Overfishing sets the stage for other problems in marine ecosystems

rwater habitats is cited as a primary cause leading to the collapse of fish populations around coral reefs in the tropics, the article states.

The paper is based on four types of records: modern ecological records, historical information about fishing activities starting from the 15th century, archeological records from human coastal settlements occupied as far back as 10,000 years ago, and paleoecological data going back as far as 125,000 years ago.

In many cases, evidence for large populations of marine creatures in the past stands in stark contrast to relatively small numbers of such animals today, the authors note. Examples of overfishing are cited in aboriginal, colonial and modern cultures, but modern technology has allowed harvesters to eliminate what had been considered an inexhaustible marine resource, say the authors.

The historical perspective can be used to develop modern management strategies that could help fish populations recover, the authors also note. With some exceptions, most populations exist at levels that can be restored through the use of bold experiments to test the success of integrated management for multiple goals on the scale of entire ecosystems.

Food webs are ghosts of what they once were, adds Steneck. When food webs are altered, the ecosystem changes. In Maine we have a very unstable coastal ecosystem today with changes occurring at the scale of years to decades, not centuries to millennia as was formerly the case.

We dont understand all of the changes, but today there are areas carpeted with blue mussels where they used to be rare. Rock crabs have exploded to extraordinary density in some areas. Last year we relocated tens of thousands of sea urchins to bring them back to an area where harvesting has eliminated them, but they were all eaten by crabs. Change is common in all ecosystems, but the rate and magnitude of change we are

Contact: Nick Houtman
University of Maine

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