Dear EarthTalk: What is being done to enable ocean fish populations to rebound after being so over-fished? Are nations coming together on this in any way?

 
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Dear EarthTalk: What is being done to enable ocean fish populations to rebound after being so over-fished? Are nations coming together on this in any way?--Deborah Kay, Milford, CT

There is no overarching international agreement to limit overfishing globally, but a few governments have been able to implement and enforce restrictions at regional levels that have resulted in rebounding fish stocks. The success of these isolated examples gives environmentalists and marine biologists hope that protecting marine hotspots from overfishing can save the biodiversity of the world's oceans.

The results of an extensive four-year study released in 2006 by leading fisheries expert Boris Worm of Canada's Dalhousie University and colleagues showed that overfishing would put every single commercial fishery in the world out of business by 2048, with the oceans potentially never recovering. But University of Washington fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn challenged Worm's frightening conclusion, offering evidence that several fisheries in parts of the U.S., Iceland and New Zealand were recovering. So the two men decided to team up on a new, even more comprehensive survey of fisheries around the world.

The results the second time around, published in 2010 in the peer-reviewed journal, Science, provided ocean advocates with somewhat more encouraging results. In half of the 10 fisheries studied by Worm, Hilborn and their researchers, closing some fisheries, creating protected areas, setting catch limits and modernizing equipment did result in lower exploitation rates and some fish are indeed on the rebound.

"This is a watershed," Worm told reporters. The new study "shows clearly what can be done not only to avoid further fisheries collapse but to actually rebuild fish stocks" and provides a baseline which scientists and managers can use to gauge progress. "It's only a start, but it gives me hope that we have the ability to bring overfishing...

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