Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The degradation of our coastal ecosystem services

Two media articles caught my eye yesterday. And none of them were from News International!

The first article from the Independent on the limits of domestic fish stocks to meet demand makes some interesting points about consumption of seafood in the UK and Europe and the capacity of marine ecosystems to meet that demand. It states that July 16 is 'Fish Dependence Day' - the point where if we relied solely on UK stocks, supply would run out. Of course, we do not rely solely on UK stocks, we are dependant on EU and international imports to meet demand as well as increases in aquaculture. The Fish Site lists the dates that other EU members would became dependent on fish imports as follows: Portugal, 26 April; Germany, 27 April; Italy, 30 April; Spain, eight May; France, 13 June; and the UK, 16 July.

The message is this: Our currently exploited marine systems and stocks cannot supply the demand for seafood across the EU. Essentially the EU is exporting overfishing to other places around the globe to meet this supply and driving aquaculture development. There are 2 responses to this problem: reduce demand for seafood, likely by increasing prices or changing eating habits; or boost the capacity for supply. Boosting supply will come either from increasing aquaculture (which carries it's own environmental issues and is limited in it's capacity to expand) or from natural systems. Marine systems and capture fisheries, are already at full capacity, and in many cases are   stretched to breaking point. For example see this article in the recent Sydney Morning Herald on outbreaks if jellyfish. This issue is symptomatic of the degradation of ecosystem services by climate change, coastal pollution and overfishing. If we are to avoid the ecological collapse of coastal and marine systems and restore them to formerly productive states then bold and concrete steps are needed. Managing supply and demand is  an important part of the response - from the fish that we buy and eat through to large scale restoration of marine systems. There will be painful and controversial choices, but it is critical that we look at the long game.

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