A new report in the journal Nature Communications has highlighted the massive increase in effort needed to maintain UK fisheries and the significant decline of stocks against historical benchmarks.
Figures gathered by the UK government since 1889 showed fishing vessels today have to work 17 times as hard to land the same number of fish as they did in 1889. The data suggests technological developments in the fleet and their movement to new fishing grounds enabled them to fish further, deeper and faster – masking the decline in UK waters. The study calculated the "landings of fish per unit of fishing power", comparing the effort put in with the amount of fish caught.
Overall, the UK trawl fishing fleet landed twice as much fish in 1889 than it does today, the researchers from the University of York and the Marine Conservation Society said. Landings peaked in 1937 - when the catch was 14 times what it is today.
Improvements in technology and movement to new fishing grounds masked severe declines in fish stocks.
The report highlights that some species populations were only 1% or 2% of historically levels. The crash has been huge for some species - with the rate at which halibut were being caught declining 500 times and haddock by more than 100 times. Both species have declined by more than 99%, while hake and ling declined by more than 95% and cod have fallen by 87%, the researchers said.
As the move to reform the EU Common Fisheries Policy gathers pace, it is critical the the emphasis be on restoring stocks to previous productive and diverse levels - levels that sustain communities AND marine ecosystems.
The full paper can be read here.