Feeding the Future
Through better fishing practices and improved technology, we've greatly increased our supply of food from the ocean. But this increased efficiency, which can significantly reduce targeted fish populations, has threatened this supply, now and for the future. Moving fisheries toward sustainability has become the primary focus of many agencies and organizations around the world.
The goal is to allow the harvesting of the greatest weight of fish while ensuring that an adequate number of young fish remain for reproduction of that species at a sustainable level. Tools used in supporting this goal include catch limits or quotas, set for various species. Quotas regulate the number of fish taken, allowing the species a chance to rebuild its population. But before quotas can be set, regulators need to know the size of each population. Fish surveys, done by agencies such as NOAA, provide the size, age and sex of typical populations. Tagging is used to study migration patterns and numbers of fish caught. Sonar scans and underwater cameras are used to estimate populations of deepwater fishes. And predator/prey relationships are studied since it's critical to maintain a balance in the marine food web. For more information on fisheries management, see David Sampson's notes on stock assessment.
Fishing technology has also improved, with better net designs leading in the reduction of by-catch (the accidental catch of protected and other species). The best known is probably the turtle excluder, which is used in shrimp nets and allows turtles and juvenile fish to escape. Streamer lines, used by longline fisheries, have reduced seabird bycatch. Updated regulations allowing the retention of a portion of by-catch (in some instances, economically less valuable species) will also help.
Seafood science and its technology is continuing to expand, allowing researchers to find more efficient ways to process food. These newer methods often increase production or allow processers to create improved or new products while reducing waste. Surimi may be the best-known recent innovation. For more information, check out this article on surimi's past and future.
Aquaculture has become a primary method for increasing the seafood supply - it's estimated that half of the seafood we consume is farmed, not wild. Marine aquaculture often uses net pens in the ocean; fresh-water aquaculture can be supported in man-made or natural ponds, rivers and streams. Aquaculture is a controversial topic because of the potential for damage to the environment. But, carefully done, its benefits are immeasurable. For more information, find out what our Molluscan Broodstock Program has been working on.
The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the UN, the World Wildlife Fund and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council offers more background information on bycatch avoidance. And there's an excellent piece on recent innovative bycatch designs from the WWF Smart Gear Competition.
Monterey Bay Aquarium has information on on fishery practices and issues. A newer site, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, provides much information about fisheries and aquaculture, as well as on the partners involved in this effort.
NOAA, the World Wildlife Fund , the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and our "About Aquaculture" page each have some excellent information on aquaculture. Ocean Frontiers: The Dawn of a New Era in Ocean Stewardship, has a number of videos on a wide range of topics.
Additional articles include "From Research to Retail", a Terra article that focuses on scientist/industry collaboration for improved seafood production.