Chapter 23 preface: Rebuilding of fishery on right course

Source: August 07, 2009 05:35 am

Study shows rebuilding of fishery is on the right course

My View
Jim Balsiger

It's not too often that the results of a research paper about the world's fisheries winds up making front page news.

That happened last week when 21 international fisheries scientists and ecologists from academia and government published a consensus paper in the journal Science showing that measures being taken to end overfishing are beginning to work. And, the authors caution, there is still much more work to be done.

"Rebuilding Global Fisheries," a two-year study by Boris Worm, Ray Hilborn and 19 other scientists, including Dr. Michael Fogarty of NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, is cautiously optimistic about the state of the world's fisheries. But, the paper's overall message is clear: When we set firm fishing limits, fish and habitats can and do recover.

According to the paper, the best successes result when fishermen and fishing communities take bold actions and use an array of innovative tools to reduce fishing pressure and rebuild fish populations and their habitats. These tools include strong national laws such as the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which mandates an end to overfishing by 2010.

Another tool recognized by the researchers was the catch shares system, which gives fishermen a stake in the benefits of a well-managed fishery and, therefore, greater incentive to ensure effective management. Other measures include closing areas to help rebuild stocks, gear modifications to protect vulnerable species, monitoring, and enforcement. The study team offers a sobering assessment that in too many areas of the world, fisheries are suffering because people are unwilling or unable to make the tough choices needed for the long-term prosperity that comes from rebuilt stocks and healthy marine ecosystems.

They acknowledge what fishermen in Gloucester and throughout New England know well — that rebuilding fisheries is not easy. It involves tough choices and strong political will to withstand short-term pain for long-term gains. The future of fishing communities depends on taking such steps today to continue rebuilding fish stocks.

Dr. Jim Balsiger is acting assistant administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.
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