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Comprehensive Study of UK Seas

UK - A comprehensive assessment on the state of the UK seas published today, 21 July, shows that fish stocks have improved but are still being fished unsustainably.

Charting Progress 2 is the result of a five-year study into how human use and other pressures, such as climate change, are affecting our seas.

It draws on evidence gathered by scientists from marine agencies, research institutes, universities, environmental organisations and industries around the UK. All the evidence has been peer reviewed by national and international scientists.

The report looks in detail at how climate change has increased sea levels and temperatures and what impacts that change is having on the marine environment; the changes in the habitats and species in our seas; levels of pollution; and marine industries impacting on marine ecosystems.

The top findings from the report are:

  • Sea levels have risen by 14cm during the last century and surface temperatures have increased by one degree centigrade since the ate nineteenth century;
  • Populations of seabirds and harbour seals are declining in some areas;
  • Fish stocks have improved but many are still fished unsustainably;
  • Many estuaries are cleaner and this has increased the diversity and number of fish species;
  • Contamination by hazardous substances (such as heavy metals) has reduced in most regions and there are few or no problems relating to radioactivity, eutrophication, or algal toxins in seafood;
  • Litter, particularly plastic, was found on all beaches surveyed as well as in the sea and on the seabed;
  • Marine industries, contributed £47 billion to the economy in 2008; and
  • The main pressures on the marine environment are damage to, and loss of, habitat on the seabed from fishing and the presence of physical structures.

Marine Environment Minister, Richard Benyon said: “Charting Progress 2 is the most comprehensive report on the state of the UK marine environment ever undertaken. Our seas are three times the size of our land and yet while we have many reports that tell us what is happening to our land, we have little to inform us about the state of our seas.

“The UK has one of the world’s richest marine environments with over 8000 species from whales to sponges. This report allows us to monitor our progress and prioritise what action government and business need to take to achieve clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.”

Philip MacMullen, Head of Environmental Responsibility at Seafish, said: "The new Defra report provides clear evidence that UK fish stocks are being managed effectively and the significant efforts of fishermen to catch responsibly are making a tangible difference.

"The report also highlights two worrying trends - ocean acidification and climate change - that we have been concerned about for some time. Ocean acidfication is happening and it's creating huge risks to sea life, particularly shellfish, which are extremely sensitive to these changes. It may be the strongest argument we have for introducing aggressive and immediate cuts in CO2 emissions. Climate change also has serious consequences for our waters. In the British Isles we are now seeing many fish that were previously associated with Spain, Portugal or the Mediterranean - fish like red mullet along with octopus and squid - so opportunities for fishermen are changing.

"Protecting the life in our oceans is a lot more complex than imposing catch restrictions on fishermen and we will keep working with the seafood industry, Defra and other organisations to ensure a holistic approach to the wellbeing of our marine environment."

Charting Progress 2 has been prepared by the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) community. Defra and the Devolved Administrations are members of UKMMAS, which includes over 40 organisations ranging from government agencies responsible for managing and monitoring our seas to industry and environmental groups.

the Fish Site Editor

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