Overfishing sets the stage for other problems in marine ecosystems

ORONO, Maine -- Overfishing of key marine animals such as cod, oysters, sea turtles and other species is the primary cause leading to a variety of problems that have appeared recently in coastal waters around the world, according to an article published this week in the journal Science. In locations ranging from the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, increases in disease, invasions of non-native species and declining water quality can be traced back to a loss of species that exert a controlling influence over marine ecosystems, the authors conclude after a review of historical data that stretches back thousands of years.

In the Gulf of Maine, evidence for the loss of large predatory fish is clear, says co-author Robert Steneck of the University of Maine Darling Marine Center in Walpole. While a cause and effect relationship between the loss of those species and disease, water quality problems or the spread of non-native species has not been demonstrated for the Gulf, it cant be ruled out. Taking a longer look at ecosystems gives us perspective on how much things have changed, says Steneck.

The big news here is that we havent considered that fishing impacts may have begun thousands of years ago and that some of the ecosystem level changes may be indirect, he adds.

The article, Historical Overfishing and the Recent Collapse of Coastal Ecosystems, is co-authored by scientists from 14 universities and scientific organizations around the world, including Steneck and Bruce J. Bourque, a lecturer in anthropology at Bates College in Lewiston. Jeremy B. C. Jackson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, is the primary author. Science is published weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In Maine, we have evidence from Indian middens dating back 5,000 years that our coastal zone was dominated by large predatory fi

Contact: Nick Houtman
University of Maine

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