January 7, 1998 in Nation/World

Oceans In Dire Shape, Panel Warns Overfishing, Pollution Critical

Scott Sonner Associated Press

More than 1,600 scientists from around the world sounded a warning Tuesday that overfishing, pollution and coastal development are wreaking unprecedented damage on the oceans.

“The sea is in real trouble, much more trouble than we previously thought,” said Elliot Norse, a marine ecologist who founded the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Redmond, Wash.

“We have overfished the seas systematically everywhere we have gone,” he said. “We must act now, not 20 years from now … if we are to prevent further degradation of the marine environment.”

Norse, biologist M. Patricia Morse of Northeastern University and Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., unveiled at a news conference the “call for action” endorsed by 1,600 marine scientists and biologists from 65 nations.

They want federal lawmakers to establish new coastal marine reserves and strengthen the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act. They also want President Clinton to hold a White House conference this year on the rapid, unprecedented declines in fishing populations.

“It is appalling to me that we spend more money studying the oceans of Mars than we do on the oceans of the Earth,” said Weldon, a member of the House Science Committee.

The scientists said overfishing has devastated commercial fish populations and caused the collapse of fisheries around the world, including New England. Destructive fishing methods, such as bottom trawling, have crushed and buried bottom-dwelling species by scouring vast areas of seabeds, they said.

“Bottom fishing with trawlers is much like clearcutting” of forests, said Norse, who noted that 99 percent of the world’s 30 million species live in the oceans, with less than 1 percent on land or in fresh water.

“Two basic problems confront us,” said Morse, a professor of biology at Northeastern University in Boston. “Too much is taken from the sea, and too much is put into it. Scientific knowledge and plain common sense tell us that we can’t continue destroying the habitats that support marine resources and expect these species to persist.”

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