Reports published by ECCEA

Running out of fish, who's to blame?

Executive Summary

In recent decades landings of commercial fisheries have fallen in most fishing areas. Although most experts agree that human over-fishing is responsible for the decline of commercially relevant fish stocks and have discussed various strategies for the realization of a precautionary approach, recently a new hypothesis has been introduced: Whales have been accused to directly compete with commercial fisheries.

This report critically analyses the reasons for the crisis in commercial fisheries. An overview of the industrialization of fisheries and consequences for target and non-target species is given. To examine whether the hypothesis of a competition between whales and fisheries is justified, special emphasis is given to the current situation of five representative fish species – cod, herring, haddock, capelin and sandeel – as well as past and present stock size of whales. The paper shows that the role of whales regarding the breakdown of commercially relevant fish stocks is negligible in comparison to the tremendous impact of commercial fisheries. Furthermore, a culling of whales would obviously not result in increasing volumes in commercial landings. In conclusion, the argument that whales compete with commercial fisheries should be rejected as an attempt to justify the resumption of commercial whaling.

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