Dispelling the ‘overfishing’ myth
What Ray Hilborn has become known for saying, “go ahead and eat fish,” runs counter to what many ocean activists often tell us. Professor Hilborn, one of the world’s best-known and most respected fisheries scientists, was the man who brought much-needed sense to the global panic brought on by the infamous “2048” collapsing-global-fisheries study by German scientist Boris Worm, published in the journal Science in 2006. When the two men and their dissimilar scientific approaches eventually collaborated, they came to more sober, realistic conclusions. Their resulting 2009 study, “Rebuilding Global Fisheries,” was widely praised.
The Palo Alto, Calif., native and Seattle resident since 1987 says his third book (“Overfishing,” co-written with his wife, Ulrike) is sure to upset groups that contend the oceans’ fisheries are in deep crisis from industrial exploitation. In it, Hilborn takes that often-misunderstood word, overfishing, and lays out its many definitions and dispels some of the myths about man’s marine pursuits.
Wright: The U.S. government says all federally managed fisheries are sustainable. Do you agree?
Hilborn: Yup. We have a system that essentially assures sustainability. Even when you have stocks that are overfished, the law requires they be rebuilt. People tend to look at the status of a stock and ask, “Is it sustainable or isn’t it?” But sustainability doesn’t have anything to do with how many fish are there; it has to do with the management system. So you can have lots of fish, but if you have an unregulated fishery, it may not be sustainable. You can have very few fish, but if you’ve got a legal framework that requires rebuilding, that stock is going to be sustainably managed.
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