Fisheries in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world have provided a blueprint for successful fisheries management globally, according to a newly formed scientific advisory group that plans to take the lessons learned from these successes and apply them to developing fisheries in the rest of the world.
The organization, the International Fisheries Information Network (I-FIN), debuted ahead of this year’s SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Seattle. Headed by internationally recognized marine scientists, economists, and fisheries managers, I-FIN hopes to be a global resource on where fisheries are being managed successfully, why they’re successful, and how those successes can be adopted elsewhere.
“We’ve got a team of people who can provide the most authoritative, scientific advice on what’s happening in global fisheries, and what has been shown to work to improve the performance of fisheries,” said Dr. Ray Hilborn, professor of marine science at the University of Washington and one of the members of the I-FIN steering committee.
According to I-FIN, over the last several decades, fisheries in much of the developed world have quietly transformed themselves into global leaders in sustainable management. In places like the United States, Iceland, and New Zealand, fishing mortality has been reduced, abundance of many fish species has increased, and more species than ever before are being harvested at a sustainable rate.
“The greatest insight that we’ve uncovered so far is that there are a lot of really sustainable fish stocks,” said Chris Costello, professor of natural resource economics at UC Santa Barbara. “Many people don’t realize that in the U.S., most of our fish are some of the most sustainable on the planet, and there are other places where you find a similar story.”
Successful fisheries, like those in the U.S., have several traits in common. Their fisheries are closely monitored and collect significant amounts of data, their management adheres to scientific advice, and their regulations are strictly enforced. Many fisheries in the developing world, in contrast, are data poor, which, combined with weak enforcement, increases the likelihood of overfishing. Identifying and closing these data gaps is one of I-FIN’s top priorities.
“We know a lot about fisheries in some areas of the world and not very much about fisheries in other areas of the world,” said Mike Melnychuk, a research scientist at the University of Washington. “In the developing world, mostly, we know very little. What we’re trying to do is address some of those data gaps by looking at other methods, other kinds of approaches for advancing our understanding in what’s going on with fisheries there, and how we can improve fisheries for people’s livelihoods.”
Much of North America and Europe have collected significant amounts of data on their fisheries, as well as certain fisheries in South America, such as Peruvian anchovetta. However, many fisheries in Africa and Asia have relatively little data collected on them. Compounding this data gap are the unique challenges posed by small-scale fisheries, which make up around 90 percent of fisheries in the developing world and have not traditionally been closely monitored. Successfully managing these fisheries will likely require a different approach than in larger-scale fisheries.
“In the developed world context, where the rule of law is strong, where there are highly evolved processes for doing stock assessments, or making a bridge between research and management, there’s a different set of opportunities for having research make a difference. When you move to the developing world, that really is not appropriate, because of capacity, because of the nature of the fisheries, because of the remoteness of the people, language, politics, many different things,” said Neil Andrew, a professor at the University of Wollongong in Australia.
“You need to take a philosophically different approach to improving fisheries,” he said. “I think we take the best of the lessons from the developing world—and there are some fundamental ecological truths about catching fish—but I think we need to think about it differently and with a different skill set, which is much more social, which is much more invested in the management process rather than the provision of data.”
I-FIN’s current efforts are an outgrowth of previous efforts to monitor progress in fisheries management at the global level, particularly the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database. The information gathered by the RAM Database, particularly the positive developments, has helped I-FIN identify trends in global fisheries, and informs the organization’s current message.
“The motivation was that we were seeing all these very bad, sad pictures of fisheries going really in the wrong direction, and we thought ‘well, there are all these NGOs and all these processes that are painting a picture that is probably worse than it is,’” said Ana Parma, a researcher with the Research Council of Argentina. “That was our impression from the fisheries people, because we have seen some improvement in many of them and we thought ‘the only way is to ground these statements on real data.’ That was the motivation to collect RAM.”
I-FIN hopes that its efforts will change the way the fisheries are perceived, and that successful management receives more recognition.
“The common perception that fish stocks everywhere are in decline are wrong, and we now have very strong evidence, and I would argue irrefutable evidence, that that’s the case,” said Dr. Hilborn. “So we’re hoping to change the general perception about the status of global fisheries.”