Historical records provide insight into current UK marine stocks – Fishupdate.com

Historical records provide insight into current UK marine stocks Published:  16 August, 2013

Exploitation of marine fisheries often begins decades or even centuries before regular monitoring of fish stocks is undertaken, making it difficult to accurately assess the current health of fish populations in the context of their past abundance.

In an article appearing in Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association, Dr. Ruth H. Thurstan uses historical information to uncover a picture of the UK’s coastal environments prior to the intensification of fishing.

Dr. Thurstan, previously at the University of York, now based at the University of Queensland, Australia, collated historical records of interviews with fishermen that took place during the 1860s and 1880s to determine what changes they were witnessing in the marine environment during this period. Using these long-term data sources, a better understanding can be provided of the extent of changes that have occurred in the marine environment.

The resulting research quantifies changes in UK fisheries productivity up to 70 years prior to the commencement of fisheries statistics and extends knowledge of changes to UK fisheries back to 1810.

The research demonstrates that substantial changes occurred in coastal marine ecosystems long before the start of fisheries statistics collection in 1886, by which time intensive fishing was widespread.

During the 1880s, many prominent trawl owners – many of whom had been fishing for several decades – began to call for closures of inshore fishing grounds to protect fish stocks. The testimonials not only provide us with vital information on the earliest impacts of intensive fishing activities, but also show that concerns over declining fish stocks is not new.

“Our findings help to improve our understanding of past change and the long-term effects of our activities upon the marine environment,” notes Dr. Thurstan. “Without this knowledge, we risk underestimating the changes that have occurred and reduce our ability to successfully manage and conserve marine ecosystems into the future.”