How resilient are the oceans to over-fishing?

14 March 2010

Question

Are the oceans resilient enough that fish populations will recover if only given a very few years without commercial fishing?  If so, would it be possible (barring political roadblocks) to establish rotating portions of the ocean that are blocked from fishing for maybe 10 years or so, which would result in oceans replenishing themselves?

Answer

Helen - It's a great question and it's something that's being talked about more and more in the news as we hear about the emptying oceans and fish stocks being depleted. In fact, I had a look at this question and our listener comes up with a nice idea, in fact a brilliant idea of "couldn't we just give the oceans a rest? If we perhaps blocked off bits of the ocean from fishing for say, 10 years or so, we could rotate around and the oceans would replenish themselves. Could they?" Yes, they could indeed. In fact, what you're talking about are marine protected areas or marine reserves this is the sort of tool for ocean management that's being talked about by governments and by conservation groups. Because we know that if you leave a piece of sea alone from the impacts of us people catching so many fish, it will very quickly recover. It's extraordinary how resilient the oceans can be and it does offer us some hope. The question is, can we actually get this done? I love the idea of blocking off and rotating parts of the ocean that we can have as these protected areas, if only it could happen. At the moment, less than 1% of the oceans are protected from human activities and there are various estimates as to how much we should protect in order to have a resilient ocean that keeps itself going: that's up to as much as 30% or a third of the oceans. If we could do that, then we would have much better chance of ensuring that fish stocks and all sorts of other marine creatures will still be around in years to come. So, let's hope we can do that and we can achieve resilience in the ocean because I think it will fight back but we need to give it a helping hand.

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