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Local fish populations have dropped dramatically in the last 40 years, according to a new study in the scientific journal Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science led by Eric Miller of MBC Applied Environmental Sciences in Costa Mesa and John McGowan at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Data for the study was derived from a unique source: a detailed cataloging of fish captured in the tens of millions of cubic feet of water used for cooling California's coastal power plants since 1972, including San Diego’s shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

According to the scientists’ report, fish population fell by 78 percent between an early monitoring period from 1972-1983 as compared to data compiled between 1990 and 2010.

The study’s co-authors say that similar findings spread among a wide range of species including both “forage” fish such as sardines and anchovies as well as commercially fished varieties point toward a culprit different from overfishing by commercial and sport anglers as a reason for the decline.

“Factors beyond fishing such as oceanographic change appear to be involved, including temperature changes from global warming,” says McGowan, an emeritus research professor of oceanography at Scripps.

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