Science - March 3, 2012

Total fishing for ecological balance

The tide has to turn in the fishery. Instead of being selective, fishers have to be balanced when catching fish. This also means more fish varieties on the menu.

This plea is made by a group of international scientists in Science. Among them is the Wageningen fisheries biologist Adriaan Rijnsdorp from Imares. The current fishing industry is characterized by selective fishing of only a few commercially interesting varieties. As a result, the ecosystem is permanently upset in many ways. Some species can even disappear completely.
Rijnsdorp is strongly convinced that following the same course will get us nowhere. 'We need to adopt another approach.' Balanced fishing is what he calls the new way to fish. In fact, its principle is simple, he reveals. You catch less of more different species. And this keeps the balance in an ecosystem intact.
Total fishing
The researchers use a model study to support the new fishing method. This study measures the effects of the old selective fishing method and those of the new balanced 'total fishing'. The result shows that total fishing has more advantages. Fishing for more fish species and a wider range of sizes will result in more yields and limits the negative effects on nature, says the study.
In the new fishing method, there are no side catches. Its principle is that everything which comes out of the water is usable. In practice, says Rijnsdorp, this will mean more product diversification. 'Even smaller plaices and small fishes will be brought to the market. Anything which cannot be sold will be processed into fishmeal. This is the challenge facing the sector.'
'It still sounds so utopian,' admits Rijnsdorp. 'And there are no actual cases in the industry yet. Nevertheless, the fisheries have to head in this direction. That's the way to go.'