Friday, September 28, 2012

Major World Study Says It's Not Too Late For Troubled Fisheries

Sep 27: A study published in Science magazine contains new population assessments for thousands of fisheries around the globe, providing insight on the health of data-poor fisheries that account for more than 80 percent of the world's catch. The research confirms suspicions that these fisheries are in decline, but it also highlights hope for the future: most of these fisheries have not yet collapsed. The new study in Science is embedded in a larger study, Charting a Course to Sustainable Fisheries, released this week by the consulting firm, California Environmental Associates (CEA). This broader study evaluates the successes and gaps in fishery management and conservation programs around the world. It points to the fact that we know how to bring back dwindling fisheries, but political battles often trump putting these concepts into action. The report, which involved over 100 scientists and conservation professionals, was supported by the Waitt Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Oak Foundation and others. 
    According to a release, "If we act quickly to prevent overfishing and allow depleted stocks to recover to sustainable levels, they could provide more seafood over the long-term. This could increase the amount of fish brought to shore by 8-40 percent on average -- and more than double it in some areas -- compared to yields predicted if we continue current fishing trends." University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) scientist Steve Gaines said, "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. This represents only a few hundred of over 10,000 fish stocks. It's a tiny slice that can give us a skewed view." Lead author and economist Christopher Costello said, "For most fisheries, we simply didn't know how many fish were out there and whether their populations were trending up or down. Without good information on fish populations, managing sustainably can be a hard thing to do. It's like trying to decide how far you can drive your car without knowing how much gas is in the tank."

    The study provides a new global status report that includes these previously unmeasured fisheries. It brings thousands of what managers call "unassessed" fisheries into focus, using new methods to estimate fish populations. The results show that over half the world's fisheries are in decline. Across the globe, stocks with robust data are doing better than those less-studied, regardless of the country that manages them. University of Washington scientist Ray Hilborn, a co-author of the study said, "If we look at assessed stocks we can be pretty satisfied that fishery management systems are generally working to assure long term sustainability. For unassessed stocks, this doesn't appear to be true."

    The scientists found that for large-scale fisheries, the stocks that we measure and track are at similar levels as those that we have not formally measured. However, under current fishing pressure their futures look very different: the assessed stocks are starting to show signs of recovery, while large, data-poor populations continue to decline. In small scale fisheries, the data-poor or "unassessed" stocks are in far worse shape than their studied counterparts, and many are plummeting at alarming rates. These fisheries are critical to local food security in many parts of the world. Costello said, "Without good population estimates, political pressure tends to dominate decision making, and we end up catching too much. Over time, this can lead a fishery to collapse."

    UCSB ecologist, Sarah Lester said, "The impact on food security is most significant for local-level fisheries in poorer countries, but this isn't just a developing world problem. Small, unassessed fisheries in the U.S. and Europe are often in as bad a shape as those in the developing world." The scientists caution that the new method cannot take the place of formal assessment programs for individual fisheries, but their approach provides accurate global and regional information that they hope will inform fisheries management decisions. Gaines said, "At a regional scale, we can gain up to 80 percent of the insights of traditional assessment approaches with just 1 percent of the cost."

    The closer a fishery is to collapse, the harder and more uncertain its recovery. However, the researchers say that with prompt action the majority of the world's fish populations could still rebound. Gaines said, "Strong management could increase the number of fish in the ocean by over 50 percent. When fish populations are healthy they produce more young. It may seem paradoxical, but we can get more fish on our plates by leaving more in the water." The gains expected from recovery are most pronounced for small scale fisheries, many of which are in countries that face rapid population growth and depend on fish for local food security. Even in North America and Europe, recovery would bring both economic and environmental benefits. Costello said, "The good news here is that it's not too late. These fisheries can rebound. But the longer we wait, the harder and more costly it will be to bring these fisheries back. In another ten years, the window of opportunity may have closed."

    Report author Matthew Elliott said, "We know what works. Fishery management policies and practices have been tried, tested, and proven." In the U.S., for example, many large fisheries are starting to recover. The report's analysis shows that these gains result from a combination of efforts: relying on strong science to set total allowable fishing levels, closing some areas to allow for rebuilding, and using sustainable seafood markets and policies that help fishermen have secure access to a proportion of catch. While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to eliminate overfishing, the report shows that many of the same principles are applied in successful, local management efforts around the world.

    Elliott said, "The key is to use and share these practices more broadly. In many areas of the world, particularly in the tropics and sub-tropics, we see fisheries expanding quickly with little in the way of management. This research fills an important information gap for these fisheries. We hope it will draw more international attention to fisheries management in the many parts of the world that we have historically ignored. Healthy ocean fisheries hold the potential to feed a growing population without destroying the supporting ecosystems to the point where they no longer produce seafood," adds Elliott. "Within our lifetime, we can make sustainable global fisheries the norm rather than the exception."

    Amanda Leland, Vice President of Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF's) Oceans Program issued a statement commenting on the report saying, "This study is a blueprint for recovering the world's ocean fish populations. Giving fishermen a concrete stake in the fishery means that they are invested in protecting it. When overfishing ends, the amount the entire fleet can catch increases, as does fishermen's share of the catch. Economic interest and conservation interest go hand in hand and fishermen lead the way.

    "There are lessons to be learned from U.S. fisheries, which have turned a corner -- U.S. seafood landings have reached a 17-year high, values have increased thanks in part to catch shares which are growing fish populations. Sixty-five percent of all fish that are now caught in US federal waters are caught in fisheries in catch shares or other rights-based management programs. EDF has partnered with fishermen in many countries to transform fisheries management. The key is to empower fishermen, by giving them incentives to recover fish populations. Without making this work for fishermen there will be no way to stop the global decline and conserve fisheries that will be so important to feed a growing global population. This study shows that recovering the world's fisheries is absolutely critical, and, by working with fishermen, completely achievable."

     Andrew Sharpless, CEO of the largest international ocean conservation organization -- Oceana -- issued a statement on report saying, "This study finally lays to rest the question of whether or not the world's fisheries are in crisis -- they are. As the authors report, more than half of the world's fisheries are in decline. And as they point out, worst hit are small scale fisheries which are critical for feeding hungry people all around the world. We believe that this report provides a clear call to action. We need to quickly put in place responsible management measures in the countries that control most of the world's wild seafood. As the study finds, putting in place these measures would allow depleted stocks to recover to sustainable levels and could result in future catches that are up to 40 percent larger than are predicted if current unsustainable fishing practices continue. . .

    We know from past experience all around the world – including in the "assessed fisheries" described by the authors – that putting in place better fisheries management allows fisheries to rebound. And we agree with the authors' prescription for these measures – science based quotas and habitat protection. We do believe that they (and the world's fishery managers) should place a great emphasis on reducing bycatch which is critical to the future of our wild fish stocks. One other critical point not covered in this study is that putting in place these management measures does not take an international treaty. Just 25 countries control 75% of the world's fish catch and can -- through their own legal systems -- put in place the policies that can allow fisheries to recover. The world has a moral obligation to act on the findings of this study as it would enable the sea to feed 400 million hungry people living in major fishing nations and would help offset the projected dramatic increase in demand for protein from a world population that is forecasted to rise to 9 billion people by 2050."

    Access a release on the report from CEA (click here). Access the release from EDF (click here). Access the statement from Oceana (click here). Access the complete report, executive summary, complete appendices and related information (click here). [#Wildlife/Fisheries]

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