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Fishing - Solutions

Controls can be imposed on fisherman, their equipment and catches. These will either restrict input (restrictions on the numbers of people, vessels and equipment involved in fishing) or output (the size of the catch and length of the seasons). Examples of controls are:-

  • How many fish can be taken - bag limits, possession limits and quota
  • What size fish can be taken - size limits
  • Where fish can be taken - open and closed areas
  • When fish can be taken - open and closed seasons
  • Who needs a fishing licence - fishing licences
  • How fish can be taken - permitted fishing gear

Unfortunately input controls have not demonstrated that they resolve conservation problems, so Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) are being developed. These may completely ban fishing and all human activity or specify certain regulations that must be adhered to when fishing in that particular area. MPA’s give overfished species some breathing space to recover. Fisheries located close by MPA’s also benefit as any overspill from the protected area will spill over into the fishery, increasing stock levels. In order that this system can have any effect, it is important to note that they must be properly managed and protected.

However, it has been argued that both input and output controls have actually caused problems leading to overfishing, over-investment in fishing vessels and equipment and dangerous fishing conditions.

Property rights to the fish and ocean areas are not clearly defined. The United Nations convention on the Law of the Sea defined Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), but this has proved difficult to police and led to overfishing as fisherman cross boundaries. Measures have been implemented to aim to control access and rights to ocean resources, examples are, the requirement of fishing licences and providing a share of total allocated catch (TAC) to certain fisheries. However, the TAC method specifies how much fish can be caught but not the capture methods or exact catch allocations, so fishers over-invest in equipment hoping to gain the best part of the catch. There is a fishing race between those competing for the best share of the TAC and fishermen take risks in dangerous fishing conditions in order to win the race. There are also pricing issues. Fisheries want to harvest their quota of the TAC as quickly as possible causing a flood in the market at the beginning of the fishing season and a reduction in price. By the end of the season, all that is available is high priced, frozen fish.

Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQ’s) is one commonly discussed solution which proposes to resolve some of the problems with input and output controls. Here specific catch sizes will be allocated to certain fishing businesses and the fishing season extended. In order for IFQ’s to work they need to incorporate certain points:

  • Ensure that once a quota is rewarded is becomes the responsibility of the fisherman.
  • Allow fishermen a permanent share of the catch. This encourages them to conserve the fishing stocks for their future use.
  • Some of the fishing stock should be allocated to local industry that may suffer initially in the move to IFQ controls.
  • Be transferable and able to be sold within a market system.
  • Have clear guidelines on whom and how much of the quota should be awarded.

The specific assignment of quotas stops the race for fish. By allowing fishermen a percentage of the catch and lengthening the fishing season, fisheries have been able to meet harvest goals, improve the safety and efficiency of fishing conditions, and provide fresh fish throughout the year. At the same time, the system has actually reduced the number of fishing vessels, substantially reducing fleet excesses but also attracted new players in the fishing marketplace.

This type of fishery management is actually similar to the concepts used in traditional societies. In many Pacific Islands, rights are given to families or tribes as to where they are able to fish. This gives the tribe or family the responsibility to protect the fish as a resource.

The first step in maintaining fish resources is to increase the levels of plankton in the ocean. Small fish eat the plankton and become part of the food chain when larger fish eat them. In effect an increase in plankton increases the level of fish in the ocean. An increase in plankton also has the added bonus of having a positive effect on global warming due to its intake of carbon dioxide.

A fairly simple move such as legislation on fishing equipment could reduce the by-catch problem.

Overfishing is a global problem. The world’s oceans are not owned and managed by one country alone so all contributors to this issue need to work together for resolution.

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