Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Commercial Fisheries: new economic objectives for a public resource

I was reviewing several articles regarding fish stocks and fisheries. Many of these articles were based on recent scientific studies covering a range of issues that reflect the current declining state of fish populations and the precarious position that industrialized fishing finds itself.

To be expected, over-fishing is one glaring issue, from declining cod fisheries in the North Atlantic to dwindling anchovy and other "feeder fish" populations in the waters off of developing nations in Africa and Southeast Asia. In some cases it is a matter of specific species depletion and in other cases, it's an overall decline brought about by a disrupted ecosystem.

Bycatch also plays a key role, particularly in areas where industrial fishing is present. This includes longline and driftnet fishing either for pelagic species or bottom-dwellers like rockfish or shrimp.

Then there is climate change, which is disrupting populations by compressing northern habitats for species like cod through overall increases in water temperature. Or the opposite expansion of habitats for warmer-water species has been effecting ecosystems and predator-prey relationships as new species migrate into different regions, also exposing themselves as potential commercial target species.

In Scientia Marina (Vol. 73[2]), Daniel Pauly postulates that the key issues that have sent commercial fishing to the brink of collapse has been a decades-long, post-World War II tri-mix of underreporting, ignoring scientific advise, and blaming the environment whenever a fishery collapsed. And as fisheries weakened, economic decisions were made to expand fishing territories, making agreements with other countries as if the fish in other territorial waters were natural resources that were fixed in place (a kind of "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" view of fish populations). Additionally, the shift was made to different species to catch, sometimes selecting a "lesser grade" species and often mislabeling these catches (in Southern California markets, for many years local Rockfish was listed as Pacific Snapper, which is a separate species unto itself).

Pauly concludes that, "Notably, fisheries biology, now predominantly concerned with the welfare of the fishing industry, will have to be converted into fisheries conservation science, whose goal will be to resolve the toxic triad alluded to above, and thus maintain the marine biodiversity and ecosystems that provide existential services to fisheries. Similarly, fisheries economists will have to get past their obsession with privatising fisheries resources, as their stated goal of providing the proper incentives to fishers can be achieved without giving away what are, after all, public resources."

The ocean is one vast public resource. Despite the territorial lines drawn on a map, it belongs to everyone and its future is every one's responsibility. Or else we all pay the price.

Support individuals and organizations, whether political or scientific, who are working towards better fishery management and make sound personal choices regarding seafood, whether you choose to consume "sustainable" species or decide to pass on eating seafood altogether.

Read entire article.

No comments: