A while back, I had a blog post on a report for ActionAid, written by Alex Evans, on critical uncertainties for development between the present and 2020.  One of the big uncertainties Alex identified were environmental shocks, though in that version of the report he limited these shocks to climate-driven environmental shocks.  In my post, I suggested to Alex that he widen his scope, for environmental shocks might also include ecosystem collapse, such as in major global fisheries – such environmental shocks are not really related to climate change, but are still of great importance.  The collapse of the Gulf of Guinea large marine ecosystem (largely due to commercial overfishing from places other than Africa) has devastated local fish hauls, lowering the availability of protein in the diets of coastal areas and driving enormous pressure on terrestrial fauna as these populations seek to make up for the lost protein.  Alex was quite generous with my comments, and agreed with this observation wholeheartedly.

And then today, I stumbled on this – a simple visualization of Atlantic Fisheries in 1900 and 2000, by fish haul.  The image is striking (click to expand):

Now, I have no access to the datasets used to construct this visualization, and therefore I can make no comments on its accuracy (the blog post on the Guardian site is not very illuminating).  However, this map could be off by quite a bit in terms of how good hauls were in 1900, and how bad they are now, and the picture would still be very, very chilling.  As I keep telling my students, all those new, “exotic” fish showing up in restaurants are not delicacies – they are just all that is left in these fisheries.

This is obviously a development problem, as it compromises livelihoods and food supplies.  Yet I don’t see anyone addressing it directly, even aid organizations engaged with countries on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, where this impact is most pronounced.  And how long until even the rich really start to feel the pinch?

Go here to see more visualizations – including one of the reach of the Spanish fishing fleet that makes clear where the pressure on the Gulf of Guinea is coming from.