The first global report on the state of shellfish was released today at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Washington, DC. Painting a dire picture for shellfish worldwide, the report found that 85 percent of oyster reefs have vanished.
Threats such as over-development on coasts, destructive fishing practices, altered river flows, dams, and agricultural runoff, have led the researchers to conclude that oyster reefs are the most devastated marine habitat in the world.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented and alarming decline in the condition of oyster reefs, a critically important habitat in the world’s bays and estuaries,” said Mike Beck, senior marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy and lead author of the report.
Oyster reefs in North America, Europe, and Australia are particularly hard-hit with many of the reef systems considered functionally extinct. Still the majority of wild oysters come from the east coast of North America, where even these productive reefs are in decline.
Oysters are devoured as a culinary delicacy in many parts of the world, but their importance to the human diet goes back millennia. Oyster middens have been found in pre-historical sites on coastlines around the world.
However, oyster reefs are important for more reasons than simply as an exotic food source. Oyster reefs filter nitrogen out of the water, improving its quality. The reef systems are also natural coastal buffer, protecting shorelines and coastal marshes, and in turn protecting communities from storm surges and sea-level rises.
“Shellfish provide multiple ecosystem benefits including improved water quality and important habitat for a wide variety of fish and other aquatic life,” said Patricia Montanio, Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service Habitat Program. “Since 2001, NOAA has worked with the Conservancy to implement successful restoration of shellfish and other coastal habitats. Now more than ever, it’s important that we make a concerted effort to protect, restore and conserve these valuable coastal assets.”
Still, the report sees a rough road ahead for oyster reef restoration. Oyster reef ecosystems are currently managed as fisheries, viewed solely as a food commodity with little attention given to their important contributions toward marine ecosystem health. In addition many people believe that a decline in native shellfish can be corrected by introductions of non-native shellfish, however these alien species been found to spread disease and cause other harm to local ecosystems.
“We want to raise awareness that the world’s remnant oyster reefs and populations are important, since they may in fact represent some of the last examples of reef habitat produced by a particular species of oyster,” said Christine Crawford, a scientist with the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia and one of the co-authors of the report.
In light of these challenges, the report recommends making native wild oyster reefs a priority for conservation status worldwide. It further suggests that organizations and governments should carry out restorations of degraded reefs while improving protected area policies to save vulnerable shellfish.
“Realistic and cost-effective solutions within conservation and coastal restoration programs, along with policy and reef management improvements, provide hope for the survival of shellfish.” says Beck
The comprehensive report was written by scientists across five continents.
(03/16/2009) Recommendations by international health agencies, doctors, nutritionists, and the media to consume more fish for better health ignore the fact that fish stock are collapsing worldwide, reports a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. “Even at current levels of fish consumption, fisheries globally have reached a state of severe crisis. Already, the demand from affluent and developing economies, particularly newly affluent China, cannot be met by the world’s fisheries,” states the new report.
(09/18/2008) In November 2006 a study on global fisheries received a lot of attention: employing 53 years worth of fishery data, Boris Worm predicted that by 2048 the ocean would be empty of fish. Essentially there would be nothing left to catch. Already, Worm reported, fishing stocks had collapsed in 29 percent of the world’s fisheries. Although scientists called for rapid and overhauling changes to fisheries, the fishing industry carried on business-as-usual. Now, two years later, a study in Science proposes to have found the solution to the global fishery-collapse.
(09/08/2008) Fish stocks are declining globally. While the consumer in the industrial world has yet to feel the full impact of this decline, those in the developing world know it well. Local small-scale fishermen are catching less fish to feed growing populations. Jennifer Jacquet of the Sea Around Us Project believes the hope for sustainable seafood lies in these very fisheries.