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Hundreds of millions of people in some of the world's poorest countries are supported by small scale fisheries. These are usually self-employed fishers who use relatively simple methods, primarily to feed the local community and generate income. Though the impact of one small fishery may seem negligible, collectively they catch millions of tonnes per year, from some of the most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems on the planet.
Managing these tropical fisheries should be a conservation priority as we strive for sustainability and try to protect fragile marine ecosystems in a changing climate. However, this management shouldn't just be a question of how many fish are caught, or the type of fish – as is mostly the case. Understanding the impacts of how they are caught is arguably just as important.
Kilo - Fish - Variety - Ways - Variety
One kilo of fish can be caught in a variety of ways, from a variety of places at a variety of times. Fisheries regulations often focus on limiting total catch or numbers of fishers, managing single species, or restricting individual fishing methods. But for overall biodiversity and ecosystem health, the intensity and impact of fishing methods that target multiple species needs much more attention.
Just like the carbon footprint of human activities, the footprint of otherwise comparable fish catches varies significantly between different fishing techniques. For example, bottom trawling has more of a physical impact on the sea bed than line fishing.
Paper - Nature - Communications - Impact - Fishing
In our new paper, published in Nature Communications, we argue that to truly appreciate the impact of a single fishing technique, a multidisciplinary approach is needed. This should include the technique's direct ecological effects, such as damage to habitat, as well as the species composition of catches. And it should also extend to its social impacts within the broader fishing community, such as whether it leads to inequities or social conflict.
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