UK fish stocks have plummeted during the last century

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Fish stocks in UK waters have fallen by a whopping 94% and trawlers now have to work 17 times as hard to catch the same amount of fish as in the 1890s, when most of the fishing fleet was sail-powered, according to a recent report.

Ruth Thurstan, Simon Brockington and Callum Roberts arrived at this alarming conclusion in a recent issue of the journal Nature Communications after analysing fish landings and the fishing power of the trawler fleet (size and number of boats).

The authors were astonished to find that four times as many fish were landed into the UK a hundred years ago than today.

"For all its technological sophistication and raw power, today's trawl fishing fleet has far less success than its sail-powered equivalent of the late 19th century because of the sharp declines in fish abundance", said lead author Ruth Thurstan.

Basing their results on previously neglected government records, the authors found that the losses for some of the commercially important bottom-living fishes have exceeded 99%. Haddock, for example, have declined over 100 times, and halibut by 500 times since records began.

The authors conclude that "…seabed ecosystems have undergone a profound reorganisation since the industrialisation of fishing and that commercial stocks of most bottom-living species, which once comprised an important component of marine ecosystems, collapsed long ago."

According to Callum Roberts, "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.

"European fish stock assessments, and the management targets based on them, go back only 20 to 40 years. These results should supply an important corrective to the short-termism inherent in fisheries management today."

For more information, see the paper: Thurstan, RH, S Brockington and CM Roberts (2010) The effects of 118 years of industrial fishing on UK bottom trawl fisheries. Nature Communications 1, 15, doi:10.1038/ncomms1013.