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Fishful Thinking: Rhetoric, Reality, and the Sea Before Us

Tony J. Pitcher, Policy and Ecosystem Restoration in Fisheries, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia.
Mimi E Lam, Policy and Ecosystem Restoration in Fisheries, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia.

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Abstract

Fisheries science and management have been shrouded in controversy and rhetoric for over 125 yrs. Human reliance on fish through history (and even prehistory) has impacted the sea and its resources. Global impacts are manifest today in threatened food security and vulnerable marine ecosystems. Growing consumer demand and subsidized industrial fisheries exacerbate ecosystem degradation, climate change, global inequities, and local poverty. Ten commonly advocated fisheries management solutions, if implemented alone, cannot remedy a history of intense fishing and serial stock depletions. Fisheries policy strategies evaluated along five performance modalities (ecological, economic, social, ethical, and institutional) suggest that composite management strategies, such as ecosystem-based management and historically based restoration, can do better. A scientifically motivated solution to the fisheries problem can be found in the restorable elements of past ecosystems, if some of our present ideology, practices, and tastes can be relinquished for this historical imperative. Food and social security can be enhanced using a composite strategy that targets traditional food sources and implements customary management practices. Without binding laws, however, instituting such an ethically motivated goal for fisheries policy can easily be compromised by global market pressures. In a restored and productive ecosystem, fishing is clearly the privilege of a few. The realities of imminent global food insecurity, however, may dictate a strategy to deliberately fish down the food web, if the basic human right to food is to be preserved for all.

Key words

back-to-the-future; ecological ethics; ecosystem restoration; fisheries management; fishing down the food web; food security; policy goals; the sea ahead; trade-offs
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087