An IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) study published in the journal Science suggests major rethinking of fisheries management that could increase food security and minimize the negative impacts of fishing on the environment.

“For centuries, it has been believed that selective fishing that avoids young, rare and charismatic species and focuses on older and larger individuals, is key to increased harvest and reduced impacts on the environment,” says François Simard, IUCN’s Senior Adviser for Fisheries. “But old individuals largely contribute to reproduction and removing them distorts the environment’s structure and functioning. It can also have serious ecological and evolutionary side effects.”

In the North Sea, for example, selective fishing has led to a shift from large to smaller species. Concern about the impact of fishing on ecosystems and fisheries production is increasing

The new approach proposed by IUCN, called ‘balanced harvesting’, involves targeting all edible components of the marine environment, in proportion to their productivity.

Fishing for more species and sizes would minimise the negative effects on the environment while supporting sustainable fisheries.

Serge M. Garcia, Chair of the Fisheries Expert Group of IUCN’s CEM, says “Instead of focusing solely on optimizing the catch taken from selected target species and sizes, it aims at maintaining the structure and productivity of the ecosystem as a whole.”

Further Reading:
IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature
Reconsidering the Consequences of Selective Fisheries; S. M. Garcia et al, Science 2 March 2012: 335 (6072), 1045-1047.

Image: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul