Scientist: Mediterranean fish stocks in trouble


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
September 20, 2010

A vast majority of the fish stocks assessed in the Mediterranean are overexploited, with only a small percentage “moderately” exploited, a United Nations fisheries scientist told attendees at a seminar in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday.

In 2009, out of the 23 demersal stocks reviewed by a team of scientists, 79 percent are overexploited, 17 percent are fully exploited and just 4 percent are moderately exploited.

“Most of the demersal fisheries are based on juvenile fish, and most of the recruits never reach the age of first reproduction,” warned Henri Farrugio, chairman of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean’s (GFCM) scientific advisory committee (the GFCM is part of the Food and Agriculture Organization).

Last year, the committee studied 34 stock assessments on 12 species. A total of 91 percent of the stocks assessed in 2009 were “overexploited or fully exploited,” said Farrugio.

“Fish mortality is much too high for the majority of the species that we looked at,” he added. “This has started to worry us.”

The scientist also painted a stark picture for the 11 Mediterranean pelagic stocks studied by the scientists. According to GFCM data, 46 percent of these stocks are overexploited, 36 percent fully exploited and a diminutive 18 percent are “moderately exploited.”

In most cases, across demersal and pelagic species, the current fishing mortalities are 30 to 80 percent higher than the optimal ones; some are “even close to the risk of collapse,” advised Farrugio.

The scientists said that only a “strong” reduction in fishing mortality would return the spawning stock biomass above “reasonably safe levels,” such as the case for hake. 

Scientific management advice from GFCM scientists and the European Union’s Subgroup on the Mediterranean Sea (SGMED) recommend the need for the “implementation of multi-annual management plans.”

In the case of demersal fisheries, they recommend the need to reduce fishing mortality through fishing effort reductions. And in terms of pelagic fisheries, they advise fishing mortality be kept at, or below, “limit management reference” points consistent with high long-term yields or to reduce fishing mortality.

This week, fishermen, scientists, politicians and conservationists are meeting in Brussels to discuss the latest research on EU fisheries, and the way forward for fish stocks in 2011.

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