Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Small scale fisheries can cause major ocean harm

Small is not always beautiful when it comes to fisheries. This conclusion may come as a surprise to some ocean lovers (and ocean scientists--see "solution 2").

A new study documents harm to sea turtles caused by some small-scale fisheries in Mexico. Because the fisheries operate where turtles aggregate (see diagram above left), the small-scale fisheries are probably worse for turtles than the industrial fisheries that affect these same turtles but operate where turtles are more dispersed.

Or should I say these fisheries WERE a problem. Conservation groups recently sponsored a gear buyout and some research and funding for new fishing methods that have greatly reduced the impact of these fisheries on turtles. Way to go everyone!

This study shows that small-scale fisheries are not always lower impact than large industrial fisheries. Supporting small-scale fisheries may make sense from a social perspective, but not necessarily from a conservation perspective. It's not the size of the boat or the gear, but how you use it.


Alison Barratt said...

This was an amazing achievement and I applaud all involved. Not only will this help sea turtles, but also sharks, who were the target in this fishery. With an estimated 100 million sharks dying each year in fisheries (directed and bycatch), time is surely running out for these important keystone species. I hope there comes a day when people will rally in this way to save the sharks and other elasmobranchs so seriously impacted by the world's growing demand for seafood.

Tim Adams said...

"Some ocean scientists" are not likely to be as surprised as you might think, Mark.

Obviously all fisheries, like all human activities, have consequences, and even small-scale activities can have large impacts if applied in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or by too many people at once.

But where a choice is possible, and looking at the big picture, how would you rather people got to work? On a bike or in an SUV?

Don't get me wrong. What you are saying needs saying - the world needs reminding that "small-scale" fisheries are not a panacea for all ills. But do you think that "certain ocean scientists" are not aware of this? The article you refer to was written in response to the call by a magazine for a group of people to each pick out ONE factor that they thought might do some good ...

Mark Powell said...

Fair question, Tim. My view is that too many people focus too heavily on a simplistic "small is beautiful" view of fisheries, and attack "industrial" fishing as the fundamental problem. I disagree with that view. I think fishery scale is merely one among many factors when trying to achieve conservation. I think I rank fishery scale much lower than many others involved in fishery management. I would certainly NOT identify scale as my ONE solution.

Tim Adams said...

Fair answer, Mark!