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Global Fish Stocks Depleted to 'Alarming' Levels

A growing appetite for seafood is not a good sign for life beneath the waves

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Global Fish Stocks Depleted to 'Alarming' Levels

If we keep pulling fish out of our waterways at this rate, we're going to run out of fish. The Guardian has revealed that due to vast overfishing, nearly 90 percent of global fish stocks are either fully fished or overfished, based on a new analysis from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development forecasts a 17 percent rise in fish production by 2025.

The FAO report,The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016, demonstrates that global fish consumption per capita has reached record-high levels due to aquaculture and firm demand, with the average person now eating roughly 44 pounds of fish per year compared to only 22 pounds in the 1960s.

Additionally, the report found that people are now consuming more farmed fish than wild-caught fish for the first time. Despite this, UN agency warns that fish from natural marine resources are still being overharvested at biologically unsustainable levels. Global marine fish stocks have not improved overall despite notable progress in some areas, the report said.

For instance, in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, 59 percent of assessed stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels, a situation that the report's authors described as "alarming." Not only that, the possible expansion of invasive fish species associated to climate change is a concern in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In fact, as EcoWatch reported, a number of worrying factors are threatening the long term sustainability of the ocean's resources in addition to overfishing. The report, Valuing the Ocean from Stockholm Environment Institute, examined the various challenges that threaten the health and stability of our ocean, including acidification, warming, hypoxia, sea level rise, pollution and the overuse of marine resources.

Oceana, an international ocean conservation and advocacy organization, "regrets" the new FAO study. The group pointed out from the report that overfished and fully-fished stocks are at 89.5 percent in 2016 compared to around 62-68 percent in 2000.

"We now have a fifth more of global fish stocks at worrying levels than we did in 2000. The global environmental impact of overfishing is incalculable and the knock-on impact for coastal economies is simply too great for this to be swept under the rug any more," Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of Oceana in Europe, said.

The Guardian noted that aquaculture, which is poised to overtake wild-caught fish as the source of most fish consumption in 2021, is a major industry that benefits trade, employment and diets in the developing world.

According to the FAO report, fish provided 6.7 percent of all protein consumed by humans around the world and offers a rich source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, calcium, zinc and iron. Some 57 million people were engaged in the primary fish production sectors, a third of them in aquaculture.

"There is an absolute limit to what we can extract from the sea and it is possibly very close to current production levels, which have stabilized over last few years," Manuel Barange, the UN FAO's fisheries director, told the publication. "They have grown a little in recent years but we don't expect much more growth because of the rampant increase in aquaculture production."

"My personal view is that it is quite momentous to have reached this level of production," Barange added. "In the struggle to make sure we have enough food to feed more than 9 billion people in 2050, any source of nutrients and micronutrients is welcome."

Barange also told BBC News that fisheries have a much smaller footprint than other main sources of animal protein.

"Fish is six times more efficient at converting feed than cattle, and four times more efficient than pork. Therefore increasing the consumption of fish is good for food security," he said.

Oceana, however, said that aquaculture is not the solution to meet the increasing global demand for fish; we must address the unsustainable exploitation of wild fish first.

"The figures speak for themselves. Overfishing will knock wild, everyday fish from our dining tables replacing it with aquaculture and other seafood. Only through sustainable fisheries management and by ending overfishing will we really able to increase fish in our oceans and ensure seafood can be put on a plate for millions of people," Gustavsson explained.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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