A large white shark cruising near the Farallon Islands, west of San Francisco. Courtesy Scot Anderson, NOAA
cod caught in a gill net. Cod were once incredibly abundant in the North
Atlantic. No longer.
fisheries (conventional fishing), has quadrupled since 1950. In the past
15 years, aquaculture has surged as well.
attack people. People attack fish.
POSTED 13 AUG 2001 As a few swimmers are killed by sharks in the Atlantic Ocean, distinguished biologist and closet ichthyologist Rush Limbaugh is blaming the attacks on regulations written to prevent the ongoing slaughter of sharks.
You protect the sharks, he argues, and you endanger the swimmers. This despite the fact that shark attacks are increasing only slightly year after year.
(Florida took a more logical step on Sept. 6 by banning "swim-with-the-sharks" expeditions -- which used bloody fish to bait sharks so divers could groove on the proximity of razor-sharp chompers.)
Sharks are increasingly attractive to the fishing industry, but they aren't the only fish suffering from a global frenzy to extract protein from salt water. According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 47 to 50 percent of the world's major marine fisheries are considered fully exploited, and 24 percent to 28 percent are overexploited or recovering from depletion. That leaves only 25 percent to 27 percent capable of greater exploitation.
for the plate
Fishing scientists have long assumed that such a high level of fishing can harm fish stocks, especially when you add millions of tons "by-catch" (unwanted fish) that are killed while catching edible fish.
The general pattern
over the past century has been to fish top predators until scarce, and
then catch their prey, a process called "fishing down the food chain."
Overfishing can do more than endanger our food supply. Some scientists say it causes widespread changes in ocean ecology -- degradation of reefs, destruction of bottom grasses, eutrophication of estuaries. Although fertilizer, runoff, sedimentation and exotic species are destroying ecosystems, they argue that overfishing came first -- and if it's controlled, ecosystems often recover.
With increased attention to global warming, some scientists say climate plays a major role in the fishing equation.
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Terry Devitt, editor; Pamela Jackson, project assistant; S.V. Medaris, designer/illustrator; David Tenenbaum, feature writer; Amy Toburen, content development executive; Eric G.E. Zuelow, project assistant