Callum Roberts writes: Sardines were once extraordinarily abundant in the south-west of England, leading one 19th-century guidebook to say: “Pursued by predaceous hordes of dogfish, hake and cod, and greedy flocks of seabirds, they advance towards the land in such amazing numbers as actually to impede the passage of vessels and to discolour the sea as far as the eye can reach … Of a sudden they will vanish from view and then again approach the coast in such compact order and overwhelming force that numbers will be pushed ashore by the moving hosts in the rear. In 1836 a shoal extended in a compact body from Fowey to the Land’s End, a distance of at least 100 miles if we take into consideration the windings of the shore.” (Handbook for Travellers in Devon and Cornwall, John Murray and Thomas Clifton Paris, 1851).
Today people travel thousands of miles to dive and film such scenes, not realising they were once commonplace on our own coasts. Last week the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London issued their most comprehensive look at the state of life in the sea. The report makes uncomfortable reading. Taking in more than 1,000 species worldwide and 5,000 populations of fish, turtles, marine mammals and a host of others, it draws the bleak conclusion that there is only half the amount of wildlife in the sea today as in 1970.
Although 1970 is their baseline year and seems long ago, life in the sea has been in decline for much longer. In short, that means the picture is worse than the report suggests. And the waters around Britain demonstrate the same patterns that are slashing fish stocks around the world. [Continue reading…]