Marine Science Faculty Publications

Definitions of Overfishing from an Ecosystem Perspective

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Ecosystem considerations may be incorporated into fisheries management by modifying existing overfishing paradigms or by developing new approaches to account for ecosystem structure and function in relation to harvesting. Although existing concepts of overfishing have a strong theoretical basis for evaluating policy choices and much practical use, they do not provide direct guidance on issues such as biodiversity, serial depletion, habitat degradation, and changes in the food web caused by fishing. There is, however, little basis for defining optimum fishing by using related metrics such as diversity indices, slopes of size or diversity spectra, or average trophic level of the catch, and these may produce ambiguous results. If ecosystem-based overfishing concepts are to assume a greater role in management, unambiguous, quantifiable, and predictive measures of ecosystem state and flux must be developed to index: (1) biomass and production by the ecosystem and relationships among its parts, (2) diversity at different levels of organization, (3) patterns of resource variability, and (4) social and economic benefits. Ecosystem considerations do not need to substitute for existing overfishing concepts. Instead, they should be used to evaluate and modify primary management guidance for important fisheries and species. In practice, they emphasize the need to manage fishing capacity, supported by broader use of technical measures such as marine protected areas and gear restrictions.

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ICES Journal of Marine Science, v. 57, issue 3, p. 649-658