Wild fisheries management

Whether a person is an avid whale watcher, a voracious scuba diver, a disciplined researcher or a semi-frequent beach goer, everyone benefits from the ocean. When people luxuriate in the breathtaking views of Monterey Bay, they can thank the phytoplankton for their next inhale. California State University, Monterey Bay has a healthy mix of all varieties of ocean enthusiasts.

The abundance of life and relationships found between humans and the marine ecosystem is why people have a plethora of reasons for why, and how, they value the benefits of maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. It is in everyone’s interest to learn about how their marine resources are being managed.

As citizens of a country, we have given authority to our government to manage marine resources, which are considered public goods. Theoretically, a public good is free of monetary cost and non-exclusive to the public, which means everyone should have equal access to the resource. Our governments, state and federal, are responsible for enacting and enforcing policy that ensures protection of public goods.

In the case of fisheries, fish are the public good of interest. Without regulation or protection, private companies would be able to fish with impunity and could deplete the ocean of fish without consequences beyond exhausting the resource their business depends on. Overfishing happens around the world because of inadequate regulation and enforcement on fishing practices.

The fisheries perfectly encapsulate how philosophies of management are applied to marine resources. Like any functioning bureaucratic governing system, the agencies, departments and councils who have the authority to enforce management of fisheries are complex in terms of laying out exactly who is responsible for protecting public resources. Jurisdiction over fisheries is broken into two primary entities: state and federal.

The waters along the coastline extending three nautical miles out to sea are under state jurisdiction, while everything past three nautical miles and up to 200 nautical miles is managed by the federal government. A nautical mile is close in distance to an actual mile – only slightly longer, based on the circumference of the earth, divided into degrees and then minutes of a circle.

Fisheries in the state waters of Monterey Bay are managed and enforced by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). People who participate in recreational fishing are, or should be, familiar with the rules and regulations set forth by CDFW. While each state may have varying rules and regulations for their state fisheries, all states must be in compliance with federal fishery policy as well. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under which is the National Marine Fisheries Service, is the federal agency responsible for federal regulations of all marine resources.

In federal waters, only federal regulations apply. Beyond the 200 nautical mile limit is considered international waters and outside of the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ). The government has no authority to enforce policy outside of the EEZ, but fishing boats are expected to abide by the laws of the nation they make birth.

In recent years, the United States management strategies for fisheries have generally done well at harvesting fish resources at a sustainable level. The West Coast region, comprised of California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, has undergone unprecedented changes in management since 2000 when the fishery was declared a “disaster” by the federal government. The work to improve the fishery involved spatial management, marine protected areas and temporal management – seasons where fishing is allowed.

Some people believe that regulation of public resources favor private industry and unfairly limit the public’s access to the resource. Often times, regulations disproportionately punish the lower class, who arguably benefit from the public resource the most because it can be acquired without cost. The issue compounds as resources become more scarce due to overexploitation.

Overexploitation of a resource increases the need for regulation, further limiting access and because of the scarcity, driving up the cost. When this happens, people who can afford to pay the cost or do not depend on the resource are not adversely impacted. The people who cannot afford the cost and depend on the resource must struggle to find an alternative.

In the example of fish, seafood is increasingly becoming a resource only available to those who can afford it. Seafood is considered a high-quality food and praised over land meat as a source of protein, due to its low fat content and richness in vitamins and minerals. As a public resource, seafood should be equally available to everyone, but this is not the case. Because of high prices and restricted recreational access, seafood is becoming more and more exclusive.

However, the world’s oceans are in trouble and deregulation of marine resources is not a solution worth considering. Imminent changes in climate will also change the layout of marine resources and require adaptations in management. The question we need to be asking ourselves and our politicians is: how can we manage, and enforce, regulations to protect our public marine resources in a way that supports a healthy marine ecosystem and does not exploit our resources for the sole benefit of private industry?

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