Mixed fish stocks essential

finfish-featOverfishing has reduced fish populations and biodiversity across much of the world’s oceans. In response, fisheries are increasingly reliant on a handful of highly valuable shellfish. However, new research by the University of York shows this approach to be extremely risky.

The research, published today in the journal Fish and Fisheries, shows that traditional fisheries targeting large predators such as cod and haddock, have declined over the past hundred years. In their place, catches of shellfish such as prawns, scallops and lobsters have rocketed as they begin to thrive in unnaturally predator-low environments often degraded by the passage of trawls and dredges. 

A paper “The unintended consequences of simplifying the sea: making the case for complexity” has been published in the journal Fish and Fisheries. Conducted by the Environment Department at the University of York, it makes the compelling case “that restoring the diversity of ocean ecosystems is necessary to ensure fisheries sustainability and resilience into the future”.

Reviewing the paper, Charles Millar, Director of SIFT, said: “We wholeheartedly welcome this research which endorses our concerns about the Firth of Clyde and other Scottish coastal fisheries. It underlines the importance of promoting the recovery of truly mixed fish stocks in order to support long term jobs in the inshore fishery sector.

“The study has particular relevance for the Clyde. It notes that prawns now dominate the Firth of Clyde fishery. In 1985, finfish such as cod made up more than 60% of the landings by weight and 37% by value. However by 2008, this had fallen to just 2% by weight and 0.5% by value. Now prawns alone make up 84% of landings by weight and 87% by value.

“The Clyde prawn fishery really is in the last-chance saloon. Although it provides lucrative rewards in the short-term, if stocks were to collapse, and there are international precedents, then the Clyde would be devoid of a material commercial fishery. This would have dire social consequences for fishing communities. As a matter of high priority we need to nurture a recovery of the mixed fishery – from the larger predatory fish downwards – through lower fishing intensity and restrictions on the destructive and unselective fishing practices which limit the sea’s ability to recover its natural diversity.”

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