Michael Arbuckle, a senior fisheries specialist at the World Bank, estimated in a recent interview that 240 million people are employed in fisheries worldwide and that these fisheries account for 16 percent of the world’s protein consumption.
The study suggests that many of the world’s fisheries of tuna, such as central West Pacific skipjack and South Pacific albacore tuna, are in relatively good shape, while many snapper fisheries — in places as disparate as Thailand and Latin America — are doing badly. And most of the world’s shark populations, which are targeted in small-scale fisheries, are depleted.
Costello said the findings confirm the observations researchers have made in the field while examining small-scale fisheries in the developing world. “When you stick your head underwater in those places, you realize the fish are gone.”
The study, which is part of a broader fisheries study issued this week by the consulting firm California Environmental Associates, suggests that a range of management tools could help restore depleted fisheries. These include individual fishing quotas, in which fishing operations own a tradable share of the overall catch, and territorial rights fisheries, where a community owns a fishing area and can limit fishing by outsiders.
Brett Jenks, chief executive of the Arlington County-based conservation group RARE, said in an e-mail the new research shows why a combination of rights-based management and protected areas can yield major benefits. RARE has established 40 sites in Asia and Latin America that combine these strategies: An analysis by the University of the Philippines found fish stocks in 12 fisheries in the Philippines were “growing by 40 percent on average in just one year.”
“This anecdote is a clear way of demonstrating Costello and Gaines’s theory in action; fisheries can be incredibly productive if we just give them a break,” Jenks wrote.
Amanda Leland, vice president for oceans at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, said the United States, New Zealand and other industrialized nations have demonstrated that giving individuals a private financial stake in a fishery, known as “catch shares” in the United States, have helped rebuild fisheries by giving fishermen a financial investment in the health of the fishery.
“The data shows there’s a solution to this problem that can be applied broadly,” Leland said. “It’s a rewards system that works.”