Sustainable fishing regulations need to evolve faster
Teresa Ish is Senior Program Manager and Oceans Initiative Manager at the Walton Family Foundation and Marissa Wilson is the Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.
As climate change has increased its impact on our planet’s oceans, uncertainty has become the new normal. Warmer waters cause fish to migrate to new environments to stay within their natural range or to follow changing food sources. As the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere increases, the ocean becomes increasingly acidic, threatening the conditions necessary for all marine life to survive.
These changes are not only causing major disruptions to life in our oceans; they also impact the lives and livelihoods of people and communities who depend on healthy and sustainable marine ecosystems for food and trade. In short, as the climate changes, the laws and regulations we use to protect both the fish in the ocean – as well as the fishers who depend on them – must also change.
Seafood is important locally and beyond. Globally, more than 60 million people are employed by the seafood industry. In addition, more than three billion people worldwide depend on fish as an important source of protein.
Sustainable seafood is essentially fish that has been harvested from the ocean with a plan – one that balances the needs of the ocean’s food chain, with those of fishers and industry who rely on fish to their livelihood, as well as the growing population that is increasingly turning to seafood for a carbon-friendly source of protein.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act has been the primary United States law governing fisheries conservation management since 1976 — and was last reauthorized more than 15 years ago. Stop and think for a moment about how much we have learned and experienced over the past 15 years about climate change – it doesn’t take long to see why this plan needs to be updated. An effective policy that works both for healthy fish populations – which are synonymous with healthy oceans – and for the people who depend on them must include a vision to support robust and sustainable fisheries and resilient ecosystems based on fish populations. abundant fish.
Additional considerations should include climate impacts on stocks, predator and prey needs, equity, and community and subsistence needs. As marine life migrates and ocean ecosystems change, our data collection and integration falls behind – and the rules and regulations we impose on the basis of outdated data are deeply flawed.
The challenge is real. While fishers are notorious for characterizing their work as inherently unpredictable, saying “there’s a reason it’s not called catching,” the challenges that come with moving stocks weave together economic, ecological, and social relationships. Fortunately, real-time, location-based sightings are something anglers are eager to prepare for and help provide. Through citizen science, data gaps and resulting uncertainties can be, and are, mitigated and provide conservation-minded fishers with an important voice in management. Around the world, ocean dwellers are increasingly aware of the changes and are calling on fisheries managers to do the same.
In addition to citizen science, investments are needed in systems for collecting high-quality data through electronic monitoring and electronic reporting and in systems for managing the data collected.
It is essential that we update our regulations, preserve our oceans and prepare for a very different future that will require a more agile and responsive regulatory apparatus that can take into account our rapidly changing reality. And this will require better and more active coordination between international, national, regional and local actors to respond quickly to the unprecedented movement of fish and other marine species.
The good news is that Congress is considering tools to address this challenge. Proposed legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens bill includes significant updates to address climate change, such as expanding data collection efforts, improving timelines for fish stock recovery, disaster relief funding and the requirement for climate change preparedness assessments. Together, these changes will be key to promoting sustainable and fair fishing.
Ultimately, however, a one-time solution is not enough. If we are to effectively approach the future, we must be able to adapt to the changing reality and uncertainty of climate change as it occurs. This will mean tracking the changes we are already seeing and being prepared to adjust our efforts on a much faster timeline. As we look to the future, we must continue to review our approach to fish and fishing to ensure the sustainability and survival – of our marine life and those who depend on it, now and for decades. future.
Photos courtesy of Teresa Ish/Marissa Wilson