The science world lost a great this week. Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia warned at length, using solid science and brilliant analysis, of the dangers of overfishing. He didn’t mince words and he wasn’t afraid to report bad news. As the Guelph Mercury reports, the 54-year-old biologist, originally from Mississippi, was known for his groundbreaking research and blunt warnings about the extinction of marine life around the world, and for his irrepressible passion for conservation that not even cancer could quell.
Despite his illness, another groundbreaking scientific paper on shark population declines that Myers co-wrote was published this week in Science, a testament to his boundless energy and ability to carry on in the face of grave adversity. “He was just so extraordinarily driven to try to provide the science and to address the scientific questions so we can start seeing more effective shark conservation,” Julia Baum, co-author on his last paper, told the Guelph Mercury.
That passion for marine conservation stemmed from his days in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, where he worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at a time when the industry was watching the collapse of the cod fishery. He became, says the Guelph Mercury, a lone, unpopular voice in the emotional discussion about the cause of the collapse, insisting overfishing was the main factor in the decimation of a fishery central to island life. The world was in “massive denial,” he said, and spending its energy fighting over the few fish left instead of cutting catch limits before it was too late.
A Washington Post obituary reports that Myers analyzed vast amounts of data from government and industry reports around the globe, establishing that the size of large fish declined dramatically in recent decades. Tuna used to be twice as big, and marlins were once as large as killer whales. He warned governments, the fishing industry and consumers that unless commercial fishing is sharply curtailed many large marine species will become extinct, leading to economic disruptions, food shortages, and lasting damage to marine ecosystems. He said his conclusions were shocking because people had lost sight of the true magnitude of the declines because they did not look back far enough in history. In other words, we’ve forgotten how big fish used to be and how many of them once lived in the sea.
His seminal paper on fisheries declines was reported in Mother Jones’ “The Fate of the Ocean.”
The world will sorely miss his voice, commitment, intelligence, and common sense. Let’s hope more scientists emulate his fearless lead.