In Marine Reserves, the Promise of a Fish-Filled Future

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
11 July 2006, at 1:00am

US - The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a string of islands, reefs, and atolls stretch about 1,400 miles northwest of Kauai, covers an area nearly as big as the entire state of California. Thanks to a mid-June declaration by President George Bush, these islands are now the largest marine reserve on Earth. They join 14 13 other marine sanctuaries in the United States, officially protected from direct threats like fishing (especially if the current handful commercial fishing permits are bought out by conservationists) and poaching (presuming Congress eventually allocates the money to patrol against it). Whatever the strategic political reasons for the move might have been (and lets just say there are next to no downsides in the declaration for the allies of an administration not noted for its progressive environmental policies, especially as they move into a tough election season), ecologically this declaration is worthy of a champagne toast. Nearly pristine, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands shelter one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the United States: vast coral reefs, sharks, most of the state's nesting green sea turtles, whales, more than 14 million seabirds, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, and seven thousand-odd more other species. Creating such a reserve is a significant act at a moment when the world's oceans are in crisis. About one quarter of the world's fish stocks are either overfished or recovering from overfishing, and about half being harvested at or near sustainable limits, while the human population of the Earth is skyrocketing -- at over six billion now, some projections anticipate more than nine billion people by the 2050s. According to The WorldWatch Institute, the world's fishers took about 133 million tons of fish and shellfish from the waters of the world in 2002 -- seven times the global harvest in 1950. While the vast bulk of these were wild critters, the percentage of cultivated sea in the harvest is rising swiftly. Aquaculture is now a vital part of the world's fish-for-food supply, up from virtually zero in 1950 to almost forty million tons in 2002, and increasing at a rate of about 10 percent a year. Industrial-strength fishing has cut the oceans' population of large predatory fishes by 90 percent in the same time period, according to a 2003 study published in the journal Nature. But now the "Blue Revolution" in industrial-strength breeding and cultivation techniques is coming on strong. The Blue Revolution emphasises highly refined fish-farming techniques to increase yields while leaving the wild ocean largely alone. On the face of it, increased aquaculture would take the pressure off wild fish stocks, but it also could profoundly alter ocean ecology. As Paul Greenberg recently wrote in The New York Times Magazine,.. Source: Worldchanging