Human lln2erventions And Excessive Hunt
Today, the totoaba is one of 414 species rated critically endangered on the “Red List”, the compendium of threatened plants and animals kept by the venerable International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Another 486 fish are endangered; 1,141 are vulnerable and 60 are extinct, mostly thanks to the same species that killed off the totoaba.
The human impact on fish has been worrying scientists and environmental campaigners for decades. But ft has also become an increasingly disturbing economic issue for authorities overseeing the fate of the 90m tonnes of marine and freshwater fish the world’s 4.36m fishing boats catch each year, with their estimated value of $100bn.
The collapse mentioned in the report refers primarily to economic rather than biological extinction, meaning stocks could decline to the point it no lohger pays to fish for them. But both prospects are disconcerting.
Boats powered by bigger engines and laden with sophisticated fish-finding gear have left nearly a third of marine stocks over exploited, and 57 per cent fully exploited, meaning they are at or very close to sustainable production levels.
Efforts to cut fleet capacity have taken hold in Europe and elsewhere. They even worked for a time in China but have faded since 2008. In many countries, politicians remain understandably reluctant to adopt a policy that cuts jobs and induces costly compensation payments.
This is bad news for the world’s poorest people, who rely on fish for nearly a quarter of their animal protein, though rising fish farm production helps. Nor is it good for big-bodied sea creatures such as the shark, ray and skate species that reproduce relatively infrequently. It is hard for their numbers to recover once they start falling. And fall they have, some by as much as 90 per cent since the 1960s.
Then there is global warming. One fish, the Galapagos damsel, may have achieved the distinction of becoming the first fish species to become extinct because of climate change.
Many countries have introduced marine reserves off their coasts that allow species to recover. But not much than 1 per cent of the world’s seas are protected, compared with nearly 15 per cent of the land areas. And some scientists fear the extinction threat is even higher for freshwater creatures unable to swim off to another ocean to avoid the impact of a new dam or factory waste dumped in a river.
If current trends continue, many seem likely to share their decline.