Conclusions and Recommendations
Many populations and some species of marine organisms have been severely overfished. Fished and unfished populations have been affected by other human activities, such as coastal development, as well. Those populations and species are ecosystem components and consume or provide significant fractions of the ecosystem's production. Fishing thus affects not only exploited species but also other species that are linked ecologically or environmentally with fished species and their ecosystems. In addition, many current fishery problems are the legacy of a misplaced belief in the inexhaustibility of marine resources, which led to management that did not create incentives for conservation. As a result, many species have been overexploited and more are at risk; there is severe overcapacity of fishing power, which puts pressure on managers to make risk-prone decisions, and as a result many marine fisheries under current management practices are not sustainable at societally acceptable levels.
The committee concludes that a significant overall reduction in fishing mortality is the most comprehensive and immediate ecosystem-based approach to rebuilding and sustaining fisheries and marine ecosystems. The committee's specific recommendations, if implemented, would contribute to an overall reduction in fishing mortality, which is required to rebuild populations, reduce bycatch and discards, and reduce known and as-yet-unknown ecosystem effects.
Earlier chapters in this report describe many difficulties that have contributed to the current overexploited state of the world's marine fisheries. They include risk-prone management, political disagreements and lack of commitment to resource conservation, inappropriate socioeconomic rewards resulting from
ill-defined property rights, overcapitalization and excess fishing capacity, inadequate statistics and scientific information, lack of attention to whole ecosystems or to nonfished ecosystem components, lack of predictability owing to environmental and other fluctuations, and mismatches between the time and space scales of fisheries (including fishers) and management institutions. The factors are not mutually independent; several of them derive from the existence of others. It is impossible with present knowledge to assign relative weights to the contributions of those factors to the overall problem and perhaps it always will be. However, the factors do provide a framework for recommendations to improve the sustainability of marine fisheries. Therefore, the committee has focused on recommendations that are likely to improve the sustainability of marine fisheries, whatever the causes of the current difficulties. It has also tried to emphasize recommendations that lead to identifiable actions.
The committee recommends the adoption of an ecosystem-based approach for fishery management to reduce overall fishing mortality. Its goal should be to rebuild and sustain populations, species, biological communities, and marine ecosystems at high levels of economic and biological productivity and biological diversity, so as not to jeopardize a wide range of goods and services from marine ecosystems, while providing food, revenue, and recreation for humans. An ecosystem-based approach that addresses overall fishing mortality will reinforce other approaches to substantially reduce overall fishing intensity. It will help produce the will to manage conservatively, which is required to rebuild depleted populations, reduce bycatch and discards, and reduce known and as-yet-unknown ecosystem effects. Although this approach will cause some economic and social pain at first, it need not result in reduced yields in the long term because rebuilding depleted fish populations should offset a reduction in fishing intensity and increase the future sustainable yields.
Adopting a successful ecosystem-based approach to managing fisheries is not easy, especially at a global or even continental scale. That is why the committee's recommendations include incremental changes in various aspects of fishery management. The elements of this approach, many of which have been applied in single-species management, are outlined below. They include assignment of fishing rights or privileges to provide conservation incentives and reduce overcapacity, adoption of risk-averse precautionary approaches in the face of uncertainty, establishment of marine protected areas, and research. These significant steps that must be taken to make ecosystem approaches to fishery management successful are not entirely new concepts, although they are not easy to implement. As such measures are being implemented, more innovative management tools and techniques, such as marine protected areas, ''virtual communities," and ecosystem modeling for fishery management, can be tested and implemented.
The following recommendations are specific ways to achieve the broad goals outlined above.
Conservative Single-Species Management
Managing single-species fisheries with an explicitly conservative approach would be a large step toward achieving sustainable marine fisheries. A moderate level of exploitation might be a better goal for fisheries than full exploitation, because full exploitation tends to lead to overexploitation. Many species are overfished, even without considering the ecosystem effects of fishing for them. Therefore, the committee recommends that management agencies and decision makers adopt regulations and policies that strongly favor conservative management and penalize overfishing. Recent amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act call for such an approach. This, of course, is only a step; by itself it does not appear to be enough to achieve sustainable marine fisheries or to protect marine ecosystems.
In implementing this recommendation, managers should be aware of various factors. For example, long-lived, slow-growing species will recover from overfishing much more slowly than short-lived species. Species whose nursery or feeding habitats have been altered or degraded will recover more slowly, if at all, than those with intact habitats. Breeding aggregations are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Natural fluctuations will influence population sizes. Finally, conservative approaches can have significant socioeconomic effects, and will require political and managerial commitment and support to be effective.
Incorporating Ecosystem Goals Into Management
Explicit management goals should be established for fisheries that take account of the full value of the goods and services of ecosystems. The aim is to sustain the capacity of ecosystems to produce goods and services at all scales (from local to global) and to provide equitable consideration to the rights and needs of all beneficiaries and users of ecosystem goods and services.
To achieve this difficult goal, it is necessary to predict how the levels of goods and services provided by an ecosystem might change when a variety of ecosystem characteristics change naturally or are altered by human action. Such predictions need more field information and better models. Ecosystems in estuaries, continental shelves, the open ocean, coral reefs, and other areas require different types of data and model parameters. For example, both overfishing and pollution need to be considered in urban estuaries. On coral reefs, good spatial information may be available, but species-specific life history data are relatively difficult to obtain. Numerical models should include key biological and physical indices and spatially and temporally explicit relationships and should help in the development of comparable performance measures (e.g., biological, economic,
social) to compare ecosystems in terms of the effects of multiple stresses on their capability to produce goods and services function and the benefits to society from multiple ecosystem uses.
Understanding the relationships of fish populations to ecosystem functioning needs to be based on principles and concepts of community ecology. Trophic interactions (see Chapter 3, especially Box 3-1) and networks of competitive interactions need to be understood at more than one spatial and temporal scale. Larval dispersal and the timing of events related to dispersal and settlement need better understanding for most species. The spatial and temporal components of specific ecological relationships relevant to large-scale changes in ecosystem functioning need to be better understood in most regions that support major fisheries. Models should allow the development and application of new indicators of ecosystem functioning and the dynamics of fish populations to permit assessment of management performance. The indicators should relate to community structure, biodiversity, and health, growth, and reproductive potential of individuals in the ecosystem. Goals or targets should be based on the indicator values, and decisions should be keyed to indicator values having a priori action levels. Such indicators should be compared and evaluated with respect to fishery and ecosystem goals and behavior.
There are more ideas than experience in using ecosystem approaches to fishery management. Marine protected areas and adaptive management have demonstrated their effectiveness in some situations (and thus could support implementation now), but new research is needed to develop and extend the use of these tools.
Dealing with Uncertainty
Fisheries are managed in the context of an incomplete understanding of fish-population dynamics, interactions among species, effects of environmental factors on fish populations, and effects of human actions. Therefore, successful fishery management will have to successfully incorporate and deal with uncertainties and errors. Many of the problems facing fishery managers are questions concerning long-term versus short-term goals and benefits, and uncertainty often leads to an emphasis on short-term actions at the expense of long-term solutions. Uncertainties can induce individuals to use a short-term horizon for decisions related to exploitation and investment, and incentive and management structures must counteract these responses to uncertainty that jeopardize sustainability.
Fishery management can be made to incorporate the variability and uncertainty of the real world by changing management goals to account for uncertainty, giving more emphasis to long-term strategic concerns and less emphasis to short-term variations, and developing management tools that are robust to uncertainty. Developing such management tools requires management to recognize uncertainty and variation as an unavoidable part of natural resource management;
instead of trying to reduce the variations, it should try to reduce their adverse effects. Ways to reduce those adverse effects have been described in this report; they include developing more robust institutional structures and procedures, including economic incentives; alternative strategies to control the amount, timing, and spatial distribution of fishing effort; and the use of marine protected areas.
Explicit incorporation of uncertainty into management decisions is increasing. New laws, conventions, and beliefs—for example, the Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct and the United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks—require adoption of a precautionary approach. Institutions cannot eliminate uncertainties, but they can reduce the likelihood that these uncertainties will have a serious impact on a fishery and do not rely on the precision of estimates that vary over space and time. Marine protected areas and effort-based and other controls based on relatively invariant aspects of a fishery are less susceptible to measurement and other errors and can be implemented as permanent aspects of a management regime.
Reducing Excess Fishing Capacity
Excess fishing capacity and overcapitalization reduce the economic efficiency of the fisheries and usually are associated with overfishing. Substantial global reductions in fleet capacity are the highest priority for dealing with uncertainty and unexpected events in fisheries and to help to reduce overfishing. However, overcapacity is a symptom of socioeconomic incentive systems and management regimes, not a fundamental property of fisheries. Overcapacity has been created unintentionally by many national and international institutions through lack of property rights, subsidies, and other activities that circumvent market forces.
Fishers adapt ingeniously to regulations designed to reduce fishing capacity, by improving technology, fishing "smarter" or harder, and modifying their techniques. So fishing capacity is difficult to manage directly without also changing other socioeconomic and management incentives. For this reason the committee recommends that managers' primary focus not be on direct management of fishing capacity alone. Instead, managers and policy makers should focus on developing or encouraging socioeconomic and other management incentives that reward conservative use of marine resources and their ecosystems and should learn to understand and address the problems of subsidies (see "Socioeconomic Incentives" below). Direct management of fishing capacity is more appropriate in extreme or urgent circumstances or as a first step in establishing a more sustainable system of using marine resources. Then the degree of overcapacity can be used as one indicator of the sustainability of a fishery.
All direct methods of reducing overcapacity will have social costs that need to be evaluated and considered when determining an approach to be used for a
specific fishery. To reduce and monitor fishing capacity there is a need for better information about capacity, including fleet size, type of ships and gear, ownership, and status of operation. Reductions in the capacity of a specific fishing fleet should not be allowed to result in capacity increases in other fisheries, either national or international. Whether downsizing should favor small vessels over large ones, or one gear type over another, should be evaluated on a fishery-by-fishery basis. Simple buy-back programs have often been ineffective and even counterproductive in the past when large amounts of money have been spent to buy out the least efficient vessels. If there are no incentives to reduce fishing power further, the remaining individuals may invest additional capital and increase overall fleet capacity.
Marine Protected Areas
Marine protected areas—where fishing is prohibited—have been effective in protecting and rebuilding populations of many (but not all) marine species. They often increase the numbers of fish and other species in nearby waters. Fishery-management agencies in the United States have often approached this option by closing areas to fishing for considerable periods. These and other experiences in the United States and elsewhere lead the committee to recommend the establishment of permanent marine protected areas in appropriate locations adjacent to all U.S. coasts.
It is important that productive areas—that is, areas in which fishing is good or once was—be protected for this management approach to have the greatest effectiveness. This is because the productive areas have greater potential for rebuilding than less-productive areas. To be effective, protected areas should be established for species whose behavior depends to some degree on structure—that is, species that live, breed, feed, or take shelter on or around the topography of the coast or the bottom of the ocean. They will be most effective for species whose entire life cycle is spent in association with structure or whose juveniles are largely confined to the protected area. Wholly or largely pelagic species move according to ocean currents and thus are likely to benefit less than other species from fixed protected areas.
The design and implementation of marine protected areas should involve fishers so that they believe the resulting systems will protect their long-term interests as well. Involvement of fishers will also provide operational integrity. Attempts to develop marine protected areas in the United States have been strongly opposed by some fishers, so this is a key strategy.
Marine protected areas that allow certain types of catches or other uses (e.g., multiple-use management zones) may serve as an initial step in creating more exclusive reserves. Multi-use zones are often used as a way to allocate an available ocean area to allow for varying levels of use and to maximize synergies among uses while keeping those activities that may interfere with one another separate.
Protected areas of almost any size have some potential to be useful, but to have significant effects the total area protected must be a substantial portion of the potential fishing area. The committee cannot specify what percentage should be protected before the results of many current, proposed, and planned research activities are available, but, based on current theory and experience (as described in Chapter 5), a much greater portion of potential fishing area needs protection. Recent calls for protecting 20 percent of the potential fishing area provide a worthwhile reference point for future consideration and emphasize the importance of greatly increasing the area protected. Increasing the area of marine environments receiving such protection should be considered in the context of enforcement requirements, other management approaches, and the loss of revenues and ecosystem services likely to result from a continuation of current practice. Marine protected areas are not alternatives to other methods of fishery management—they will not work that way—but instead are one major tool among many important ones for protecting ecosystems and achieving sustainable fisheries. For marine protected areas to be most effective as fishery-management tools, their intended purposes must be clearly defined.
Bycatch and Discards
Bycatch and discards should be considered as part of fishing activities rather than only as side effects of them. This means that estimates of bycatch should be incorporated into fishery-management plans and taken into account in setting fishing quotas and in understanding and managing fishing to protect ecosystems and nonfished ecosystem components. In some cases, allocating individual transferable quotas for bycatch shows promise, rather than only setting fleetwide or fishery-wide quotas. The committee recommends the adoption of individual bycatch quotas where appropriate, perhaps on an experimental basis in fisheries where information is lacking. This approach has the advantage of specifying a result and allowing industry the flexibility to choose the method of achieving that result. In some cases, technological developments and careful selection of fishing gear (e.g., bycatch-reduction devices) have been effective in reducing bycatch, and those options should be considered and developed where appropriate. Reduction of effort in some areas or at some times might be needed to reduce bycatch.
Much more information is needed on discards and on bycatch and its fate (i.e., whether bycatch is retained or discarded). Bycatch and discards in recreational fisheries can be significant in some places, and much more information is needed on recreational bycatch and discards as well. In implementing this recommendation, managers need to pay attention to the possibility that bycatch reduction might displace some fishing effort to other fisheries or other areas in undesirable ways.
Fishing and processing technology has been evolving ever faster since the nineteenth century, and there is no reason to expect that evolution to stop or slow down. It is unpredictable, as technological innovation often is, and technological innovations developed or used outside the fishing industry (e.g., railroads, internal combustion engines, onboard refrigeration, electronic navigation systems, electronic communication and trading system) often influence total fishing effort and its distribution in time and space. Most technology is developed outside management agencies, and so agencies are unlikely to find it easy to keep abreast of it. Therefore, instead of trying to have regulations keep abreast of technology, to the degree possible, managers should encourage management and incentive regimes that favor conservation, whatever technology (within reason) is used. One example of this approach might be to consider regulating catch size and composition in some circumstances rather than gear, and let the fishers develop the appropriate gear. Monitoring would still be required to check the effectiveness of the gear and its effects on other ecosystem components.
Too often, fishery-management institutions do not operate at time and space scales that match those of important processes that affect fisheries. It is therefore important to adapt institutional structures—building on their many strengths—so as to improve the match of time and space scales. Political boundaries, particularly state and national boundaries, often complicate management. Successful models, such as the International Pacific Halibut Commission, are worth emulating in other similar cases.
Management structures that include many relevant groups of stakeholders, like the regional fishery-management councils in the United States, are more likely to be successful in pluralistic societies than those that exclude important groups of stakeholders. The challenge is to develop structures that incorporate diverse views without being compromised by endless negotiations or conflicts of interest.
The committee endorses the advice of Miles (1994) to develop institutional structures that
- effectively and equitably reduce excess capacity,
- broaden the focus of fishery management to include all sources of environmental degradation that affect fisheries,
- structure the duty to cooperate and conserve through institutional principles,
- develop and implement effective monitoring and enforcement, and
- have the capacity to mandate collection and exchange of vital data.
To achieve these goals, the spatial and temporal scales at which the institutional structures operate should better match those of important processes that affect fisheries. Participation in management should be extended to all parties with significant interests in the marine ecosystems that contain exploited marine organisms. Effective and equitable management requires clear and explicit goals and objectives.
Because many current socioeconomic incentive systems often encourage or lead through excess capacity to overfishing, it is essential to modify them. The committee concludes that appropriate socioeconomic incentives will be based on clearer definitions and assignments of exclusive (transferable) rights and responsibilities to government, virtual communities, individual entrepreneurs, geographical communities, and other entities. The exclusive rights include individual transferable quotas (ITQs or IFQs), community-development quotas (CDQs), and various approaches to community management. Most of these approaches are fairly new, at least in their implementation, and not enough experience has been gained to make categorical recommendations about them. Also, it is clear that different approaches will be more or less effective in different situations, so an adaptive approach is essential.
The committee concludes that in most cases rights-based approaches are preferable to traditional open-access fishery-management systems, despite the difficulties sometimes associated with them. In particular, the committee recommends experimental approaches to the development of virtual communities (as described in Chapter 5). This would include the experimental establishment of management groups in which participation is based on whether the parties share an interest in the fishery and its associated habitat, with less emphasis than normal given to where they live or their direct financial interest.
This report has described many areas of scientific uncertainty. Those areas include "traditional" fishery science and management, the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems, and social and economic determinants and consequences of fishers' behavior and management programs. Therefore, the committee recommends research in the following areas:
- Understanding marine ecosystems. One approach that seems likely to be productive is an effort to understand mechanisms at lower levels of organization (i.e., populations and communities).
- Long-term data sets obtained through long-term research and monitoring programs are essential bases for adaptive management. The information needs and prospects described in Chapter 5 reflect the areas that the committee considers to be of the greatest importance.
- Models. Promising modeling approaches are described in Chapter 5; they include models that incorporate environmental variability (e.g., ENSO events) into fishery models, multispecies models, and trophic models. These models need further development, testing, analysis, and calibration to varying degrees. Indeed, one of their greatest values is in directing and clarifying research needs. Models can also be used strategically by managers to add an ecosystem perspective to their annual decision making.
- Socioeconomic information. Basic social and economic information is needed on all aspects of fishing and the people who engage in it. Much information is needed on the effects and effectiveness of various forms of rights-based management approaches and other management regimes, the way people behave in response to different economic and social incentives, and on barriers to cooperation and sharing of information. The committee particularly recommends research into the concept of virtual communities described in Chapter 5.