Pragmatism before prescription for managing global fisheries

We applaud DR Griffith (Front Ecol Environ 2008; 6[4]: 191–98) for addressing important fisheries management issues, but question the applicability of his solution (individual fishing quotas, IFQs) to the majority of the world’s fishing effort. Griffith’s IFQ success stories poorly represent the artisanal (small-scale) fleets that take 28–58% of global catch and employ 99% of the world’s ~51 million fishers (Berkes et al. 2001). The author states that characteristics of IFQ implementation include increased monitoring, a reduction in fishing effort, and improved total allowable catch compliance. Although such conditions are laudable, IFQs have limited potential for worldwide implementation. At the heart of the difficulty with their execution lies a shortage of scientific data and limited management capacity. The data used in transferable quota systems must either already exist or be generated through monitoring. For most fish species, particularly those caught by artisanal fisheries and as bycatch, fisheries reference points are not available, nor are there currently the resources to generate them (Hilborn 2002). Even in countries that represent successful examples of rights-based fisheries, the status of most (30–78%) stocks is unknown (Beddington et al. 2007). Where good information exists, it comes, at least in part, from a history of government agency support, which is absent in most developing countries. Even in the most data-rich systems, we still do not have the capacity for rigorous ecosystem management. Indirectly, Griffith asserts that where data do not exist, IFQs can build both the incentive and the capacity to collect ecological data for management purposes. However, the investment in science by IFQ fishers may only be possible in the context of profitable, high-value, non-subsistence fisheries. Fishers in developing countries may have very different priorities in terms of both fish protein and profits. Furthermore, in developing nations, deeper resource shortages, limited access to education, and more predominant corruption further hamper managers’ capacity (Berkes 2003). In contrast to Griffith, we suggest that a diverse array of pragmatic and non-data-hungry methods will be needed to manage global fisheries, although we certainly agree that appropriate incentives to participants – including IFQs – are key. However, not all current fisheries, or even the majority thereof, will be managed effectively using transferable quota systems. With time, more data-intensive methods may become the norm in developing countries, but if we want fish to be around in the future, we need simple management measures now. In particular, spatial management techniques – such as no-take zones, rotated harvests, and reproductive reserves – can be effective without the need for detailed stock information, and, in some cases, rival conventional methods for controlling fishing mortality (Hastings and Botsford 1999). In fact, these are among the few tools available to manage benthic, multispecies fisheries (Hilborn 2002), particularly in poorer countries. Spatial management is also understandable to non-scientists and encourages local stewardship. Approaches involving stakeholders and appropriate incentives (eg traditional use rights; co-management systems and cooperatives), as well as novel market mechanisms, are the sorts of locally appropriate and pragmatic solutions that will be required to manage the diversity of global fisheries.
Ban, N. C., Blight, L. K., Foster, S. J., Morgan, S. K., & K. O’Donnell (2008). Pragmatism before prescription for managing global fisheries. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6(10): 521-521.