The Historical Development of Fisheries Science and Management

Taken from a lecture given at the Fisheries Centennial Celebration (1985) by William F. Royce

Part 2

Mirrored from


Epoch III--Rejection of Science: The 1960's

The promise of conservation implied in the new laws concerning fisheries, as well as other environmental issues, was not enough. Our consumption of all resources came to be seen as excessive and leading to disaster in the long-term (Galbraith, 1958). Others pointed out the failure of governments to deal with resource issues in a comprehensive way (White, 1958). Both government and science became suspect.

A major contributor to the change in public perceptions, however, was a biologist and editor who was employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1936 to 1952 (and who made at least one cruise from Woods Hole on board the Albatross 111). Rachel Carson, who had written so emotionally about the sea, turned her attention to the impact of pesticides on the environment with her book "Silent Spring" published in 1962. The use of chemicals came to be seen by many people as the result of the application of science to control and abuse our environment.

The distrust was exacerbated by the inability of scientists to predict the ecological effects with the assurance that people demanded. The interactions of the organisms, with each other and with their environment, were discovered to be extremely complex, and we still rec- ognize their great complexity. Some of the chemicals had effects in quantities so minute as to be difficult even to detect. Governments were seen to be unresponsive to the public will as they tried unpersuasively to find compromises between use and abuse of the environment.

The conservation movement based on "wise use" became the environmental protection movement based on avoidance of use and preservation ,of the environment. Value judgements about the environment came to be dominant factors in new laws.

One of the most significant steps toward environmental management came in the United States with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. This required that all policies, regulations, and public laws of the United States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with it, and that all Federal Agencies shall--

"(A) utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decision making which may have an impact on man's environment;

"(B) identify and develop methods and procedures. . .which will insure that presently unquantified environmental amenities and values may be given appropriate consideration in decision making along with economic and technical considerations; . . ."

The Act also required preparation of a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for all Federal actions, including fishery regulations. In addition, the Act touched the roots of environmental policy in other countries as it stimulated similar laws, and as its provisions were vigorously promoted by the United Nations Environmental Program. Other U.S. Acts that directly affected the fisheries include the Endangered Species Act of 1969 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. These gave a higher priority to a public sense of value in rare species and marine mammals than to economic considerations or any concept of use by individuals.

A manifestation of special environmental values in the recreational fisheries is the movement to preserve "wild" stocks of salmon, trout, and other species. Wild may be interpreted to mean stocks unsullied by hatchery fish, but in some circumstances, "wild" fishing in wilderness-type surroundings has been advocated even though the fish are stocked from hatcheries.

One of the consequences of the environmental movement was to regard solution of environmental problems as entirely a political action. An example was the approach of the Sierra Club (Mitchell and Stallings, 1970). That "Handbook for Environment Activists" includes statements about the need to restructure society in a conservation revolution, and the need to deal with a system of suppression and oppression. It gave no recognition to the long history of the development of professional environmental sciences, or even to the use of science in solving society's environmental problems.

Nor have some leading academic ecologists recognized professional con- servation science. In two comprehensive "ecology" texts (Ehrlich et al., 1977; Moran et al., 1980) there is no recognition of the conservation movement as we know it; rather, it is portrayed as a fight to save endangered species, to prevent oil drilling, to save whales, to save energy, and to reach other broad political goals. They convey no sense of the use of science in order to attain specific environmental objectives, as steps toward long-term goals. They make no mention of a century during which forest, wildlife, soil, water, agriculture, ocean, atmospheric, fishery, and other professional environmental sciences have developed in hundreds of departments in leading universities, nor how scientists in these disciplines contribute daily to civilized problem solving. They merely advocate a general environmental political movement.

The ecologists are, however, beginning to stress the need for understanding and managing the combination of natural and socioeconomic systems, but it is not clear that they have reached the point of using cost-benefit analysis or widely adopted a problem-solving approach in a social milieu (Barrett, 1985; Risser, 1985).


Epoch IV - The Great Transition: the 1970's

The new fishery treaties and the new environmental laws that became effective during the 1950's and 1960's were enough to change greatly the practice of fishery science, but an even greater stimulus for change came in the 1970's. The long struggle to develop a new in- ternational Law of the Sea (LOS), begun in the 1950's, continued with desultory and inconclusive negotiations during the 1960's and early 1970's, and was finally agreed upon in early 1974. Although this concept was not officially ratified until 1982, somewhat more than 100 countries agreed with the concept, and immediately thereafter many of them declared 200-mile economic zones, especially to control fisheries and any seabed resources off their coasts.

Perhaps it was a quirk of fate that at this same time, in the early 1970's, the expansion era of the world's fisheries ended. Since the late 1940's, after the fishing fleets recovered from the impact of World War II, fishery production had been increasing at a rate close to 7 percent annually, or doubling every decade.

Then, about 1970, the rate suddenly decreased. Now, fishing production is slowly increasing, perhaps at a rate of about 1 percent annually; but, certainly the great era of expansion--of rewards for an industry able to invest in superb long-range ships, find new resources, and get them to market, is over. It is quite clear that there are no more significant opportunities in the conventional ocean fishery resources. A few coastal countries have some major resources within their 200-mile zone and may be relatively fortunate. Canada is one of the countries with exceptional fishery resources off its coasts, but by 1980, it had failed to develop policies that would control the coastal unemployment, or coastal employment, and overcome the resistance to modernization of the traditional fisheries in eastern Canada. In western Canada they have had similar problems with gross overinvestment, especially in the salmonid fishery (Copes, 1980).

Many of the smaller nations, and segments of the fishing industries in northern America, expected great benefits from the movement of controls by their governments out to 200 miles. The prevailing view in the United .States was that fishery regulation was for the for- eigners, not for us; we want to get out there and catch all of those fish.

But the profitability of the common fisheries vanishes as fishermen expect more, fish harder, and invest more when the resource will sustain no more production. We are close to that stage now, although some of the production off Alaska might be directed toward more domestic fisheries. But even so, any benefits will have a short term effect. Fishermen expect government to protect their way of life, and this is a very deep- rooted public tradition. A large portion of the public admire fishermen and are all in favor of protecting traditional fisheries; they have a very powerful political position.

What I have described is not a phenomenon unique to North America, I have also mentioned problems in other countries. Here are a few examples extracted from the Country Experience Papers submitted to the FAO Conference on Fisheries Management and Development in 1984.

Norway: The state supports about half of the income of the fishing industry, and the state support has stimulated increased participation in fishing and complicated the corrective efforts.

Portugal: The fishing industry faces one of the worst times in its history. Nationalization of large enterprises in 1974 decreased their productivity.

Spain: Coastal fishing capacity is excessive. Extensive subsidies are provided to the fleet.

Canada: Investment in fishing approximately doubled during the 1970's. The majority of fishing enterprises are incapable of generating a revenue surplus or even an adequate income. Major fi- nancial crisis by 1981. Government correction is paralyzed by prospects of more unemployment. [The increased employment, even though supported in large part by government subsidy, is regarded as beneficial because of the dependence of many coastal communities on the fisheries (Doubleday et al.2)].

Malaysia: There is overcapitalization in both the private and public sectors, far too many artisanal fishermen and severe overfishing.

Japan: Production is sustained in part by a fortunate increase in local sardine stocks. Most fisheries have limited entry and, in many, the numbers of licensees have been reduced. (They have an interesting system of reducing the number of licenses. They pay the fishermen who give up their licenses, but they also charge the fishermen who remain more for their licenses, in effect, making them pay for their share.) Peru: The industry is in a major crisis with overinvestment in both fish meal and fish canning.

A summary of 26 papers submitted to the FAO conference (Cleveland, 1985) presents the general view that countries benefited from control or, in many cases, elimination of foreign fishing within their 200-mile zones. However, it did not address the domestic social and economic problems that commonly followed because of the overoptimism and overcapitalization in many countries. The end of the expansion era of the world's commercial fisheries has stimulated other changes that are certain to cause a long-term economic and social impact. The most important of these, in my judgement, is the consequence of development of the technical and organizational skills by the large businesses that have participated in the expansion. An illustration of the economic strength of such businesses appeared in a report on the Japanese fish companies during the middle 1960's (FNI, 1968).

At that time, four large companies in Japan accounted for about 63 percent of Japanese catches, or about 8 percent of the world catch. Also, that 63 percent was a greater quantity of fish than the entire production of the United States and Canada combined. Those four com- panies with their economic power, became leaders in world competition through their organizations, and marketing on a world scale. They now dominate a large part of the world fish business and remain powerful competitors in any kind of business. I would further note that three of those Japanese fish companies are currently listed, and I believe are the only fish companies so listed, in the Fortune 500 list of the largest industrial corporations outside of the United States. These companies have a major impact on their government's policies, and it must be so recognized as we deal with them. We cannot just exercise crude political pressures without expecting vigorous economic pres- sures in return.

The end of the expansion era has also brought an increase in the price of fish, relative to other foods, with the consequence that fish used as subsistence food for poor coastal communities became shifted to city markets or into international trade. This, of course, has been accompanied by complete changes in the handling, processing, and distribution systems.

With the markets for fish expanding faster than the supply, there has been an increased incentive to farm fish. Fish farming has been increasing at a rate of about 7 percent annually. In other words, it has doubled in production in the past 10 years. The quality is easy to control, and large successful farms in many countries involve sophisticated financing, technical, and management practices.

In addition to the profound changes in the commercial fisheries, the recreational fisheries are expanding rapidly in the developed countries--i.e., a doubling in the numbers of anglers since 1955 in the United States. Here there are more than 200 anglers for each com- mercial fisherman. They are also expanding in the lesser developed countries with the influx of tourists.

The management of these recreational fisheries, compared with that of the commercial fisheries, has been remarkably successful. Most freshwater stocks in northern America, and many other developed countries, were allocated long ago to recreational fishermen, and recently a few saltwater stocks have been reserved for angler use. New fishing waters have been added as reservoirs have been constructed. Research on the stocks, the regulatory systems, and the enhancement potential has been well supported since the 1950's, and has resulted in a steady increase in knowledge pertinent to management. The findings have been made known to the anglers through their clubs and advisory groups, and have resulted in steady improvement of the management (Grover, 1980; Radonski and Martin, 1985).

A major complicating factor is change in aquatic environments. We abuse the water more and more, and I would note that the fishery agencies are frequently at the forefront of the aquatic environmental problems because the fish are perceived to be indices of the quality of water, and people think that if the fish survive well, the water is likely to be relatively good. The fishery scientists also have greatly broadened their needs to become sensitive to the problems of water use, which is at least as political a problem as the use of the fisheries.

So after a great transition in the fisheries and our fishery science, some roles of fishery science remain the same. Despite the surge in fishery research and the increasing public confidence in fishery scientists, the solution of problems always includes consideration of an unstable mixture of scientific facts and value judgments. To go back to Milt James again, we remind ourselves that "The fishery administrator starts his functioning with a background of a vast unorganized ignorance." We must keep in mind that the administrator always has to be dealing with the future and with predictions less accurate than everyone desires.



Epoch V--Greater Challenges: The 1980's and Beyond

How can our history guide our judgment of our future? I propose to take a speculative look ahead by describing the driving forces in the fisheries that influence policy and suggesting an approach to what I regard as the most urgent problems. I think the principal forces are the demand for fish relative to the size of the resources, the commercial interests in the resources, both in recreational and commercial fisheries, and the special values held by the public about the resources--the noneconomic, nonquantifiable values.

The potential production from the wild resources is unquestionably less than the demand for recreation and food. This was discovered long ago in the fresh waters of the world, where a large proportion of the production was allocated by law to recreational fishermen, or by custom and law to poor artisanal fishermen. But now we have de- molished the premise in the old "Law of the Sea" that the ocean fisheries were unlimited. They, too, are limited, and our production is close to that limit3.

The recent growth in wild fish production is less than the rate of growth of the world population even with relatively optimistic analyses (Wise, 1984), and a higher proportion of the products is continuing to go into distant markets, rather than being sold fresh in nearby markets. The price of fish relative to other foods is increasing, so we have a continuing shift away from the traditional fisheries.

Fish farming is spreading, and I expect this is going to be the growth sector. As was mentioned this morning, the opportunities for fish pathologists, fish veterinarians if you will, is growing very rapidly, and will be essential to the development of fish farming. I make special mention of commercial fish farming. This is already much larger in the United States than public fish farming which produces fish to be stocked. Probably less than 5 percent of the U.S. production is currently produced in public hatcheries for stocking purposes; the balance of more than 95 percent is produced directly for markets.

Outdoor recreation is certainly continuing to grow very rapidly in the developed countries, and spreading quickly to the less developed countries. This includes recreational fishing and the large commercial interests supported by it--fishing tackle, recreational boats and highway vehicles, and the hotel and restaurant businesses near good fishing.

With a shortage of wild stocks in most places for both food and recreation, one issue is "How well can we conserve them in the sense of maintaining an optimum yield?" This depends on our scientific knowledge of the resources gained through research and monitoring, and on acceptance of controls on the fishing by the fishermen--which depends at least partly on the public perception of our reliability.

Our research, although pursued with great vigor as we try to deal with these mounting problems, comes up against some relatively intractable problems about circumstances that we find exceedingly difficult to predict. One of the problems is the extreme variability in the interspecies relationships; the relationships between, for example, large larval stages of a commercial species and its predators, or between adults and their food organisms, between competitors, as well as between predators and prey (Valiela, 1984). I'm quite pessimistic about the early solution of many of the problems after a recent paper in Science which dealt with the very simple ecological situation of trying to change the acidity of a small Canadian lake (Schindler et al., 1985). The conclusion was that even with just trying to change one factor, they could not predict the sequence of changes in the biological populations in that small lake.

Another equally difficult problem is understanding the genetic evolution in populations under selective fishing (and all fishing is more or less selective), and with changing environmental impacts and interspecies relationships. Such changes operate on a time scale of decades, and again we have barely gotten acquainted with the kinds of problems we are likely to have in this area.

Certainly, if we try to base our fishery management on rapidly increasing research, I fear that we are going to have a rebellion on the part of people who finance that research. We are not likely to have early results for the very difficult problems that we face to enhance management in the near future. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, and I think our great challenge here, for the science, is to find the balance between pursuing these long-term problems, with good science, and satisfying our public that we are managing the fisheries as well as possible.

Even if we learn how to make better predictions through better and more research, these will be expensive. When added to the substantial costs of monitoring the fisheries, negotiating regulations, and enforcement, the total may be prohibitive. Already the costs of many ocean fishery management programs in the United States and Canada are running from about one-fourth to as much as fully equal to the first sale value of the fish caught.

The conventional ecological or economic research, moreover, appears likely to have little impact on the pervasive problem of overinvestment in the commercial fisheries. Solution of this prob- lem requires political action on the part of the people concerned to develop a wholly new policy in most countries of the world. The people concerned are those in the fish businesses at all levels from fishing through processing and marketing plus the public at large because of the substantial transfer payments required to sustain not only the management of the commercial fisheries, but the operations as well.

Such transfer payments in the commercial fisheries contrast strongly with the relative absence of such payments in the recreational fisheries, even though the latter support large commercial interests. This situation appears to have arisen in our policy-making process be- cause of the difference between business and conservation interests.

I mention the relative absence of transfer payments supporting recreational fisheries because our political scientists point out, conclusively, that business has a privileged role in policy making as it contributes social and economic benefits (Lindblom, 1980). I think some of our past difficulties have arisen because of failure to communicate adequately with the businesses, or perhaps among the business people, the government policy makers, and the scientists. Commercial fishing creates employment and supports numerous coastal communities in northern America. Access to the resources is regarded as a basic right that commercial fishermen can exercise, and the economic plight of the traditional fishermen generates sympathetic government assistance, frequently because there is no other employment opportunity in such communities. The conservation objectives of commercial fisheries management have been achieved largely by a reduction in the efficiency of the fishermen, and the re- sulting costs of this inefficiency to the fishermen and their communities are borne by government through subsidies. This happens in spite of the fact that commercial fishermen make up less than 1 percent of the electorate in northern America.

The recreational fishermen, on the other hand, have a special role because of the public appreciation of outdoor recreation, and of a clean environment that goes with it, and recognize that those must be conserved or preserved. The reduction in efficiency of fishing re- quired to spread the catch among the recreational fishermen does not create a commensurate decrease in the enjoyment, which conceivably may even be maintained with no catch at all by requiring fish to be released alive.

The recreational fisheries help to support a large commercial serviee business which is seldom adversely affected by the fishery management. Such businesses also support the ideal of conservation and the principle of open access to fishing. They have no reason to claim government help if management restricts the catches. In fact, they would probably object if the management did not spread the catches among all who wanted to fish. The more people who want to fish, the more there are who will buy equipment, meals, lodging, boats, or whatever. Since about 20 percent of the population goes fishing for fun, these fishermen have a very large influence on our fishery policy.

The public has had a long experience, 30 years or more, of steadily increasing confidence in the recreational fishery management. On the other hand, most of our commercial fisheries in the salt waters, except for a few under international treaties, have not been regu- lated. We have not established that give and take, that degree of mutual understanding among science, business, and government, that I think we must have in the long term for commercial fishery regulation.

This contrast between the management policies of recreational and commercial fisheries provides my closing argument. Restrictions on recreational fishing that divide the allowable catch among all who want to fish are accepted because they satisfy the public ideals of equal access and fairness in the interests of conservation. Restrictions on commercial fishing which divide the catch among all who want to fish satisfy the public ideals of equal access and fairness but conflict directly with the business needs of the fishermen.

Recreational fishery regulations have been devised over several decades to fit the ideals. Future commercial fishery regulations must compromise the ideal of open access for commercial purposes. The ancient ideal of open access fits the use of the public resources for personal food or fun, as long as a perception of fairness is maintained and conservation is achieved, but not their use for profit.

In the sense that the commercial fisheries are a human activity, we have never managed them as a business activity except by subsidizing the consequences of government interference. Subsidies were seldom necessary during the great expansion era of fishing during the 1950's and 1960's, and unfortunately, that era left the visions of great profits that might be realized after nations had authority to control their fisheries out to 200 miles.

Now we need a new commercial fishery management policy in most of the oceanic fisheries of the world. How to achieve this has been debated extensively, (recently in Frady, 1985) and I do not propose to get into the thicket of a detailed discussion. I suggest that a new policy must be based on a widespread publie aeeeptanee of a change in public rights in fish as a resource of the commons. The public must agree that fishing can be pursued by anyone as a source of personal food or fun, but fishing for profit cannot. The pragmatic reason is simply that governments are in the fish business as the owner of limited resources, and by allowing unlimited opportunities to establish private busmesses, governments are preventmg each business from managing properly a fundamental function of any business-- matching the investment to the expected return.

That business function could be achieved if the rights in the resources were known over time enough to plan and recover investments. Therefore, the rights should be owned, be transferable, and be divisable, so that sale or purchase of them would let a fishing business become efficient (Pearse, 1981).

Our research and our debate over how to achieve such a change in policy needs a change in direction. All of the scholarly analyses that limited entry is essential are being immediately rejected by the fishing industry, and we are not going to accomplish much unless we find out how to deal with the immediate problems of the business that is involved. Perhaps the approach that might work is one of making it clear that the fishermen who remain in business will have a substantial cost for a license and then making a substantial payment to those who agree to give up the business.

I don't believe that commercial fishermen are going to give up as long as the government continues to subsidize them. They can play the government subsidies on one hand and the management on the other, and are continuing to do so. Every commercial trade publication, commercial fishery trade publication, contains the essence of this contradiction in the complaints about limited entry on the one hand and the ineptitude of the management councils, on the other hand. That publication is sustained by all of the advertisements for bigger vessels, faster vessels, new equipment, better nets, and better ways to go fishing. Here is the nutshell of the conflict.

Perhaps the next step for the economists is to elucidate the entire public costs that are involved in this, the continuing transfer payments, and most importantly, that there is no indication of an end to the transfer payments. There is no way that these big, new fleets operating out of New England, which have doubled and tripled in capacity, are going to be indefinitely operated unless there are continuing subsidies, even with protection against imports.

So much for some of the current challanges. I am sure that fishery scientists will meet them as we have the previous challanges. We have had a glorious century in which we have matured as a public service profession. We have developed our sciences, our professional values, our social awareness, and an educational philosophy. We have enriched and permanently changed the political process of fishery management. More importantly, we are changing with society, and we will continue to serve it professionally.