NAMA's Science Coordinator
Perhaps it's fitting that nearly all fisheries issues boil down to scales. Fish populations became depleted worldwide, after more than a half century of exploitation culminating with an explosion in the scale of fishing operations after World War II, when industrial fishing fleets pursued and gobbled up fish across the ocean until not much was left. And while laws and management have forced cuts in total catch, they have not moved to downscale operations. In fact, in the US, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act's (MSA) main purpose when passed in 1976 was to scale up US fishing operations to match those of the foreign industrial fleet.
|Commercial Fisheries News 1994|
Legal and management frameworks have failed fish and fisheries by ignoring critical scales, perhaps through a mistaken notion that regional catch limits alone will solve the problem, which, absent associated design restrictions on the fishing fleet, they do not. And prevailing market structures are driven by the scale of demand not supply. As seen in previous blogs, that even applies to eco-certification (the largest being the Marine Stewardship Council or MSC) and ratings (green, yellow, red lists) that presumably guide consumers to the best fish to buy based on ecological sustainability. These systems are trying to shift the demand away from less sustainable to more sustainable fishing practices, and presumably that includes the volume caught. But they still focus on the large, roaming fishing fleets of the world, and on catch averaged over time and area; so they are driving more "conscientious" consumers into, not away from, the global markets and largest fisheries. By not addressing the scales of the markets being fed, the scales of operation of fisheries supplying these markets, the spatial distribution patterns of fish, and scales and patterns of ecosystem processes, these ranking and certification systems fail to protect wild fish populations within their natural ecological constraints.
|Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature |
(J. Jacquet, D. Pauly, D. Ainley, S. Holt, P. Dayton, J. Jackson. Sept 2010.
Seafood stewardship in crisis. Nature 467: 28-9) copyright 2010
The authors go on to suggest that, "Different models of certification might help to redress this balance. For products such as coffee in the Fairtrade scheme, for example, certification is available only to cooperatives of small producers; large plantations are not eligible. This helps to correct for market advantages held by larger companies."
Local markets, including direct marketing through Community Supported Fisheries and Farmers Markets, and supplying local institutions such as hospitals and schools, offer an opportunity to treat local consumers to the diversity of seafood that characterizes their region and to value them all similarly. That in turn will translate into more diverse fisheries that do not prey too heavily on any one species. If fishermen stick closer to home when they fish and sell their fish, seafood diets will be more healthful, more diverse, and tastier. The health and diversity of coastal ecosystems everywhere will flourish.
Here in New England the Fishery Management Council is beginning to look at the critical scales of fish distribution that should dictate how catch is managed. The cod crisis has led to reduced catch limits and a demand for reassessing the structure of the populations of cod in this region - should smaller scales be assessed and the fishing effort distributed accordingly? Some on the Council, supported primarily by parts of the fishing fleet who would benefit from status quo, and some regional managers believe that regional catch limits (which ignore finer fish population structure) are enough to recover New England's fish stocks. But strong interest in ecosystem-based management at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, by fishermen who do believe finer scale management best reflects the reality they see on the water, and by some on the Council suggests they may not have their way. At the national level the MSA will soon be up for reauthorization and there are efforts afoot to bring ecosystem-based fishery management more effectively into that legal framework. But even now, the national standards in the MSA could be interpreted and applied more effectively and on more appropriate scales - something to explore in future blogs.