Fishery science

This article was published in International aquafeed magazine

It is a truism that bad news sells across media, whether this is old-fashioned column space in newspapers, audio in radio or video in television, or retweets and likes in social media.  The fisheries and aquaculture sectors, and by extension the aquafeed sector, are no strangers to this paradigm, and these industries have suffered their share of the reporting of bad news as much as any others.  Encompassing both food and environmental issues, they are often the focus of attention from journalists because these are highly emotive subjects.  Even where there may be a number of good news opportunities, such as around the enormous benefits these industries bring in terms of a continual increase in protein supply, improved health through seafood consumption, and the support of fisheries and aquaculture for coastal communities where there are few other employment opportunities, these are rarely presented.  One obvious, current, example relates to the attention on climate change impacts in food production, and the uptake of lower impact diets as a means of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in food.  Aquatic protein production often falls short of being promoted whereas in contrast we see emphasis on vegetarian and vegan diets as the means by which society will reduce the environmental cost of food production.  What we know from the EAT-Lancet report published in the UK last year, is that seafood consumption is mentioned as being important, and aquaculture especially, in this regard but that message seems lost in the rush for a vegetable-based diet.  It is a challenge to promote the positives when good news stories are just not seen as attractive in the media, but it is something that we must continue to do in order to get the facts out into these debates.

In the first month of 2020, then, it was surprising to see that at least a small amount of media interest accompanied a recently published fisheries science paper.  This paper, carrying a long author list of internationally recognizable experts, and headed by Prof Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, carries some important news that almost passed by unnoticed.  Ray and his team have analysed the performance of the world’s marine fisheries and concluded that trends in abundance are increasing, on average, for stocks that are scientifically assessed.  Those stocks represent about half of the reported marine fisheries catch, so they are a substantial amount of capture fisheries production.  The work is a validation of the importance of scientific assessment in effective fisheries management, highlighting also that the converse is true: where fisheries assessment may not be taking place, stocks are often in poor shape.  This is a large piece of work that confirms what may be expected anyway, in that effective controls = effective management of stocks.  That is not to detract from the work, it is much-needed at a time when food production is often accompanied by much gloom and doom about long term prospects for the planet.  We look forward to highlighting more positive messages through 2020.    

Dr Neil Auchterlonie

Friday, February 28, 2020