TRANSCRIPTS - Dr. Jane Lubchenco
Jane Lubchenco is Professor of Marine Biology and Zoology
at Oregon State University and a member of the National Science
Do you believe the current global marine catch has reached its limits?
Ten or fifteen
years ago we thought that global marine catches would continue to
go up and up and up and far exceed what weve seen happen.
In the last decade or so theyve leveled off at between 85
and 95 million metric tons. They seem to be plateauing at that level
and are likely to stay there, maximum, if not decline. What weve
realized in this very short period of time, in fact very recently,
is the extent to which the current efforts to catch more and more
fish are causing some unforeseen and some very serious problems.
For example, some of the techniques currently used to catch fish
involved trawling which, in some cases, destroys the very bottom
habitat that is required to produce the next generation of fish.
So were very quickly realizing that the oceans are far from
infinite, that we have probably maxed out in terms of the amount
we can capture from oceans. In fact we may have exceeded it.
Whats your biggest concern about the conduct of marine fisheries?
My biggest concern
about the way were currently practicing fisheries is that
it is very short term. If we dont have enough fish, we cant
have fisheries. And so the people who are engaged in fishing activities
are likely to be negatively affected. The ocean ecosystems that
provide not only fish, but a wide range of services to people all
around the world are being negatively affected. And the whole mind
set is very short term, myopic, and not really grounded in a new
ethic that I believe has to be part of our mind set.
How over-fished are the worlds oceans?
the major marine fisheries of the world are currently fully exploited,
over exploited, or depleted. Forty years ago that figure stood at
less than 5%.
We hear a lot about the declining state of marine fisheries. Do
you believe this has to do with pollution or over-fishing?
is that there are multiple changes happening in oceans. Many of
those are contributing to the demise of fisheries. If we look at
all of those together, over-fishing is the biggest, single problem,
but its not the only one. And to really reverse the situation
and to recharge our oceans in a vital way, will require reducing
fishing, but also addressing those other multiple causal agents.
To what degree do you think world population growth is a factor
in the marine fisheries crisis?
The human population
continues to grow explosively. In 1999 we reached over six billion
humans on the planet. Not only does this take a serious toll on
depletion of the oceans but it is also a very serious challenge
as we need to provide adequate protein and other nutrients for people
around the world.
How is sustaining fishery yields related to the need to sustain
We used to think
that marine ecosystems would just sort of take care of themselves.
And the real challenge was to achieve a sustainable yield in fish
catches. Very recently we have begun to understand a lot more about
the connections between those two. Specifically, we now know that
in order to sustain fishery catches, we really have to sustain the
functioning of marine ecosystems. It is those marine ecosystems
that are, in fact, providing the fishes that we choose to capture
and to eat.
What is an ecosystem based approach to fisheries management?
We now appreciate
the fact that most of the stocks of fish were interested in
capturing dont simply emerge from the ocean, but in fact are
provided by an entire ecological system that provides the habitat,
the sources of food, the right requirements in terms of chemicals.
As a consequence of that new knowledge, we have shifted our thinking
about how to achieve sustainable fisheries to an ecosystem-based
management approach, which really considers how to manage our activities
in order to sustain the entire ecosystem that produces the fish.
Could you give us an example of a potentially large-scale disruption
of ocean ecosystems that might be the result of the worlds
of a very large-scale disruption of ocean fisheries is the fact
that the kind of fishes that we have been taking from the oceans
has changed over time. Recently we have depleted the oceans of the
very high trophic level or carnivorous species -- the great big
huge species that are very valuable and are at the top of the food
web. And over time, we have been fishing down marine food webs and
capturing lower trophic level species, that are smaller and less
Why is "fishing down the food web" potentially a very
down the food web has very serious ramifications for entire marine
ecosystems with consequences to other wildlife as well as to fishing
communities. When you remove the top predators of a system, there
is a cascade of consequences that works its way down through the
food web. In fact there are often very serious and abrupt changes
at lower trophic levels that result.
Could you give us an example of the consequences of removing the
lower trophic level fish?
An example is
the continued removal and even increased exploitation of what are
called small pelagic fishes. These would include anchovetta, a number
of species of anchovies, a number of species of mackerel. This exploitation
is in fact removing the very food sources that would be required
to rebuild the stocks of those higher trophic level carnivores -
tuna, for example, not just other fishes but animals such as marine
mammals and birds that also depend on the small pelagic fishes.
In what way have fishery managers or even some of the scientists
who advise fishery management taken too narrow a perspective in
the past with regards to the potential impact of commercial fisheries?
The ways that
weve thought about managing fisheries in the past have really
not worked very well. They have focused on single stocks or groups
of related species. Theyve had a very short-term focus and
the underlying assumption has been that theres plenty out
there, theres going to be plenty down the road, and the name
of the game is how to get the most right now. We have learned that
this approach doesnt work and as reported by the National
Academy of Sciences Report on sustaining marine fisheries, the whole
way we think about managing fisheries needs to change dramatically.
One of the most
serious changes that needs to happen is to figure out ways to provide
incentives for conservation. This is in the best interests of fishermen;
they understand this and many of them have been working hard on
trying to figure out how to do this. These new mechanisms for providing
incentives to leave fish in the ocean to reproduce and to be caught
another day are a very difficult thing to do. The tradition of fishing
has been one of open access. It has historically been viewed as
a resource thats available to anyone at any time, and the
attitude of inexhaustibility, that everyone has a right to this
inexhaustible resource, is in fact, coming back to haunt us. The
resources are not inexhaustible and we cannot continue to have a
tradition that focuses and rewards short-term gain at the expense
of long-term sustainability which sustains not only the fishing
communities, but also the ecosystems that we all depend upon.
Do you think the absence of definitive assessment data has been
a legitimate reason for fishery managers to continue fishing at
the existing catch rates despite the fact that those levels have
already shown to be detrimental to stock?
I think one
of the biggest problems we have faced in managing fisheries in the
past has been the assumption that if we dont know well
err on the side of taking more rather than fewer fish. We have not
operated in a very conservative fashion. When there are errors or
when information is uncertain, we have opted to set quotas higher
and higher instead of being more cautious. That, along with other
attitudes has in fact, been very problematic and is one of the things
that really needs to be revised.
Scientists and fishermen are often aware of declining fish stocks
long before the collapse or the over exploitation of a fishery such
as cod, swordfish or blue fin tuna. Over the years, scientists have
urged fishery managers to reduce allowable catches. Why do you think
the US fishery management councils have been too slow to act?
been any real incentive for fisheries management councils to take
a long-term view of the resource. There are immediate and very powerful
economic factors driving a short-term focus. Fishers have loans
that they took out to buy boats, to buy very expensive gear, and
there is a very real need to pay back those loans. The tradition
of open access coupled with the assumption that there are plenty
of fish out there has all contributed to the very short-term pressures
on fisheries management councils that, in fact, have resulted in
the collapse of not all, but a significant number of stocks.
What needs to happen so that these management councils who are dominated
by the industry dont simply focus on the short term results?
One slight difficulty
I have in thinking about this is that we dont know what kinds
of changes are going to happen between now and when this comes out,
in terms of management councils. And there are lots and lots of
discussions about how to change them. There are more and more members
of different NGOs that are being appointed to councils. Theyre
still in the minority, but there are changes happening. So its
hard to frame this in a way that is not going to be somewhat dated.
Several fishermen and even some scientists say the fish population
is healthy. What is your response to this?
There are most
certainly lots of fish in the ocean. And the numbers vary from one
place to another and from one time to another. We dont completely
understand all of the factors that cause those variations, in space,
or in time. Whats clear is that many, many fisheries are in
serious trouble -- not all. Whats also clear is that many
fisheries that have seemed to be doing fine have all of a sudden
crashed. We can see that in the cod fish reefs in the Northern Atlantic,
as a single example. We now have nine species of salmon and steelhead
that are listed in the Pacific Northwest. Those have all declined
in relatively recent years and relatively abruptly. What we know
is that one of the major contributing factors is overfishing, in
each of those cases. As a consequence, thats one thing that
we can definitely do something about.
Oceans are a
very dynamic place. We know that some years are an El Nino year,
others are a La Nina year and others are so called, "normal."
We dont know what causes those changes. We do know that many
of those changes have a very real influence on the number of fish
that recruit into a population in any one year. So there is a definitely
a lot of background variation, fluctuation, from year to year, in
many different fish stocks. The name of the game is to make management
decisions, based on the expectation -- not just of those high years,
but of the variability that we know is inherent in many fish populations.
And that is what has not historically been done. Many of the fisheries
management decisions have assumed that the years are going to be
good and so we take too many and have a crash and so you get a double
whammy -- overfishing and a change in ocean conditions. And people
say, What happened?"
How would you define "the precautionary principle" in
have inadvertently modified ocean systems in ways that we didnt
imagine would be possible. We are currently changing the chemistry,
the physical structure and the biology of our oceans. Its
time that we used a more cautious approach in making decisions about
the oceans. The oceans and the life in them are too valuable to
risk losing. Instead of assuming that there is no consequence or
that things can always rebound, we need to be much more cautious
in our activities and err on the side of protecting ocean resources
for the future.
In terms of the changes currently taking place in fishery management,
do you believe the precautionary principle is being taken into consideration
I think fishers
around the world have been very sobered by what theyve seen
happen to many fisheries in terms of their collapse. And as a consequence,
our thinking more long-term, our thinking more sustainability and,
in fact, this thinking is aided by some legislation, at least. So
there definitely is a shift that I have seen in the concern expressed
by many fishers for being more cautious and for thinking long-term.
In fact, many
of the most eloquent spokespeople that Ive heard for creating
marine reserves, for doing a much better job of managing ocean resources
have been fishers themselves, who have seen first-hand how devastating
the consequences of collapses can be, and who know first-hand how
these systems have changed so radically through time.
What are some additional causes of fish mortality apart from reported
landings and discards?
The total catch
figures that are reported by FAO probably seriously underestimate
the actual changes, in terms of the biomass of fishes that are in
the oceans. In addition to the topic of by-catch, which has, in
fact, received more and more appropriate attention, we also know
that fishing gear sometimes causes additional mortality. For example,
a phenomenon called ghost-fishing, which has been described by Paul
Dayton, results when fishing gear is lost, sits on the bottom and
continues to trap and kill fishes -- nets, hooks, whatever. Additional
sources of mortality include things like the actual fishing gear
of some kinds of trolls, for example. In addition to catching some
fish, it actually churns up the bottom, which may include juvenile
individuals, larvae fishes, those kinds of things. So the overall
amount of biomass that is affected by our current level of fishing
activities is undoubtedly much greater than simply the amount that
is reported as the total catch.
To what degree do you think technological advances have contributed
to over fishing?
level of fishing is indeed impressive. And its a consequence
of many things. One of them is the phenomenal increases and advances
in technology that we have seen, which have now enabled fishing
to happen on a much greater scale and a much faster pace than ever
before. There is no doubt that this technology makes fishing a safer
practice which is, in fact, wonderful. But it also makes it possible
to get fishes -- a number and amount at levels that were just unprecedented
and unimagined pre- all this wonderful technology.
of this technology were not really foreseen because we thought that
the resources were inexhaustible. And the name of the game was to
figure out how to get more faster and safer. And now that we can
do that, were quickly discovering that were depleting
them at ways that are coming back to haunt us.
How are marine protected areas important to marine fishery management?
One of the major
tools that will help to protect stocks as well as rebuild depleted
stocks will be fully protected marine reserves. A fully protected
marine reserve is one in which no extractive activities, including
fishing, are allowed. It is analogous to our National Parks in the
United States. The fully protected marine reserves function to protect
the habitat, to protect critical species, or in some cases, to protect
critical life stages -- juveniles or spawning sites that enable
fishes to thrive. If you look across the entire ocean of the world,
less than a quarter of 1% is set aside in any kind of protected
status - much of that is what we call Paper Parks. Theyre
on paper, theres no real enforcement. Some of that is in a
status that allows fishing but not some other activity. Many of
us believe, and there is excellent evidence accumulating to support
the concept that vastly increasing the amount of fully protected
marine reserves will be a very important tool both for fisheries
management as well as conservation.
The cause for concern we hear about often is of too many boats chasing
after too few fish. Coupled with many fishermens attitudes
that "if I dont take it someone else will," what
do you believe has to change with regards to open-access fisheries?
One of the real
problems thats driven the depletion of many fisheries has
been a tradition of open access where anyone who wants to fish can
go out and catch anything. Theres no thought for tomorrow.
There are most definitely too many boats chasing too few fish.
Do you believe theres a role consumers can play in helping
to achieve the goal of sustainable fisheries?
I think there
is a powerful role for consumers to play in helping to achieve the
goal of sustainable fisheries. The more people know about what their
seafood is, how it is caught, where its farmed, what the environmental
conditions are, the better able they will be able to express their
own values by choosing one thing over something else.
How does consumer choice translate to the behavior of fisherman?
choices are a potentially very valuable mechanism for encouraging
sustainable, environmental practices on the part of fishers and
industries. Many people are hungry for information about where their
seafood comes from, how its caught, and the conditions under
which it was grown. I think there is a huge potential market out
there, for environmentally caught seafood. And very quickly were
going to see people figuring out the mechanisms to tap into that
market and to provide the verification and the information that
consumers are going to be demanding. Its not unlike what we
see emerging in organic vegetables, for example.
Do you think aquaculture has thus far created a net loss or gain
for marine resources and why?
feel that aquaculture is an extremely important part of our future.
With the explosively growing human population, we have more and
more mouths to feed. And aquaculture is going to be part of that
solution. The real key is to ensure that the aquacultural part of
the solution is one that on balance, is helpful, not destructive.
If you look over the last decade, aquaculture has more than doubled
in terms of both value and the weight of farm fish thats produced.
Aquaculture currently accounts for about a quarter of all the fish
that is consumed globally. That fraction is undoubtedly going to
increase. And the real challenges are to have it increasing in a
useful direction instead of a destructive direction. Not all aquaculture
is the same. The farming of herbivorous species, like carp, tilapia
or mollusks, that are filter feeders, is in a very different category
from the farming of a high trophic level carnivorous species like
salmon and shrimp.
What is a drawback of farming a carnivorous fish versus an herbivorous
of carnivorous species, like salmon and shrimp, is much more energy
intensive and much more problematic in many ways than the farming
of herbivorous fishes, such as carp and tilapia or the growing of
mollusks -- like clams, mussels, oysters. For example, it takes
from two to five pounds of wild caught fish, converted to fish protein
and fish oil to produce one pound of many of the high trophic level
species, like salmon and shrimp. So, in fact, those kinds of aquaculture
are most definitely not part of the solution required to feed many
people in the future.
Could you comment on fish yield and what that represents?
shrimp and salmon, that are carnivores in the wild are also carnivores
in shrimp pens, or shrimp ponds. The have to be fed fish protein,
and in fact, it takes between two and five pounds of wild caught
fish to produce one pound of many of those carnivorous species.
This is a real problem because this is clearly not enhancing wild
caught fisheries. Its not taking the pressure off of wild
caught fisheries. In fact, it is contributing to the draw down of
wild fisheries or wild fish.
There is a lot of controversy over the threat of farmed salmon escaping
their net cages. Could you comment on this?
There is, in
fact, good evidence that farm salmon are escaping and are living
and thriving in the wild. There is also very good evidence that
they are depleting the local populations -- both of other salmon
or of other types of fishes, for example, in Chile, where theyre
not native. So, the phenomenon of wild-caught fish escaping and
thriving, becoming established, is a very real one and is potentially
extremely problematic in depleting the wild caught populations.
We dont really know what the consequences of any of those
is going to be. When all the information hasnt yet been gathered,
it can dangerous because you can just sort of plow ahead willy-nilly,
or instead do you put on the breaks and say, "Lets be
careful here; lets make sure its not going to cause
problems." Because once its out of the box, we cant
recapture all of these things.
Do you have any concerns about the use of antibiotics that is so
prolific with shrimp and salmon?
I think there
are very real reasons to be concerned about use of antibiotics in
open-system aquaculture facilities. We have seen without a doubt
the very negative consequences of too many antibiotics used willy-nilly
all around the world. And it is sheer folly to continue to introduce
those into ocean systems. We need antibiotics and we need them to
be effective. And if we are scattering them to the four corners,
then the way evolution works is the critters that cause diseases
are likely going to be resistant to many of the antibiotics that
we need to use.
How do you feel about open versus closed system aquaculture? Do
you think theres hope for closed system aquaculture?
I think the
closed system aquaculture facilities have very real potential to
minimize environmental damage. The current challenges are technological
ones but also financial. They are very capital-intensive up front.
On the other hand, I think they need to be explored fully because,
in fact, they may very well be part of the solution. I have heard
of a man in Massachusetts who is doing closed-culture facilities
for striped bass and has had wonderful success.
Do you think aquaculture has potential to take pressure off the
I think that
aquaculture will be a very essential component to the fishery solutions,
but only if its done right. Some kinds of aquaculture, the
farming of herbivorous species and mollusks is absolutely the right
thing to be doing. I have very serious concerns about the environment
consequences of the farming of carnivorous species, at least the
way its currently done.
Is it a reality to believe there will be something in it for the
fishermen? for example, "If I start fishing in a sustainable
way now therell be benefits down the track for me."
Many of the
fishers that I talk to are really concerned about their future and
the future of their families, their livelihood, their culture. I
share their concern and know that if we dont have fish out
there for them to be catching, there isnt a future for them.
So, the long-term solution, for fishers and for all of us, is to
help create the conditions where fish can thrive in the ocean, where
fishers can catch a fraction of those, but where we have healthy
ocean ecosystems that are continuing to provide for all of us.
Are you optimistic about the future of marine fisheries and the
health of ocean ecosystems?
I think fisheries
and ocean ecosystems are in much greater trouble than is commonly
appreciated. I think that if we act in the relatively near future,
we can turn some of those things around. I dont think we have
a choice; we have to do that. And there is very real urgency in
doing it sooner and doing it right. So, Id say Im cautiously
optimistic. But thats qualified.
D o you ever have people say to you: "Well, I go to the seafood
counter at the supermarket and I dont see anything labeled
about where or how its caught?"
Well, I should
say that I really enjoy eating salmon and shrimp. And my goal is
to have a world where those kinds of species can be provided in
a non-destructive fashion.
When we go out
to eat in a restaurant or go shopping at our local grocery store
and theres seafood on the menu, we almost always ask, "How
was this caught? Where was it caught? Where is it from? Was it farmed?"
And its interesting, relatively recently, nobody knew the
answers to that, more and more so they know the answers. And in
fact, in our local grocery store, they now put signs on all the
different species and say whether they were farmed, whether they
were wild, not just whether they were frozen or fresh. But much
more information. And that is the direct response to consumers asking
those questions. You know, were moving in the right direction