Ray Hilborn adds reason to the much-publicized study projecting the global collapse of most fisheries by 2048.
While conservation groups and mainstream media wail about these dire straits, Hilborn has been scratching his head and taking a critical look at the data used to make these predictions. After calling the study “mind bogglingly stupid,” he reached out to Boris Worm, its head author and thankfully “someone you can talk to,” to discuss the projection’s main shortcomings. Namely, why it doesn’t make sense to base projections of how many fish there will be in the future solely on trends of how many fish are being caught. Hilborn insisted on looking at data for the actual numbers of fish in the sea, not just the number being caught. There are plenty of reasons for fish catch to drop, including market demand and narrowing classifications of fish groups (i.e. getting more specific than “sharks”).
As a result, Hilborn and Worm brought together a diverse group of scientists, fisheries experts, and conservationists to reexamine the sustainability of commercial fishing (in the developed world) and published a much more optimistic report on the future of fish in Science in July 2009: “Rebuilding Global Fisheries.” This time around, they found a “general pattern of stability” in commercial fish populations since 1980, with the large caveat that extreme problem areas do exist.
“There’s plenty of tuna in the ocean,” Hilborn said. “[The extremely endangered] Bluefin tuna is the exception, not the rule.”