So long to genetic diversity, and thanks for all the fish



The world faces a global fishing crisis. Wild marine fisheries comprise nearly 15% of all animal protein in the human diet, but, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 60% of all commercially important marine fish stocks are overexploited, recovering, or depleted (FAO 2012; Fig. 1). Some authors have suggested that the large population sizes of harvested marine fish make even collapsed populations resistant to the loss of genetic variation by genetic drift (e.g. Beverton 1990). In contrast, others have argued that the loss of alleles because of overfishing may actually be more dramatic in large populations than in small ones (Ryman et al. 1995). In this issue, Pinsky & Palumbi (2014) report that overfished populations have approximately 2% lower heterozygosity and 12% lower allelic richness than populations that are not overfished. They also performed simulations which suggest that their estimates likely underestimate the actual loss of rare alleles by a factor of three or four. This important paper shows that the harvesting of marine fish can have genetic effects that threaten the long-term sustainability of this valuable resource.