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Towards sustainability in world fisheries

Abstract

Fisheries have rarely been 'sustainable'. Rather, fishing has induced serial depletions, long masked by improved technology, geographic expansion and exploitation of previously spurned species lower in the food web. With global catches declining since the late 1980s, continuation of present trends will lead to supply shortfall, for which aquaculture cannot be expected to compensate, and may well exacerbate. Reducing fishing capacity to appropriate levels will require strong reductions of subsidies. Zoning the oceans into unfished marine reserves and areas with limited levels of fishing effort would allow sustainable fisheries, based on resources embedded in functional, diverse ecosystems.

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Figure 1: Estimated global fish landings 1950–1999.
Figure 2: Fisheries, both marine and freshwater, are characterized by a decline of the mean trophic level in the landings, implying an increased reliance on organisms low in food webs (data from FishBase27, with Peru/Chile excluded owing to the dominance of Peruvian anchoveta; see also Fig. 1).
Figure 3: Schematic representation of the effects of some environmental variation on an unexploited, exploited but protected, and exploited but unprotected fish population.

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Acknowledgements

The work forms part of the Sea Around Us project at the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, an activity initiated and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. D.P. and C.W. also acknowledge support from the Canadian National Scientific and Engineering Research Council. We thank G. Russ and M. L. 'Deng' Palomares for various suggestions that improved an earlier draft of our paper.

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Pauly, D., Christensen, V., Guénette, S. et al. Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature 418, 689–695 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01017

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