Tuna longline catch rates in the Indian Ocean: Did industrial fishing result in a 90% rapid decline in the abundance of large predatory species?
Myers and Worm claim that their analyses of catch rates following the commencement of industrial longline fishing for tuna and billfishes show that these longline fisheries rapidly depleted the abundance of these large oceanic predators by 90% (Myers RA, Worm B. Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature 2003;423:280-3). Their analyses were published in a high profile science journal along with an accompanying press release, which then attracted substantial international media focus and public attention. This media focus in turn has been used as a base for advocating major marine policy changes for pelagic tuna fisheries (e.g. a minimum of a 50% reduction in catches and establishment of extensive marine reserves). However, among numerous scientific experts involved in tuna and pelagic fishery research substantial concerns exist that Myers and Worm's analyses provide a misleading picture of the status of large predatory pelagic fishes. These concerns are reviewed using data from the Indian Ocean for illustrative purposes and indicate that the initial longline catches were not responsible for a rapid depletion of the main tuna and billfish stocks nor were they threatening the overall sustainability of these stocks. However, the status of a number of theses stocks is of concern as a result of large increases in catches in more recent years. The debate sparked by Myers and Worm's paper should not distract from the critical problem of developing and implementing effective international management policies. In addition to implications for fishery management, the publication, peer-review, scientific response and publicity process associated with the publication of Myers and Worm's paper are discussed. Concerns are raised that if these become standard practices for articles in high profile science journals that this would undermine the trust placed in such journal to provide an accurate and well-balanced representation of the most important new scientific findings and in their role to inform policy decisions based on these findings.
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