'Why do we fish?' might seem too basic a question for a conference room-full of marine science experts, but it was one Professor Ragnar Arnason addressed at the outset of his opening plenary talk at the ASC on Monday afternoon.
After establishing the essence of and reason for fishing being economic gain, Arnason, from the Department of Economics at the University of Iceland, moved on to deliver a talk that highlighted the consensual importance of healthy fish stocks and ecosystems, trends in global fisheries and fisheries management, and the Common Property Problem (CPP) which has proved detrimental to fish stock numbers.
With the fundamental implication being an absence of property rights, the CPP has meant a lack of market guidance towards the common good and the encouragement of competition amongst individual players for available fisheries resources. Occurring in spite and not because of scientific data and understanding, the issue is manifest in excessive fishing effort, overexploited fish stocks, poor profitability, and lack of input to the GDP.
Arnason then explained global trends in fisheries including the post-war spike in fishing fleets and a downturn in net economic returns and fish stocks themselves; however, he stated there is evidence to suggest these declines are slowing, pointing to several fisheries in the North Atlantic and North Pacific that have, through Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs), eradicated some of the most harmful aspects of the common property arrangement.
Finally, the concept of fisheries management was put under the microscope, with Arnason explaining that it is more about human management than finding the 'best utilization paths'. Touching on management systems and the rights-based ITQs – quotas which add up to a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of the whole stock and which are aimed at sustainability – the lecture finished by outlining challenges for worldwide fisheries. These included fishing stocks and region boundaries, economic zones, and straddling fish stocks as well as ecosystem and multi-species management and the benefits and challenges associated with aquaculture.
Ragnar Arnason's plenary is the first in a series of three taking place in the Harpa Conference Centre this week. See the ASC programme for details on the open lectures taking place Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
Professor Ragnar Arnason (right) with Icelandic Delegate to ICESJohann Sigurjonsson at the opening ceremony of the ASC 2013.