Fisheries Scientists To Meet At Johns Hopkins

September 17, 1997

The issue: how to predict annual fish yields

Scientists from around the world will descend on The Johns Hopkins University campus on Sept. 22 to discuss issues of major interest to all nations: factors affecting the production rates of vital ocean fisheries.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea will hold a three-day symposium at Hopkins beginning that day as a prelude to the organization's annual science conference, also in Baltimore.

Symposium speakers will focus on the central question concerning fisheries: What are the specific processes and interactions that determine how many fish will be produced in a given season?

Because fish represent a major global food source, fisheries production is a critical issue.

"If you look at the statistics, we seem to have peaked, in terms of global fisheries production," said Thomas Osborn, a professor in the Johns Hopkins Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, who specializes in physical oceanography and helped organize the symposium.

The high mark was in 1989, when the seas yielded about 85 million metric tons -- or 187 billion pounds -- of fish.

"It has since leveled off, but has not sharply declined," said Michael Fogarty, a fisheries scientist at the University of Maryland who also helped organize the symposium, which will attract scientists from more than 20 nations.

The meeting "is dealing with topics that have received a lot of attention in the general press because of the perception of a fisheries crisis throughout the world," Fogarty said.

Crisis would be the right term to describe the conditions of some fish stocks; for example, the decline of cod off of the Newfoundland coast "is an ecological and an economic disaster," Fogarty said.

"There are declines in many other species," he said.

However, not all the news is bad; regulations and restrictions are helping to restore some fish stocks. Herring and mackerel, once decimated by foreign fishing fleets, are now abundant again off the New England coast.

"It took over a decade for them to come back, but they have come back," Fogarty said.

Scientists use the term "recruitment" to define the development of eggs to offspring that eventually become large enough to be fished.

"Fish produce many, many more eggs than become adults," Osborn said. "You don't keep track of how many eggs there are. The important thing is how many returned to enter the fishery."

But researchers have been mystified by regional fluctuations in the numbers of fish from year to year.

"Almost any farmer can tell how much fertilizer he should put on the field for a desired yield, but we still don't know how to predict the number of fish that are growing in the ocean," said Osborn, a member of ICES' United States delegation.

About 150 scientist are expected to attend the symposium, entitled: Recruitment Dynamics of Exploited Marine Populations.

"By exploited, we mean things that are fished, like cod, haddock, salmon, all the things that have economic value," Osborn said.

ICES, headquartered in Denmark, is the oldest intergovernmental organization in the world dedicated to marine and fisheries science. It has members from 19 countries, including all of the European coastal nations. The 95-year-old organization gives advice to the European Union, as well as to governmental bodies, regarding fisheries.

The symposium, which charges a registration fee of $100, or $35 for students, is open to scientists and students who are interested in the interactions between processes in marine environments and the dynamics involved in recruitment.

Journalists interested in learning more about the symposium may call Fogarty 410-326-7289, or Osborn at 410-516-7039.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. on Monday at Shriver Hall, on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, at 3400 N. Charles St. in Baltimore. The opening talk is at 9:30 a.m. The symposium continues through Wednesday. Research findings will be presented in poster papers on display in Levering Hall's Glass Pavilion throughout the three days of talks.

Symposium talks will cover a wide range of subjects, from overfishing to environmental and physical factors that affect the populations of different species.

The annual science conference, at the Renaissance Plaza in downtown Baltimore, will follow the symposium. The conference represents the culmination of a year of meetings and discussions. It begins on Thursday, Sept. 25, and ends Oct. 3. Information about ICES is available on-line, at
Johns Hopkins University news releases can be found on the World Wide Web at

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