Friday, August 10, 2007

Ocean wildlife refuges: a good idea

The fishing/anti-fishing smackdown is over in California's Channel Islands. Fishing is now prohibited in about 20% of the waters around the islands. Since 80% of the waters still allow fishing, why did this turn into such a fight? Most hunters and fishermen support refuges on land and in freshwater. Much ado about nothing?

Or...was it really a battle over the death of fishery management?

Almost everywhere, ocean fishing is managed by appointed panels that represent the interests of fishermen. Fishing restrictions are viewed with great skepticism. Limits are usually halfway solutions imposed after problems become severe. Fishery management specializes in closing the barn door after the horsefish is gone, and even then they only close the door halfway.

Oooops, everyone says when the fish and fishing are gone.

To be fair, there are some success stories, but they usually only come after a crisis has put religion into fishermen. Like the striped bass "success story" that came only after the severe striped bass collapse. And...oh yeah..we're already facing the next striped bass concern.

Enter, stage left, a new approach. Fish wildlife refuges in the ocean. No fishing in some areas, to ensure that some fish can live and reproduce unmolested. Yes, fish move, so no fish is totally protected, but that's a good thing because fishermen can benefit from the spillover from refuges. It works for migratory animals on land and migratory freshwater fish, so it'll work in the ocean. We already have ocean refuge success stories to prove it.

California is leading the US in creating ocean wildlife refuges. Now the federal government has expanded California's lead and closed federal waters adjacent to state fish refuges.

The fishing world is up in arms and raging. Fishery scientist Ray Hilborn accuses refuge supporters of using "faith-based science."

I guess the smackdown is just beginning.

Fishing interests have only themselves to blame. They had their way with fish for decades, and if they had done a good job this wouldn't be happening.

3 comments:

odograph said...

I gave a few bucks to your group (and a few others) specifically because I wanted to support ocean reserves.

I'm only coming up to speed as an outsider (chemist and computer programmer) but the "algorithms" of fishery management look very flawed to me. The look like they are likely to lead to collapse. I ran some dumb models, fishing to a steady-state limit, introducing random noise (over or under catch) and that's what I got.

Maybe a serious modeler has done similar work?

Anyway even if my models are dumb or flawed, the refuge seems the way to go. The tricky part is sizing and positioning them ...

Mark Powell said...

You're exactly right, odograph. You're approaching without a pro-fishing bias and you see the problem clearly. The algorithms are flawed and need correction. Wanna help?

odograph said...

Actually I have a pro-fishing bias, but I let the data dissuade me. It would be really nice if we could fish as much as we do, but ...