Environmentally sustainable fishing practices are often cast as a choice between healthy fish populations and healthy economies and societies. A new global study led by University of Florida scientists shows that, when managed well, ecologically sound fisheries boost profits and benefit communities.
Using a database of 121 fisheries on every continent, the researchers evaluated relationships between the three pillars of sustainability defined by the United Nations: economic development, social development and environmental protection. Their findings were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“With fisheries, there are often perceived to be trade-offs between those pillars,” said Frank Asche, a professor in the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. With good reason: Plenty of case studies document that profits can drive overfishing, or that regulation can hurt fishing communities. But Asche and his co-authors argue that those examples don’t point to the impossibility of managing fisheries in a way that benefits all three goals — just a flawed approach to management.
“Those case studies are most likely correct, all of them,” Asche said. “But when you find trade-offs, you have to look for the problem that is causing them, because around the world, enough people are getting this right. If you create a trade-off, something in the design of your management system doesn’t work.”
The finding is particularly timely as the U.S. Senate considers revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. A bill passed in the House would weaken the management strategies that most benefit economic and social sustainability, potentially reducing the sustainability of U.S. fisheries, Asche said.
Asche authored the study with UF/IFAS Institute for Sustainable Food Systems director James Anderson, professors Karen Garrett and Kai Lorenzen, post-doctoral associate Taryn Garlock, and researchers from Duke University, the World Bank, the United Nations, the University of Washington, the University of Stavanger in Norway and Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands.
The worldwide database they created — which compiles 68 outcome metrics and 54 input metrics for fisheries and the communities and economies around them — will in future be used to investigate what factors make some management systems work better than others, and how success across the three pillars varies with the type of fishery or species.
“It help sort out some of these conflicts,” Asche said. “Is it necessary to limit fishing to protect fish stocks? Yes. Will excluding some potential fishers create poorer-functioning coastal communities? The answer is a clear no.”