Tuesday, August 4, 2009

'A new cooperation of fisheries scientists'

I finally got around to reading this big-splash article published last Friday in the journal Science.

The paper, titled "Rebuilding Global Fisheries," attempts to assess the state of the world's fish stocks and efforts to halt overfishing.

The article is remarkable perhaps more for its curious assemblage of co-authors than for its conclusions. The lead author is one Boris Worm, a Canadian university marine biologist who authored another Science article in 2006 projecting most if not all fish and seafood species were on track to collapse by precisely 2048.

University of Washington professor Ray Hilborn didn't think much of that paper and its pinpoint prediction, calling it "just mind-boggling stupid," according to this Seattle Times article.

So you might be surprised to learn these very same gentlemen, Worm and Hilborn, top a list of 21 scientists co-authoring this latest Science article, which is considerably more optimistic about our fish future. The eight-page paper contains a number of "Kumbaya" comments.

"We strive here to join previously diverging perspectives," the authors write, and at the end cite prospects for "a new cooperation of fisheries scientists."

OK, so we've made up.

Now, what does the paper actually say?

First, readers will see this is a rather simple academic exercise that offers no new, in-the-water research. Rather, the authors simply look at fish population assessments and catch rates for 166 stocks in 10 of the world's "large marine ecosystems." This means the paper's scope is quite limited.

"Ecosystems examined in this paper account for less than a quarter of world fisheries area and catch," we learn near the end.

For those who don't care to read the whole paper, here are a couple of its major findings:

• While catch rates have declined recently in some ecosystems, 63 percent of the assessed fish stocks worldwide still require rebuilding, "and even lower exploitation rates are needed to reverse the collapse of vulnerable species."

• Most rebuilding efforts begin only after a crisis has set in. "The inherent uncertainty in fisheries, however, requires that agencies act before it comes to that stage; this is especially true in light of accelerating global change. We found that only Alaska and New Zealand seemed to have acted with such foresight."

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