Top marine scientists call for action on 'invisible' fisheries

October 23, 2014, University of British Columbia
Marine reserve. Credit: Project Seahorse

To protect our oceans from irreversible harm, governments, conservationists, and researchers around the world must address the enormous threat posed by unregulated and destructive fisheries, say top marine scientists.

In an article published today in Science, Prof. Amanda Vincent of Project Seahorse at the University of British Columbia and Dr. Jean M. Harris of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in South Africa call for bold new approaches to the pressing global issue of overfishing and habitat destruction, including networks of , co-ordinated governance, and the co-management of with local communities.

"Governments and have tended to focus on the impact of industrial-scale fishing, which is indeed a big problem. At the same time, we must pay attention to small, local fisheries," says Vincent. "They are ubiquitous in the world's coastal waters and, unlike large fisheries, generally operate without oversight or record-keeping. Their impact may be small but cumulatively, it's massive."

Small-scale fisheries involve about 90% of the world's fishers. Most of these 100 million or so fishers depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and many catch fish and other marine animals at unsustainable levels.

Destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling make matters worse. Trawl nets grab any and all forms of marine life, laying waste to the ocean floor. The total area bottom trawled is nearly 150 times the area of forest that is clearcut annually around the world.

Trawl nets grab any and all forms of marine life, laying waste to the ocean floor. The total area bottom trawled is nearly 150 times the area of forest that is clearcut annually around the world. Credit: Sarah Foster

As targeted shrink, both industrial and small-scale fishers move on to other species, depleting them, too, until finally they are catching anything that might provide food or generate cash. Government subsidies, in the absence of regulation, often serve to encourage this overfishing and —and must be abolished.

"We must act now with the most promising tools at hand. No-take marine reserves are one critical approach," says Harris. "Research shows they can be set up quickly to provide vital refuge for species to recover."

Smarter governance is equally important, says Harris: "What we know from the failure of management schemes globally is that regulation at the national level is not enough. Every layer of government, including regions and communities, must help small-scale fishers get control of the fisheries on which they depend."

Explore further: New Marine Protected Area proposed for Myanmar

More information: Boundless no more, by A.C.J. Vincent et al. Science, … 1126/science.1255923

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5 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2014
Nice to hear the clarion call, but, groups of humans seem to lack an ability to act wisely.

What is going to stop pirate fishing boats from trawling? Most of the ocean is international...what police power is available to enforce anything?

Besides fish, our total human mass outweighs all of the wild prey animals on the planet.
Since we're the top predator, under any 'natural' scheme we'd have an enormous die-off.

Lucky us, we have petroleum, and have modified crops, to provide for our hungry selves, and the 30% of the non-ice covered land surface of the planet we've converted to support our cattle.


The 'you broke it, (the ecology) now manage it" scenario that faces us is interesting, since we don't know how things actually work.

We're quickly sawing off the limb of the tree of life we're standing upon.
5 / 5 (2) Oct 24, 2014
Nice to hear the clarion call, but, groups of humans seem to lack an ability to act wisely.

In the end it's always "why should I stop if he's still doing it?"
Humans are kinda stupid that way.

What is going to stop pirate fishing boats from trawling?

If more countries regulate their fishing fleets not to use these nets (and se quotas on what they can fish) then the number of 'pirate fishing boats' will at least decrease. Getting to zero trawlers is probably impossible, but a substantial reduction would be enough.
1 / 5 (2) Oct 25, 2014
with our present set of technologies and practices and cultures, mankind is not too slowly destroying the biomes of the planet, and the species' of those biomes.

we are not destroying the planet, which is agnostic to us, we are destroying the other species of our planet and the resources they rely upon. elephants are soon heading to extinction, not because they lack the protection afforded to them but because the market for ivory is not likely to be displaced by a superior performing material such as that for whale spermaceti was super-ceded by petroleum.

while the species' extinction rate is increasing, the ultra-rapid growth in livestock creatures , and cash crops, around the world (not pets) is itself driving biome destruction which results in species' extinction.
only superior technology can stop this by moving a culture to accept solutions like lab-dish grown meat, lab vat milk , lab grown egg proteins, all using native animal genetic protein machinery---is a beginning.

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