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Worm finds a new fisheries hope?

New article in Science co-authored with Ray Hilborn and many other marine experts may find a new management solution.


Three years ago, Dalhousie marine biologist Boris Worm made international headlines when he warned that all the world's seafood could disappear by 2048 unless drastic measures were taken to protect fisheries.

Worm's paper, "Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services," which was published in the journal Science, was hotly contested by other scientists, including fishery scientist Ray Hilborn, of the University of Washington.

Both scientists, who are considered leaders in their respective fields, were invited to debate the issue on the American National Public Radio show On Point. But, rather than the expected knockdown, drag-out battle of feuding academics, the pair found common ground.

"In talking to each other live on air," Worm explains, "we realized that we were agreeing on more things than it first appeared. Also, we had a shared sense of purpose in helping to end overfishing. We realized that this was a chance for collaboration, and bringing two historically divided schools of thought together."

That meeting of minds led last week to the publication, also in Science, of "Rebuilding Global Fisheries." The paper, with lead authors Worm and Hilborn, was co-authored by 19 other marine biologists and fisheries scientists, hailing from five continents.

"This study was about trying to find all the possible data sources, all the evidence that could help us understand the fisheries situation, both globally and region-by-region," says Worm. "Nobody has been able before to look this deeply into this, I believe."

The result is that while Worm's dire 2006 warnings were correct, some fisheries have been turned around thanks to proper management.

"Overfishing is not a one-way street, if we act in time," stresses Worm. "We must transform our relationship to the ocean, from historical over-exploitation to a new focus on recovery. Instead of asking, 'How can we get it,' let's ask, 'How can we bring it back.'" ­—Tim Bousquet

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