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Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
Sealife around UK under threat
Orange roughy WWF
Orange roughy are turning up in fishermen's nets
The seas around the UK are in crisis, presenting a high level of threat to marine life, according to a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The document, commissioned as part of the environment group's Ocean Recovery Campaign, says all coastal habitats studied have been extensively damaged - and two-thirds of fish stocks are over-exploited.

WWF says some fishing fleets are now turning to deep-water species such as the orange roughy in place of traditional fish stocks, like the cod, which have declined.

But deep-water fish are less able to sustain the current fishing pressure, says WWF, because they breed more slowly than shallow-water species.

The bottlenose dolphin may also be in danger, says the study, with at least one resident population under threat of extinction.

Deep sea creatures

Orange roughy, which can live for 100 years, do not mature until they are 30.

Numbers have fallen by 75% in only 10 years, says the report.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, says no-one disputes numbers of cod in British waters, for example, are outside safe biological limits or that fishing pressure is part of the picture.

But he said: "One really has to wonder what is to be achieved by creating a wave of hysteria when the problem is already recognised and the fishing industry is working closely with scientists and the regulations to deal with these difficult problems."

The WWF report, Marine Health Check, draws its conclusions by examining 16 species and habitat indicators, chosen to represent different levels in the marine food chain and a wide variety of habitats.

Matthew Davis, WWF's Oceans Campaign director, says the findings of the research are deeply worrying. "Not only is our precious marine environment badly damaged, the damage is getting worse," he said.

"Life in the sea is draining away and is the most neglected area of our natural heritage. Rapid action by the government is needed now otherwise recovery for many of these species may not be possible."

See also:

20 Jul 00 | Science/Nature
31 May 00 | Science/Nature
28 Jun 00 | Science/Nature
02 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
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