A new analysis on the status of the world’s beleaguered fisheries shows that, after many decades of overfishing, efforts to halt fisheries depletion and restore marine ecosystems are paying off in some parts of the ocean. Nonetheless, overexploitation still occurs for a majority of fish stocks assessed, and many remain vulnerable to collapse, the authors warn in a Science paper (2009, DOI 10.1126/science.1173146).
The study bridges a longstanding rift between fisheries scientists and marine ecologists over the severity of the crisis. A 2006 study led by Boris Worm of Dalhousie University (Canada) ignited a firestorm of controversy when it concluded that, without aggressive management measures, the accelerating downturn in ocean biodiversity portends the global collapse of saltwater fisheries by mid-century (DOI 10.1126/science.1132294). Fisheries specialists such as Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington Seattle criticized the report as alarmist, but ecologists contended that population estimates by their counterparts relied too narrowly on fish-catch records—which may not provide an accurate picture of abundances—without considering entire ecosystems. After several rounds of debate in the scientific literature, Worm and Hilborn found enough common ground to collaborate, along with 19 other researchers, on a fresh investigation.