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Of Fish and Fishermen: Shifting Societal Baselines to Reduce Environmental Harm in Fisheries

Mimi E Lam, University of British Columbia, Fisheries Centre, Policy and Ecosystem Restoration in Fisheries; University of New Mexico, Department of Biology


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If reasonable fishery harvests and environmental harms are specified in new regulations, policies, and laws governing the exploitation of fish for food and livelihoods, then societal baselines can shift to achieve sustainable fisheries and marine conservation. Fisheries regulations can limit the environmental and social costs or harms caused by fishing by requiring the fishing industry to pay for the privilege to fish, via access fees for the opportunity to catch fish and extraction fees for fish caught; both fees can be combined with a progressive environmental tax to discourage overcapitalization and overfishing. Fisheries policies can be sustainable if predicated on an instrumental and ethical harm principle to reduce fishing harm. To protect the public trust in fisheries, environmental laws can identify the unsustainable depletion of fishery resources as ecological damage and a public nuisance to bind private fishing enterprises to a harm principle. Collaborative governance can foster sustainable fisheries if decision-making rights and responsibilities of marine stewardship are shared among government, the fishing industry, and civil society. As global food security and human welfare are threatened by accelerating human population growth and environmental impacts, decisions of how to use and protect the environment will involve collective choices in which all citizens have a stake and a right.

Key words

collaborative fisheries governance; common heritage of mankind principle; conservation; disincentives to overcapitalize and overfish; ecological damage; environmental ethics; environmental protection; fishing harm; harm principle; law of nuisance; marine stewardship; precautionary principle; public trust doctrine; sustainable fisheries

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087