Sustainability: A flawed concept for fisheries management?

Last modified: 
February 19, 2019 - 10:48am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2019
Date published: 01/2019
Authors: Richard Stafford, Jody Deming
Journal title: Elem Sci Anth
Volume: 7

The concept of sustainable fishing is well ingrained in marine conservation and marine governance. However, I argue that the concept is deeply flawed; ecologically, socially and economically. Sustainability is strongly related, both historically and currently, to maximum long-term economic exploitation of a system. Counter-intuitively, in fisheries, achieving this economic exploitation often relies on government subsidies. While many fish populations are not sustainably fished biologically, even ‘sustainably harvesting’ fish results in major ecological changes to marine systems. These changes create unknown damage to ecosystem processes, including carbon capture potential of the ocean. The spatial scale of commercial fishing processes can also lead to social and food security issues in local, coastal communities that rely on fish for dietary needs. A radical alternative proposal is provided to the current situation. Ultimately, offshore fishing should be stopped completely and fish catches should rely instead on inshore fisheries. While such an approach may require a change in thinking and human behaviour regarding fish, I demonstrate that there are many benefits of this approach, including ecological, social and to local coastal economies, and few negatives, although management measures and coastal marine protected areas to protect vulnerable species and habitats would still be required. As such, the approach suggested is much more akin to a holistic definition of sustainability or ‘prevention of ecological harm’, rather than the maximum long-term exploitation of an ecosystem which is an underlying assumption of much fisheries and conservation research. While the suggestions in the study would benefit from further ecological, social and economic modelling, any movement towards restricting offshore catches should provide some degree of the benefits detailed.

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