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New maps show the utterly massive imprint of fishing on the world’s oceans


From Washington Post:

Humans are now fishing at least 55 percent of the world's oceans — an area four times larger than the area occupied by humanity's onshore agriculture.

That startling statistic is among the findings of a unique, high-tech collaboration that is providing a massive amount of new data about global fishing operations. The results, published Thursday in the journal Science, offer a powerful glimpse of the problem of overfishing on the hard-to-regulate high seas. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 31.4 percent of global fish stocks were overfished or fished unsustainably, as of 2013, while another 58.1 percent were "fully fished."

Thursday's findings relied on data from Global Fishing Watch, a collaboration encompassing Oceana, SkyTruth and Google. Researchers compiled billions of data points from tracking systems that the International Maritime Organization requires for about 70,000 fishing vessels.

The result was a picture of fishing that the study, led by David Kroodsma of Global Fishing Watch, says "has never been directly quantified." Because of data limitations, the percentage of the oceans fished could be as high as 73 percent, the study said.

"Fishing is happening almost everywhere and all the time," said Jackie Savitz, chief policy officer for the advocacy group Oceana. "I think people don't really have a sense of how heavily fished our oceans are and how intensely they are fished."

She said the intensity of global fishing documented by Thursday's study is far greater than researchers have been able to track in the past.

"That means we're putting more pressure on fish populations," Savitz said, noting that increased fishing also means more inadvertent catching of other species, such as sea turtles. "That means there's more pressure on our oceans than we thought."

There was particularly intense fishing off the southeastern coast of South America, the eastern coast of China, western Africa, and all around Europe and the Mediterranean, the research found. The North Atlantic, far northeastern Pacific, Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean were far more devoid of fishing.