When fishing boats return with catches of increasingly less-valuable fish, the commonly held notion is that the more valuable species have been fished out. This, however, wasn’t true in two-thirds of the world’s large marine ecosystems selected for study by University of Washington researchers.
Instead, the composition of what was landed changed because fishermen chose to target additional kinds of fish. Landings of the more valuable fish remained the same, or even increased, but that may not be sustainable if managers can’t come up with effective strategies, says Timothy Essington, UW assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. Results of the National Science Foundation-funded project appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We shouldn’t remain preoccupied with the model of fishing down the food web that assumes the largest, most valuable fish have disappeared," Essington says. "That ignores both what’s happening in the majority of cases as well as the need to manage conflicting demands on ecosystems. These multiple impacts may be sustainable during the initial phases of fisheries development but can ultimately lead to collapse of the higher-value stocks if fisheries develop unchecked and without considering these interactions.
Sandra Hines | EurekAlert!
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