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Fishing fleets grow but catch relatively less

The world’s fishing fleets have expanded their range to cover most of the world’s oceans and have increased their fish-catching power tenfold, according to global analysis. But these same fleets are now catching fewer fish for the same amount of effort than they were in the 1950s, suggesting that this important food resource is in perilous decline, according to Reg Watson of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Based on data from the United Nations, the European Union and several management agencies, Watson and his colleagues estimate that since 1950, the ‘fishing effort’, based on the engine power of vessels, has increased by an average of tenfold, and the power of Asia’s fleets has increased 25-fold. But their analysis, published in Fish and Fisheries, also shows that landings from global fisheries in 2006 were half what they were in 1950 per unit of power expended.

“There are very, very few global-scale ways of looking at the overall health of fisheries,” says Watson. “For the first time we can combine both catch and effort and look at measures that are related to the underlying biomass of stocks supporting global fisheries.”

The conclusion stemming from being able to look at these things is that the ocean’s “fishable biomass” has “greatly declined”, he adds.

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