Download e-book All the Fish in the Sea: Maximum Sustainable Yield and the Failure of Fisheries Management

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Thus, given that the term was coined before WWII, one could say that fisheries scientists thought about sustainability way before it became fashionable, but they did not have sustainability in mind.

See sidebar. And since the term is old, lots of people, including fisheries scientists, now think that MSY is an obsolete concept, or even a misleading one.


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A well-justified use of this tool is at the conceptual level, where it comes in handy to explain the basic elements of fishery science to students: if you do not exploit it, a fish population will tend to be high and catches are zero , that when you fish it moderately, this population will first decline, but then stabilize at some intermediate level and generate a high catch , and that when you fish excessively, the population and the catch will crash.

The point is to fish moderately, or just right.

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Indeed, this is one reason why poor countries, like those in fish-rich West Africa, or in the tuna-rich Pacific find it difficult to resist when distant-water fleets from the EU, Eastern Europe, or East Asia knock at their door. If MSY is God, the high priests of the religion are the fisheries scientists. Their arcane and mystifying calculus is displayed in power-point presentations on giant screens at every gathering of the congregation, as the scientists inform the benighted congregants of the status of stocks.

Finley, a professor of history at Oregon State University, is a heretic. In her book, she reviews the events and disputes — diplomatic, social, economic, political — that lie behind the emergence of MSY as a kind of gold standard for rational fisheries management. MSY is the basis for many of the international fisheries agreements signed during the s, and it was formally recognized as a legal concept during the Law of the Sea negotiations in MSY fit well with a laissez-faire, free-market approach to commercial fishing, Finley explains.

If MSY was exceeded, the theory went, then it would become unprofitable for fishermen to pursue the stock.

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All the fish in the sea: Maximum Sustainable Yield and the failure of fisheries management

With fishing pressure relieved, stocks could rebuild, to the point it was once more profitable to fish for them. Till his death in , he believed that fishing did not overharvest stocks; he was not alone in that belief.

One of the fundamental tenets of MSY is the notion that fish have surplus production that can safely be harvested i. Introducing restrictions as the catch was increasing was not necessary.

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The fishery could regulate itself. After , governments increasingly subsidized the global fishing industry, creating new programs to build boats and processing facilities, funding university work on the development and marketing of new fish products, and implementing tariffs and other protective measures. If anything, once government spending was established, subsidies continued, creating the pressure for more assistance and continually thwarting the expected corrective action of the markets. The adoption of MSY as a regulatory standard did not occur without dissent.

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A British fisheries scientist, Michael Graham, took strong exception to the notion that human fishing effort was equivalent to just another type of natural predation. Protecting fishermen would also protect fish.

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Holt, Finley writes, was arguing that MSY encourages the development of a large fishing fleet, which increases expenses to fishermen, who, in turn, generate heavy political pressure on governments to allow continued fishing. Nonetheless, MSY became the order of the day in international fisheries management regimes, but scientists could not keep pace with the rapid development of post-war fisheries.