Fish stocks cannot be protected by catch quotas alone

Fishing has played an important role in sea-surrounded Europe since ancient times. Today, however, more people make a living from it than is good for the fish stocks.
Image: Picture Alliance

The conservation of individual fish species has not led to the hoped-for recovery of stocks in Europe. Scientists have developed various strategies for protecting marine ecosystems.

VTwenty years ago the Irish Sea was not the sea it had been. Although the area between Ireland and Great Britain used to be one of the richest fishing grounds in Europe, fishing fleets have been catching less and less cod, whiting, sole and herring. Instead, more and more lobsters and other shellfish wriggled in the nets. On the recommendation of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), fishing fleets drastically reduced catch quotas for many species. But even after years of protection, the stocks did not seem to recover. In 2015, representatives from industry, science and environmental organizations got together to develop a plan for developing better fisheries management. Instead of examining the stocks of individual fish species, models should be developed that also include other species and environmental parameters in the management.

Rebekah Hahn

Freelance author in the science section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.

Marine ecologists have long called for such an ecosystem-based approach to the protection and use of marine resources. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSRL), which has been in force since 2008 EU is based on the idea that a good environmental status of the oceans can only be achieved if their dynamics and diversity are protected. Human action should therefore take into account the relationships in the marine ecosystems. Nevertheless, fisheries management in Europe continues to work with traditional one-species approaches: The scientific recommendations on which the EU fisheries ministers base their determination of catch quotas do not result from observations of entire ecosystems, but from the targeted monitoring of commercially exploited fish species. How can this be reconciled with the goal of sustainable marine protection?

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