Study shows progress in rebuilding global fisheries
The world’s commercial fisheries, pressured by overfishing and threatened with possible collapse by mid-century, could be rebuilt with careful management, according to new research.Posted Aug 24, 2009
A team of 21 international fisheries scientists and ecologists from academia and government have recently published a consensus paper in the journal Science showing that measures being taken to end overfishing are beginning to work.
“Rebuilding Global Fisheries,” a two-year study, is cautiously optimistic about the state of the world’s fisheries. But, the paper’s overall message is clear: When we set firm fishing limits, fish and habitats can and do recover.
In 5 of 10 well-studied ecosystems, the Worm-Hilborn group found that average exploitation rate has recently declined and, in seven systems, is now at or below the rate predicted to achieve maximum sustainable yield.
And, the authors caution, there is still much more work to be done. Stock rebuilding efforts are still required for 63% of assessed fish stocks worldwide, and lower exploitation rates are needed to reverse the collapse of vulnerable species. It should also be noted that the current research only looked at about one-quarter of the world’s marine ecosystems, mostly in the developed world where data is plentiful and management can be monitored and enforced.
The collaborative study was headed by Dr. Boris Worm, author of an alarming “World Fisheries Collapse by 2048” report and its chief critic, prominent fisheries researcher Ray Hilborn, Ph.D. of the University of Washington, who questioned the validity of Dr. Worm’s study. The two agreed to work together to see if they could find common ground in their research. They joined a broad array of fisheries scientists and ecologists to examine a much broader and deeper set of fisheries data.
According to the paper, the best successes result when fishermen and fishing communities take bold actions and use an array of innovative tools to reduce fishing pressure and rebuild fish populations and their habitats. These tools include strong national laws such as the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which mandates an end to overfishing by 2010.
One key to helping fisheries survive is to revamp a long-used standard called maximum sustainable yield, which means figuring out the highest number of fish that can be caught in an area without hurting the species’ ability to reproduce.
The researchers recommended setting fishing limits below the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Maximum sustainable yield should be an absolute upper limit, they said, rather than a target that is frequently exceeded.
Another tool recognized by the researchers was the catch shares system, which gives fishermen a stake in the benefits of a well-managed fishery and, therefore, greater incentive to ensure effective management. Other measures include closing areas to help rebuild stocks, gear modifications to protect vulnerable species, monitoring, and enforcement.
The study team offers a sobering assessment that in too many areas of the world, fisheries are suffering because people are unwilling or unable to make the tough choices needed for the long-term prosperity that comes from rebuilt stocks and healthy marine ecosystems.
They acknowledge that rebuilding fisheries is not easy. It involves tough choices and strong political will to withstand short-term pain for long-term gains. The future of fishing communities depends on taking such steps today to continue rebuilding fish stocks.
“Rebuilding Global Fisheries” notes that scientific research has a way to go in understanding the larger picture of how ecosystems adapt to depleted fish stocks and the negative effects of climate change. The study has shown that restoring stocks and moving toward sustainable fishing rates benefit the overall health of the marine ecosystem. This is our challenge for the future: how do we maintain healthy oceans that sustain not only a robust supply of seafood, but also the fishermen and coastal communities who depend on them?
To read the full text of the report, click here.