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27 July 2010

British seas: More fish, cleaner and greater biodiversity, says Defra

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'Significant improvements' in UK's seas, but litter, pollution, climate change and greater acidity are cause for concern

Thousands of holidaymakers heading to British beaches this summer will be cheered by a major government report into the state of the UK's seas. Coastal waters are getting cleaner, fish stocks are improving and species diversity in estuaries is increasing, according to the most authoritative examination ever carried out of UK seas.

But while the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs study boasts of "significant improvements" since the last such report in 2005, it also paints a picture of an environment being rapidly affected by a warming world. Seas around the British Isles are higher, warmer and more acid, it says, and coastal litter levels are at a record high.

The sea surface temperature of UK waters has risen on average by between 0.5 and 1C since the 1870s, which could affect the fish that appear on our plates in future. Of the 330 species found around the UK, cold-water species such as cod are in retreat, while warm-water fish including red-mullet, seabass and John Dory are spreading rapidly.

Fish stocks are improving overall, partly due to fishing reductions brought about by European Union quotas, despite criticism from marine conservation groups that the quotas are set too high to maintain fish stocks. The proportion of fin-fish stocks in UK waters being harvested sustainably has risen from 10% in the early 1990s to 25% in 2007.

However, the report notes that a large majority of stocks are still being fished at unsustainable levels. Fish are simultaneously being hit by warming waters, which are causing the cold and warm water zooplankton that fish feed on to move north. The warm water zooplankton tend to be smaller and less nutritious, affecting fish larvae and stocks.

(The Guardian)

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