for National Geographic News
Improved technologiesfaster boats, better refrigerationhave allowed today's fishers to quickly roam across every corner of the seas.
No longer limited to their local waters, some marine-life traders are overharvesting species in regions where sustainability laws don't exist faster than regulators can respond.
Now 15 researchers from around the globe have joined forces to draw attention to the damage to fisheries caused by these "roving bandits."
The traders are central drivers in the overexploitation of the world's oceans, destroying local stocks and evading authorities, the researchers say.
"I really want to convey a sense of urgency. We don't have much time left to prevent a massive wave of marine extinctions" caused largely by the marine-life traders, said biologist Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.
Due to rapid globalization, people buying and selling marine life-forms can travel almost anywhere in the world within a day.
Many species and habitats that were previously too inaccessible to be economically viable targets for fishers are now open to exploitation.
For example, large tropical fish from remote island reefs are temporarily stunned with cyanide and flown alive to Hong Kong restaurants, where diners can select their meals as their fishy food swims in a tank.
In their policy paper, which appears tomorrow in the journal Science, the group of ecologists and social scientists describe how globalized markets mask the damage that roving bandits inflict on the world's fisheries.
Even though the market supply of a marine species may remain the same over time, its source often jumps geographically around the world as buyers and fishermen exhaust one local fishery and move on to the next.
International markets eventually show evidence of the depletion, but only when the last main source of a species is impacted.
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