In the study of ecology, fisheries are considered as geographic areas where fish are harvested or raised for human consumption. The world’s fisheries are priceless natural resources which need to be managed properly to prevent fish populations from collapsing. Thus, when studying fisheries, researchers examine the health of fish communities and fish biodiversity.
Fisheries need to be managed for multiple reasons. For one, fish are not only an important economic resource, but are also valuable environmental indicators. For instance, fish can provide early signals of aquatic ecosystem decline or degradation. If the health of an aquatic community is in decline, fish populations and the quality of fish available will drop in accordance.
As mentioned, fisheries are a critical economic resource. However, the problems of over-fishing and exploitation are major issues. Over the past 50 years, since about the 1960s, 90% of global fish stocks have been overexploited1. The economic benefits of fisheries will become a relic of the past if these fish populations are continually harvested and not recovered.
Furthermore, overexploitation also disturbs the dynamics of fish populations. Different species of fish have different patterns for mating, they are a part of different food chains and so on. For example, red king crabs, which are found in the Bering Sea, have a mating pattern in which the males hold onto the females for ten days until all of the eggs are fertilized. Furthermore, females prefer to mate with large males, which have become scarce due to overfishing since the preferred crab to harvest is a large male. Unfortunately, overexploitation has resulted in a population which is in decline.
Fisheries are a complex issue. In order to properly manage fisheries it will require more than just government action, but the cooperation of all citizens. Thus, understanding fisheries and the critical role they play is imperative to learning how to better protect the world’s natural fish communities.
1. Frank, K.T., Petrie, B., Fisher, J.A.D., and Leggett, W.C. (2011). Transient dynamics of an altered large marine ecosystem. Nature, 477: 86-89.
Image Credit: BBC. (2012). How the world's oceans could be running out of fish. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120920-are-we-running-out-of-fish