Fisheries and Coastal Ecosystems: The Need for Integrated Management

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How can it be that fisheries appear in trouble every time newspapers report on them? Coastal and marine fisheries have existed for a long time. Initially, people waded along the shore gathering shells and harpooned whatever marine mammal or large fish ventured inshore. Only those fish and other animal species that were large and had very narrow coastal distribution were then in danger of being over-fished. The invention and increased sophistication of crafts gradually extended our reach offshore but, for millennia, the elements and the very vastness of the ocean protected most fish populations from being over-fished; hence the notion that earlier, pre-industrial fisheries were 'sustainable' (Pauly et al. 2002). The gradual expansion of European fishing fleets in the 17th and 18th century, and their impact on the cod and other fish populations they exploited in European waters and off New England and Eastern Canada did not appear to change this, though signs of localized, fisheries-induced depletion were already then beginning to occur.

Things really changed when, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, steam trawlers began to expand into the North Sea, gradually mowing down one coastal stock after the other, then moving on to do the same offshore, inducing the first 'serial depletions' on record (Pitcher 2001). Further technical developments--the invention of hydraulic winches, inboard refrigeration, acoustic fish finders, etc.--increased the ability of these boats to effectively locate and catch large quantities offish and to bring them back from longer distances, thus opening up the entire North Atlantic to fishing operations (Cushing 1988).

Similar development occurred in other industrialized parts of the world; e.g., in North America, North Asia, Australia. There as well, this occurred in waves following on the two World Wars, both of which accelerated the development of technologies that were later transferred to fishing operations.

Thus, in the early 1950s, the industrial fleets of the world were poised for global expansion. Their effects became intensified by another great wave of fisheries industrialization, this time in newly independent and other countries of Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. As a result, global catches strongly increased in the 1950s and 1960s, grew more slowly in the 1970s, and peaked in the late 1980s, as for the first time, catches from newly exploited stocks failed to compensate for depleted ones. Global catches have been declining since, despite the ever-increasing capacity of the world's fishing fleets (Watson and Pauly 2001; Figure 1). This implies a massive decrease in the inherent profitability of these fleets now maintained in most parts of the world by massive government-sponsored subsidization schemes (Munro and Sumaila 2001).


Growing populations in developing countries, and a growing taste for fish in many developed countries led at the same time to a great increase in demand which, being increasingly hard to meet, is causing fish prices to increase more rapidly than that of most other foodstuff(Sumaila 1999). This has also led to an increasing export of fish from developing to developed countries, thus reducing access to the poor of many developing countries of a previously cheap source of animal protein.

While it is usually possible for the agricultural sector to intensify its productivity in response to increase in demand and thus to preserve food security, yields from fully developed fisheries can, at best, be maintained (Ricker 1975; Hilborn and Walters 1992). It is more common, however, for yields to decline due to excessive levels of fishing effort, and for over-expansion of fishing and coastal developments (including mariculture--the farming of marine fish and shellfish) to destroy the structural integrity of coastal and other marine food webs, as is presently occurring in most parts of the world (Pauly et al. …


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