British marine fish under threat

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British coastal waters are facing a grave threat from overfishing and pollution, warns a report recently released by the Marine Conservation Society.

The report, entitled Silent Seas, documents the damaging effects of overfishing, coastal pollution and inadequate habitat protection, and warns of ecological disasters in UK seas in the absence of radical mitigation.

The report highlights several disturbing trends, including one where many predatory fish species in UK coastal waters such as sharks, skates and rays are suffering a sharp decline from fishing, with several species once considered common having gone locally extinct.

According to the report, "ome types of fishing can be especially harmful. It is well known that trawls can destroy seafloor wildlife such as corals, bryozoans and sea urchins, but trawls are also unselective in what they catch.

In the sea, fish frequently live as a mixed community and a single trawl can catch many different species. While some of the catch is the target species, much of the remainder may be worthless and is discarded, usually in a dead or dying condition.

The report also considers the number of marine vertebrate species in British waters threatened with extinction to be seven times larger than for those on land.

At riskCommon sturgeon (Acipenser sturio): ...the once common sturgeon has been fished almost out of existence.

Common skate (Dipturus batis): This huge fish was extremely common in the shallow coastal waters around the UK during the early 1900s... It has been extirpated from most inshore areas.

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua): Once hugely abundant in the North East Atlantic. After 25 years of the Common Fisheries Policy this staple food fish has now been hunted so far beyond safe biological limits that it is now considered vulnerable by the IUCN.

Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus): It has suffered massive declines throughout its range, including virtual elimination in many areas as a result of overfishing.

Angel shark (Squatina squatina): Now declared extinct from the North Sea and extremely uncommon for the whole of the rest of its range.

PollutionAnother grave threat is the one posed by pollution, particularly by plastic litter in the seas, which kills sea birds, turtles, whales and seals either by entanglement or ingestion-induced starvation; the society claims that plastic litter washing up on UK beaches has grown by 126 per cent in the last 14 years.

Floating marine plastic has also been identified as a potential carrier for alien invasive species to British waters.

In the report, the MCS is calling for marine protection zones to be established, as well as a government strategy to combat pollution, more sustainable fishing and improved water treatment plants.

The report can be downloaded from the Marine Conservation Society's website at http://www.mcsuk.org/silentseas