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Tue Jul 29 06:45:16 MDT 2003
NY Times, July 29, 2003
Has the Sea Given Up Its Bounty?
By WILLIAM J. BROAD and ANDREW C. REVKIN
Most of the earth's surface is covered by oceans, and their vastness and
biological bounty were long thought to be immune to human influence. But
no more. Scientists and marine experts say decades of industrial-scale
assaults are taking a heavy toll.
More than 70 percent of commercial fish stocks are now considered fully
exploited, overfished or collapsed. Sea birds and mammals are
endangered. And a growing number of marine species are reaching the
precariously low levels where extinction is considered a real possibility.
"It's an incipient disaster," said Richard Ellis, author of "The Empty
A rush of recent studies, reports, books and conferences have described
the situation as a crisis and urged governments and the industry to
enact substantial changes.
Behind the assault, experts say, are steady advances in technology,
national subsidies to fishing fleets and booming markets for seafood.
Demand is up partly because fish is considered healthier to eat than
chicken and red meat.
Directed by precise sonar and navigation gear, more than 23,000 fishing
vessels of over 100 tons and several million small ones are scouring the
sea with trawls that sweep up bottom fish and shrimp; setting miles of
lines and hooks baited for tuna, swordfish and other big predators; and
deploying other gear in a hunt for seafood in ever deeper, more distant
Flash freezers allow them to preserve their catch so they can sweep
waters right to the fringes of Antarctica. The trade is so global that
an 80-year-old Patagonian toothfish hooked south of Australia can end up
served by its more market-friendly name, Chilean sea bass, in a San
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