STONY BROOK, NY, March 3, 2009 "Undesirable" evolution in fish which makes their bodies grow smaller and fishery catches dwindle -- can actually be reversed in a few decades' time by changing our "take-the-biggest-fish" approach to commercial fishing, according to groundbreaking new research published today by Stony Brook University scientists in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Intensive harvesting of the largest fish over many decades, while leaving the small fish behind, may have unintentionally genetically reprogrammed many species to grow smaller, said lead author Dr. David O. Conover, Professor and Dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences in Long Island, New York. Although Charles Darwin showed 150 years ago that evolution equips life forms to be better adapted to prosper in their environment, unnatural evolution caused by man's size-selective fishing is causing fish to be smaller, less fertile, and competitively disadvantaged. This has also been a loss for commercial fishers who seek big fish for their livelihoods, recreational anglers in pursuit of trophy fish, and seafood consumers who desire large portions on their plates.
This study demonstrates for the first time ever that detrimental evolution in fish can be reversed, and pokes a gaping hole in theoretical models suggesting that genetic changes are impossible to "undo." It is the result of 10 years of research largely supported by a generous grant from the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University.
"This is good news for fisheries, but it also shows that reversal is a slow process," Dr. Conover said. "Over time, fish can return back to their normal size but the reversal process occurs much more slowly than the changes caused by fishing. So the best strategy is still to avoid harmful evolutionary changes in the first place".
Current fishery management plans are generally based upon asses
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Stony Brook University