Fisheries science is known for having several high-profile controversies; and there is a new one these days: ‘balanced harvesting’.
At issue is whether or not we should shift towards a fisheries management philosophy that tries to spread fishing pressure across all sizes and species of fish in an ecosystem – harvesting each size and species in proportion to its productivity (a.k.a. ‘balanced harvesting’). This would be a big change in how we manage fisheries. Currently, we only target a relatively small number of species, and we try to avoid catching the young ones (and sometimes also the very oldest ones) to protect the fish populations’ growth potential.
On the pro side, several prominent scientists have argued (e.g., see here, here, here, and here) that balanced harvesting gives us a way to significantly increase the fish supply while maintaining the structure of ecosystems. On the con side, a group of my colleagues and I (see here and here) recently argued that balanced harvesting is probably not technologically possible, and, even if it is, it is probably a very inefficient way to protect ecosystems and meet food demands, because it is expensive and produces a lot of new types of fish that people may not want to buy or eat. This past weekend, another group of very prominent scientists joined us on the con side – arguing that evidence for the ecological benefits of balanced harvesting is weak, and examples of balanced harvesting from African fisheries presented previously by the pro side actually show fisheries in crisis, not examples to be emulated (see also here).
Fisheries controversies have sometimes been heated in the past, probably in large part because the stakes of fisheries management – including livelihoods, food security, and the health of some of our most valuable marine ecosystems – are so high. But there have also been examples of productive, consensus-driven resolutions of fisheries debates. Some debates have had both of these qualities – the Hilborn-Worm debate being a great example (so much so that we featured it as a Case Study here at The Tête-à-Tête).
So far, the balanced harvesting debate (at least publicly, and so far as I know) has been fairly civil and reasoned. One can only hope it stays that way. But since I am a participant in the debate myself this time, and I also claim to be a preacher of civil, reasoned, constructive, solution-oriented discourse, I hope to be able to hold myself to a high standard. And if I fail to do so, I hope that you, our readers, will hold my feet to the fire. As much as I strive for balance, fairness and rigor, I also certainly have opinions and a particular perspective on many issues. Divorcing my analysis from this perspective is a constant struggle, as I’m sure it is for everyone who is passionate about issues and the principles of vigorous and rigorous debate.
In fact, the same goes for all of the content on The Tête-à-Tête. If any of you feel that we have not presented an issue in a fair, constructive, and rigorous manner, or treated opposing viewpoints in the comments fairly, we want to know (and please be as specific as possible in your critique, the more so the better).
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