Long-Term Fishery Investments Starting To Pay Off

by Michael Conathan

Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual “Status of Stocks” report to Congress outlining the overall health of our nation’s fisheries. To the relatively small cadre of fish geeks (myself included), the release of this document is a major event. It lacks the panache of the Oscar nominations, but for us it is perhaps comparable to the way the 1 percent gets all giddy for Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letter to shareholders.

NOAA’s report for 2011, similar to that of Warren Buffett’s financial powerhouse, continued its recent trend of positive returns. The topline numbers showed modest yet continued growth in the overall health of America’s fish populations. At the end of 2011, just 14 percent of fish stocks were subject to overfishing, and 21 percent were in an overfished state—down from 16 percent and 22 percent in 2010, respectively. (Recall this description of the difference between a stock that is “subject to overfishing” and one that is “overfished.”)

Yet the most impressive news to emerge from this year’s report was that six stocks have been declared fully rebuilt—more than in any other year—bringing the overall total of stocks rebuilt since 2000 to 27.

Despite these positive trends and all the feel-good stories the report has spawned (in more than 100 newspapers nationwide), correspondence in my personal inbox this week was dominated by references to a Washington Post Wonk Room blog post proclaiming boldly that it had found “The end of fish, in one chart.”

The chart in question comes from a wide-ranging World Wildlife Fund study on global biodiversity, and it displays the dramatic increase in global fishing pressure from 1950 to 2006. The blog piece goes on to reference an overpublicized doomsday scenario article published by lead author Dr. Boris Worm in 2006 in the journal Science. Worm’s study predicts the demise of global commercial fisheries by 2048. Ah, how the mass media truly loves a ticking clock.

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