The future of fish…


“Wild fish globally are declining, but the examples of science-based successes are marked, accurately documented, and clearly replicable…

What is needed now is a societal choice to give priority to a set of clearly achievable goals for wild fish. Those priorities should include:

  1. A profound reduction in fishing effort. The world fishing fleet is estimated by the United Nations to be twice as large as the oceans can support. This overcapacity is being maintained primarily through government subsidies. Many billions of dollars are paid by governments to support fishing fleets that without subsidies would not turn a profit. Subsidies thus make wild fish unreasonably cheap. A move away from large, heavily extractive (and heavily subsidized) vessels that employ very few individuals is critical. An emerging ‘artisanal’ sector of respectful fishermen-herders that will steward the species, as well as catch them, needs to be encouraged and higher market prices will be able to support that kind of activity.

  2. The conversion of significant portions of ocean ecosystems to no-catch areas. Up until the last decade, the default assumption with the ocean has been that any ocean habitat could and should become fishing grounds if fish are present in abundant numbers. There is, however, growing evidence suggesting that key fish breeding grounds and nursery habitat must be reserved as safe havens if over-exploited fish populations are to rebuild to harvestable numbers. It is still a matter if controversy how much territory should be put aside for fish reserves, and today an average of only 1 percent of the world’s ocean habitats is protected from exploitation. Surely developed nations that already protect around 10 percent of their land areas could see fit to come up with a similar amount for their ocean holdings…3d4cb1d91b56a1c7c9792e6b4945bc34

  3. The global protection of unmanageable species. Species or stocks that straddle too many nations or that occur in un-owned, international waters have been shown with very few exceptions to be unmanageable over the long term. In the face of hard science, politicians of multiparty treaties ‘negotiate’ catch allocations that go against scientific reality. Developing nations balk at not being given their ‘fair share’ of these depleted stocks, but if a species shows continued decline over time, as has the Atlantic bluefin tuna, the only ‘fair’ thing to do is to completely close the fishery. In some cases it may be advisable to consider certain species simply as too valuable to hunt. If bluefin tuna were elevated and accorded the same kind of protection tigers, lions, whales, and other sensitive trans-boundary species are given, it could shift public perception of fish and give regulators a line in the sand past which a species is simply not allowed to decline.44611854.cached

  4. The protection of the bottom of the food chain. With the boom of aquaculture and the rise in the use of fish as feed for pigs and chickens, small forage fish like anchovies, sardines, capelin, and herring now represent the largest portion of fish caught. All of these fish are in greater and greater numbers being ground up in reduction facilities and recast as food for fish farms and terrestrial farming operations. And yet we really do not understand the population dynamics of these smaller forage fish, and we do not really know how to manage them. With the scaling-up of so much aquaculture, we run the very real risk of what Dr. Ellen Pikitch of the Pew Oceans Commission called ‘pulling the rug out from underneath marine ecosystems’–that is, removing the basic food source of the ocean and causing fisheries collapse from below…School_of_big_eye_scad

What is needed above all is a standard for boosting fish supplies in as sustainable a manner as possible. Humans should purposefully select a handful of fish species that can stand up to industrial-size husbandry with the goal of compensating for the huge gap between wild supply and growing human demand. Of course, if the global human population continues to grow unabated, no solution will work; in such a population-growth scenario, only the stars can save us. Indeed, with terrestrial food production now reaching its limits, the ocean is, in a sense, the final option, the only remaining way for humans to convert more of the world’s biomass and sun energy into more humans. The future of human growth depends largely on how we manage our ocean.”

Four Fish