Optimum fisheries management

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The 1991 FAO definition noted earlier recognises the need for management of the resources concerned as one of the essential actions for achieving sustainable development. To accommodate the other components of the FAO definition, it is clear that such management must embrace a range of objectives, incorporating biological, economic, and social elements. Knowledge of the status of the resources and the likely impact of fishing activities and other factors on these resources provide for informed and successful management of fisheries.

In the early days of fisheries management, scientists focused on the biological modelling of fish stocks (Graham, 1935; Beverton and Holt, 1957). Assuming that fish stocks respond predictably to moderate levels of exploitation, with a defined equilibrium state, fisheries scientists are able to calculate the maximum level of catch that would allow sustainable exploitation. This sustainable maximum catch is referred to as the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), and continues to be a key reference point in present-day fisheries management (Gulland, 1983).

MSY takes into account only the sustainability of the resource and so satisfies only a biological objective. In view of this, fisheries economists have argued that fishing is conducted as a business and that the economic benefits of the activity must not be ignored. This led to the development of another management reference point, referred to as Maximum Economic Yield (MEY). MEY is calculated based on optimising the difference between the cost of fishing and the income gained, and usually occurs at a lower fishing effort than the fishing effort occurring at MSY (Hersoug, 1996).

Subsequent to the development of MEY, social scientists have noted the importance of addressing social concerns, to ensure more equitable distribution of economic benefits. The social objective of Maximum Social Yield (MsocY) was then recognised, and the associated reference point varies with the fishery situation.

These biological, economic and social management objectives, as currently defined, are now facing yet another challenge, with the development of chaos theory (Smith, 1990 in Symes, 1996; Wilson and Kleban, 1992 in Symes, 1996). Chaos theory suggests that although nature is non-random, it is unpredictable. The equilibrium state of fish populations assumed by MSY is not accepted, and fish populations are believed to vary unpredictably within limits (Symes, 1996). Chaos theory therefore proposes ‘ecologically adapted management’, based on knowledge of the long-term stable ecological relationships, and requires more flexible management systems.

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