A new study shows that over-fishing means UK trawlers have to work 17 times as hard for the same fish catch as 120 years ago. Researchers used port records dating from the late 1800s. The study in the journal Nature Communications, says that this implies "an extrordinary decline" in fish stocks and "profound" ecosystem changes.

As waters near the coast became depleted, industrialisation  meant the UK fleet could travel further in search of new grounds - a phenomenon that took off after 1918. Despite the growing power and range of the fishing fleet, the amount of fish caught for each unit of effort has gone down drastically , with 17 times more effort required now to catch the same amopunt of fish as compared with the late 1800s.

A fishing industry spokesperson described the results as "old news".  He claimed that "Fifteen years ago we started understanding how badly management was working, and 10 years ago we started doing something about it."

But Professor Callum Roberts countered that the long historical timeline in his study shows the recent improvements to be small in scale.  "If you get a 50% increase from 2% of a species' former abundance, you get to 3% of its former abundance, so you shouldn't celebrate too hard," he said.

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Declining abundance. The fishing docks at Grimsby, on the eastern coast of England, were full of fish in 1900. Today, fishers need nearly 20 times the power used then to catch the same amount of fish.Credit: Callum Roberts


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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 04 May 2010 18:22 )