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But now seabirds seabird abundance has dropped 69.7% in only 60 years, according to a recent paper in PLOS ONE.
Edd Hammill with Utah State University and co-author of the paper, noted: "What we should take away from this is that something is serious amiss in the oceans." Ben Lascelles, with Birdlife International, found the research alarming because the decline appeared practically indiscriminate, hitting a "large number of species across a number of families." Michelle Paleczny with the University of British Columbia and the Sea Around Us Project said: "When we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we can see there is something wrong with marine ecosystems.
A paper released last month found that 90% of the world's seabirds likely have plastic in their stomachs.
Seabirds continually mistake plastic for fish eggs, devouring large amounts.
"Because if we rebuild stocks, we can rebuild to more than we thought before." There has been success in some places where fishing has been restricted for a few years, for example in the Norwegian herring and cod fisheries. Pauly said: "I don't see African countries, for example, rebuilding their stocks, or being allowed to by the foreign fleets that are working there, because the pressure to continue to fish is very strong.
We know how to fix this problem but whether we do it or not depends on conditions that are difficult." A 2015 study showed nearly 500 Chinese fishing vessels operating off west Africa, with scores of cases of illegal fishing, according to Greenpeace.
The decline since 1996 has largely been in fish caught by industrial fleets and to a lesser extent a cut in the number of unwanted fish discarded at sea.
"The fact that we catch far more than we thought is, if you like, a more positive thing," he said.
Official catch data from FAO rarely includes small-scale, sport or illegal fishing and does not count fish discarded at sea.
With so little of the ocean closed to fisheries - less than 1% - it's hardly shocking that many seabirds are suffering from overfishing.
Hammill said the "most pressing issue" is plastic pollution.
It gives us an idea of the overall impact we're having." There are nearly 350 species of seabirds worldwide.
Living on both the open ocean and the shoreline, they face overfishing, drowning in fishing lines or nets, plastic pollution, invasive species like rats in nesting areas, oil and gas development and toxic pollution moving up the food chain.
A more exhaustive study, taking over a decade shows that the annual catches between 19 were much bigger than thought, but that the decline after the peak year of 1996 was much faster than official figures.