Originally created 02/11/99

Study says population of marine fish dropping



ATHENS, Ga. -- The world's marine fish populations are rapidly approaching disaster, according to one expert.

"We are having an enormous impact on the part of the oceans that produce food," said Daniel Pauly, a professor at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia.

In a seminar sponsored by the University of Georgia's Environmental Ethics Program, Dr. Pauly spoke Tuesday night to about 75 people in the Ecology Auditorium.

His gloomy research findings on the decline in fish populations were published in the journal Science last year, but subsequent criticism from other scientists has led him to believe the situation is even worse than he described in his article.

The main evidence comes from an analysis of data collected annually by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, he said.

The FAO collects information about fish landings from all the world's countries.

Some nations produce more reliable data than others, but they all show a consistent pattern around the globe, he said: Fishing industries worldwide have fished out the big fish, then moved on to smaller and smaller species, working their way down the food chain.

"It's quite clear something global is going on," he said.

There also is visual evidence -- the ocean shelves that surround much of the North American coast, for example, have been fouled by decades of fish trawling.

"They are littered with fishing gear and junk, something equivalent to a gigantic New Jersey all the way around the countries, like a gigantic Rust Belt junkyard," he said.

In some places, fisheries already have reached the point where almost the only species left are the inedible ones -- things like jellyfish, he said.

In the big, high-tech fishing operations of the industrialized countries, boats are getting bigger and ranging farther across the seas to find an increasingly scarce catch.

"Industrial fishing is run by totally out-of-control corporations strong enough to push any government aside," Dr. Pauly said.

Many of those big operations actually are unprofitable and already would be out of business if it weren't for government subsidies and poaching in other nations' territories, he said.