Reflections on the success of traditional fisheries management

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The argument persists that the continued overexploitation by many fisheries around the world is evidence that current approaches to fisheries management are failing, and that more precautionary management approaches are needed. We review the available estimates of the status of fish stocks from three sources: the FAO's “State of Marine Resources”, a database on scientific stock assessments, and recent estimates from statistical models designed to determine the status of unassessed fish stocks. The two key results are (i) that stocks that are scientifically assessed are in better shape and indeed are not typically declining but rebuilding, and (ii) that large stocks appear to be in better shape than small stocks. These results support the view that stocks that are managed are improving, while stocks that are not managed are not. Large stocks receive far more management attention than small stocks in jurisdictions that have active fisheries management systems, and most unassessed stocks are simply not managed. We assert that fisheries management as currently practised can (and often does) lead to sustainable fisheries, and what is needed is to actively manage the unassessed fisheries of the world. More precautionary management is not necessarily needed to ensure the sustainability of managed fisheries.

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