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Effects Of Industrial Fishing On UK Stocks

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UK - Researchers from the University of York and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) have used UK Government data on the amount of fish caught and the size and number of boats involved the fleets fishing power to analyse the change in fish stocks since 1889.

They found that trawl fish landings peaked in 1937, 14 times higher than today, and the availability of bottom-living fish to the fleet fell by 94 per cent.

The findings are the result of a study using previously overlooked records and suggest the decline in stocks of popular fish such as cod, haddock and plaice is far more profound than previously thought.

Ruth Thurstan, lead author of the study from the University of York’s Environment Department, said: “We were astonished to discover that we landed over four times more fish into England and Wales in 1889 than we do today.

The findings suggest that the damage to fisheries is greater and has taken place over a much longer period than previously acknowledged, pre-dating developments such as the Common Fisheries Policy which are usually blamed for declining stocks.

Simon Brockington, Head of Conservation at the Marine Conservation Society and an author of the study, said: “Over a century of intensive trawl fishing has severely depleted UK seas of bottom living fish like halibut, turbot, haddock and plaice.

“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.

Seafish, the authority on seafood has said that whilst an attempt to create a historical perspective on the UK fishing industry is welcomed, it is confused as to why so much effort has been put into producing so little.

Philip MacMullen, Head of Environmental Responsibility at Seafish, said that he felt the report reiterated old news.

He said that nobody disputes that more needs to be done to manage the marine environment effectively but highlighted that in the last 15 years the industry, scientists and managers have introduced lots of new innovative approaches, including long term management plans, multi-speices models, effort controls to limit days at sea, more selective fishing gears and voluntary closures of fishing grounds.

"Fishermen are using responsible and sustainable techniques, managers understand what they need to do, and stocks are re-building."

He added: "More UK fisheries are Marine Stewardship Council certified than any other nation on earth. It’s all very well emphasising ‘the urgent need for action’ but the authors would do well to look at what's happening in today's marine environment, rather than dredging up dodgy data from the past."

The research is published in Nature Communications, the new online science journal from the publishers of Nature. It is available here.