The study by an international team of ecologists adds an alarming new dimension to fears for the sustainability of wild-caught fisheries. It claims the loss of so many ocean species is eroding the viability of marine ecosystems and will have a major impact on the health of the biosphere.
In 12 marine ecosystems, the team found a decline in biodiversity of 50% or more cut the number of viable fisheries by 33%, nursery habitats by 69% and the sea's capacity to filter and detoxify contaminants by 63%.
The Scottish Fishermen's Federation reacted with dismay to national newspaper reports on the 'death of seafood'. SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: "The article recognises in its opening paragraphs the scientific inadequacies of collecting local experiments and theories together and making global assumptions. It then proceeds to do just that.
"Three villains are mentioned: exploitation, pollution and habitat destruction. Strenuous improvement efforts are being made in each of these areas, but the article fails to recognise this, painting a more dramatic picture that invites damaging misinterpretation.
"Using the Scottish fishing fleet - the second largest in the EU - as an example, dramatic reductions in the past five years have helped us match the sustainable catch opportunity, which has enabled us to achieve sustainable harvesting."
The study found that, by 2003, 29% of all fished species had collapsed (at least 90% below historic maximum catch levels). The rate of population collapses had also accelerated since 1980.
The authors call for sustainable fisheries management, pollution control, habitat maintenance and more ocean reserves.