In a study published in PLOS ONE, researchers from Newcastle University, UK, have described the impact of uncontrolled fishing on coral reefs.
Data was collected from 2655 fishers of five out of six Philippine marine biogeographic zones and it was found that fifty-nine finfish species have gone missing between 1950s to 2014. Five finfish species are found to be the most vulnerable to depletion as seen by a marked decrease in their mean perceived catch per unit effort (CPUE).
The mean CPUE of the five different fish species, namely the green humphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum), humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), African pompano (Alectis ciliaris), giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) and mangrove red snapper (Lutjanus argentimaculatus) declined between 1050s and 2014 by about 88%, 82%, 66%, 74% and 64% respectively.
The coral reefs occupy less than one percent of the marine area but are home to 25 percent of all marine fish species. The declines in the fishes are mainly associated with excess and uncontrolled fishing, fish life-history traits like maximum body size and socio-economic factors like access to market infrastructure and services, and overpopulation.
Lead scientist Nick Polunin, Professor or Environmental Science at Newcastle University, explained, “Most of us still think that nature is unlimited in the oceans. But our coral reefs are good sentinels of global ocean change, and like the canary in the coal mine, they’re telling us there’s not much time left for action. These losses we’ve recorded in the Philippines are reflective of unsustainable exploitation affecting this exceptionally species rich ecosystem and region but they mirror what is happening in ecosystems around the globe. In the forests of India and Bangladesh it’s the tigers and in China it’s the Giant Panda; here in the Philippines we are showing that marine species are also very vulnerable. The list of endangered species is growing and we’re very close to the tipping point.”
“The knock-on effects of losing these species are huge: loss of the big predators is likely to radically affect the structure of the whole system.” commented Professor Polunin.
Professor Selina Stead, co-author and Professor of Marine Governance and Environmental Science at Newcastle University added: “This paper provides clear evidence of the dramatic decline of once common reef fish, and the value of local knowledge in helping to build an accurate picture. Governments worldwide increasingly request evidence to support policy change and hopefully this paper will highlight the need for urgency for action.”
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