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Sea Mammal Research Unit

SMRU News Centre

item 1003
[03-04-2012 to 31-01-2013]


News Item:
Fishing should be halved to save protected species find St Andrews researchers

Fishing for prey species such as herring and anchovies should be cut in half globally to protect creatures that eat them, such as puffins, whales and penguins, according to new research from the University of St Andrews.

A team of international experts, which includes Professor Ian Boyd of the University of St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit, warns that the increasing use of herring and anchovies to feed farmed fish, pigs, chickens and as nutritional supplements for humans is putting wild species that rely on them at risk.

The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force carried out the most comprehensive analysis of the science of “forage fish” populations to date.

Its report, Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a crucial link in ocean food webs, published today, concluded that in most ecosystems at least twice as many of these species should be left in the ocean as conventional practice.

As the fish are key food sources for commercially valuable fish such as salmon, tuna, bass and cod, the task force estimated they were twice as valuable in the water as they were if they were caught.

Using modelling, they calculated that forage fish contribute £7 billion by serving as food for other commercially important fish, compared with £3.5bn they generated as direct catch.

Professor Ian Boyd, director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit said: “Our analysis found that the best way generally to ensure there’s enough food for dependent predators is to reduce fishing for their prey.

“We need to start to understand that leaving some types of fish in the water in greater numbers is not just good for ecosystems, but it is good economics too.”

The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, made up of 13 scientists, was established to generate advice to support better management of forage fish around the world.

It highlights that a thriving marine ecosystem relies on plenty of forage fish, which are a crucial link in the food chain.

They eat plankton and are preyed upon by animals such as penguins, whales, seals, puffins and dolphins.

However, they are also in increasing demand for use as fish meal to feed farmed fish, pigs and chickens. They are also used to produce omega 3 oils, used in food supplements for humans.

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    After 200 years of scientific endeavor, the factors that drive species diversity and distributions on Earth remain unresolved. My research has identified two areas of limited understanding that if targeted could help fill in the story of the generation and maintenance of biodiversity patterns: (1) early life stages, and (2) biotic interactions. With new approaches and unique data, I am beginning to reveal the relative importance of these factors, using Indo-Pacific coral reefs as a model system. Here I present tests of the extent to which reproduction, establishment and competition can influence species distributions and diversity. From this work, it is clear that local processes and those that occur early in an organism’s life cycle, can influence the biogeographic patterns we see today, and that the next essential step for macroecology to progress as a discipline is to produce a framework that can link small scale processes to global biodiversity patterns.


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    John Swaddle has been at the College of William & Mary since 2001 and is a professor of biology. He studies how human alterations of the environment impact wildlife and, in turn, how these changes affect human society. In a rapidly changing world, these multi- and interdisciplinary questions are increasingly important. John has been awarded several prizes by his international academic societies, such as the Young Investigator Prize by the American Society of Naturalists and the Most Outstanding New Investigator Prize by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. He’s also a previous Royal Society of London University Research Fellow and NERC postdoctoral fellow. He teaches courses in introductory biology, evolution, and environmental science. At William & Mary he has also served as the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research and was the Director (Chair) of the interdisciplinary Environmental Science & Policy program. This year, John is on sabbatical at the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter collaborating with colleagues in Centre for Ecology and Conservation.


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