Mediterranean Fish Stocks in Steady Decline, Report Says

'There is no room left for optimism with regard to future yields,' note researchers, whose numbers show fishermen are emptying the sea without leaving a younger generation of fish to reproduce.

The Mediterranean Sea: No longer full of fish.Dreamstime

A variety of fish stocks across the Mediterranean Sea are being rapidly depleted due to overfishing. If the trend continues, many species will suffer a reduced ability to reproduce. Reduced replenishment will eventually affect the number of fish available for human consumption.

That is the picture that has emerged from an extensive study of fish stocks in the Mediterranean, published last week in Current Biology.

The survey was conducted by Greek scientists, who performed a meta-analysis of nine species of fish, including cod, red mullet, anchovy and sardines, at 42 locations.

The research covered coastal areas of European countries. Since it included Greece and Cyprus, it is reasonable to assume the findings can be applied to the entire Mediterranean basin.

The research covered the years 1990-2010, during which the extent of fishing grew dramatically. In 2010, fishing in all areas tested exceeded the limits ensuring sustainable populations, which determine the levels of fishing at which a population can successfully restore itself.

Overfishing was particularly pervasive for several species of cod, where it exceeded the limits ensuring sustainability by between eight and 11 times.

Another worrisome finding was the catching of sexually immature fish that had not yet reproduced. This implies that fishermen are emptying the sea without leaving a younger generation.

Here too cod species were hit the hardest, with many fish caught in nets at an age that is six months to two years earlier than that at which they can reproduce.

“There is no room left for optimism with regard to future yields,” noted the researchers.

The researchers pointed out that one reason for the situation may have been the focusing of the European Union’s attention on maintaining sustainable stocks in the northern Atlantic, not leaving sufficient resources for the Mediterranean. Efforts in the Atlantic proved effective, improving the supplies of commercially valuable fish.

Improving the situation in the Mediterranean will require limiting fishing in some locations for part of the year, ensuring reduced catches of immature fish. The researchers admit that this is a complex challenge, since fishing in the Mediterranean involves many smaller boats in far-flung locations, making monitoring and enforcement more difficult.

The state of fish stocks concerns Israel as well. According to surveys conducted in recent years, catches decreased by at least 25 percent over the past three decades. It is now difficult to find larger fish of some species, such as groupers.

Conservation organizations want the Ministry of Agriculture to limit the activity of trawlers with large nets, as well as to impose temporary restrictions on fishing in certain areas.