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Keywords:

  • Ecosystem management;
  • historical ecology;
  • human ecology;
  • philosophy of science

Abstract

The failure of fisheries science to preserve life in the oceans is broadly recognized. Here, we argue that part of this failure is the result of the philosophical basis behind fisheries science. In the middle of the 20th century, synthesizing more than half a century of insights dealing with what they called the ‘overfishing problem’, British scholars gave birth to some of the first predictive fishery management tools. Although novel for their time, the main objective of the approach was to advise the fishing industry on how to maximize the exploitation of fish resources without jeopardizing the viability of fish populations. Half a century on from these first attempts, we need a wider historical perspective to understand species dynamics, both natural and anthropogenic. We are also aware that there are other benefits society obtains from the ocean than maximum sustainable catches and we need to understand the role of biodiversity in social welfare. Not only should fishing be regarded as an economic activity but also as a planetary-scale human experiment that requires experimental controls for a continuous evaluation of its performance and effects. Here, we present a philosophical approach to the problem, synthesizing material from the different disciplines that we consider should be addressed. A mix of insights may best help to deal with the ‘overfishing problem.’