Many of us out here in Fishlandia (that’s the world of people who research. conserve and care about fish and fish habitat) were more than a bit surprised and very delighted to hear of new collaborative work undertaken by 21 of the world’s top marine fish scientists over the last two years and published last week in the journal Science.
Why surprised? The new research paper brought together the top talent from two distinct and divided camps previously known for a fair bit of public feuding.
Why delighted? The new détente between fishery management scientists and fish conservation ecologists resulted in a great paper full of hope and sharp conclusions.
The authors carefully examined data on fish abundance (i.e., how many fish are in the sea?) and harvest rates (i.e., how fast are we catching them?) for 166 species in 10 different ocean ecosystems.
What did they find out? In areas where fisheries are managed with good science and strong political will, fish populations are rebounding from overfishing. As one of the co-authors, Michael Fogarty of NOAA, says: “We found that success stories in curbing exploitation had clear management with hard and fast rules that defined overfishing and sought to avoid it.”
What does good fishery management look like? The new paper reveals the not-so-surprising truth that there is no one silver bullet method for ending overfishing, but the most successful fishery management systems combined two or more of these strategies:
- Total allowable catch reductions to leave more fish in the ocean to reproduce;
- Long term positive incentives for fishermen like catch shares to align rational self-interest with good conservation;
- Community based approaches for small-scale fisheries; and
- Closed areas and fishing gear restrictions to leave more fish in the ocean to reproduce.
The authors caution that “effective controls on exploitation rates are still lacking in vast areas of the ocean, including those beyond national jurisdiction,” and that “[e]cosystems examined in this paper account for less than a quarter of world fisheries area and catch.”
But they also present some convincing evidence based on the diverse fisheries they studied. As the paper puts it: “Taken together, these examples provide hope that despite a long history of overexploitation marine ecosystems can still recover if exploitation rates are reduced substantially” (my emphasis).
That’s still a pretty big “if.” But we have the tool box. So let’s get busy for the sake of the fish, for the people who depend on them, for the health of Planet Ocean.
(Photo credit: Jay Odell/TNC.)