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Shopping list gets longer not less choosy in some of world's largest fisheries

When fishing boats return with catches of increasingly less-valuable fish, the commonly held notion is that the more valuable species have been fished out. This, however, wasn't true in two-thirds of the world's large marine ecosystems selected for study by University of Washington researchers.

Instead, the composition of what was landed changed because fishermen chose to target additional kinds of fish. Landings of the more valuable fish remained the same, or even increased, but that may not be sustainable if managers can't come up with effective strategies, says Timothy Essington, UW assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. Results of the National Science Foundation-funded project appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We shouldn't remain preoccupied with the model of fishing down the food web that assumes the largest, most valuable fish have disappeared," Essington says. "That ignores both what's happening in the majority of cases as well as the need to manage conflicting demands on ecosystems. These multiple impacts may be sustainable during the initial phases of fisheries development but can ultimately lead to collapse of the higher-value stocks if fisheries develop unchecked and without considering these interactions.

"Navigating these conflicts is moving to the forefront of contemporary marine fisheries management and conservation." Fishing down the food web emerged as a concern in the late 1990s when Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia published findings that global landings of fish were shifting from species higher in the food chain, such as halibut and tuna, to those lower in the food chain, such as herring and anchovies.

Pauly, who reviewed the paper for the authors before it was submitted to editors of the Proceedings of the National Academy, developed the method to compare food-web or trophic levels of what is landed. The approach considers only what is brought to
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Contact: Sandra Hines
shines@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
14-Feb-2006


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