Fishing causes global crash of wild predators
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2004:
NEW ORLEANS–Responding to findings that the global
population of “apex predator” fish has fallen 90% since 1950, the
63-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic
Tunas on November 21 agreed to ban killing sharks for their fins in
the Atlantic ocean.
The U.S. banned shark finning in Atlantic territorial waters
in 1993, and in Pacific territorial waters in 2002.
Eighteen days after ratifying the ICCAT agreement, the U.S.
State Department and U.S. Customs moved to strengthen regulations
meant to exclude from the U.S. shrimp and shrimp products caught by
means that kill sea turtles. Six of the seven sea turtle species are
now considered critically endangered. Leatherbacks have declined 95%
The recent regulatory actions were just a start, however,
to the drastic measures that scientists are increasingly often
recommending to save pelagic ecosystems.
“More than 600 scientists from 54 countries have signed a
petition urging the United Natons to impose a moratorium on longline
fishing in the Pacific,” noted Sunday Telegraph environment
correspondent David Harrison, as ICCAT met. “Longline fishing was
expected to reduce unnecessary catches [of non-target species] produced by dragging large nets,” Harrison recalled.
Instead, estimates American Sea Turtle Restoration Trust
cofounder Robert Ovetz, longlining kills 3.3 million sharks, a
million marlin, 59,000 sea turtles, 76,000 albatross, and 20,000
dolphins per year in Pacific waters alone–among other nominally
non-target protected species.
The U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on
December 7 recommended that the traditional “presumption in favor of
fishing” in maritime law should be reversed, to permit fishing only
in waters where populations are secure. The commission recommended
that 30% of British territorial waters should be put off limits.
As severe as the impact of overfishing is on the oceans, it
may be greater on land, University of California at Berkeley and
Cambridge University researcher Justin Brashares recently reported in
“We took annual estimates of wildlife abundance [in Ghana] and compared them with per capita fish supply, and found that years
of below average fish catches had greater declines of wildlife on
land,” Brashares wrote. “People turned to bushmeat when fish became
European Union vessels fishing off West Africa increased
their annual catch 20-fold from 1950 to 2001, while fishing
subsidies rose nearly 60-fold just from 1980 to 2001. The soaring
fishing pressure coincided with population collapses of elephants,
hippos, bongo antelope, colubus monkeys, and “almost the whole
suite of large carnivores– wild dog, lion, hyenea, and leopard”
in Ghanian wildlife reserves,” Brashares found.