Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The End of the Line

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The End of the Line

How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat

by Charles Clover

The End of the Line by Charles Clover
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2006, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 396 pages

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  • Today, the British know the North Sea as muddy and cold. It's always been cold, but evidence suggests that it wasn't always muddy. Just 100 years ago there were vast oyster beds up to 120 miles long in many areas of this shallow sea, but they were all fished out before WWII. Over-fishing removed the oysters and the hard substrate of shells that formed the sea base leaving a muddy base - thus both increasing the sediment and removing the useful bivalves that stabilized the sediment by consuming it as food.
  • Using beam trawling, it takes 16 lbs of dead marine animals to produce 1 lb of sole out of the North Sea. 85% of the take from Spanish prawn fishing is "by-catch". The by-catch or "trash" fish produced from trawling is usually at least 50% of the catch; much of this will be juveniles of locally important fish that will never have a chance to reach full size.
  • The global fishing fleet is about two and a half times greater than is needed to catch what the ocean can sustainably produce.
  • Researchers at the University of New Hampshire estimate that there were 1.39 million tons of adult cod living on the banks south of Nova Scotia in 1855; there are about 55,000 tons today - a 96% decline.
  • Stocks of large predatory fish such as tuna, swordfish and marlin are down 90% since 1950. Similar declines are found in other commercial fish stocks. In other words, since the mid 19th century more than 90% of large spawning fish have disappeared.
  • Since the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 (which included the closure of about 8,500 square miles of offshore banks to fishing and the use of 6.5 inch mesh nets) there has been a significant upturn in the haddock and redfish levels in the New England area, with an increase of about 1/3 across 19 different fish stocks in just a decade. However, neither cod nor flounder have recovered.
  • Global catches have been in decline since the end of the 1980s. However the official figures continued to report fish catches increasing nearly every year until recently, which hid the global scale of the problem. Why was this? Because officials in China chronically over-claimed their catches, because only those who increase production get promoted so, on paper, production miraculously increased.

This article was originally published in January 2007, and has been updated for the March 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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