Plenty more fish in the sea? Not in the Mediterranean

By Ruth Hendry - 21 Apr 2011 12:28:2 GMT
Plenty more fish in the sea? Not in the Mediterranean

Photo Credit: Tahsin Ceylan. (Caption: Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is listed as Endangered at the Mediterranean level).

An IUCN study has shown that over 40 species of marine fish in the Mediterranean could vanish in just a few years. The report documents the first comprehensive assessment of native marine species for an entire sea; an enormous undertaking.

Almost half the species of Mediterranean sharks and rays are threatened, in addition to at least 12 other fish species. The main threats to fish populations in this region are - predictably and sadly - overfishing and pollution. The IUCN's report also highlights our lack of knowledge about many Mediterranean fish. It is likely that a significant proportion of these little studied fish - found nowhere else in the world - are threatened.

One of the fish most at risk is the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Over the past 40 years, the Mediterranean population has declined by around 50 percent due to intensive overfishing. With the EU failing to adequately protect bluefin tuna, the future for this species looks incredibly bleak.

Use of trawl and driftnets when fishing for stocks such as tuna and cod threatens hundreds of marine species with no commercial value, including sharks, dolphins and turtles.

Maria del Mar Otero, IUCN Med-Marine Programme Officer, says ''[trawl nets] capture not only the target fish, but also a high number of other species while also destroying the sea bottom, where many fish live, reproduce and feed.'' The IUCN's report emphasises the important of enforcing fishing regulations, creating marine reserves and reviewing fishing quotas.

Although this report shows the severity of threats to fish, we shouldn't give up. What can we do to maintain fish populations in the Mediterranean and elsewhere? Firstly, ensure any fish you eat has been certified sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society. Fish with the top sustainability rating on the MCS list only come from well managed, healthy stocks.

Secondly, get involved! Lobby your MP - tell them the EU's fishing quotas are decimating many commercial fish species. ''Responsible consumption is one of the ways in which we can all contribute to the conservation of many marine species'', W Catherine Numa, IUCN-Med Species Programme Officer said. ''We hope that politicians will make the appropriate decisions to secure this important food source for the future''.  With our help, Mediterranean fish can survive.