Can the Knowledge Society Turn Around 500 Years of Overfishing? Public Deposited

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  • As early as 1491 in an Act of Parliament during the reign of Henry VII of England, overfishing and the capture of juveniles were recognized as root causes of declining fish catches, and since then, minimum capture sizes, closed seasons and areas, and gear restrictions have been implemented to address the problem. Over 500 years later, France has been sentenced by the European Court to pay €20 million in penalties for systematically ignoring minimum sizes set by the European Commission, and most stocks in European waters are at historically low levels and in danger of collapse. Clearly, fisheries management by authorities has not worked. Under modern top-down management, catches are often legalized above safe levels and below safe sizes because it is easier to risk the collapse of fish stocks than to generate short term social or political conflict. This practice has been termed “convenience overfishing” if observed in rich countries, where fishing is not economically important relative to the overall economy. In the face of such long-term, chronic failure of top-down management, maybe the time has come for a bottom-up approach to fisheries that is simple enough to allow stakeholders and the public to participate. The preconditions for such change seem good: consumers do care about seafood and the marine environment and there are several examples in other areas where consumer choice has altered the behavior of the food industry. Also, overfishing can be detected with a single fish in hand, because there is a body size at which most specimens of a given species have had a chance to reproduce, and where the catch is obtained with least impact on the population. These sizes are known for practically all food fishes, even for fillets, and can be easily controlled by traders, retailers and consumers with the respective knowledge. Details of and first experiences with such "common sense fisheries management" based on body sizes and stakeholder participation are presented.
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  • Stern-Pirlot, Amanda and Rainer Froese. 2006. Can the Knowledge Society Turn Around 500 Years of Overfishing? In: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics & Trade, July 11-14, 2006, Portsmouth, UK: Rebuilding Fisheries in an Uncertain Environment. Compiled by Ann L. Shriver. International Institute of Fisheries Economics & Trade, Corvallis, Oregon, USA, 2006. CD ROM. ISBN 0-9763432-3-1
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