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The Great Riches of Our Seas Have Been Depleted and Forgotten

Just as overfishing impoverishes the life of the sea, the forgetting impoverishes our own lives.

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In other words, just one-seventeenth of the volume of fish that existed in 1889 survived into the first decade of the 21st century. Fish stocks, they found, collapsed long before the amount of fish being landed declined: the landings were sustained only by ever more powerful boats, with ever more effective gear, scouring ever wider expanses of sea. Haddock, they found, had fallen to 1% of their former volume, halibut to one-fifth of 1%.

There is  plenty more to tell: in the 1920s and 1930s big game fishermen pursued bluefin tuna off Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast. In 1933 the biggest tuna caught anywhere on Earth to that date was taken there.

Before our river systems were dammed and weired for industry in the middle ages, all of them supported almost unimaginable runs of migratory fish: not only salmon and sea trout but also shad, lampreys and giant sturgeon, swarming up from the all the seas surrounding us. In the 11th century, and probably long before, there was a coastal whaling industry in England: many of the world's largest whales, including a species now extinct in the Atlantic region - the grey whale - came this way.

Our marine life was likely to have been as rich and abundant as that of any other sea. But this great exuberance has not only been depleted beyond recognition; it has also been forgotten. Just as overfishing impoverishes the life of the sea, the forgetting impoverishes our own lives.



George Monbiot is the author of the bestselling books The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man's Land. His latests books are Heat: how to stop the planet burning and Bring on the Apocalypse?
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