SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 17, October 2016 - Page 32

Fishing Down Toward Invertebrates

By Austin Horne

hen noted fisheries scientist

Daniel Pauly first coined the phrase “fishing down the food web” in the late-1990s, marine biologists were stunned. Could our industrialized fishing habits really be driving our most important stocks to worldwide extinction? What would happen to our ecosystems and fishing practices if species like tuna were not around? Are we really on the road to eating jellyfish sandwiches?

Pauly and his colleagues argued as much in their landmark 1998 paper “Fishing down marine food webs”. The concept of “fishing down” is pretty simple: while humans traditionally target marine species toward the top of the food web such as tuna, cod, and even sharks, overfishing commonly depletes these populations today. As fishing for large species becomes more challenging, fishers turn to smaller, more plentiful forage fish like herrings and anchovies. Eventually, species collapse leads to fishing targeted at the bottom of the food chain, which includes many invertebrates. Our ecosystems would be forever changed and, whether we wanted it or not, most of our seafood

be in the form of fish. In Pauly’s original scenario, future humans would inevitably be eating plankton soup and the aforementioned jellyfish sandwiches as our oceans’ ecosystems and species populations are drained, all due to our desire for affordable seafood.