Perhaps as important, the European community came to see that it’s not only fishermen who should have a say in policy, but the public, too. We eventually got 28 countries to join in European-wide reforms that required ecosystem-based management for all commercially harvested fish species, from Mediterranean sardines to Atlantic cod. We also set up a blacklist to prevent vessels that had been caught illegally fishing from dumping their fish on European markets. At times, we banned imports from entire countries if they failed to keep illegal fishing in check.
Yet one of the big lessons I learned from this experience is that policy by itself is not enough. The only way humanity can effectively manage this resource is through an international alliance of citizens, scientists, industry and nongovernmental organizations.
This realization prompted me in 2014 to join The Nature Conservancy as the global managing director for oceans. Our goal at TNC is to use the best technology, science and policy ideas to create the right balance between the oceans and the people who depend on them.
Simply put, the way forward is not to fish more, but to work together to fish smarter.
The biggest issue with the way we fish today is that we don’t have enough data to manage our fisheries optimally. Of the world’s 10,000 fisheries, scientists are keeping tabs on fewer than 440. Poor fisheries management is estimated to drain $50 billion per year from the global economy and deprive the world of enough protein to provide 300 million people with their minimum daily requirement. Meanwhile, fishermen end up working harder, burning more fuel and catching fewer fish.
The first and most obvious way to fish smarter is to use better science and new technologies to tackle the data problem. Working with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Science for Nature and People Partnership, TNC has developed a new tool called FishPath to help fisheries managers assess and manage data-poor fish stocks. For example, the tool helps users compare the catch information from local fishermen with the expected catch from an unexploited population, allowing managers to establish optimal fishing levels. More than $450,000 has been invested in developing and testing this approach in Kenya, Palau, Peru and even California.