Seafood Summit: Addressing data-deficient fisheries

Posted by Dr. Phil Macmullen on 22 January 2016

Data-deficient fisheries are formally defined as fisheries on stocks that are not fully evaluated in relation to primary stock status and fishing mortality management reference points.  It has been estimated that we lack regular assessment data for more than 90% of our Earth's fisheries.


But this has always been the case so does it really matter? What's wrong with 'data-deficient' and why does it need our attention?


Looking ahead to the Seafood Summit in Malta in February, Seafish is moderating a discussion which attempts to answer the above questions and study in more detail the issue of data-deficient fisheries.


There are two compelling reasons for these fisheries to get more attention than they've had hitherto - and to showcase the innovative alternative approaches to management that have been developed in recent years. The first reason is that we know that well managed fisheries perform better than badly managed ones. But traditionally 'well managed' has meant plenty of data on the stocks and their supporting ecosystems, and the ways in which fishing effort is monitored and guided. This has led to the view that good fisheries are 'data-rich' while others are 'data-poor'; the assumption that there's something wrong with those 'poor' fisheries; and the further assumption that if they can't meet our standards then they simply can't be managed 'properly'.


If this view is taken then there are further, and quite serious, implications which form the second reason. We live in an age of certification standards and the need to prove that the fisheries that feed the world's supply chains must be demonstrably well managed. Conventional wisdom says that means data rich. In this way there's a very real risk that fisheries that are deemed to be data-poor are excluded from the world's markets and may even lose market share more regionally.


Of course, over the years, there have always been fisheries that haven't been rigorously assessed, aren't knowingly well managed, but still manage to produce a consistently good harvest. The relentless advance of technology and the development of extended markets have whittled that number down but there is now a real interest in, and acceptance of, the potential for new and inexpensive approaches to improve data-limited fisheries. It's a huge challenge to persuade some that it's possible, that fishermen should be involved in managing their own affairs and that alternative approaches are credible. It's an even bigger challenge to develop a systematic approach to these fisheries which can determine the best way to assess each one. The barriers to development are many and varied so the pathways to what we might call 'responsible operations' are bound to look different between all those thousands of fisheries that make up the 90% data-limited group.


But the prize is also so much bigger than increasing supply to the global market. Poorly managed fisheries are often over-exploited and end up not producing their optimum yield. They could feed many more mouths than they do. An enlightened, progressive and creative approach to these critical food sources could, and surely will, do much to help our increasingly stressed environment to support growing populations.


So this session sets its sights on two important targets: exploring new ways of demonstrating sustainable good practice in stock management; and encouraging the uptake of new practices to help secure a protein source for many who are heavily dependent on it. If we don't take a fresh look at managing our fishery resources we not only let them down, we let ourselves down too.


Seafish is hosting a discussion titled 'Addressing Data-Deficient Fisheries' at the Seafood Summit in St Julians, Malta on 3rd February (09:00-10:15 GMT + 1). It will be moderated by Phil Macmullen, Head of Strategic Investment at Seafish. On the panel will be Tom Pickerell, Technical Director at Seafish, Simon Jennings, Lead Adviser at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Dawn Dougherty, a fisheries research scientist for the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) Data Limited Fisheries Working Group and The Nature Conservancy, and Stewart Crichton, Chairman of the Orkney Fishermen's Society. Further information can be found on the Seafood Summit website.