by Craig Weatherby
Three years ago, Canadian marine ecologist Boris Worm, Ph.D. published a study predicting the collapse of the world's fish stocks by 2048 if overfishing isn't stopped.
The “2048” story received huge press coverage that prompted widespread alarm, and added weight to the message of a new documentary film title End of the Line (see “New Movie Hits Over-Fishing Hard”).
Prominent fisheries researcher Ray Hilborn, Ph.D. of the University of Washington (pictured at left holding a salmon) questioned the validity of Dr. Worm's study, and they discussed their differences during a call-in show on National Public Radio.
“Through our discussions we realized we were actually not that far apart,” says Dr. Worm. “We became curious to see if we could find more common ground and whether this could bring those two disciplines closer together” (DU 2009).
The two agreed to combine their efforts, and along with a team of 19 co-authors, published “Rebuilding Global Fisheries,” which appears in the July 31 issue of the journal Science.
The two-year study offered a much more optimistic outlook on the world's fisheries.
In 5 of 10 well-studied ecosystems, the Worm-Hilborn group found that average exploitation rate has recently declined and, in seven systems, is now at or below the rate predicted to achieve maximum sustainable yield.
However, they also concluded that 63 percent of global fish stocks remain below desired levels.
Alaska's “catch-share” system cited as exemplary
Their study found that overfishing can be discouraged by restructuring incentives.
Programs like “catch-shares” offer fishermen stock in the overall catch, therefore if fisheries are doing well, so will they, but if it collapses they get nothing so it's in their best interest to not only make sure they don't overfish but that others don't as well.
The study identified the catch-share systems employed in Alaska and New Zealand as exemplars for responsible fisheries management.
All of our fresh salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, crab, and sablefish comes from Alaska… for more on the catch share approach, see “Alaska's Seafood Strategy Endorsed by Science.”
To learn about our policies and practices, visit our Sustainability page.
Observers see new hope if findings are heeded
Steve Murawski, chief scientist for the National Marine Fisheries Service stressed some key points in an interview with Seafood News:
“This study clearly demonstrates that in both developing and developed parts of the world, if fishery exploitation rates are reduced sufficiently, species and their ecosystems have the capacity to recover. The result is a product that has profound importance in the design of management systems to achieve diverse goals for conserving and using marine ecosystems” (SN 2009).
And Rebecca Goldburg, director of marine science for The Pew Environment Group, praised the collaboration:
“Two scientists who once held opposing views about the state of ocean fisheries now agree about the significance of global fisheries declines and the solutions needed to reverse these trends. If fishery managers worldwide heed these important scientific findings, then we have an extraordinary opportunity to restore ocean fisheries” (SN 2009).
The U.S. does a pretty good job of fisheries management, overall.
We hope that fisheries management authorities in the EU and worldwide take their heads out of the sand and act on the recommendations of these former scientific foes!
- Dalhousie University (DU). Détente on The Ocean Leads to New Hope for Fisheries. July 30, 2009. Accessed at http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/554792
- Seafood News (SN). Study rebuffing '2048' collapse praised. July 31, 2009. Accessed at http://www.seafoodsource.com/newsarticledetail.aspx?id=4294967881
- Worm B et al. Rebuilding global fisheries. Science. 2009 Jul 31;325(5940):578-85.