Posted by Susan Jackson
19 November 2012
A recent study published in the journal Science, provides a detailed review of thousands of unassessed fisheries around the world. The authors* of Status and Solutions for the World’s Unassessed Fisheries found that without the safeguards of rigorous monitoring and constant assessment, these fisheries are “declining at disturbing rates.” The authors note that in many cases unassessed fisheries are in worse shape than the scientific community expected, with a majority of global fish stocks reduced to levels well below what is needed to continue to supply seafood at the current rate of consumption.
The story is considerably different, however, in fisheries where data are collected, analyzed and applied toward science-based management advice.
Commercial tuna stocks, for example, are consistently monitored and more or less managed in every ocean region. Each regional fishery management organization (RFMO) – of which there are 5 responsible for tuna stocks – utilizes staffs and committees of scientists whose role it is to analyze data, conduct stock assessments and provide advice on the health of the marine ecosystem. Part of RFMO membership requires nations submit data to these scientific bodies. Over the past few years ISSF has facilitated scientific workshops to explore ways to further improve stock assessment modeling, discussions that are as complex as they are important. The tuna industry has also made some invaluable commitments to provide RFMO scientists with even more comprehensive data, which in turn will lead to more comprehensive analyses.
While assessments are necessary, they are only indicators of health and management success.
As the study concludes, a sustainable fishery must be managed according to well-defined target and limit reference points and accompanying harvest control rules (HCR). This is an area where tuna RFMOs currently come up short. As the ISSF position on HCRs notes, “Unless there is a pre-agreed upon action plan for avoiding overfishing or for rebuilding an overfished stock, long negotiations lead to delayed action or inaction. This delay can lead to further damage to the stock, requiring even more aggressive curtailing of fishing. The adoption of HCRs is a key aspect of modern fisheries management, and is also a requirement of several eco-label certification programs.”
WWF has also advocated for rules and reference points. According to its publication Fishing within Limits, “Implementation of Harvest Policies that are guided by Reference Points and Harvest Control Rules allow managers to act swiftly and efficiently under a pre-agreed standard to ensure that harvest does not exceed any acceptable limits, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the resource and the consistent supply of fish to our markets.”
While some RFMOs have begun the process of developing these rules, none have fully implemented these important measures. Now is the time to do it.
*Christopher Costello, Daniel Ovando, Ray Hilborn, Steven D. Gaines, Olivier Deschenes, Sarah E. Lester
This post was edited to identify the report’s title and authors.