Friday, May 6, 2016

Social Dimension: An Urgent Need for Fisheries Management

It´s about time to discuss in this blog the role that people play in fisheries management, after all, it is impossible to untangle fisheries from their human context: fisheries have substantial social and economic importance. Fish is one of the most important renewable natural resources supporting human well-being and food security.
Unfortunately, as discussed previously here and in multiple of our previous posts, global fisheries are currently under-performing by the combined impacts of overfishing, degradation of ecosystems, pollution and climate change. It is easy to see that humans are the main, if not the sole cause of losses in our fish stocks. We behave as if we could take whatever we wanted out of the oceans, returning everything we do not need anymore without limits. Such destructive interaction only grows with an increasing population of consumers.
However, if we depend heavily on fisheries resources, how smart are we to be using them in such an unsustainable way? If we are so good at destroying, could we be of any good at restoring and protecting what is left of our fishing resources? Yes, we know, scientists know a lot about how to restore and protect things. But sometimes decision-makers simply do not listen to them. Or, when they do listen, users do not, and users are the ones getting all of this fish out of the oceans. It seems then that we need to understand the users as well, or else we may be missing an important link between the social and the ecological systems
Scientists have come up with many strategies to preserve the biodiversity and marine ecosystems, such as protected areas, quotas, gear restrictions, closed periods, among others. In general, these strategies are based on studies about maximum sustainable yields for fishing stocks and lists of endangered fish species. But, in reality, how do these strategies perform? The answer to this question depends on multiple factors, one of them being where and under what conditions such strategies are implemented. For instance, the poor performance of an area subjected to fisheries management may be the outcome of inadequate governance for a given socioeconomic context, or lack of knowledge on resource users’ behavior and their attitudes. Taking the social dimension into account is likely very necessary for a better management performance.