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In Focus: Simply fish stories?

A report this month predicts a loss of fisheries by 2048 without changes to fishing and other human actions. Locally caught species include Pacific whiting, shrimp, black rockfish, lingcod, tuna and Dungeness crab. (File photo/The Daily Triplicate).
A report this month predicts a loss of fisheries by 2048 without changes to fishing and other human actions. Locally caught species include Pacific whiting, shrimp, black rockfish, lingcod, tuna and Dungeness crab. (File photo/The Daily Triplicate).

By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Area fisheries experts balk at the idea that all fish now caught for food could disappear as a report earlier this month in the journal "Science" warns.

Seafood fisheries around the world could collapse by 2048 if current fishing practices continue, according to the report. It points to a falling rate of resource recovery, stability and water quality. Researchers also note a growing number of people choosing to live along coastal areas and a rising consumption of seafood.

"Business as usual would foreshadow serious threats to global food security, coastal water quality, and ecosystem stability, affecting current and future generations," the report said.

Local fisheries experts disagree.

"It's hard to picture," California Department of Fish and Game marine biologist John Mello said of the report's prediction.

David Hankin, a professor and chair of the department of fisheries biology at Humboldt State University, agreed.

"I have to express disbelief," Hankin said, noting other scientists' reactions to the report. "It's crazy."

He pointed to recovery and management efforts that have helped fish such as the Pacific halibut and Alaskan salmon rebound.

Hankin suspects that reports in popular scientific publications often garner more attention than they should and lack proper peer review.

The report — backed by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the University of California — focuses on the affects of changes in biodiversity on ocean habitat.

More diversity boosts ecosystems and helps them withstand and recover from problems, the report found. And the broad diet from a diverse habitat boosts species' growth, survival and fertility rates.

"Records over the past millenium revealed a rapid decline of native species diversity since the onset of industrialization," the report states, noting a quickening pace of species collapse and extinction.

Mello pointed to the Pacific Fishery Management Council's rules that sustain populations of fish caught off Northern California. Those include Dungeness crab, sablefish, Dover sole and Pacific Whiting. Much of it goes to Japan, where a steady demand ensures good prices.

Other parts of the world, though, lack such regulations, Mello said. Banned fishing practices that take up too many fish or harm other species occur in open, international waters.

"The ecosystems are inter-connected," he said. "You can't just say, ‘We're OK here and we don't need to worry about what's happening in the South Pacific.'"

Other countries need to tighten fishing rules, agreed John Coon, deputy director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council out of Portland, Ore.

But the recent report painted an unlikely scenario, Coon said.

"To us, it seemed a pretty wild projection," he said of the predicted species loss. "Things don't just disappear overnight."

Hankin remains more concerned with the effects of human population projections. Mello remains more concerned with global warming.

"If global warming is not checked, it's not gonna matter how much people fish," Mello said, noting the inability of marine species to adapt to changes in water temperature. "A lot of them are going to disappear.

"That's where I think we will probably see a collapse in our area before it's related to fishing."

He also encourages a broad-based approach to managing natural resources.

"That is a philosophical change that has really gained attention over the last few years," Mello said, noting such actions as setting aside protected marine reserves. "Looking at the whole system as opposed to single-species management."

The report, too, notes an ability to reverse its prediction.

"By restoring marine biodiversity through sustainable fisheries management, pollution control, maintenance of essential habitats, and the creation of marine reserves, we can invest in the productivity and reliability of the goods and services that the ocean provides to humanity," the report states.


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