Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) hunting Pacific Sardines (Sardinops sagax) Pacific / California / USA (Monterey Bay Aquarium)
In Ocean Conservancy and Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report “The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries”, we make three key recommendations about how to improve the already vital law that governs our nation’s fisheries:
- Minimize the habitat damage and bycatch of indiscriminate fishing.
- Ensure that adequate forage fish are in the water to feed the larger ecosystem
- Promote ecosystem-based fisheries management
That’s why we were so excited when the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council) recently reached a long-awaited milestone in transitioning toward an ecosystem-based approach to managing seafood harvest. The Council’s adoption of a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP) establishes not only a comprehensive foundation for considering the condition of the California Current Ecosystem in harvest planning and management, but sets a leading example for modernizing fisheries management across the globe.
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Kelp aka Calico Bass. Source: CDFG; Photo credit: Rob Johnson
Identifying threats to sea life isn’t always easy. What you see is often far from the whole story. Take kelp bass and barred sand bass, for example. These particular fish tend to get together in the same places at the same time of year. When it comes to spawning, they’re very much creatures of habit.
This makes it easy if your goal is catching them. These fish also conveniently gather in the summer, when ocean and weather conditions are at their friendliest. You (and a few thousand others) could catch your limit and still be under the impression that these fish populations are healthy.
The problem is, at least in the case of the barred sand bass, we’ve discovered where almost all of the fish are. During the spawn, the overall size of the population doesn’t affect catch levels, due to advanced fish-finding technology and efficient fishing techniques. Managing fisheries often presents the problem of distinguishing fish availability from fish abundance. Sometimes there are plenty of fish around and none interested in biting. Here we find the opposite: we can find fish to catch even as their overall numbers are in real decline.