Jan 17 2011

Concept of ‘fishing down food webs’ shown to be a myth

By Ray Hilborn (originally published in Pacific Fishing magazine, Jan. 2011)

Ray Hilborn

Perhaps no image of the impact of fish has captured the public as much as “fishing down food webs.”

The idea is very simple: Fishing begins, quite naturally, on the largest, most valuable fish. Once those are gone, fishermen move down the food webs to smaller, less valuable fish, and so on until the oceans are empty.

As Daniel Pauly, the prime apostle of the concept, has often said, we will soon have nothing to eat but jellyfish and zooplankton soup. This neatly fits the “apocalyptic” narrative that is so beloved by some environmental activists, but like many of these narratives, it is wishful thinking.

Pauly’s original paper, published in 1998, showed that the average fish caught in the world was becoming smaller and ever lower on the food web. This has been one of the most influential papers in the history of fisheries science. The “food web index” has been adopted by the Convention on Biodiversity and other groups as the best indicator of the health of marine ecosystems.

Read the rest here.

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