Fishermen using nets in Kenya. (Photo: Josh Cinner/UCSB)
There is still time to save withering fisheries
Friday, September 28, 2012, 22:40 (GMT + 9)
Research confirms that 80 per cent of the world’s catch comes from fisheries in decline. However, most of these thousands of fisheries have not yet collapsed and there is still time to prevent overfishing and allow depleted stocks to recover to sustainable levels, according to a study published in Science magazine.
Taking action could increase the amount of fish brought to shore by 8-40 per cent on average - and in some areas that figure can be doubled - versus yields predicted with no change in fishing trends.
The gains expected from recovery are strongest for small scale fisheries, many of which are in countries experiencing rapid population growth and which depend on fish for food security.
“The good news here is that it’s not too late,” explained Christopher Costello, professor of Environmental and Resource Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). “These fisheries can rebound. But the longer we wait, the harder and more costly it will be to bring these fisheries back. In another 10 years, the window of opportunity may have closed.”
The study provides a new global status report that includes previously unmeasured fisheries using new methods. The results show that over half the world’s fisheries are in decline and that stocks with plentiful data are doing better than those less-studied.
“Until now, our sense of how fisheries are doing has been based on a minute fraction of the world’s fisheries – the large, valuable stocks for which we have lots of data,” said UCSB scientist Steve Gaines. “This represents only a few hundred of over 10,000 fish stocks. It’s a tiny slice that can give us a skewed view.”
The scientists found that for large-scale fisheries, the stocks that are measured and tracked are at similar levels as those that are not formally measured. However, under current fishing pressure, it looks like the assessed stocks are starting to show signs of recovery, while large, data-poor populations continue to weaken.
In small scale fisheries, the data-poor or “unassessed” stocks are in much worse shape than their studied counterparts, and many are disappearing at startling rates.
“The impact on food security is most significant for local-level fisheries in poorer countries, but this isn’t just a developing world problem,” explained UCSB ecologist, Sarah Lester. “Small, unassessed fisheries in the US and Europe are often in as bad a shape as those in the developing world.”
The team noted that the new method cannot replace formal assessment programmes for individual fisheries, but their approach provides accurate global and regional information that may inform fisheries management decisions.
“At a regional scale, we can gain up to 80 per cent of the insights of traditional assessment approaches with just 1 per cent of the cost,” commented Gaines.
The study is embedded in a larger study, "Charting a Course to Sustainable Fisheries," released this week, which evaluates the successes and gaps in fishery management and conservation programmes worldwide.
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