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Oceans Past

May 25,2009 SACN

A fading number of older sea anglers have memories of what fishing was once like, not only of the number of fish caught, but of the size of most of those fish.

And when combined with the lack of transport to productive marks, and (by today's standards) the inadequate tackle they used, those remembered catches hardly seem believable now.

And yet even their memories cannot extend back to the days when the seas were much more productive.

'Best Fishing Ever' is the kind of headline that we see now, as old timers shake their heads in sad disbelief.

'The Fishing has Never Been Better' is the claim of many who have known no better, feaful of restrictions on conservation grounds on the fishing that they have now grown used to.

But an international conference taking place in Vancouver will shed light on just how productive our seas once were. (see also: http://www.coml.org/about )

Not simply because of academic interest in the past, or nostalgia for a bygone unrecoverable age, but in the belief that our oceans can be fixed, and what they were once capable of producing can be recovered for present and future generations.

Already the occasion of the conference is generating interest and stories in the press, and links to some of those stories are available below, and will be added to, so keep coming back to read what's new.

And as well as the conference in Vancouver, and as the UK Marine Bill nears the end of its journey through parliamentary debate, the EU has begun its deliberations and consultations on how to reform the failed Common Fisheries Policy, and how we can participate in returning the seas of Europe and the UK, to the far greater productivity that they are capable of, given a management regime that puts the future health and productivity of our seas before short-term stakeholder interest, for the greater long-term benefit of everyone.

Underwater Times - Ocean Life in Olden Days

"Using such diverse sources as old ship logs, literary texts, tax accounts, newly translated legal documents and even mounted trophies, Census researchers are piecing together images - some flickering, others in high definition - of fish of such sizes, abundance and distribution in ages past that they stagger modern imaginations."

The Times - Census of Marine Life Brings Hope

"“Eighty-five to 90 per cent of the biomass has been removed. These are significant changes with big implications for ecosystem functioning,” Professor Holm said."

The Times - Delicate Life hit by Bottom Trawling

"Anger greeted the trawls where they were used, for the local fishermen could see the damage that they caused to their favourite areas. Bans were introduced to try to stop their use, and in 1583 two fishermen were executed for using metal chains on their beam trawls (today these are standard issue).

But the new method spread, for it was brutally efficient in the short term, even if unsustainable. Over generations fishermen began to accept the new status quo and forgot what the seas had once been like."

The Times - The Living Seas

"The oceans were once teeming with life before overfishing depleted their riches.  Governments and scientists must protect them from overexploitation" 

Daily Mail - A Sea Change

"Chair of the Census Scientific Steering Committee Ian Poiner said: 'When it comes to marine life, we're only just starting to realize what the planet once had."

B B C - Ghosts of Oceans Past and Future

"Joni Mitchell once famously sang that "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." But when it comes to marine life, in many cases we're only just starting to realize what the planet once had."

The Independent - Could we be the Generation that runs out of Fish?

" .... But in the 1980s, something strange happened. The catches started to wane. The fish grew smaller. And then, in 1991, they disappeared."

B B C - EU Begins Policy Review

"The EU's executive, the European Commission, says more than 80% of Europe's fish stocks are now overfished. The global average is 28%."


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