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What exactly is 'destructive fishing'? Time for a clear definition

The health of our oceans depends on sustainable management. That’s why experts are concerned about something called “destructive fishing,” which harms marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities that depend on them.

Until now, the term “destructive fishing” has eluded clear definition, complicating efforts to combat its effects. This lack of clarity has stymied policy development and the implementation of effective solutions.

Dr. Joshua Brian and his team at King’s College London address this issue head-on, offering a clear target for policy and conservation efforts.

What’s the big deal about a missing definition?

Effective policies and regulations require clear definitions. In the case of destructive fishing, the lack of a concrete definition has made it difficult to create targeted laws, measure progress in reducing destructive practices, and hold those responsible accountable.

“For policy to be effective, it needs a clear target to aim at. Without a clear definition of destructive fishing, this target has been absent until now,” says Dr. Joshua Brian.

So, what IS destructive fishing?

An international team of experts has collaborated to develop a working definition. Here’s how they describe it:

“Destructive fishing is any fishing practice that causes irrecoverable habitat degradation, or which causes significant adverse environmental impacts, results in long-term declines in target or non-target species beyond biologically safe limits and has negative livelihood impacts.”

In simpler terms, destructive fishing involves:

Severe damage to habitats

This damage encompasses the destruction or alteration of crucial underwater habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds.

These ecosystems are vital for the survival of numerous marine species, serving as breeding grounds, feeding areas, and shelters.

Damaging these habitats causes the entire marine ecosystem to suffer, leading to a ripple effect that can decimate marine biodiversity.

Harm to non-target species

Destructive fishing doesn’t only impact the species being targeted by fishermen. It also leads to the unintended catch and significant decline of other marine life.

This includes dolphins, turtles, and countless fish species that are caught in nets or harmed by other fishing gear.

These “bycatch” incidents can drastically reduce populations of non-target species, many of which are already vulnerable or endangered.

Negative impacts on communities

The repercussions of destructive fishing extend beyond the marine environment to affect human communities as well.

Many coastal and island communities depend heavily on healthy marine ecosystems for their livelihoods, including fishing, tourism, and recreation.

Destructive fishing practices can threaten these jobs and jeopardize food security by depleting fish stocks and damaging the marine resources these communities rely on.

This can lead to economic instability and increased poverty in areas already vulnerable to environmental challenges.

Expert opinions on destructive fishing

To arrive at this definition, researchers enlisted diverse perspectives from 80 fisheries experts from across the globe.

The team included scientists, conservationists, and individuals from within the fishing industry. Collaborators used a structured method called the Delphi technique to reach a consensus.

Hannah Richardson, a leading expert on destructive fishing, highlights the urgency:

“Fisheries are fundamental to global food security, but if we want to ensure the future health of fish stocks – and our ocean – we need to avoid fishing methods that are destructive to marine ecosystems and everything living in them.”

With a clear definition, we can:

  • Empower policymakers: Governments can use the definition to craft specific and enforceable laws targeting destructive practices.
  • Measure our impact: We can develop ways to track the prevalence of destructive fishing and monitor whether conservation efforts are making a difference.
  • Promote accountability: Having a definition provides a reference point for holding governments, fishing companies, and individuals responsible for destructive practices.

Beyond destructive fishing definition

This working definition is a significant starting point. The next steps involve refining the definition further through discussions with policymakers, with the aim of achieving its adoption on an international level.

Alongside this, there’s the important task of developing methods to measure the extent of destructive fishing, so the impact of policies can be accurately assessed.

Clear and specific definitions are crucial tools for addressing complex problems. This newly formulated definition of destructive fishing provides a foundation for taking action to protect our oceans and the communities that depend on them.

It’s a step towards ensuring that future generations inherit healthy and productive marine ecosystems.

The study is published in Conservation Letters.


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