Monday, November 30, 2015         


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Hawaii fishery offers model for sustainable management

By Richard Brill


There are many different opinions about what is meant by "sustainable fishery."

The simplest is that properly conducted fishing would not disturb the balance of nature, and a certain amount of sustainable yield could be extracted regularly and predictably. Many consider this to be a rather naive view of the balance of nature that assumes that nature is in a balance that is constant over time if left undisturbed.

In reality there are natural fluctuations of species at all levels in any food chain due to environmental variables.

Another widely accepted opinion allows for natural fluctuations but acknowledges that overfishing might be sustainable but would be economically foolish even if the stock can rebuild within a generation.

A third view maintains that a mixed-species fishery that rotated and possibly depleted individual stocks would be sustainable as long as the ecosystem did not change its intrinsic structure. This definition would allow fishing practices that lead to the reduction and possible extinction of some members of the ecosystem.

None of these is completely satisfactory.

The Hawaii Seafood Council defines sustainable seafood as a renewable ocean resource that is harvested in a way that the catch can be continued year after year without jeopardizing or compromising the future of the fish population or the marine ecosystem on which it depends.

This is a generalization that is derivative of a more precise, comprehensive and technical definition of fishery sustainability used by fishery scientists and managers.

Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) is the maximum average amount of fish that can be harvested from a population on a continuing basis.

Overfishing occurs when the amount of fish harvested is greater than the level that produces MSY. A fish population is overfished when it falls substantially below the level needed to produce MSY. Optimum yield is a precautionary operating target that managers set below MSY to ensure that the limits on harvest rate are not exceeded and the fish population size does not fall below that needed for MSY.

Hawaii open-ocean longline fisheries for tuna, swordfish and other associated fish species are rigorously managed among the best in the world as a result of cooperation between NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and the Hawaii Seafood Council. They are a model for sustainable fisheries management as mandated by the MagnusonStevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The Hawaii fishery scored 94 percent compliance with the detailed provisions of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, adopted in 1995. The U.N. food organization is the forum through which the world's nations agreed to international norms for food production. Hawaii's fishery remains one of the few fisheries in the world to have been assessed comprehensively against this global standard, which demonstrates how this fishery operates responsibly and is managed for sustainability.

Considering that Hawaii eats a higher percentage of seafood than any other state and imports a majority of its fish, these are good reasons to buy and eat local fish.


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Richard Brill is a professor of science at Honolulu Community College. Email questions and comments to

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