The Sea Around Us Project: documenting and communicating global fisheries impacts on marine ecosystems

Ambio. 2007 Jun;36(4):290-5. doi: 10.1579/0044-7447(2007)36[290:tsaupd];2.


The Sea Around Us Project, initiated by the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia, PA, and located at the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, started in mid 1999. Its goal was (and still is) to investigate the impact of fisheries on marine ecosystems and to propose policies to mitigate these impacts. Although conceived as a global activity, the project first emphasized the data-rich North Atlantic as a test bed for developing its approaches, which rely on mapping of catch data and indicators of ecosystem health derived from the analysis of long catch time series data. Initial achievements included mapping the decline, throughout the North Atlantic basin, of high-trophic level fishes from 1900 to the present and the presentation of compelling evidence of change in the functioning of the North Atlantic ecosystems, summarized in a 2003 book. The Central and South Atlantic were the next basins to be tackled, with emphasis on the distant-water fleet off West Africa, culminating in a major conference in Dakar, Senegal, in 2002. The project then emphasized the North Pacific, Antarctica, and marine mammals and the multiplicity of tropical Indo-Pacific fisheries before it turned completely global, with all our major analyses and reports (e.g., on the interactions between marine mammals and fisheries, on fuel consumption by fleets, on the catches of small-scale fisheries, on subsidies to fisheries) being based on global studies. Broadly, the work of the project is aimed at a reappraisal of fisheries, from the benign activity that many interested people still perceive them to be, to a realization that they have become the driver for massive loss of biodiversity in the ocean. Moreover, the emphasis on global estimates (rather than local estimates of dubious generality) has allowed the project to contribute to various global initiatives (e.g., developing the Marine Trophic Index for the Convention on Biological Diversity, quantifying marine ecosystem services for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment), that is, activities that we expect to increase and for which we invite collaboration from academia and environmental nongovernmental organizations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fisheries*
  • Humans
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Population Dynamics
  • Seawater
  • Water Pollution