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A EUR-OCEANS foresight WS funded in 2010 yields a 2011 publication in Science

As a result of the EUR-OCEANS Foresight Workshop (FWS) titled Food security for land-breeding, marine top predators: towards an ecosystem approach for managing forage resources selected for funding after the 2010 FWS call, a group of 14 scientists published an article in Science on 23 December 2011:

Numerous press articles have relayed the results presented in this article, notably a 22 Dec. 2011 paper published in the New York Times and titled A Call to Protect Humble Fish, for Seabirds’ Sake.

Using a comprehensive global database, the group of scientists quantified the effect of fluctuations in food abundance on seabird breeding success. They observed a common response in seven ecosystems and 14 bird species within the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. They consequently recommend that, for the sake of marine birds (and other marine predators), and under an ecosystem approach to marine resources, fisheries managers should not let forage fish stocks fall below one-third of their historic maximum long-term biomass.

Interesting and illustrative of the difficulty that proper communication of scientific results to the general public through mass media entails is the fact that many press accounts of this Science publication - unlike the New York Times article - obliterate an essential detail: the one-third ratio applies to the historic maximum observed over long time series, as opposed to the (current) biomass (regardless of its level respective to historical fluctuations); these papers thus erroneously suggest that two-third of the forage fish biomass (whatever its level) could be safely fished without affecting marine birds or other predators.

After the Oceans Deoxygenation conference held in October 2011, this FWS is another good example of a successful EUR-OCEANS activity because:

  • it was well focused and really took advantage of the added value of integrating data and expertise worldwide
  • it resulted in a publication in a renowned, high-impact journal
  • it pushed investigation to a point where results become highly relevant to the science-governance interface, by proposing a simple indicator of ecosystem 'health' and a simple principle for fisheries managers to preserve or restore the latter.

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