Taking the Next Step in Fisheries Management

Taking the Next Step in Fisheries Management

Richard J. Beamish and Conrad Mahnken

Taking the Next Step in Fisheries ManagementThis is part of Ecosystem Approaches for Fisheries Management
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For several decades fisheries biologists focused their attention on the taxonomy, life history, and population dynamics of single species of fishes. Most attention went to the preferred commercial species, but less popular fishes were not totally ignored. There was always the intention to piece together the species relationships into some integrated big picture, but the incentive was never strong enough to bring enough people together for a long enough time to begin to understand how whole ecosystems could be understood and protected. Several recent events have now provided this incentive. The most serious is the recognition that climate impacts must be understood both for fisheries management and for the detection of global warming impacts. The lessons from recent fisheries management issues such as East Coast cod, Atlantic salmon management, and coho problems, clearly have shown that there are some problems with previous concepts and that it is cost effective to study marine ecosystems. It is also good politics. It is easier to make difficult decisions when people are well informed about what is known and what is not known.

It is time to manage and protect whole ecosystems. This will not be a linear extension of single-species thinking. A more abstract concept is needed in which the single species is seen in relation to the processes that affect ecosystems and less in terms of numbers of individuals. The timing of copepod production, the condition of juveniles at certain times of the year, and the abundance trends of associated species may all become ways of assessing fishing impacts. Ecosystem management requires an understanding of the influences that regulate species naturally. For salmon, we propose a new concept of natural regulation that we call the critical size– critical period hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, the abundance of salmon is determined both in the early marine period and in the first fall and winter of ocean residence. The amount of mortality late in the first marine year is related to the rate of growth during the summer. Like all difficult but essential tasks, it is important to get started with ecosystem
management. It is also important to recognize that the communication and coordination of relevant information for ecosystem management may be as challenging as acquiring the understanding of how to do it.

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