Monday, November 19, 2007

Do sustainable fisheries decline?

The decline of Alaska's pollock fishery is raising questions about fisheries sustainability. Is a decline in fish and fishing ok for a fishery certified as sustainable? Is the decline a sign of good management, or proof of bad management?

This year, scientists say pollock numbers are down. In response, managers are poised to reduce fishing limits. Critics view fishing cutbacks as evidence of unsustainable fishing. In contrast, supporters say fishing cutbacks show managers are focusing on sustainability and reducing fishing to ensure the fish recover. Only time will tell who is right.

This debate has played out for New Zealand hoki, and now Alaska pollock, a leading fishery for the Marine Stewardship Council's sustainability certification program.
Blogfish has seen many fisheries fail to cut quotas when fish decline, so at least some effort is being made to protect fish. That's a good thing. And certification helps keep managers on the straight and narrow, so certification does help.


jim gilmore said...

A few thoughts on Mark's post...First, with specific reference to the Bering Sea pollock fishery, the current lower stock biomass is within the range of fluctuation previously experienced by the stock. One person's "decline" is another person's "fluctuation."

The Alaska pollock stock is particularly sensitive to ocean environmental conditions and recent years have not been optimal for producing strong year classes. Hence the declining biomass and managers' actions to lower harvest levels.

The current lower Bering Sea stock size is noticed more so because it contrasts with the record high biomass of recent years. The biomass was so high that ecosystem based management measures, specifically, the two million ton Bering Sea groundfish cap kept pollock catches at just two-thirds the ABC level.

The second issue is comparing the situation for New Zealand hoki and Alaska pollock. While both fisheries share the distinction of meeting the MSC's sustainability standard, each fishery's status has to be judged independently based on environmental conditions, fishing strategies, enforcement and monitoring, stock survey work, etc. The MSC certification documents are helpful for understanding each fishery, but understanding stock fluctuations depends on looking at factors specific to that fishery.

Mark Powell said...

Thanks for the comment Jim. As you point out, sustainability is more complex than some might claim. If catch limits go down, that can be a good sign. Or a bad sign. I agree with you, sustainability is in the details.

It's interesting to note the widely different interpretations put on these changes in fishing limits. This is probably caused by the different political lenses worn by different observers, don't you think?

HODAD26 said...

spearfishing is the only true sustainable fishing

and small boats with artesanal fishermen

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