To Strengthen Fishery Management, RFMOs Should Use Science-Management Dialogue Groups
Traditionally, fisheries management has relied on advice from scientists making educated assessments to predict the present and future size of a fish population. Fisheries managers then use that advice when establishing fishing regulations. Unfortunately, because these scientific assessments can be fraught with uncertainties, or because managers opt not to follow them, this traditional process has too often led to overfishing—and subsequent turbulent times for the fishing industry and seafood markets. For decades, this has been particularly true among regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs),1 where it is all too common for politics and increased demand for fish from consumers and fishers, rather than sustainability, to drive policy. When politics drives decision-making, important stakeholders can be shut out of the process, and management can vary widely from year to year. But RFMOs are increasingly turning to a better management approach that allows for greater transparency, predictability and long-term effectiveness. Harvest strategies, also known as management procedures, are science-based, precautionary decision-making frameworks that use benchmarks and associated rules—preagreed among RFMOs and their members—that determine when changes in catch limits and other fishing regulations will kick in. Harvest strategies are carefully tested using a computer simulation called management strategy evaluation (MSE), designed to achieve and sustain the long-term health of the stock and fishery. Scientists develop the MSE while fishery managers determine the long-term vision, such as the target population size and the number of fish that will ideally be caught each year. As a result, development of a harvest strategy relies on scientists to advance the technical work, managers to specify elements that inform the MSE—such as management objectives2—and other stakeholders, such as industry and nongovernmental observers, to offer expertise and visions that RFMOs can consider as they set the rules. Because the technical components of the MSE are guided by management decisions, this process requires scientists and managers to work together and communicate consistently throughout the development process. This iterative exchange is a hallmark of the harvest strategy approach and requires serious investment from all players. To ensure the efficiency of the harvest strategy development process, RFMOs must establish fora for scientists, managers and stakeholders to exchange views when determining the crucial components of a harvest strategy. The best option for achieving this is through science-management dialogue groups (SMDs), which provide the opportunity for scientists and managers to discuss decisions needed to advance a harvest strategy. These groups should also include a broad array of stakeholders, from fishing operations to conservation groups to members of the seafood supply chain, which in turn will help the RFMO set a transparent, collective vision for the harvest strategy and future of the fishery.