Sustainable?

Thank-you for the forward. Here’s a 2008 paper from the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science titled:

It’s time to sharpen our definition of sustainable fisheries management” by Peter Shelton and Alan Sinclair — both Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists. Available at Peter Shelton’s website.

…The term ‘‘sustainable’’, while ever present in policy statements, suffers greatly from ambiguous use…

…Policy documents are peppered with the term sustainable; however, there is very little detail on what the term actually means and how sustainability should be achieved in practice…

…Although Canadian policy strongly supports sustainable fisheries management in principle, usage of the term has been vague and implementation of sustainable fisheries management strategies has lagged…

Amen, hopefully some of this realism permeates the Department. I won’t hold my breath, as fisheries decisions are far too often based on political decision-making — not scientific.

That’s why the Minister has full discretionary decision-making…

Ask the North Atlantic cod how that worked out for them…

One of my concerns from reading this article and others on Shelton’s page is the insistence on utilizing “Maximum Sustainable Yield” in fisheries management. This term and practice has been around for about 50 years or so… which is quite parallel with the great fisheries overexploitation of the planet’s oceans.

Are there any examples out there of any fisheries population surviving decades of “Maximum Sustainable Yield”?

What if we were more precautionary and used “Minimum Sustainable Yield”… or “Medium Sustainable Yield… or “properly-defined-sustainable” Yield… or something to that effect?

_ _ _ _ _

Combine these thoughts with the conclusion of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization paper published in 2007:

Models for an ecosystem approach to fisheries

Attention worldwide is increasingly being concentrated on establishing frameworks for fisheries management that are ecosystem-oriented, notwithstanding that the operational aspects of this goal are fraught with difficulty.

This field is still very new and major gaps still exist between single-species and multispecies or ecosystem approaches to practical fishery management.

Pacific salmon are managed in classic single-species approaches — yet Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy is full of nice words and phrases like: “ecosystem-based management”.

I’m not a fisheries “scientist”… however, I wonder (out loud) whether “Maximum Sustainable Yield” and “ecosystem-based management” can live together in the same house?

…let alone the same neighborhood…

6 thoughts on “Sustainable?

  1. Peter Shelton

    Salmon Guy, you pose reasonable questions regarding MSY-based management on a population by population basis vs. ecosystem-based management. After nearly 35 years as a government fisheries scientist I am humbled by our lack of understanding of marine ecosystems and how to mange them for long-term public good. However, getting fishing mortality down to the MSY level on individual commercially harvested populations would be a positive step. From what we know about marine ecosystems, fishing mortality would have to be even lower on component populations to prevent disruption of ecosystem functioning and population extinctions. If the objective of fisheries management is long-term public good, then conservative management measures need to be adopted.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    Many thanks for the comments Peter; I really appreciate you weighing in. As a layperson sorting through these issues, it’s great to get some thoughts from someone with a wealth of knowledge and expertise on these issues.

    One of the first questions that jumps to mind is: “the objective of fisheries management”… is it to ensure the long-term public good?
    Or, is it – as you also suggest – to prevent disruption of ecosystem functioning and population extinctions?

    My thinking behind the question is that some groups of folks (e.g. economists, biologists, etc.) could collaborate and make a decent argument that some species extinctions are “necessary” for the public-good, or have happened before and we haven’t landed in ecological calamity, and so on, and so on. For example, Alexandra Morton argues that when the cod disappeared it seemed mighty convenient for oil drilling to begin on the east coast (e.g. not as much of a commercial fishing lobby to oppose). See Priscilla Judd’s comment on the Enbridge: Michigan oil spill post.

    Some folks here in B.C. are mighty suspicious that salmon collapse on the Fraser River opens up the opportunity for the Fraser to be dammed for hydroelectricity — one could argue that all that electricity is much better for the public good then some remnant salmon populations. At least I think some Californians might think so, why salmon when we need air conditioning? (this might be an overly cynical view, or conspiracy-based… however, certainly a fear of quite a few folks… especially with the Site C dam back on the BC Provincial government agenda)

    Which leads to this idea of “ecosystem-based management” in fisheries management… the history of fisheries management suggests that the ‘long-term public good’ is generally not all that conducive to healthy ecosystem functioning. For example, as your fisheries scientist colleagues such as Boris Worm has pointed out (90% of predator fish done in) “Industrialized fisheries typically reduced community biomass by 80% within 15 years of exploitation.” (Myers and Worm, 2003)
    Or Dr. Pauly at UBC.

    In my work with First Nations, they might suggest that the goal of looking after fish is strictly ecosystem stewardship first, not the long-term human good.

    And this is where some of my concerns and issues come up — and maybe they’re simply naive idealism… — fisheries management does not have to assume that fish are there to be caught by humans; however, that appears to be the dominant ideology of fisheries science. Now, that ecosystems are showing drastic impacts it seems the compass needle of fisheries management is starting to flicker around quite a bit…?

  3. Claire

    You pose a great question – how many fisheries are there that have survived MSY – based management over several decades? I’d love to see that list. However, I see Peter’s point – I wonder how many fisheries that SHOULD be managed based on MSY actually are doing so.

  4. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for that Claire. Yes, I’m very curious to see the list too. Maybe that’s something the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) could provide. I see from a visit to their website yesterday that they are now at 93 “eco-certified” fisheries. How many of those are based on MSY management? And how are the fish populations being exploited doing? And more importantly, I suppose, how are the ecosystems that depend on those fish populations?

    And then there are situations like my post yesterday on the decision by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans to go fishing on B.C. Fraser River-bound sockeye… That fishery which opened yesterday is not even MSY-based. It’s simply to harvest 25% of the “Early Summer” group of Fraser sockeye. That 25% is approx. 250,000 sockeye of an estimated run size of a little over 1 million sockeye in that group.

    I’m not sure the economics of this decision will fit any economists cost-benefit analysis…

    Implicit in fisheries conducted by purse seine and gill net – is mixed stock fishing – meaning by-catch of more endangered fish (and birds) including: other salmon species that can withstand very little fishing pressure (e.g. East Coast Vancouver Island salmon stocks).

    So what do we do now as we begin to move out of the Maximum Sustainable Yield-based “fisheries management” and into an another MSY… Minimum sustainable Yield?

    If it continues to be computer modeling and simulations that pump out what the Maximum sustainable Yield is, and then fisheries plans are created and implemented on those… I get more concerned. How do we know how many fish are in the sea? No matter how sophisticated the computer modeling gets — they are all still estimates, or even guesstimates at best.

    Sure we can count what we catch right to the fish… but that’s about the only fully accurate counting out there.

  5. Peter Shelton

    Salmon Guy and Claire, you make some good points.

    Even though single species MSY-based policy is widely adopted by governments and RFMOs, implementation is flawed and fishing mortality is often allowed to rise well above Fmsy and biomass is fished down to well below Bmsy. Such fisheries clearly cannot be considered “sustainable” no matter what other management measures are in place. Perhaps if there is an explicit rebuilding plan in place and there is evidence that it is working well and will rebuild the stock to Bmsy or above in a short enough period of time, one might be generous and say the fishery is sustainable or on track to becoming sustainable.

    But this is all in the single species MSY context, as you point out Fish Guy. The fact that we might have to rebuild stocks to a much greater percentage of the unexploited biomass than Bmsy and fish at levels of only a fraction of Fmsy to achieve “ecosystem sustainability” (whatever that is defined to be) is not yet factored into policies and practices of most governments and RFMOs. Even CCAMLR, which professes to have “ecosystem sustainability” at its core, does not really know what a sustainable harvest of krill would be in an Antarctic ecosystem context.

    The notions of “surplus production” and “MSY” are single species heuristics that conveniently justify commercial-level exploitation of wild fish stocks. In an ecosystem context there is no equivalent concept of surplus production, as far as I know, to justify human removals beyond the artisanal or subsistence levels. Instead, all removals have impacts up and down the food chain that thus far have proven difficult to predict, to the point that we are unable to evaluate trade-offs, and therefore we are unable to make science-based management decisions at the ecosystem level. Currently “ecosystem-based fisheries management” comprises actions aimed at reducing bycatch, reducing the impact of fishing gear on habitat and, in some cases, creating closed areas or sanctuaries. While these are good measures, they don’t sum up to an “ecosystem approach”.

  6. LAL

    A new definition for sustainability- Deborah Eden Tull

    “… an approach to life that views long-term environmental, human and economic well-being as one and the same. Sustainability honors life and the interconnections in the web of life as far into the future as one can imagine. A system is only sustainable if it is designed to take care of all components of that system- now and into the future.”

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