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Sustainable Management of North American Fisheries. E. Eric Knudsen, Donald D. MacDonald, and Yvonne K. Muirhead, eds. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD, 2004. 281 pp. $69.00 (ISBN 1888569654 paper).

Human use of the bounty of Earth's oceans and fresh waters has most likely reached its precipice. A startling, often cited statistic is that about 70 percent of the world's fishery resources are fully exploited, overfished, depleted, or recovering (FAO 2002). Yields of wild fish have remained stagnant at about 90 million metric tons for several years, suggesting that global production is near its maximum capacity. The challenge for the future is maintaining this production while restoring collapsed populations, protecting intact fisheries, and sating the demand of a growing human population with increasing access to resources.

The editors of this compilation of articles are all seasoned fisheries biologists working in western North America, and are certainly not strangers to the many pressing issues facing fisheries in these heady days of instant access and unprecedented consumption. Sustainable Management of North American Fisheries summarizes the presentations and conversations that occurred at a symposium on sustainable management held at the national conference of the American Fisheries Society in 2001. Each chapter generates a unique perspective proffered by expert participants from academe, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. Hence, this volume provides an opportunity to view the present and future states of fisheries through the lenses of esteemed fisheries scientists, fish culturists, ecologists, climatologists, evolutionary biologists, and demographers.

Although the terms fisheries, sustainable, and management are all included in the title of this book, the authors often adopt different explicit or implicit definitions of each term. The back cover displays an illustration of the classic Venn diagram used in most introductory fisheries courses to define a fishery, which occurs at the intersection among the physical environment, human activities, and the fish assemblage. Although one might think that this book would be about fish, most of the authors rightly focus on the human component of the fishery, because this is the portion that must be actively managed. All the chapters make it clear that the concept of sustainability is mutable and approaches fisheries management in a considerably different way than do methods used in the past.

The opening chapter by Henry Regier sets the foundation for this book by illustrating how resource conservation and management have evolved through the centuries. Regier argues—quite correctly, in my view—that fisheries have been managed to maximize production, with the belief that technology such as hatchery supplementation will mitigate any deficiencies. Realizing that this is not feasible, we are still locked in an ongoing struggle between reliance on technological advances and strict restrictions on access (e.g., closures, reserves). At the heart of this struggle is the goal of sustainability. A distillation of the authors' many views can be summarized thus: sustainability should provide renewable yield in the face of uncertainty and meet the needs of the present generation without compromising opportunities for future ones. Adding another dimension to this concept, Tony Pitcher and colleagues argue that fisheries must be restored to historical conditions before they can meet their potential for sustainability. They note that sustainable yields of restored systems will typically be less than current yields, because current systems are considerably out of ecological balance and clearly overfished.

The statement by several authors that human needs must be met for current and future generations (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987) implies that all the demands of the human population can be met by the planet's capacity to produce fish and shellfish through both natural and cultured pathways. Given that human population density will rise and productive capacity seems to be at a ceiling, I agree with those who accept that limits exist, and seek to develop sustainable management practices rather than assume some human-generated expectation will be met. This risk-averse approach is more likely to protect resources by moving away from the goal-oriented motivations that have driven fisheries in the past.

To learn from our mistakes and reward our successes, professionals within fisheries management must look at the performance record. The chapters by Daniel Hayes and colleagues and by John Musick and Julia Ellis provide detailed case studies demonstrating that issues within fisheries are largely system specific. Their collective arguments suggest that no one overarching problem is responsible for fishery failures. Although the science used to assess fisheries responses is typically sound, the way the human dimension and habitat are managed is largely responsible for the degradation of populations. The few fisheries successes are marked by a strong, self-organized conservation ethic within the fishing public or by very strict, strongly enforced regulations.

This book reflects a timely transition in thinking. As Robert Engelman points out in his chapter, human populations will continue to grow for many years to come, and recent increases in human density probably are primarily responsible for the increased demand for fish and subsequent declines. How fishery sustainability will be maintained in the face of increasing human populations will largely depend on how humans handle their own growth trajectory. Several authors note that as humans' affluence grows, they consume more, causing an increasingly disproportional effect on their environment. In addition to bigger harvest, loss of habitat and increased transport of exotic species occur, with further negative effects on fishery resources.

What are fisheries professionals to do, given the certainty of globalization and human population growth and the uncertainty of environmental change? Christine Moffitt outlines positive ways that products from aquaculture can potentially reduce demand for wild-caught fishes. However, the chapter by Eric Hallerman demonstrates that the limits of aquaculture production and its role in providing food or aiding in conservation are still being explored. And Robert Engelman suggests that the contribution of aquaculture may produce more detrimental environmental effects than benefits. With borders for trade falling, the probability that exotic species will be transported and successfully established is increasing. Cathleen Short and colleagues note that this problem will threaten the sustainability of many fisheries by negatively affecting native fishes through pathways such as food web changes, habitat loss, and direct competition.

Although most fisheries professionals are formally trained in biology, all of the chapters make it clear that an understanding of the human component is necessary to ensure sustainable management. A common conclusion is that fostering a sense of ownership or stewardship of the resource among its users is necessary to curb overfishing and ecosystem degradation. Although improved human economic conditions may result in increased consumption, they also lead to better education and empowerment of women to control reproduction. Hence, greater prosperity may enhance public awareness of resource limits and curb human population growth. Paul Pajak suggests in his chapter that although government has a large role to play in regulating use, the relationship between humans and the environment is a moral one—and thus, for many people, largely a religious one. In his view, much can be gained by involving religious organizations in partnerships for sustainable management. Other authors voice similar views about the apparent disconnect between humans' use of fish resources and the ultimate impact of their decisions. Unless this is resolved, successful attempts at sustainable use will be rare.

Many of the chapters focus on salmonids or on specific systems. However, the lessons within each chapter can be applied globally. The fisheries discipline needs to embrace outreach programs and better incorporate human effects into current approaches. The chapters provide several compelling directions for future work and should serve as a wake-up call to the profession. If the status quo continues, prospects for the future of many of the world's fisheries will be grim. However, hope does exist in the form of human intervention, accomplished through the efforts of professionals trained to think beyond the merely biological.

References cited


[FAO] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2002. The State of the World's Fisheries and Aquaculture. Rome: FAO. Google Scholar


World Commission on Environment and Development 1987. Our Common Future. New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar


JAMES E. GARVEY "SUSTAINING HOPE FOR FISHERIES IN THE 21ST CENTURY," BioScience 55(10), 899-901, (1 October 2005).[0899:SHFFIT]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 October 2005

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