TRANSCRIPT - Dr. Brian Rothschild
Rothschild is the dean of the Intercampus Graduate School
for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts
in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Aside from the impacts on a fishery from fishing, what other kind
of impacts are you looking into?
Well, the classic
problem in fisheries science the problem thats been
around for the last century is the recruitment problem. And any
time you see ups and downs in a fish population it owes to recruitment.
Recruitment is the number of young fish that are born every year
and this is driven the variability and the recruitment are
driven to a large extent, by environmental change. And that
environmental change is thought to occur with respect to eggs and
larvae. And that has to do with the food for the eggs and larvae,
and predation on eggs and larvae. And we now know that there is
a substantial effect of physical forcing on this such as the effect
of small-scale turbulent flow, the nutrient status of the plankton
and so on and so forth. Its very complicated.
So, just from a couple of things youve written, Ive
seen that you mention a range of effects including nutrient loading,
pollution, surface warming, and so on. Of those types of things,
which effects are you looking at that have an impact on either groundfish
or any of the other fisheries around here in New England?
Well, the interesting
thing is most people think that the declines in some of the groundfish
relate to over-fishing. And its clear to those of us who study
the problem that its not as simple as that because the size
of the fish stock relates to both fishing and the environment. And
so basically, we know that the environment in the Georges Bank and
the Gulf of Maine and the mid Atlantic has been changing over the
last century. Weve done some preliminary work that shows that
its warming, just like much of the world over many years.
And also, weve done some work that shows changes in the plankton
abundance. The Marmack work, for example shows fluctuations in plankton
abundance. Its very complicated. Were really trying
to sort out how the young fish the fish larvae really
react to many different things in the environment. What we do know
is that even though that the cod and the haddock and the yellow
tail are at historically low levels of abundance, the herring and
mackerel are at the highest level of abundance that has ever been
observed. So on one hand, you could say that the biomass has shifted,
from herring and mackerel, or you could say its independent
or you could say that theres some connection. We just really
dont understand a lot of those things yet.
Some of the scientists we have spoken to believe that over-fishing,
or the conduct of the fishery, is the primary cause of the demise
of commercial fisheries do you agree with that?
Well, I guess
I am not very orthodox. I think if you really look at the ups and
downs of fish populations Ive looked at many of them
over the years that on the one hand the changes in fish populations
can be coupled with fishing. When theres a lot of fishing,
the fish population declines. On the other hand, we notice that
fish populations decline when fishing effort doesnt change.
On the other hand we look at, for example, cod populations in the
And so I think
over-fishing is a simplistic explanation that gets us into a lot
of trouble. Its very difficult to explain scientifically what
over-fishing is. One of the problems that this notion of over-fishing
creates for society is the very strong likelihood that the major
causes of human decline in fish stocks isnt fishing, but modification
of the environment. There isnt a place in the world, hardly,
where the coastal environment hasnt undergone substantial
I noticed that one of the studies in your report looks at the impact
of the changes in the groundfish here. It went on to look at the
impacts on the processing industry as well.
Well, you know,
monkfish is sort of new in the United States fisheries, but, in
terms of value, it contributes a substantial amount of value in
the New England and the mid-Atlantic. And its kind of interesting
that this fish is a delicacy and has been for many years in Europe.
If you go to a French restaurant, its always on the menu in
France. And theres all kinds of neat ways of preparing it.
In Spain its called "rappe" and one of the great
delicacies in Spain is "sopa del rappe," and is soup of
monkfish. Its absolutely delicious because the consistency
is a lot like a lobster. And in Asia the livers of the monkfish
are highly prized. And thats part of our export industry.
So all of these things contribute to the economic value of fisheries
in this region. New Bedford happens to be the most important port,
economically, in the nation now. And part of that owes to the scallop
fisheries. And last year they landed several million pounds of scallops,
which, at the dock, are worth five or six dollars a pound.
Do you think the scallops rebounded because those areas were closed
to bottom fishing?
I think thats
a part of the issue, but like a lot of things, the scallop story
is much more complicated than it would seem. And this shows the
unintended results of well-meaning fisheries management sometimes.
Basically, it was decided to close major areas of Georges Bank to
protect the groundfish, mainly the cod and haddock. I dont
believe that the yellowtail was involved, although it may have been.
Now for some reason at that time it was decided to exclude scallop
vessels from these areas and I think the main reason was enforcement
so you wouldnt get confused with a scallop vessel and
a bottom fishing vessel. Well basically this restricted, to a substantial
degree, the area that the scallop fishermen could fish in. And so
if you say at a hundred boats fishing on a thousand square miles,
now you have a hundred boats fishing on five hundred square miles.
And lo and behold,
it was said that the scallops were over-fished. However, our laws
tell us that we should look at a stock as a whole, and naturally
because the scallops werent fished in the closed areas, theyd
been getting an increase in abundance as you would expect them to.
So two years ago, based presumably at only looking at the open areas,
the council said that the scallops were over-fished and needed a
ten-year period to rebuild. And basically, they wanted to reduce
the days at sea of the scallop fleet to about a third which would
have caused the industry to go bankrupt. And more importantly, to
the folks who live in the region in New Bedford, caused severe economic
problems. And when people look at those problems, they say well
Joe Fisherman, hes out of business, so what.
But what they
dont realize is that the tremendous infrastructure of mechanics
of craftsmen of grocery stores that supply this industry. In addition,
they dont realize what the taxpayer has to pay when thousands
of fishermen become unemployed and go on welfare, and the social
problems thats attendant to that. So we were very pleased
to take some guidance from the National Standard Aid which says
that we should balance the conservation and the economic and community
values and to indicate that there was the possibility that maybe
the scallop stock on Georges Bank wasnt over-fished. So we
got together with the industry and the National Marine Fisheries
Service and some other people and we demonstrated that there were
really large numbers of scallops on Georges Bank.
There are marine scientists who are concerned with the impact of
bottom gear. So, youre looking at the water column. Theyre
looking at needed ecosystem for juvenile cod to hide from predators
and the food that juvenile cod need to survive. What do you think
of that research? Do you think that theyre missing the boat,
so to speak?
think theyre missing the boat. Its pretty clear, depending
on the species of fish and the stock. We have cod in New Jersey
and New England; we probably have separate stocks on the Scotian
shelf, yet other stocks in the northern Canadian waters, off Labrador,
the Greenland, Iceland stock, the North Sea, the one around Spitzburg,
the Bering Sea, the Norwegian, even a stock of cod in the White
Sea and the Irish Sea each one of these stocks of cod relates
to the bottom fauna in a different way.
the New England cod stocks probably feed more on bottom fauna than
for example, the Bering Sea stock. So now the thing is, to what
extent does bottom fishing affect the recovery of these cod stocks?
I think what we do know about bottom fishing and bottom-tending
gear disturbs the physical structure of the bottom. But, what we
dont know is how that affects the ecosystem of the bottom
fauna. Does it make it less productive or more productive?
a place in the North Sea where fishermen have been beam trawling
for well over a century. And every year the fishermen go back to
this place with a beam trawl, which really undercuts the bottom.
Its a very bottom-stirring type of gear. And the fishermen
go back to this place every year. And the sole go back to this place
and they have a very profitable fishery year in and year out. And
this is true in Georges Bank with respect to the ground fish.
What we dont
know is whether were seeing some very subtle and insidious
long-term effect. And that research hasnt been done. Again,
as far as a scientific issue, we have a way of proceeding in science.
And its not really clear the extent to which these admitted
modifications of the bottom effect the population dynamics of fish.
Weve been studying these phenomena for a century, and the
fluctuations of fish stocks we know generally relate to recruitment.
This is in the water column. How that affects the adults is something
we have to determine.
Is it a possibility, that bottom trawls disrupt bottom habitat but
that flat fish are not impacted in the same way as cod?
Anything that you do to the environment, given that whatever you
do is sustained, affects different species in different ways. The
interesting thing about the yellowtail flounder, which we happened
to sample when we were doing our scallop work in Closed Area Two,
was we found them to be huge. And we concluded that the yellow tail
were under-fished in Closed Area Two, just like the scallops were.
And, the interesting
point and again, this shows you the complexities and the
unintended consequences is that the reason that the by-catch
was so large of yellowtail flounder in the scallop fishery in that
area is because the yellowtail were so abundant because they were
under-fished. So, if there was more fishing on yellowtail and scallops,
they would be more in balance and there would be much less by-catch
and wastage. And so it really boils down to how one wants to look
at the ocean environment as a philosophical issue in this day and
age when you have six billion people in the world.
The major environmental
problems theres no question about it. You can fly all
around the world and its hard to see a trace of land that
isnt affected by human impact. And to say, wow, you know,
at last, Ive decided to make the ocean environment an environment
issue and Im going to pick the trawling of fish as my concern.
I certainly share that concern, but at the same time, you think
of people starving, you think of degradation of the coastal zone,
of our estuaries.
With regard to the controversy of letting the scallopers back into
the closed areas, some have said that the rotation idea makes sense.
Could you speak to that?
Well, it was
our idea so I am happy to speak to it. And the basic idea is that
scallops, unlike fish, are basically, you might say, identifiable.
In other words, scallops, more or less dont move. We dont
know that for a fact, but we think thats the case. And so
you can sort of think of the scallops as sitting on the bottom as
like forest resource of trees and where the fish move
around, so theyre very difficult to appreciate in concrete
terms. Well, the foresters have been rotating cutting for many years
and the basic way it works is you divide up your managed forests
into plots and you cut, or partially cut, one plot and then you
move to the other wall. The issue is, How do you decide which plot
to cut? Theres a whole field of operations research that works
in the mathematical ideas of optimization. So basically what they
do is they maximize yield.
Or the economic
value of yield given constraints. And that was the idea that we
wanted to get into the mainstream of scallop management. Its
rather interesting. The council has a Plan Development team for
scallop management and we talked about this idea for well over a
year and we still dont have a rotational fishery management
plan thats couched in the methods of optimization, which is
sort of the cutting edge of how you would manage a resource thats
more or less fixed in place.
What do you think about marine protected areas? Do you think they
are a good idea?
Well, I think
that marine protected areas it is a hot topic. And under
some circumstances, they could work very well. In other circumstances
they might not. We know enough about fishery management to calibrate
in a very careful and quantitative way the value of these areas.
I can give you an example of a marine protected area that perhaps
didnt work. And thats when we close 30-40% of Georges
Bank to protect the cod and the haddock. I dont think it protected
the cod; the haddock are back now, but I dont think it has
anything to do with the protected area. And what we did is cost
society a tremendous amount of money in terms of scallop harvests.
And the really sad thing about the work with the scallops is that
if we dont get a rotational plan, to minimize the bottom time
of dredges, and optimize the yield and to move ahead.
And so, again,
you have these waves of band-aids dont clear cut, have
marine protected areas, do more ecosystem management. The fact of
the matter is, is we are not collecting the statistics that we need,
we are not doing the research that is required to deal with the
true multiple species nature of fisheries. Were not looking
at the risk and the alternatives of management. And thats
the problem. Were being driven by problems that most professionals
who have really studied fisheries would not say are mainstream problems.
Almost every scientist we have spoken to would agree with you.
Well, this is
not something thats new with respect to fishery data because
for years I have worked with the food and agricultural organization,
the United Nations, and weve recognized for many years that
we didnt have the data that we needed always to manage the
fisheries, because traditionally, you need to get data from the
fishing boats. And at that time, the problem was acquiring the data.
One of the major data absences is that the Soviet Union was one
of the biggest fishing countries, if not the biggest fishing country
in the world. And they fished the whole Pacific Ocean with great
intensity for many of years and no one knows really what they caught
or how much they caught or what the catch benign effort was, and
so that data problem has always been a problem.
at that time that people had difficulties was, we didnt have
the computational facilities, to archive and store data. And data
systems, and distributed data systems and so on and so forth, we
do now. So theres really no excuse why the data that are being
collected from the fishermen are not readily available for analysis.
Because at the end of the day, its understanding how the fishing
fleet interacts with the fish which can only be measured in terms
of actual data from the fishing fleet.
Some people think that there is an inherent weakness in the fisheries
management council regime, wherein fisheries interests are
seated on the council and have sway and short-term goals are favored
over long-term goals. What do you think?
a problem. And basically you cant treat the whole nation in
one fell swoop, because things on the west coast are very different
than on the east coast, and things in the island fisheries for example,
are very different than the mainland fisheries. When the Fisheries
Conservation Management Act of 1976, as it was called, as Senator
Magnuson who was one of the founders of the Act said
this is really a new form of government. Heres a chance for
the fishing industry to get together with the science and develop
rational plans for managing fish and to reduce foreign fishing,
which of course was a very big thing at the time, and well
all move ahead and we all thought it was great. On paper, the Fisheries
Conservation Management Act was a really great piece of legislation
that we all put together.
in my view, has to do with way its been implemented by the
Agency. Im not talking about any of the present cast of characters,
Im talking about how it has evolved over the years. And the
whole key to the Act working correctly and admittedly, theres
differences among the council, is to have the best scientific information.
Its to really understand multiple species interaction, to
understand the economics and so on and so forth. And I dont
think that weve progressed very far; I dont think the
National Marine Fisheries Service has utilized its research and
development capabilities to the extent that it might.
And you might
say well, people on the councils have short-term interests. One
of the reason they have short-term interests is that they dont
have long-term information so the people dont go to their
natural level, and we really need to produce this long-term information
and so you have very different approaches to management. I mean,
for example, on the gulf you have the red snapper dominating the
600 million dollar shrimp industry. You have bottom effects here
beginning to dominate a tens- of millions-of dollar scallop industry.
And you have a situation on the west coast where the salmon environment
in many of the rivers is in really bad shape. And so I think that,
and also the Agency has promulgated regulations and interpretations
that may not be consistent with the actual intent of the legislation.
So Im discouraged.
However I think
theres a way forward. And the way forward is the other regulatory
agencies work in government you have the regulatory agencies
and you have the oversight body. And I think you need something
thats analogous to the Federal Aviation Administration and
the Aeronautics Board. In other words the Aviations Administration
that regulates the airlines and air traffic, gives out licenses
and so on and so forth and then you have the Board that oversees
that. I think the thing that is missing is the national oversight
these fisheries are supposed to be managed for the benefit
of the nation, not for the benefit of local interest.
So I think that
the council process is expensive, it hasnt worked well, it
hasnt served to bring out the research necessary to scientifically
manage the stocks. Now, I think its a lot different in say
Alaska than it is in Florida, but in general, I think if people
want to talk about re-authorization and re-evaluation, then maybe
we have to get that deep into it. Now I know, in saying that, that
that will never happen because were too entrenched in the
present mechanism, but I dont think the present mechanism
is serving the resource management as well as it might.
Speaking of global food security and six billion people, how important
do you think is aquaculture?
First of all,
aquaculture has to be a technology of tomorrow, and right now its
basically either ad-hoc industries like that do well, like salmon
culture theyre doing really well or industries
that we have been involved in culture for many years, like oysters,
for example, in France, in China and India, Israel tremendous
culture of carp; many different kinds of aquaculture. The bottom
line is if we want aquaculture to really serve society, then were
going to have to create the Blue Revolution, just like in agriculture
they created the Green Revolution.
What was the
Green Revolution? The Green Revolution was basically employing research
to better understand the genetics, the nutrition and the disease
of plants and animals. And youll note that none of the animals
that are on any farm look like a lion or a tiger; they look like
a chicken, a swine, a sheep or a cow. They are plant-eating animals
and the reason for that is because it would be uneconomical to raise
animals to feed animals. So what were all waiting for is the
Blue Revolution and its really the political will and the
intelligence of the public sector community to make this happen,
just like it happened in agriculture. And when that happens it will
be pretty clear that well be raising more carp than carnivorous
fish and well be learning how to culture those in closed systems
to deal with the waste, and some of that has to do with technology.
We need a Department of Aquaculture to generate that kind
of technology because mom-and-pop operations cant do it, to
put aquaculture on line, just like we have a Department of Agriculture
and thats what they did.
How big of an impact is six billion people on the ocean, in terms
of future fisheries?
I think the
impact is tremendous, because its not only the fact that were
generating fish for food; its the fact that were basically,
in my view, modifying in a very serious way the coastal environment
on which this depends. Take Chesapeake Bay, thats a very good
example. Chesapeake Bay was said, turned over all the volume of
water in Chesapeake Bay in a few days by pumping it through oysters.
Now there are very few oysters in Chesapeake Bay. Why? Its
because the profiles of the oyster reef have been leveled; theyve
been covered over with silt; oysters dont grow in silt. You
have, you have a totally modified environment. You have the Susquehanna
River that was a major spawning ground for shed and many other fish;
its damned up.
have to accept the fact that theyve destroyed the environment
and they have to come up with some remedies and some remedies might
be possible. I dont think youll ever bring the spawning
streams of salmon on the west coast back to the pristine state.
I just read
an article that you have several thousand technocrats working on
salmon on the Pacific coast. Thats incredible. I mean, how
can society afford to pay several thousand technocrats to deal with
Youre thinking its a mis-allocate resource?
Yes, I think
so. Well I mean theres only so much you can do. And its
kind of like threes a crowd issue. How many people
can work on salmon and do it profitable?
The fishermen weve talked to said, basically to compete, they
have to buy a bigger rig and the government has made it possible
for them to do so. Once they get the bigger rig then of course they
have the higher payments and they have to fish even harder. Is this
I think its
real in a lot of cases. I dont think it exists as much now
as it used to and the real issue now, the real cost to fishermen
now isnt the abundance of the stock or subsidies, its
the uncertainties associated with management. I had a bank call
me the other day in Maine. One of their customers wanted a loan
for a scallop boat and what is the condition of the scallop stocks?
I said its very good but thats not the problem; the
problem is the uncertainties of management. And I cant think
of anything in my mind thats easier to manage than scallop
because I mean, its like managing a department store, you
have inventory, its there and things like that. And we spent
a tremendous amount of money on a problem thats so simple.
And yet the problems of multiple species interaction and the effects
of the environment and how the fishery interacts with the fish are
not being addressed as well they might.
Do you ever feel like you are somewhat of a lone voice in this?
Well, I do sort
of feel like Im a lone voice because Ive been involved
in fisheries for a long time. Ive worked almost continuously
for some fisheries agencies since 1953. And Ive spent a lot
of time studying fisheries and Ive worked in every ocean in
the United States, for many different countries, through FAO and
as a consultant, and different people have different experiences
and most peoples experiences are different than mine, so I
do feel somewhat lonely. But I have a lot of good friends.
Do you have anything that you feel you can add?
I do. I think
that discussions and dialogues that youre having with people
are really great. And the public needs to understand more about
fishing, the ups and downs of fish stocks and interactions with
fishermen. You have to understand that its a broad issue;
that again, it sits in a world of six billion people and a lot of
environmental insults and we really have to focus on fisheries as
food security and sustaining them forever.