Small Fisheries Cuts Could Conserve Large Coastal Ecosystems
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, July 22, 2009 (ENS) - A reduction of just five percent in fisheries catch could result in overfishing protection for one-third of British Columbia coastal ecosystems, finds new research from the University of British Columbia that has global importance for the protection of fish populations.

The study proposes modest catch reductions in areas where fisheries take place, rather than the current system of marine protected areas which only safeguard several commercially significant species, such as rockfish, shrimp, crab, or sea cucumber.

The article by Natalie Ban and Amanda Vincent of Project Seahorse at the UBC Fisheries Centre, is published today in PLoS ONE, an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

"The threat of over-fishing to our marine ecosystems is well-documented," says Ban, who recently completed her PhD at the UBC Fisheries Centre. "Our study suggests a different approach could reduce the impacts on fishers as well as helping us move towards achieving conservation goals."

Using British Columbia's coastal waters as a test case, the study affirms that small cuts in fishing if they happen in the right places could result in very large unfished areas.

Fish boats and birds harvest herring off Bowser, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. March 2009. (Photo by Michael Shepard)

For example, a two percent cut could result in unfished areas covering 20 percent of the B.C. coast, offering what the authors call "real conservation gains."

Today, commercial salmon fisheries on Canada's Pacific coast are managed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, DFO, using restricted area, gear, and time openings.

Part of the reason for the research was to open a debate on how to meet conservation goals set during the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, which included establishing a network of marine protected areas by 2012.

"With the current rates of progress, there is no chance of meeting our 2012 targets," says Ban. "Given that fishers recognize the problem of overfishing but often regard marine protected areas as serving only to constrain them, another approach must be found. That's why we undertook this study."

The research looked at spatial catch data from Fisheries and Ocean Canada for 13 commercial fisheries on Canada's west coast to show that large areas representing diverse ecoregions and habitats might be protected at a small cost to fisheries.

Forecasted returns for B.C. salmon in 2009 are low across much of the province, with very few strong returns expected and serious concerns remaining for many populations, particularly coho, sockeye, chum and chinook. Salmon returns in 2008 were lower than expected for many stocks, according to the nonprofit SeaChoice coalition, which evaluates fisheries based on inherent vulnerability, stock status, bycatch, habitat/ecosystem impacts, and management regime.

In the 2009 Pacific Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plans issued earlier this month, the DFO says, "The 2009 salmon season will present some challenges, particularly with chinook stocks, but higher abundances of some Fraser River stocks should create fishing opportunities that have not been available in the last few years.

In an assessment document published in June, SeaChoice says DFO management measures do not yet protect weak stocks or consider the ecosystem role of returning salmon to other organisms. "Although Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a Wild Salmon Policy intended to protect salmon diversity and support ecosystem values, it has not yet been effectively implemented," SeaChoice warns.

"Given the dismal state of many fisheries, we urgently need to identify alternative approaches to sustaining marine life while respecting the needs of fishers and fishing communities," said Vincent, Canada Research Chair in Marine Conservation at UBC and Project Seahorse director.

"We have little to lose and much to gain in trying a new approach in areas where marine conservation remains inadequate," she said. Our research is globally relevant."

The Government of Canada is providing C$175 million to support environmentally and economically sustainable integrated Pacific commercial fisheries over the five years from 2007-2012.

The funds are being used to establish enhanced catch monitoring and reporting in B.C. fisheries, strengthen enforcement efforts, and provide the basis for a new approach to trace fish from the time they are harvested in the commercial fishery until they are purchased by consumers.

With these funds, the federal government will retire the licences and quota of fishers who want to leave the commercial fishery, and use these resources to facilitate greater participation in a wide range of commercial fisheries by First Nations throughout B.C.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.