Managing to the margins: the overexploitation of fisheries

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Abstract

Overfishing persists in many of the world's fisheries, despite the fact that scientists have clearly identified overexploitation as a problem. The solution seems straightforward – reduce fishing pressure – and the benefits are clear and often obtained rapidly, if action is taken before stocks are driven to very low levels. The problem persists, however, because the politics of fishery management favor continued exploitation. How stocks will recover and who will be able to reap the benefits is uncertain, so the political incentive is to maintain the status quo. Management immediately tries to capitalize on any apparent stock increase or marginal fishing opportunity, but only slowly responds to apparent decreases in the stock. This approach inevitably results in resource declines, and therefore cannot succeed in conserving public resources. We need to change this perspective and view the oceans as a system to be managed wisely, rather than a resource to be exhausted.

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