What is a sustainable fishery? Sure, by now we all know the basics—the number of fish we take out needs to be less than what that fish population can replenish. But how do we create a sustainable fishery in the real world without running roughshod over people’s jobs, communities, and ways of life? What balance of science and cultural dialogue will crack the code? I asked 3 marine biologists to weigh in.
While it can often seem simple (eat less fish, follow seafood guides, etc.), their answers prove there is no easy answer—and challenged some of my own beliefs in the process.
No Emotional Harm
"My simple starting point for sustainability (fisheries and otherwise) is that the activity does no harm ecologically, economically or emotionally."
~ Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, author, Blue Mind, and Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences
Nichols’ summary has universal appeal—simple, memorable, and broad. Ecological harm ranges from overfishing to bycatch to habitat damage. Economic harm would be something like closing a fishery, preventing fishing communities from making a living, or necessitating the use of a fishing subsidy. I feel like we all largely agree that those outcomes are to be avoided.
“It’s that third ‘e’ that is often left out,” Nichols told me. “A dehumanized workforce, for example, doesn’t meet this definition even if no harm is done ecologically and economically.”
That caught my ear. And it was something that just about every other marine biologist wanted to talk about, too. Emotional harm is a layer deeper than we all tend to go. That makes it an interesting place to start. For example, if a fisherman’s coastal fishing grounds have been closed, you might find him another job or give him a subsidy. But you’ve done emotional harm in disassociating him from his life on the water. Here’s an example.