By: Rod Fujita & Doug Rader
People have been catching fish for thousands of years, so you’d think by now we would have a pretty good idea of how fisheries are doing. However, the two most basic numbers that you need to answer that question – how many fish are in the sea, and how many are being caught – have been highly uncertain.
A new study published in Nature by researchers at the University of British Columbia finds that the number of fish in the sea has been underestimated, and that the world’s fisheries should be more closely monitored. We couldn’t agree more.
It’s critically important for scientists to estimate these numbers so we can tell whether catch is too high, too low, or just right. The stakes are enormous: these numbers and trends will determine what management actions are necessary to ensure that fisheries can continue to provide healthy food for billions of people and provide livelihoods for tens of millions. Read More
Picture the world’s oceans once again abounding in fish, as part of a thriving and diverse marine ecosystem that supplies people with an increasing amount of protein rich food.
This can be the future. Within our lifetimes, improved fishing policies and practices can help create much healthier oceans that support more fish, feed more people, and improve livelihoods. These outcomes go hand in hand, because a healthier, more resilient ocean is also one that can support larger harvests.
This World Fisheries Day, we are optimistic that despite challenges facing fisheries, there is a bright future for both fish populations, and the people who depend on them.
Here are 5 progress points from 2015 that give us hope:
- Global oceans can yield more fish, more food, and more prosperity: At the World Oceans Summit in June, we previewed a bio-economic model that shows a triple win for fisheries with smarter management. Our preliminary results show that global fisheries, if managed sustainably, could yield 23% more wild fish, generate 315% more profits, and boost the amount of fish left in the water for conservation by 112%. If we get fishing right, we can reverse the threats facing fisheries and coastal communities within our lifetimes. Read more here.
Dusky Shark (Carcharhinus obscurus) are extremely rare. This one is swimming at Seaworld Aquarium in Queensland, Australia. Photo by: Amada44 via Wikimedia Commons
Shark advocates at Oceana recently sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), claiming that the way the agency controls fishing on dusky sharks violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Duskies are overfished and have suffered overfishing for years, even though it is illegal to retain them if they are caught. The duskies’ plight highlights the shortcomings of bans and similar efforts when it comes to protecting vulnerable species like sharks, especially when they are caught alongside other, healthier species.
Over the last several years, more and more people have learned about both the importance of sharks and the ongoing threats to their existence. This is great news because sharks are among the most important creatures in the ocean, playing a vital role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. Plus, they’re really cool. Formerly of interest exclusively to fish geeks like myself, Shark Week is now a widely celebrated summer ritual. Shark finning, a deplorable practice where a shark’s fin is removed and the rest of its body is discarded at sea, has been banned in the United States since 2000, and more than 70 other countries have enacted similar bans.
Despite this progress, shark populations remain threatened and overfishing is common. The FAO reports that the market for sharks has actually increased, and many sharks die as bycatch as a side effect of fishing for other species at healthier population sizes, such as Atlantic swordfish (which has recovered after a focused conservation effort). Read More
NPR’s Planet Money recently featured the Alaska Halibut fishery in a compelling story of how the commercial catch share system has dramatically improved safety for fishermen while preventing overfishing, ensuring a higher quality product, and allowing fishermen the time to invest in their fishing businesses.
Before the catch share, seasons were increasingly shortened until fishermen were forced to race against each other in 24 hour derbies—often risking their lives and their equipment. After the new rules were put in place, fishermen were given a total number of fish they could catch, rather than being constrained by a short time window. The catch share program is part of the reason why the Coast Guard reported zero operational related commercial fishing fatalities in Alaska in Fiscal Year 2015.
Fishing is inherently dangerous but it’s still important to look at the several ways to make it safer. Inspections, the use of safety gear and training all make a difference. So can the way fishing regulations attempt to address overfishing. Read More
Photo: Kennedy Warne
All who enjoy the wild biodiversity of the seas should take a moment this week to mark the passing of Dr. Bill Ballantine, the Founding Father of what has become a fast-growing global network of marine protected areas.
The science of setting aside unique sanctuaries from development is an art that dates back centuries – at least on land. America’s own federally designated national parks, wildlife refuges, and forest reserves can be traced to the mid-1800s.
But ocean protection is a relatively recent phenomenon, emerging only in the late 1970s. And it’s arguably more difficult to know how to chart, value and protect life that is hidden from view. Read More
Heat map showing warming waters in the Gulf of Maine over time. Credit: Pershing et al.
Climate change is preventing cod from rebuilding in New England. Many scientists and fishermen believe this, and a study released last week in Science by Dr. Andrew Pershing from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and his co-authors provides new evidence to support this claim.
A brief history
Cod, an iconic species and a mainstay of New England fisheries, were overfished for decades, with catch levels peaking during the 1980s. In 2010, the fishery transitioned to the current quota-based management system under an Annual Catch Limit (ACL). Bringing cod under a fixed quota system should have ended overfishing and brought about recovery of the stock, but in recent years the biomass of Gulf of Maine cod has continued to decline, and was estimated in 2014 to be at just 3-4% of sustainable levels. Fishermen are catching fewer cod every year, and the quota is now so low that most fishermen actively try to avoid catching them. Yet despite these very strict catch limits, Gulf of Maine cod have not rebounded and the region’s fishermen are suffering devastating economic consequences. Read More