The Rutgers University-led study examined a global database that includes maximum sustainable yield and harvest rate data for 217 fisheries that harvest most of the catch in the developed world, managed by 21 national and international institutions, from 1961 to 2009.
They found that modern efforts to rebuild fish stocks, such as the 1996 and 2006 revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, made conservation more likely, and that such rebuilding efforts can lead to lasting conservation.
The study, published in mid-December in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at why conservation succeeds or fails in a world where overfishing has intensified for half a century.
“Our results challenge the conventional expectation that the collapse of fast-growing resources is unlikely, but they also offer hope that conservation is much easier to continue once we start,” said Edward W. Tekwa, who works in the lab of senior author Malin Pinsky. Pinsky, a Rutgers associate professor, oversees a laboratory focused on advancing global understanding of marine populations and communities in a rapidly changing environment.
The research suggests that short, intensive harvest-reduction efforts, such as recovery mandates, can spur conservation that is self-perpetuating, but that achieving conservation rather than overfishing will hinge on harnessing existing policy tools to navigate transitions.
For depleted resources to become conserved resources, institutions often need to implement fast, controlled management campaigns that reduce harvest rates below the largest sustainable catch over the long run, the study said.