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Friday, February 6, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Worldwide Dwindling Fish Supply Brings Cry Of Alarm From Scientists

Newsday

A clear warning that serious, long-term damage is being done to the world's fisheries was issued yesterday by an international team of marine scientists.

Worldwide, they said, stocks of the most valuable fish such as cod, haddock and snapper are being depleted, forcing fishermen to pursue less desirable species such as menhaden. And now even the less desirable fish are declining.

What needs to be done, soon, they said, is to establish large fish sanctuaries - protected no-fishing zones in the sea - where the normal balance of fish and prey remains undisturbed.

Haven for fish

Such sanctuaries would resemble national parks, and within them not even sport fishing would be allowed. Protected in the sanctuaries, they added, would be the large fish such as tuna, swordfish, cod and other species that are so prized in commercial and sport fisheries.

The problem has arisen because at sea, "everywhere it is a free-for-all," said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia. And when the big fish become scarce, fishermen retool to go after less desirable species that the big fish need for food.

"We fish them (the big fish) directly, reducing the spawning stock, and we are also catching their prey," Pauly said.

This means that fishermen are reaching further down the food chain, going from valuable fish to secondary fish, and even down to the "trash fish" that were once discarded.

Pauly and several colleagues, including two from the Philippines, warn in this week's issue of Science that "present trends will lead to widespread fisheries collapse."

Fish stocks low worldwide

The decline, visible in data from the past 40 years, is most evident in the Northern Hemisphere, Pauly said. But the problem is occurring worldwide. The difference is a result of better statistics in developed nations.

The disastrous collapse of major fisheries has already been seen in areas such as the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and at Georges Bank near Massachusetts.

After fish stocks crashed several years ago, both areas were essentially closed to fishing - at least temporarily.

Kenneth Sherman, director of the Narragansett Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service, in Rhode Island, said: "Sanctuaries are an excellent idea, but not the whole solution. The solution needs to be tailored to each of the world's 49 large marine ecosystems, which produce more than 95 percent of the world's fish catch."

Elliott Norse, head of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, in Redmond, Wash., called Pauly's new report "a wake-up call."

And, he told Science, "if things go unchecked, we might end up with a marine junkyard dominated by plankton."

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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