World Fisheries At Maximum Capacity, Scientists Warn

November 21, 1997

After four decades in which landings increased by over 300 percent, most of the world's fisheries are now considered fully or heavily exploited, with many needing new management schemes to prevent collapse, warns a team of top fisheries scientists.

In a compendium of more than 25 peer-reviewed papers published this month by the American Fisheries Society, biologists and managers paint a picture of increasing demand of fish products and participation in fishing -- particularly in the developing world where more than 60 percent of the world's fish are now caught. Meanwhile, current fisheries operate at huge deficits and waste nearly a third of their catch.

Called Global Trends: Fisheries Management, the compendium documents how the overcapacity seen in fisheries today stems from a history of open access bolstered by active development and subsidization. This has lead to an increase in wasteful and destructive fishing practices, ranging from the Alaska groundfish fishery in which large industrial vessels compete in a massive "race for fish," to small-scale, tropical, artisanal fisheries where the use of poisons and dynamite is spreading.

Other trends noted include the growing use of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) which give property rights to fishers providing the incentive to sustain rather than over-exploit fisheries. ITQs, however, are not without controversy and are currently under a five-year moratorium in the U.S. The compendium also discusses the rise in aquaculture, which now accounts for 30 percent of the value of fishery production, and also looks at the influence of climate shifts on fish stocks.

"These changes are all associated with an evolution from the era when oceans and fisheries resources were considered so vast that they could not be damaged by mankind, to a future of sustainable use, we hope. The challenge is to successfully manage the transition to more rational fisheries. The status quo is not an option.," said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, director of fisheries programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo, and lead editor of the compendium.

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visit our website: www.wcs.org

Wildlife Conservation Society

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