In the popular fiction series, Jeeves eats a lot of fish; Bertie Wooster thinks that’s why he’s so smart. In real life, we should probably all be eating more fish given how healthy it is, but can we do that in a way that also keeps fish populations healthy?
Visiting the fishmonger can be daunting, and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. Fresh or frozen? Wild or farmed? Local or imported? What are the best options for your body, your wallet, the planet?
You and I are not the only ones struggling with these issues; environmental scientists in New York and California did as well. In particular, they questioned how reforms would affect fisheries, defined as the wild and cultivated areas where fish are caught, and the act and profession of fishing. They modeled two types of reform: one aimed at maximizing the economic value of the fishery, and one aimed at maximizing their long-term catch. They were interested in how these reforms would affect the profit, catch and biomass of all fish in the sea by 2050. Turns out all three variables would improve if fisheries were better managed.
The researchers analyzed thousands of fisheries, large and small, around the world. Collectively, the fisheries studied account for seventy-eight percent of the fish caught. Researchers found that the stocks are generally overfished. If business continues, they say, many of these fisheries will collapse.
But some reforms have already been shown to help. These include establishing harvesting policies that are evidence-based or restructuring a fishery’s incentives to align their profits with conservation.
In the research models, switching to a management style that optimized economic value had a greater effect on profit, catch and especially biomass than switching to a style that prioritized catch in the long term. This approach means that catches are chosen to maximize the long-term sustainable economic value of that specific fishery. It has been shown to both increase market prices – usually by increasing the quality of the product and getting it to market on time – and reduce fishing costs.
They found that another type of reform, the one designed to maximize long-term catch, reduces fish biomass and profits to meet that goal. They have only applied the reforms to stocks that are depleting, as these can yield the most profit. If the files are safe, it is assumed that they will remain safe indefinitely.
Nowhere in this analysis did researchers examine the impact of reforms on employment, equity or biodiversity conservation, though they did note that these “objectives” are “clearly important”.
The 10 countries most likely to benefit from the reforms are all in Asia, but gains could be seen elsewhere. Success with these “common sense fisheries management reforms” will improve fish stocks, fishing profits and our food supply within 10 years. And with China aiming to increase its fish consumption by 50 percent over the next six years, it won’t be too soon.
PNAS2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1520420113 (About DOIs).