Scientists examine ways to avoid collapse of fish stocks –

Scientists examine ways to avoid collapse of fish stocks Published:  09 May, 2008

NEW scientific papers analysing the key to sustainable fisheries management have been published.

In the past two decades, several commercially important fish stocks have collapsed, with devastating consequences for the communities that relied on them and the wider marine environment. Some scientists have claimed that if trends continue, all the world’s fisheries will collapse by 2050.

But global collapse is not inevitable. The new issue of the Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development examines how some stocks are already being conserved better than others – and draws lessons for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of global fish stocks.

An analysis of past collapses, by renowned fisheries expert Rögnvaldur Hannesson, shows that fisheries which allow more adaptive, bottom-up management are less likely to collapse and more likely to rebound quickly when adversely affected by external events such as El Niño/La Niña.

The papers emphasise the success of individual transferable quota (ITQ) systems for managing ocean fisheries. Ragnar Arnason even shows how in Iceland ITQs have become capital, underpinning investments and enhancing economic growth, with benefits to the wider Icelandic community.

Julian Morris, co-editor of the EJSD, comments: “These papers show that the key to sustainable management of fisheries is ensuring that fishers have a significant stake in the future health of the fishery. Empowering fishers with clearly defined, readily enforceable and transferable rights – either in a share of the fishery (for ocean fisheries) or in part of the sea bed (for in-shore fisheries) – is the best way to ensure the long-term health of that fishery.

“Such rights incentivise fishers to think long-term, encourage investments in conservation and reduce the risk of over-exploitation. By contrast, when fishers are reliant upon the government to allocate them a certain catch each year, fishers have incentives to demand as large a catch as possible regardless of the consequences for the future.”

Issue 2 of the EJSD – “Sustaining the Seas” – is available at

The EJSD is a peer-reviewed, open access, online journal- the result of a partnership between International Policy Network and the University of Buckingham.