or depleted in 1994, while 49 percent were fished at or near the level where they could yield the maximum long-term potential catch. In 1994, only about 2 percent by weight of total marine landings were from recreational fishing, but for several species recreational landings exceeded commercial landings.

Fishing and Marine Ecosystems

Fishing and ecosystems interact, and both are affected by environmental changes and other human activities. Fishing obviously has direct effects on fished stocks. It can alter abundance, age and size structure, sex ratio, genetic structure of fished populations, and species composition of marine communities. Many important commercial species are at high trophic levels (they eat other fishes), and their removal can have especially large effects on ecosystems, perhaps out of proportion to their abundance or biomass. Fishing can also affect habitats, most notably by destroying and disturbing bottom topography and the associated benthic communities. Large-scale mariculture activities (farming of fish, shrimp, and other marine organisms)—especially if they are poorly managed—also can affect marine ecosystems through damage to coastal wetlands and nearshore ecosystems associated with the construction of shore-based or nearshore facilities; through contamination of the water with food, antibiotics, and waste; and through the introduction of diseases and exotic genotypes.

Fishing has had significant effects on many marine ecosystems, including changes in productivity, biological diversity, and provision of ecosystem goods and services. For example, fishing has contributed to large changes in coral-reef ecosystems in the Caribbean, including the death of corals, and it has resulted in significant changes in community structure in the Bering, Barents, and Baltic seas, on Georges Bank, and elsewhere. In combination with environmental changes and other human activities that have led to the degradation of habitats, pollution, and the introduction of exotic species, fishing has had major effects in the Laurentian Great Lakes, San Francisco Bay, and Chesapeake Bay. It seems likely that, unless fishing and other activities are managed better, human effects on marine ecosystems will increase.

Long- and short-term environmental fluctuations have major effects on the abundances of marine organisms. Some well-known environmental fluctuations are those precipitated by El Niño events, which change the patterns of Pacific Ocean currents and affect global weather every few years. El Niños lead to the intrusion of warm water into high latitudes and major changes in the distribution and abundance of many species. Other environmental fluctuations affect marine areas at varying spatial scales and periods ranging from a few weeks to decades and perhaps centuries. Environmental changes can produce effects similar to those of fishing, and it is often difficult to distinguish them from the effects of fishing. Although they cannot be controlled directly, environmental fluctuations exert a fundamental influence on the behavior of marine ecosystems and must be

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement