This past year, we launched the Mystery Tackle Box Fishing Sustainability Scholarship, an essay competition to hear the ideas of young anglers looking to keep our favorite sport alive for generations to come. The contest challenged students to write an essay with their ideas on how to protect fisheries throughout the next 100 years. Students seeking a degree in Natural Resource Management, Fishery Conversation, Marine Biology or related fields flooded our inbox with some AMAZING entries, and over some long deliberation, we chose our winner. Please enjoy Damon Green’s essay and enjoy a bit more about him and his work below the writing.
How to Protect Fisheries for 100 years: A Collaborative Effort between Scientists and Fishermen
By: Damon Green
There are many aquatic species that can be considered a fishery, but for this essay I will focus on the largest in the world, marine fisheries. In order to protect marine fisheries, it is necessary to identify the key threats to wild marine fish populations. In this essay, I address two threats and provide suggestions to lessen their effects on wild fish populations.
Threat 1: Overfishing
The human population is at an all time high and so is the demand for fish. Commercial fishing vessels use advanced technology to supply this demand but many species of fish have already been overexploited. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Nearly 60% of important commercial fisheries are overexploited, recovering, or depleted (FAO, 2012). Even with new advances in technology, the effort for commercial fishing is steadily increasing (Anticamara et al., 2011). If global fishing practices continue, all native fish populations will eventually crash. The demand for fish will continue to increase and the only way to save wild marine fish populations is to drastically reduce fishing pressure before it is too late.
Aquaculture accounts for almost half of the fish we eat today (FAO, 2012) and is only dominant in the Asia Pacific region. China alone produces more than 42 metric tons of aquaculture products (FAO, 2010) but production needs to increase by 50% annually to meet consumer demand and protect wild fish harvests (Smith, 2015). If other countries such as the United States increased the number of aquaculture facilities, it could lessen fishing pressure on wild populations and allow them to recover.
Aquaculture can be conducted both inshore and offshore. Offshore aquaculture includes rearing and harvesting fish and the facilities are located 3-200 nautical miles from coastlines. These facilities may be floating, submerged, or attached to fixed structure (Stickney, 1997). In 2005, twenty-five countries had offshore aquaculture facilities (Skladany et al., 2007) and a single facility in Australia produces 10,000mt of tuna per year valued at Aus250million (ACRSP, 2008). The fish from multiple aquaculture facilities around the world would benefit consumers by creating an affordable and reliable product that has little to no effect on wild populations.
Solution: Promoting sustainable products
The United States has one of the largest fish demands in the nation and developing domestic facilities could change the way people think about eating farm-raised fish. The fish reared in these facilities have controlled diets, which could potentially prevent consumption of harmful toxins that exist in coastal environments such as heavy metals and ciguatoxins. In the United States, three species of fish accounts for over half of total seafood consumption (salmon, shrimp, and canned tuna; www.aboutseafood.com). Aquaculture facilities can experiment with the success of different fish species, allowing consumers to try new products while providing them with a high quality source of protein.
Labeling can significantly affect the consumer’s choice between products and restaurants can be used to educate consumers (Pieniak et al., 2013). Currently the United States imports 80% of their seafood and exports about half of their wild catch (Rubino, 2008). Creating aquaculture facilities in the United States provides consumers with a consistent, domestic, and safe product that is also sustainable (Rubino, 2008). If the products are labeled as sustainable and domestic products, it will effect decisions made in the grocery stores and at restaurants (Smith, 2015). Almost 70% of seafood is eaten at restaurants that can use servers and labels on the menu to promote sustainable products to their costumers (Smith, 2015). Ultimately, consumers have a diversity of choices on the seafood market and I believe that if domestic aquaculture products are promoted successfully, it will decrease the demands for wild-caught fish.
Threat 2: Unconventional recreational fishing
Experiences on the water such as recreational fishing could potentially spark angler’s interest in aquatic conservation but the lacking knowledge on the status of local fish populations can result in unconventional fishing practices. Recreational landings account for 23% of the total fish landings nationwide, 38% of these recreational catches are from the South Atlantic and 64% from the Gulf of Mexico (Coleman et al., 2004). Many fishermen do not understand local rules and regulations to the full extent and improper harvesting or release of fish can be detrimental to inland fisheries.
Solution: Testing before licensing
In most areas in the United States, people can purchase a fishing license online or over the phone. With the small amount of resources left in our ocean, I believe that recreational fishing should be carefully regulated and anglers should be tested before receiving a license. Useful information can be included on videos showing the species of fish that can be harvested, the proper way to release and handle fish, and the local research that has been conducted to create these fishing regulations.
Showing quick clips of new research would update the anglers on the status of local fisheries so that they can understand why regulations are implemented or have changed. After finishing a series of informational videos, the anglers should have to pass a test, proving that they know the material before they receive their fishing license. This testing process may make illegal fishing practices less likely and would get people involved and interested in fisheries conservation.
Solution: Communication between scientists and anglers
Many marine scientists focus their research on conserving fish populations, but there is a lack of communication between scientists and fishermen. It is difficult to tell fishermen what they can or cannot harvest without telling them why and it is also difficult to attain fish catch data without recreational fishermen logging their catches. It is predicted that 70% of the world population will have smart phones within the next five years (Gozalvez, 2015). If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created an application for anglers, it would increase communication between anglers and scientists.
This application would make it possible for researchers to post new discoveries from projects, allow for anglers to quickly post questions about regulations or fish identifications, and would provide a database for anglers to post their catch data. Catch data could simply include a picture of the fish, its size and weight, and the location caught. This application could use basic statistics to provide each angler with personal hot spots from the catch data that they send in. Communication between scientists and anglers would encourage people to get involved with research and would ultimately create more sustainable fisheries.
Marine fisheries are being depleted all over the world from unsustainable practices in both recreational and commercial fishing. Sustainable fishing practices and implementation of aquaculture is necessary to supply the increasing global demand for fish, which will eliminate pressure on wild fish populations. If offshore and inshore aquaculture products are promoted correctly, they will outcompete wild-caught products, giving fish populations a chance to recover.
Ultimately, progressive movement in fisheries management is stagnant due to the lack of communication between scientists and the general public. Advances in fishing technology can be used to decimate our natural resources in the ocean or can be used to bridge the gap between anglers and fisheries professionals. The health of fisheries ultimately lies in the hands of the general public and hopefully we choose sustainability so that future generations can enjoy the fruits of the sea.
My name is Bo Green and I’m a master’s student at the University of the Virgin Islands. I am currently studying the effects of an invasive seagrass on juvenile Nassau grouper in St. Thomas. I love being out on the water, especially when I have a fishing rod in my hands. I hope to keep the ocean full of life so that fishing is a hobby for future generations to come.
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Aquaculture Collaborative Research Support Program. 2008. Twenty-Fifth Annual Technical Report. Aquaculture CRSP, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Vol II, 288pp.
Coleman, F. C., Figueira, W. F., Ueland, J. S., & Crowder, L. B. (2004). The impact of United States recreational fisheries on marine fish populations. science, 305(5692), 1958-1960.
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Pieniak, Z., Vanhonacker, F., & Verbeke, W. (2013). Consumer knowledge and use of information about fish and aquaculture. Food Policy, 40, 25–30.
Rubino, M. (2008). Offshore aquaculture in the United States: economic considerations, implications & opportunities. NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/SPO, 103.
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Smith, S., Varble, S., & Secchi, S. (2015). Fish Consumers: Environmental Attitudes and Purchasing Behavior. Journal of Food Products Marketing, 1-17.
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