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Global Warming, Decline in Fish Stock Could Damage World Economy

Two recent reports say the world's fish stock could be depleted in 50 years and global warming could take a severe economic toll on nations if dramatic measures are not undertaken. A science reporter explains.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    There were two especially grim reports on that front that grabbed headlines this week. The latest was published in today's issue of the journal Science. A study predicted the current state of over-fishing, pollution and other factors will cause a global collapse of fishing stocks by 2048.

    The study was global in scope, based on data from dozens of studies, and forecasts the bleakest timetable to date. For the record, the study was funded by the National Science Foundation, an underwriter of the NewsHour.

    For more, we turn to Richard Harris, science correspondent for NPR. And, Richard, at the end of this time line, were they really projecting fishless oceans?

  • RICHARD HARRIS, Science Reporter, National Public Radio:

    Not exactly. What they were actually doing was looking at what the trend is right now in the decline of fisheries. And they said, "What if we just took this line and sent it down to zero? Where would it hit zero?" And the answer was 2048.

    It actually wasn't even the purpose of their study at all. It was a parenthetical clause of the study, but they thought, "Well, this was a good way to bring attention to the study," because the decline doesn't mean no fish left, but it means fish in such small numbers that they probably aren't worth going after, in that sense.

    But I'd like to step back a little bit and talk about what the study really was intended to do, which wasn't to be looking at the future and the grim future of the ocean, in that sense. It was looking more broadly at why we should care about the ocean, why we should care about the diversity of life for the ocean.

    And they really set out to say, "OK, everyone who scuba dives or whatever appreciates having beautiful, colorful fish of all sorts and all natures in the coral reefs." And environments presumably do a lot better if there are a lot of different species and not just a monoculture of species there.

    But what can we say about what that means for human beings? And why should people beyond scuba divers care about this? And that's how this discussion started getting to other things that we care about, namely how many fish there are in the ocean that we might actually want to extract.