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A tribute to the life and accomplishments of Sidney J. Holt

The latest themed set of articles in ICES Journal of Marine Science celebrate the work and influence of Sidney Holt on modern fisheries science.
Published: 6 October 2021

​​Sidney Holt was a giant in the world of marine science. When he passed away at the tail end of 2019, he left behind a legacy identifying him as a founding father of quantitative fisheries science, defender of marine mammals, and staunch opponent of maximum sustainable yield.

ICES Journal of Marine Science pays tribute to Holt and his life's work in its latest themed set of articles, A tribute to the life and accomplishments of Sidney J. Holt. Fifteen articles—written by friends, colleagues, and admirers—reflect Holt’​s legacy in fisheries science and quantitative modelling of animal populations. 

Following an introduction and overview of the themed set, Holt himself is given the opening words. The autobiographical paper, Three Lumps of Coal, is based on a lecture Holt gave at a Cefas seminar in Lowestoft in April 2008. Holt recalls his employment at Lowestoft and his work with Raymond Beverton that led to the 1957 publication of On the Dynamics of Exploited Fish Populations. To this day, their work that established yield per recruit as one of the standard approaches of fisheries research, remains central to the work of fisheries scientists.

Maximum sustainable yield – the worst idea in fisheries management

"MSY both enthrones and institutionalizes greed. It is a perfect example of pseudo-science with little empirical or sound theoretical basis. As a target for management of fisheries, or even as the anchor for so-called 'reference points', it is inadequate and its pursuit increases the likely unprofitability, and even collapse, of fisheries."

Holt was not a supporter of the target of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and spent his later years dedicated to finding an appropriate target fishing mortality for sustainable fishing. Many articles in this themed set reflect this side of his work.

Michael Earle highlights Holt's criticism of “both MSY as a management objective and the use of surplus production models" in his exploration of MSY in the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy. Holt argued that MSY “was not an economically rational policy, as it would lead to low catch rates on unnecessarily reduced fish stocks, resulting in unprofitable fisheries". 

Roa-Ur​​​​eta et al. hold up Holt's argument that opposes MSY as a basis for fisheries management because it is economically wasteful for fishers, increases bycatch and other harmful results to the ecosystem", in their research on small scale fisheries (SSF) in the Bay of Biscay. They argue that Holt's work has “potentially wide relevance to the management of SSF and cephalopod fisheries" and that “harvest rates based on mean latent productivity, a concept that includes the MSY as a special case, are more adequate and sustainable for fluctuating stocks".

Zhang et al. compare seven methods to calculate MSY, FMSY, and BMSY. Their results suggest that caution should be taken when calculating MSY-based reference points in highly dynamic ecosystems, and correctly accounting for non-stationary population dynamics could, therefore, lead to more sustainable fisheries.

Pauly and F​roese note Holt's outrage at the politics around the MSY concept and the lack of biology in its subsequent development, highlighting that he especially opposed the notion of a single MSY value. The authors however now believe that the MSY concept, can be, “if applied correctly, more useful than many of the overly data-hungry and potentially over-parameterized implementations of EBFM".

Hilborn et al.​​ explore the extent to which biodiversity can best be protected while allowing for catch using area-based management (regulation of fishing effort by gear and area). They wanted to find what combination of area specific effort by gear led to the best combination of sustainable catch and biodiversity, trading off weighted values for biodiversity and catch. When all of the weight was assigned to catch, effort was found that was equivalent ​to traditional MSY levels of effort. When all weight was assigned to biodiversity, no catch was allowed. The authors demonstrate that there are often win-win solutions that allow for high biodiversity protection and high yield, achieved by closing the most sensitive areas or the hotspots for bycatch to the most impactful gears. 

A companion piece

The themed set is introduced by Emory D. Anderson, an admirer of Holt's work, who has been the driving force behind this issue. Anderson has recently published a companion to this themed set - Selected Writings of Sidney J. Holt: Documenting A Lifelong Pursuit of Sustainable and Profitable Fishing, edited by Anderson and Michael Earle and published by the American Fisheries Society earlier this year. The book includes 62 writings from Holt and alongside this themed set, Anderson feels this constitutes “a worthy tribute to the achievements of this great man". 

Find the latest themed set, A tribute to the life and accomplishments of Sidney J. Holtavailable to read in ICES Journal of Marine Science.

Thanks to Emory

After 14 years on the Editorial Board, ICES and ICES Journal of Marine Research would like to extend our gratitude to Emory who has been the longest serving editor of the Journal. Since 2008, he has handled hundreds of manuscripts and helped many authors, particularly non-native English writers.

Anderson met Holt at various stages throughout his career, at graduate school, conferences, and through correspondence. Now, with a tribute to the man he admired, this is Emory D. Anderson's final chapter as an editor on the Journal's Editorial Board. 

Thanks for everything Emory! 

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A tribute to the life and accomplishments of Sidney J. Holt

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