Report: Seafood faces collapse by 2048
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Clambakes, crabcakes, swordfish steaks and even humble fish sticks could be little more than a fond memory in a few decades.
If current trends of overfishing and pollution continue, the populations of just about all seafood face collapse by 2048, a team of ecologists and economists warns in a report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
"Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world's ocean, we saw the same picture emerging. In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems," said the lead author Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
(Watch how the seafood on your plate may become a thing of the past -- 3:10)
"I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are -- beyond anything we suspected," Worm said.
While the study focused on the oceans, concerns have been expressed by ecologists about threats to fish in the Great Lakes and other lakes, rivers and freshwaters, too.
Worm and an international team spent four years analyzing 32 controlled experiments, other studies from 48 marine protected areas and global catch data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's database of all fish and invertebrates worldwide from 1950 to 2003.
The scientists also looked at a 1,000-year time series for 12 coastal regions, drawing on data from archives, fishery records, sediment cores and archaeological data.
"At this point 29 percent of fish and seafood species have collapsed -- that is, their catch has declined by 90 percent. It is a very clear trend, and it is accelerating," Worm said. "If the long-term trend continues, all fish and seafood species are projected to collapse within my lifetime -- by 2048."
"It looks grim and the projection of the trend into the future looks even grimmer," he said. "But it's not too late to turn this around. It can be done, but it must be done soon. We need a shift from single species management to ecosystem management. It just requires a big chunk of political will to do it."
The researchers called for new marine reserves, better management to prevent overfishing and tighter controls on pollution.
In the 48 areas worldwide that have been protected to improve marine biodiversity, they found, "diversity of species recovered dramatically, and with it the ecosystem's productivity and stability."
While seafood forms a crucial concern in their study, the researchers were analyzing overall biodiversity of the oceans. The more species in the oceans, the better each can handle exploitation.
"Even bugs and weeds make clear, measurable contributions to ecosystems," said co-author J. Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.
The National Fisheries Institute, a trade association for the seafood industry, does not share the researchers alarm.
"Fish stocks naturally fluctuate in population," the institute said in a statement. "By developing new technologies that capture target species more efficiently and result in less impact on other species or the environment, we are helping to ensure our industry does not adversely affect surrounding ecosystems or damage native species.
Seafood has become a growing part of Americans' diet in recent years. Consumption totaled 16.6 pounds per person in 2004, the most recent data available, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That compares with 15.2 pounds in 2000.
Joshua Reichert, head of the private Pew Charitable Trusts' environment program, pointed out that worldwide fishing provides $80 billion in revenue and 200 million people depend on it for their livelihoods. For more than 1 billion people, many of whom are poor, fish is their main source of protein, he said.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation's National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis.
Researchers project collapse of seafood species
The ocean ecosystems are in trouble and losing species fast, which could leave no seafood to harvest before 2050 if the current global trend continues, said researchers Thursday.
"This loss of species is threatening the sustainability of not only fishing, but … also other human uses of the ocean," said Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, lead author of the study published in the journal Science.
"This trend is negative for human well-being, meaning it has direct impacts on our economies and livelihoods."
The loss of biodiversity is reducing the ocean's ability to produce seafood, resist diseases, filter pollutants, and rebound from stresses such as over-fishing and climate change.
The research suggests that every species lost increases the decline of the overall ecosystem. On the other hand, every species recovered adds to the total productivity and stability of the ecosystem and its ability to withstand stresses.
Based on their findings, researchers project there will be no seafood species left to consume before 2050 — but they say it's not too late to change.
"We can see the bottom of the barrel, but it's not too late to turn it around. We're very optimistic about the recovery potential of the ocean ecosystem at this point in time," said Worm.
The authors say that restoring marine biodiversity through ecosystem-based management is essential in avoiding "serious threats to global food security, coastal water quality and ecosystem stability." They suggest integrated fisheries management, pollution control, maintenance of essential habitats and creation of marine reserves to aid in the recovery.
"We have to be selective about what we dump into the ocean and how it affects those ecosystems. We need to be smart about protecting sensitive regions," said Dr. Worm.
The four-year analysis is the first to look at all existing data on ocean species and ecosystems, in an effort to understand the importance of biodiversity on the global scale.
Researchers examined 32 controlled experiments, observational studies from 48 marine protected areas, and global catch data from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's database of all fish and invertebrates worldwide from 1950 to 2003.
The scientists also looked at thousand-year time series for 12 coastal regions, drawing on data from archives, fishery records, sediment cores and archeological data.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the University of California and UC Santa Barbara.