere. "The European Commission risks bearing witness to the collapse of this centuries-old fishery," said Dr Simon Cripps, director of WWF's global marine programme. WWF called for an immediate closure of the fishery - pending the implementation of a recovery plan and "strong" management measures.

Bottom of the Harbour: The Law of Toxic Fish (Food Legal, 15 February 2006)

On 24 January 2006, a temporary ban was placed by the New South Wales government on commercial fishing in Sydney Harbour after tests revealed high dioxin levels in fish. The ban is to remain in force for 3 months, or until further expert advice allows the ban to be lifted. Dioxins are a group of chlorinated chemicals typically emanating as a byproduct from industrial processes, such as combustion of chlorine. Dioxins can remain in the environment for a long time and will accumulate in the body fat of animals and humans, with potentially serious adverse health consequences. response to the question: "Do dioxins concentrate through the food chain?": dioxins increase in concentration (bioaccumulate) as they migrate up the food chain, and humans are at the top of the food chain.

Tangled turtle dies, aged 150 (The Age newspaper, 16 January 2006)

A 150-year-old turtle that came to shore on Victoria's south coast cut and disabled by discarded fishing tackle has died.
Vets and wildlife officers tried desperately to save the two-metre-long, 350kg leatherback - an endangered species - but it died in transit, suffering cuts to its head, rope burns and necrotic, or gangrenous, muscle.

Healesville Sanctuary vet Kelly O'Sullivan said the rare male turtle came to shore near Venus Bay, south-east of Melbourne, on Saturday afternoon.

"He was entangled in discarded fishing and shark nets and he had buoys wrapped around both pectoral fins," Ms O'Sullivan said.
"He also had a long line (attached to him)." "The injuries were severe." She said the extent of the injuries resulted from weeks or months of entanglement.

Ms O'Sullivan said the turtle's death should highlight the dangers of discarding fishing nets, long lines and craypots in the ocean, and she urged people to pick up rubbish that could harm marine wildlife.

Protected marine areas might solve a crisis in deep-sea fisheries (The Economist, 6 January 2006)

This week sees more bad news from the Atlantic's overfished waters. It has been known for some time that deep-sea fish around the world are facing difficulties at least as severe as those experienced by their more abundant shallow-water brethren. But a paper published in this week's Nature shows that some species are in so much trouble that they may be on the brink of extinction.

Deep-sea fish in Atlantic at brink of extinction: study (CBC News, 4 January 2006)

Overfishing has driven several species of deep-water fish in the Atlantic to the brink of extinction in a single generation, Canadian biologists have found.

Populations have plummeted so rapidly that two commercially fished species, the roundnose grenadier and onion-eye grenadier, and three other species, should be classified as critically endangered – a higher rating than for the giant panda and Bengal tiger. 

Farmed salmon more contaminated than wild ( News Service, 8 January 2004)

Farmed salmon have significantly higher levels of toxic contaminants than salmon from the wild, US scientists have found.
Contamination by PCBs, dioxins and pesticides is on average 10 times higher in farmed salmon. The consequent health risks could detract from the known health benefits of eating oily fish, the scientists

The pollutants, widely used by industry and agriculture in the past, are now ubiquitous in fish. They accumulate in the fat of farmed salmon because the fish are fed a diet of concentrated fish oils and meal. But the salmon farming industry has always argued that the levels are too low to pose any danger. Now that assurance is facing its first serious challenge as a result of a major investigation by environmental experts at universities in Indiana, Michigan and New York.

Farmed Salmon Loaded with Chemicals, Study Finds (Planet Ark News Story, 1 January 2004)

WASHINGTON - Farmed salmon contains far more toxic chemicals than wild salmon -- high enough to suggest that fish-eaters limit how much they eat, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

The culprit is "salmon chow" -- the feed given to the captive fish, the researchers report in this week's issue of the journal Science.
"We think it's important for people who eat salmon to know that farmed salmon have higher levels of toxins than wild salmon from the open ocean," environmental affairs professor Ronald Hites of Albany, who led the study, said in a statement.

They looked for 13 different chemicals known to build up in the flesh of fish, including polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, dioxins, toxaphene, dieldrin, hexachlorobenzene, lindane, heptachlor epoxide, cis-nonachlor, trans-nonachlor, gamma-chlordane, alpha-chlordane, Mirex, endrin and DDT. Some are pesticides, others are industrial by-products, and many are known or suspected cancer-causing agents.

Depths of despair. Trawlers accused of endangering coral, which provide habitat for Pacific fish. (San Francisco Chronicle, 11 August 2003)

Vast colonies of living coral are being found in the deep ocean off the West Coast, fragile and slow-growing habitat for sea creatures and an important hunting ground for commercial fishing. Now, even before scientists have had a chance to survey just what's down there, conservationists say the coral is being wrecked by ocean trawlers dragging heavy equipment along the bottom. Damaged areas might take centuries to recover.

"These are the old-growth forests of the sea," said Mark Powell, director of fish conservation for the Ocean Conservancy, the nation's largest ocean- environmental group, based in Washington, D.C. "We don't have detailed scientific knowledge of every species yet, but it's clear that a damaged coral might take at least 100 years to regenerate."

Has the Sea Given Up Its Bounty? (The New York Times, 29 July 2003)

Most of the earth's surface is covered by oceans, and their vastness and biological bounty were long thought to be immune to human influence. But no more. Scientists and marine experts say decades of industrial-scale assaults are taking a heavy toll.
More than 70 percent of commercial fish stocks are now considered fully exploited, overfished or collapsed. Sea birds and mammals are endangered. And a growing number of marine species are reaching the precariously low levels where extinction is considered a real possibility.

"It's an incipient disaster," said Richard Ellis, author of "The Empty Ocean." A rush of recent studies, reports, books and conferences have described the situation as a crisis and urged governments and the industry to enact substantial changes.

Behind the assault, experts say, are steady advances in technology, national subsidies to fishing fleets and booming markets for seafood. Demand is up partly because fish is considered healthier to eat than chicken and red meat.

Does Mercury Matter? Experts Debate the Big Fish Question (The New York Times, 29 July 2003)

At least all the experts agree that fish is good for you. It's high in protein, low in fat, with those terrific omega-3 fatty acids. But then, there's mercury.

Everywhere on the planet, fish are accumulating mercury in their tissues, often as the result of airborne mercury that finds its way into rivers and seas. And mercury, in all its forms, is highly toxic. In fish, it occurs in the form of methylmercury, which is known to damage neurons, particularly developing neurons. The damage seen in humans and animals at high doses is severe. Many studies - though not all - have concluded that low levels can have subtle negative effects as well if certain fish are a major part of the diet.

Study: 90% decline of big oceangoing fish (USA Today, 14 May 2003)

Commercial fishing has wiped out 90% of the world's large fish populations, according to scientists. Popular species in danger include tuna, cod, swordfish, marlin, halibut, skate, flounder and shark.

And the scientists fear the damage may be beyond repair.
The report, published today in the journal Nature, suggests international efforts to manage coastal and deep-ocean fisheries have not kept up with advances in commercial fishing and oversized fishing fleets. The study analysed 13 fisheries, sea regions that are home to large-scale fishing operations.

Most surprising to the researchers is the finding that industrialized fishing essentially has spread to every coastal and ocean source in the world. Further, industrial fishing appears to deplete fish communities within only 10 to 15 years' time.
"There's no place left in the world for fish to hide," says lead author and fisheries biologist Ransom Myers of Canada's Dalhousie University.

End of the line for fishing? (BBC News, 24 May 2002)

British deep sea fishing is in crisis. It's not a labour or territorial dispute; it's the simple lack of fish.

The EEC's fishing policy was flawed. It portrayed fishing in the same way as making steel or growing potatoes - the higher the production or total catch, the better. There was little or no planning for the future. Fish stocks were treated as limitless. Whilst scientists' warnings of diminishing stocks were largely ignored, their expertise on improving fishing techniques was eagerly grasped. Politicians were lobbied by fishing communities to keep quotas high and everyone seemed blind to the fact of impending doom for the fishing industry.

Europe's fleets 'waste Africa's fish' (BBC News, 1 April 2002)

Campaigners say European Union (EU) boats are wasting West Africa's rich fishing resources by discarding most of their catch.
Foreign boats have been fishing in Senegalese waters for more than 20 years, catching huge quantities of shrimp, tuna and now sardines. EU boats were among the first foreign vessels to obtain licences to fish off Senegal, but the situation soon became an unsustainable free-for-all, with industrial fishing destroying the country's most valuable resource. Foreign fishing methods soon began to destroy West Africa's delicate marine ecology. Brian O'Riordan, who works with a campaign group, the International Collective in Support of Fish Workers, based in Belgium, says "The ecosystem in tropical waters is very fragile, and very vulnerable to the industrial trawling techniques used by the EU. This has been described as being akin to clear-felling in a forest. They're catching everything now, the small fish, the uneconomic fish. So out of the catch they make, possibly they keep anything between 10 and 20%. But anything from 80-90% is chucked back in the water dead."

Deep fish 'trawled to oblivion' (BBC News, 18 February 2002)

Deep-sea trawlers are destroying populations of fish and other creatures in the ocean at an alarming rate, according to research presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston. Fishermen are now using military sonar to hunt in the deep ocean, but the slow life cycles of the species that live hundreds of metres below the surface mean their populations will collapse if they are exposed to industrial-scale exploitation. "In the deep sea, fishing gear is encountering species and habitats that are much less able to bounce back from the effects of fishing than those that live in the fast lane of the shallow seas," Dr Callum Roberts, from the University of York, UK, told the meeting.

"The pace of life in the deep sea is literally glacial. Species grow extremely slowly and they live to extraordinary ages, so, for example, the orange roughy can reach 150 years old and they don't reproduce until they are in their mid-20s to mid-30s."

Licensing fishing or introducing quota schemes to preserve stocks was unlikely to be effective, said Roberts. Marine reserves, he believes, are the only answer. "There is a worldwide scramble to exploit deep-sea fish. Forty percent of the world's trawling grounds are now waters that are deeper than the edge of the continental shelves... The early rewards from deep-sea fishing can be extremely high. The orange roughy fisheries that took off in the 1980s around seamounts in the waters off New Zealand and Australia were said to be producing catches of 60 tonnes from a 20 minute trawl. But the decline came very swiftly and today there is less than 20% of the roughy there were 10 or 15 years ago," Dr Roberts said.

The impact of fishing in the deep sea goes far beyond just removing the fish. Fisheries are concentrated into places that have the greatest biological significance; places like seamounts and canyon walls where materials that are wafted in on currents support rich communities of species - corals, sponges, seafans and hydroids. Deep-sea fishing is said to be inflicting terrible collateral damage on these species as trawl meshes plough through the water.

"Off the East Coast of North America bizarre and beautiful fields of glass sponges have been trawled to oblivion. In the Southern Ocean, 'lush forests' of invertebrates have been literally stripped from the top of seamounts by trawlers targeting orange roughy."

Study: No major role for fish in prevention of heart failure (Fars News Agency, 11/10/09)

A two-decade-long study in Rotterdam has indicated that despite common beliefs, consumption of fish plays no major role in the prevention of heart failure. Results from a large prospective population study, which was started in 1990 and involved all men and women over the age of 55 living in a suburb of Rotterdam, found no difference in the risk of developing heart failure between those who did eat fish and those who didn't. The study is in the October issue of the European Journal of Heart Failure. Even for a high daily fish consumption of more than 20 grams a day there appeared no added protection against heart failure.

Scientists fearful for fish stocks (The Age, 26 September 2009)

At a time of crashing wild fish stocks and wary consumers, a blue tick on a seafood label is becoming sales gold.
Australians can find the Marine Stewardship Council's tick for sustainable fishing on a tin of John West's Alaska pink salmon, or a yellow-eyed mullet lunch in the upmarket restaurant, Rockpool.

Globally, MSC-approved fisheries already catch more than 5 million tonnes of seafood. Such is its success that, with 50 fisheries certified, another 100 are in assessment. But attempts by industrial fishers to get MSC approval of some of the last unexploited fisheries have led scientists to question the way the tick is awarded. They say certification may encourage fisheries depletion.
Alarmed by plans to certify Antarctic fisheries, the British fisheries science doyen, Sidney Holt, told The Age: ''The MSC, which started as a good idea, has become a danger to conservation and sustainable management.''

Another global authority on fish stocks, Daniel Pauly, is worried by a plan to seek certification for the keystone fish, Peruvian anchovy, to be used for fishmeal. Dr Pauly wrote recently: ''The MSC is making a mistake. The issue is not whether the fishery is well managed, but what we do with the fish.''

Our consumption of fish is this year expected to reach a tipping point, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation. Such is the loss of wild fish that more than half of what we eat will come from aquaculture for the first time.
The eminent American marine scientist Sylvia Earle said that about 90 per cent of big predatory fish in the sea - marlin, swordfish and sharks - had gone. High-priced tunas such as southern bluefin are also down to 10 per cent of their original numbers.

Farmed Fish May Pose Risk For Mad Cow Disease (kypost, 15 June 2009)

University of Louisville neurologist Robert P. Friedland, M.D., questions the safety of eating farmed fish in today’s Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, adding a new worry to concerns about the nation’s food supply.

Friedland and his co-authors suggest farmed fish could transmit Creutzfeldt Jakob disease - commonly known as mad cow disease - if they are fed byproducts rendered from cows. The scientists urge government regulators to ban feeding cow meat or bone meal to fish until the safety of this common practice can be confirmed.

"We have not proven that it’s possible for fish to transmit the disease to humans. Still, we believe that out of reasonable caution for public health, the practice of feeding rendered cows to fish should be prohibited," Friedland said. "Fish do very well in the seas without eating cows," he added.
The risk of transmission of BSE to humans who eat farmed fish would appear to be low because of perceived barriers between species. But, according to the authors, it is possible for a disease to be spread by eating a carrier that is not infected itself. It’s also possible that eating diseased cow parts could cause fish to experience a pathological change that allows the infection to be passed between the two species.

Fishery closed to protect endangered sea turtles (Environment News Network, 30 April 2009)

The [U.S.] National Marine Fisheries Service has ordered a six-month emergency closure of the bottom longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico to protect imperiled sea turtles from capture and death. During the closure, which [went] into effect May 16, the agency will determine whether and how the fishery can operate while ensuring the survival of the turtles over the long term. "After years of delay and the death of hundreds of turtles, it's great to know that protections are finally on their way," said Sierra Weaver, an attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. "This closure will insure that the fishery can operate without threatening these species with extinction." Bottom longline fishing is a fishing process that uses hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks along miles of lines laid behind fishing vessels and stretching down to the reef and Gulf floor.

Crabs 'feel and remember pain' suggests new study (CNN, 27 March 2009)

New research suggests that crabs not only suffer pain but that they retain a memory of it. The study, which was carried out by Professor Bob Elwood and Mirjam Appel from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen's University, Belfast, looked at the reactions of hermit crabs to small electric shocks. It was published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Professor Elwood, whose previous work showed that prawns endure pain, said his research highlighted the need to investigate the treatment of crustaceans [including crabs, prawns and lobsters] used in food industries.

Hermit crabs have no shell of their own so inhabit other structures, usually empty mollusc shells. In the research, wires were attached to shells to deliver the small shocks to the abdomen of some of the crabs within the shells. The only crabs to get out of their shells were those which had received shocks, indicating that the experience is unpleasant for them.

Fish Consumption Guidelines Not Environmentally Sustainable, Canadian Experts Say (Science Daily, 19 March 2009)

Recommendations to increase fish consumption because of health benefits may not be environmentally sustainable and more research is needed to clarify the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, write Dr. David Jenkins of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and coauthors in an analysis in Canadian Medical Association Journal
The authors point out that even at current fish consumption levels, global fisheries are in severe crisis as demand outstrips supply and declining stocks are being diverted from local markets to affluent markets, with serious consequences for the food security of poorer countries and coastal communities. Global stocks have been declining since the late 1980s and there have been more than 100 cases of marine extinctions.
"These trends imply the collapse of all commercially exploited stocks by mid-century," state the authors. "Yet the dire status of fisheries resources is largely unrecognized by the public, who are both encouraged to eat more fish and are misled into believing we live in a sea of plenty."

Growing Taste for Reef Fish Sends Their Numbers Sinking (New York Times, 19 January 2009)

The fierce appetite for live reef fish across Southeast Asia - and increasingly in mainland China - is devastating populations in the Coral Triangle, a protected marine region home to the world's richest ocean diversity, according to a recent report in the scientific journal Conservation Biology. Spawning of reef fish in this area, which supports 75 percent of all known coral species in the world, has declined 79 percent over the past 5 to 20 years, depending on location, according to the report.

Overfishing in general, and particularly of spawning aggregations that occur when certain species of reef fish gather in one place in great numbers to reproduce, may be the culprit, says Yvonne Sadovy, a biologist at the University of Hong Kong who wrote the report along with scientists from Australia, Hong Kong, Palau and the United States.

Italy's bluefin tuna fishing 'out of control': WWF (Yahoo News, 7 October 2008)

Italy's fishing of bluefin tuna is "totally out of control," the Worldwide Fund for Nature charged Tuesday, calling for a three-year moratorium on fishing for the species in the Mediterranean.

In a statement, the Italian section of the WWF denounced "widespread and repeated lawlessness over the course of years" in fishing for the lucrative species, which is highly prized in Japan. WWF blamed Italy's overfishing on a "lack of control, clandestine fishing boats, unregistered transfers of live tuna to foreign fish farms (and) a presence of organised crime" among other factors.

In conclusions addressed to the European Commission and the Italian agriculture and fisheries ministry, WWF recalled the EU decision to halt industrial fishing of bluefin tuna in mid-June, two weeks early, because quotas for 2008 were already reached. But Italy has exceeded the allowed catch for 2008 by "at least 700 tonnes," WWF said.

Trawlermen cling on as oceans empty of fish - and the ecosystem is gasping (Guardian UK, 8 July 2008)

All over the world, protesters are engaged in a heroic battle with reality. They block roads, picket fuel depots, throw missiles and turn over cars in an effort to hold it at bay. The oil is running out and governments, they insist, must do something about it. When they've sorted it out, what about the fact that the days are getting shorter?

What do we pay our taxes for? The latest people to join these surreal protests are the world's fishermen. They are on strike in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and Japan, and demonstrating in scores of maritime countries. Last month in Brussels they threw rocks and flares at the police, who have been conspiring with the world's sedimentary basins to keep the price of oil high. The fishermen warn that if something isn't done to help them, thousands could be forced to scrap their boats and hang up their nets. It's an appalling prospect, which we should greet with heartfelt indifference. Just as the oil price now seems to be all that stands b etween us and runaway climate change, it is also the only factor which offers a glimmer of hope to the world's marine ecosystems.

Global Fish Catches Vastly Underestimated (Inter Press Service News Agency, 8 July 2008)

Fisheries catches in tropical island nations may be as much as 17 times higher than officially reported, according to a new study released Tuesday.

"The underreporting of fish catches is of such a magnitude it boggles the mind," said Daniel Pauly, a renowned fisheries expert at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

All of the 20 small Pacific island countries in the study underreported catches, mainly because they did not count the catch by small-scale local fishers. This is not unique -- even the U.S. does not report local and recreational fishing statistics, Pauly told IPS at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Tuesday.

A different study also released Tuesday estimates that the unreported recreational fish catch in the Hawaiian Islands doubles the size of the official catch. It also concluded that 75 percent of reef fishes in the main Hawaiian Islands are depleted or in critical condition because of overfishing.

Pauly and other fish experts long suspected that many nations do not measure small-scale and recreational fisheries. The Sea Around Us Project located at UBC is the first attempt to reconstruct actual catches between 1950 and 2004.

"Even though small-scale fisheries feed many people in poor countries, their contribution goes unreported," Pauly said.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome collects and compiles global fishery data. However, countries provide the information on a voluntary basis and it is not verified. And very often the data is supplied by the countries' foreign affairs or export development departments and not the fisheries agency and represents fish exports, not actual fish catch, Pauly said.
However, this grossly imperfect data is the only global fishery data and is what scientists, policy makers, conservationists and others rely on to make decisions such as catch quotas and licensing -- often with serious consequences.

Seafood not so healthy after all - for us or the planet (The Environmental Magazine, 6 April 2008)

Several decades ago a fish-centric diet was considered to be not only healthy but also environmentally friendly. But today those of us who eat a lot of fish may not be doing ourselves or the environment any favor. The two major concerns are overfishing and pollution. Demand for low-calorie, protein-rich fish has grown tremendously alongside increases in world population. At the same time, the technologies employed for catching seafood have improved to the point that the commercial fishing industry has essentially stripped the ocean of its once teeming fish populations... Scientists routinely find unsafe levels of mercury, PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and other harsh toxins in the fat, internal organs and even muscle tissue of many different kinds of fish. For those looking to cut down on or elimi nate seafood from their diets but still gain the health benefits of eating fish, plenty of alternatives exist. As most vegetarians know, beans, tofu and many nuts can be significant alternative sources of protein. And walnuts, flaxseed and hemp oil/seeds are all rich in the Omega-3 fatty acids common in many fish and thought to help ward off heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration (age-related blindness), arthritis and inflammatory disorders.

Sacrificing Sea Lions for Salmon (The Environmental Magazine, 25 March 2008)

In what seems a cruel twist of fate for wildlife just out for a bite to eat, the National Marine Fisheries Service last week gave permission to game managers in Washington and Oregon to start killing sea lions that feed on dwindling populations of migrating salmon near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Bonneville is one of several dams on the Columbia at least partly responsible for the great decline of wild salmon populations. The fish have trouble getting past the dams on their way back upstream to spawn after spending their adolescence at sea. In response to this problem, Bonneville and some of the other Columbia dams have installed fish ladders so spawning salmon can swim past the man-made obstructions. The National Marine Fisheries Services has decided that the sea lions are eating more than their share of endangered salmon by staking out the entrance to the fish ladders to catch unsuspecting schooling fish.

“The claim that sea lions must die to protect salmon is entirely bogus, and more than a little disingenuous,” said John Balzar of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which supports “non-lethal harassment” of sea lions at Bonneville Dam. “If the government really thought salmon were so critically imperiled that we need to start slaughtering their natural predators, they wouldn’t allow fishermen to catch three times more fish than sea lions are eating.”

Sharks disappearing as fin chopping rises (Environmental News Network, 17 February 2008)

Populations of tiger, bull, dusky and other sea sharks have plummeted by more than 95 per cent since the 1970s as fisherman kill the animals for their fins [an extremely cruel practice!] or when they scoop other fish from the ocean, according to an expert from the World Conservation Union, or IUCN. At particular risk is the scalloped hammerhead shark, whose young swim mostly in shallow waters along shores all over the world to avoid predators. The numbers of many other large shark species have plunged due to increased demand for shark fins and meat, recreational shark fisheries, as well as tuna and swordfish fisheries, where millions of sharks are taken as bycatch each year, said [an IUCN spokesperson].

Empty seas: Europe's appetite for seafood propels illegal trade (New York Times, 15 January 2008)

Walking at the Brixton market among the parrotfish, doctorfish and butterfish, Effa Edusie is surrounded by pieces of her childhood in Ghana. Caught the day before far off the coast of West Africa, they have been airfreighted to London for dinner. Ms. Edusie's relatives used to be fishermen. But no more. These fish are no longer caught by Africans. On the underside of the waterlogged brown cardboard box that holds the snapper is the improbable red logo of the China National Fisheries Corporation, one of the largest suppliers of West African fish to Europe. Europe's dinner tables are increasingly supplied by global fishing fleets, which are depleting the world's oceans to feed the ravenous consumers who have become the most effective predators of fish... "We've acted as if the supply of fish was limitless and it's not," said Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation.

Fish farms pushing wild salmon to extinction (IPS, 14 December 2007)

Vast populations of pink salmon on Canada's west coast will be extinct in four years due to infestations of parasites from open ocean salmon farms, scientists reported [December 14] in the prestigious journal Science. Canadian officials seem likely to let the wild salmon go extinct, if past inaction is any indicator, Alexandra Morton, the study's co-author and director of the Salmon Coast Field Station in Broughton, British Columbia, told IPS. The Science study shows that infestations of sea lice have killed more than 80 per cent of the annual pink salmon returns in British Columbia's Broughton Archipelago, 300 kms north of the city of Vancouver, over the past four years. In another four years, there will be no more pinks if the infestations continue... "It's heart-breaking to see these amazing little f ish ripped and torn by the lice," said Morton, who lives and works in the Broughton Archipelago where 20 large farms are located. Some farms have more than a million fish.

New England Rescinds Protections for Threatened Atlantic Sea Turtles (Environmental News Network, 26 October 2007)

The New England Fishery Management Council voted to rescind protections for threatened and endangered sea turtles, many of which are caught in scallop dredges in New England and mid-Atlantic waters. The Council voted to remove seasonal restrictions on scallop dredging in the [area]. These restrictions were established to keep loggerhead and other turtles from being entangled, crushed and drowned when they are swept up by industrial-sized scallop dredges. Loggerhead turtle populations are declining in large part due to injury or death in fisheries. It is time for the federal government to step up and take control of sea turtle by-catch in the scallop dredge fishery," said Elizabeth Griffin, [ocean conservation group] Oceana's marine wildlife scientist.

Fish Vanishing from Southeast Asian Oceans - Report (Reuters News Service, 8 November 2007)

SYDNEY - Southeast Asia's oceans are fast running out of fish, putting the livelihoods of up to 100 million people at risk and increasing the need for governments to support the maintenance of fish stocks, an Australian expert said. Fisheries in the region had expanded dramatically in recent decades and Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines were now in the top 12 fish producing countries in the world, Meryl Williams said in a paper for Australia's Lowy Institute.

In the Gulf of Thailand, the density of fish had declined by 86 percent from 1961 to 1991, while between 1966 and 1994 the catch per hour in the Gulf by trawlers fell more than sevenfold. In Vietnam, a new fishing power and a rising source of imports by Australia, the total catch between 1981 and 1999 only doubled despite a tripling of capacity of the fishing fleet -- a sure sign that fishing was reaching capacity, she said.

In the Gulf of Tonkin, where Vietnam shares resources with China, the record was even worse with fish catch per hour in 1997 only a quarter of that in 1985. "In the Philippines, most marine fisheries were overexploited by the 1980s, with catch rates as low as 10 percent of rates when these areas were lightly fished," she said.

Something 'fishy' about children's health coalition's admonition to 'eat more fish' (New York Times, 17 October 2007)

Many health advocates were surprised earlier this month when a children's health coalition that includes federal agencies and professional medical associations contradicted government warnings about mercury contamination and recommended that women of childbearing age eat more fish. Since then several coalition members have renounced the findings, some criticizing the coalition's leadership for taking thousands of dollars from the fishing industry to promote the recommendations. "We are appalled," said Dr. Frank Greer, chairman of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the coalition. He said his organization does not believe the new advice is backed up by the preponderance of science. Julie Zawisza, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, said t he agency stood by its warnings about seafood high in mercury.

Industry Money Fans Debate on Fish (The New York Times, 17 October 2007)

Many health advocates were surprised earlier this month when a children's health coalition that includes federal agencies and professional medical associations contradicted government warnings about mercury contamination and recommended that women of childbearing age eat more fish.

Since then several coalition members have renounced the findings, some criticizing the coalition's leadership for taking thousands of dollars from the fishing industry to promote the recommendations. The coalition's leaders did not present the recommendations to its members before releasing them.

Tuna fishing kills endangered birds, sea life: WWF (Environmental News Network/Reuters, 11 October 2007)

Fishhooks meant to catch tuna in the southern Pacific and Indian Oceans are killing endangered seabirds, as well as sharks and turtles, the WWF conservation group said on [October 11]. It estimated up to 13,500 seabirds, including 10,000 albatrosses, were caught every year by long-line fisheries targeting southern bluefin tuna. Most of the fishing vessels were from Japan.

Long-line fishing involves trailing a single line with hundreds or thousands of hooks. WWF said 19 of the 22 species of albatross were classified as threatened with extinction by the World Conservation Union. "Long-line fleets are fishing blind, with little or no understanding of their devastating impact on threatened species," Simon Cripps, director of WWF's Global Marine Programme, said in a statement.

The WWF said the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna should take tougher action at an annual meeting in Australia next week to stem over-fishing and protect other wildlife such as sharks, turtles and seabirds.
It said the Commission should demand tougher measures than floating poles meant to scare seabirds away from fishing lines and demand better reporting of wildlife catches apart from tuna.

Great salmon escape could turn wild fish into 'couch potatoes' (The Times, 8 September 2007)

They are an identical species, but while one is lean and incredibly fit, the SAS of the fish world, the other is an obese, idle creature, a couch potato with fins. When the two interbreed, the results can be a genetic disaster. Such a disaster looms, according to experts, after the escape of more than 100,000 farmed Atlantic salmon over the past six months on the West Coast.

The escape, which was detected four days ago, comes at a time when wild salmon are approaching the rivers to spawn, meaning that there could be intermingling and genetic dilution of the wild fish. These are extremely fit creatures, swimming thousands of miles across oceans, then battling their way upstream. If they spawn with the flabby, cage-reared fish, it is claimed that the offspring can be genetically weak and the wild salmon population, which is recovering after some very bad years, could be threatened.

Yangtze river dolphin declared extinct (Science & Nature, 8 August 2007)

Scientists declared China`s Yangtze river dolphin extinct Wednesday after weeks of searching failed to locate even one in 1,000 miles of the busy river. 'We used a very intensive survey technique. Both of the boats counted the same number of porpoises -- we saw everything that was there. We didn`t see a single dolphin,' Turvey said.

The study said shipping and accidental injuries from fishing lines were the most likely causes for the extinction of the freshwater dolphin with pale skin and long snout.

Stocks fall as tuna shifts from pet food to delicacy (Environmental News Network, 6 August 2007)

Over-fishing has made Atlantic bluefin tuna a prized delicacy a century after the fish were scorned in Europe as pet food, according to studies that urged better international protection. "Tuna are now like floating goldmines out in the ocean," said Brian MacKenzie of the Technical University of Denmark. Bluefin tuna, which spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean, can be worth $10,000-15,000 each in Japan, where they are eaten raw as sushi, said Andre Boustany, an expert at Duke University in the United States. One single fish sold for a record $178,000. The Atlantic bluefin stock has plunged in recent decades, meaning that even a total halt to fishing might not help stocks revive, he said.

1 in 4 NYC Adults Have Elevated Mercury (New York Times, 23 July 2007)

A quarter of adults in New York city have elevated levels of mercury in their blood, linked to how much fish they eat, according to survey results released Monday by the health department. Rates were higher among more affluent residents compared to those in lower income groups and were high among Asians, who eat more fish, the survey showed.

While mercury at the levels found in New Yorkers doesn't really pose a risk for most adults, the city suggested that children under 6 years old and pregnant and breast-feeding women avoid fish with high mercury contents over concerns that it increases the risk of cognitive problems in children.

Fisheries in crisis
By-catch - an incredible waste
Case study: Tuna fishing and dolphins
The impacts of fishing on other animals
Commercial fishing
  Purse seine nets
  Drift nets
  Longline fishing
  Bottom trawling
Technology opens oceans to trawling
Trawling destroys vital habitat
Recent improvements in design
Fish Farming
Recreational fishing
   VNPA research review
   CSIRO Port Phillip Bay Study 1999
Fish and pain
Fish and intelligence
Fish and human health
   Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
  A lot of fat and cholesterol, and no fibre
  Bio-accumulation of toxic chemicals
  Recent research on mercury in the USA
   PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls)
   Food poisoning risk
Recent fishing issues (news articles)
Links of Interest
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Marine and Atmospheric Research


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