Fishing Practice, Gear Design, and the Ecosystem Approach - Three Case Studies Demonstrating the Effect of Management Strategy on Gear Selectivity and Discards

Norman Graham, Richard S. T. Ferro, William A. Karp, Philip MacMullen
Type of Resource: 
Case Studies

A basic tenet of the ecosystem approach to fisheries management is that harvesting is conducted with minimal impact on juvenile fish, non-target species, and marine habitats. A range of technical modifications of fishing gears aimed at improving their selective properties is available to help achieve these goals, but their effectiveness varies. Through three case studies, we describe how management controls influence fishing behaviour and the adoption of more selective gear, and demonstrate how conservation goals can be discouraged or encouraged by the strategy. In Norway, limits set on the maximum quantity of sublegal fish that may be retained on board, in combination with a ban on discarding, resulted in substantial area closures in the Barents Sea. Therefore, to gain access, fishers developed technical modifications to enhance gear selectivity. In both shrimp and demersal trawl fisheries, the modifications are now being used by virtually the whole fleet. To reduce cod mortality in the North Sea, mesh sizes were increased and effort restrictions introduced, but the measures also affected other fleets, notably those targeting Nephrops: fishers for that species reduced their mesh size to prevent loss of target species and to avoid effort restrictions. Although management measures may have resulted in reduced fishing mortality on cod, they placed additional pressure on other stocks by encouraging vessels to switch gears, and it is likely that discard rates have increased. In the eastern Bering Sea fishery for walleye pollock, the adoption of more-selective fishing gears was encouraged by regulations requiring fisheries to be curtailed when bycatch rates of prohibited species are exceeded, leading to underutilization of the target species through premature closures. Fishers now act cooperatively by providing real-time data on bycatch hot spots, allowing tactical fishing decisions to be taken to avoid such areas.