July 17, 2000
Ecologist contributes to congressional report on fishery management
By Jennifer McNulty
The gradual recovery of the sardine population along California's Central Coast is
good news, but unanswered questions persist about the causes of the crash in the
1950s and how best to manage the population's resurgence.
In an attempt to answer some of those questions and to guide those charged with managing
wild fish populations, ecologist Marc Mangel participated on a high-level advisory
panel that recently submitted a report to Congress on fishery management.
The report, "Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management: A Report to Congress by the
Ecosystems Principles Advisory Panel," includes an assessment of how ecosystem
principles are currently applied to fishery management and recommendations for expanding
their implementation. It also establishes goals and policies for U.S. fisheries conservation
Photo: Jennifer McNulty
The ecosystem approach views fisheries as part of an interconnected community of
living things and the physical environment, but many of the complex interactions
in marine ecosystems remain poorly understood.
What is needed, according to Mangel, is an "ecosystem-based" approach to
fishery management that would incorporate the indirect effects of human interventions
on fisheries and the marine ecosystem.
"Fishery management still takes a largely single-species approach, whereas
an ecosystem-based approach would look at things such as the impact of the sardine
catch on the salmon, marine mammals, and marine birds that eat sardines," he
Since 1976, Mangel has witnessed a policy shift in Congress, where the emphasis has
moved from maximizing yields to regulating the catch in order to sustain fish populations
"That really changes the focus," said Mangel, who was one of 20 academics,
government employees, and fishing industry representatives on the National Marine
Fisheries Service Ecosystem Principles Advisory Panel. "What you want to do
to sustain a fish stock is very different from what you might do to maximize the
In the Antarctic, where krill fishing took off in the mid-1970s, regulators saw that
something needed to be done to protect populations of krill, the small fish that
are at the cornerstone of the southern ocean ecosystem. "Everything eats krill,
or eats something that eats krill," explained Mangel. "Fish, marine mammals,
and marine birds all eat krill. The southern ocean is where the ecosystem approach
has been used with the greatest success."
Mangel has been involved in research on krill fisheries since 1986. He has served
on numerous U.S. delegations to the scientific Committee for the Conservation of
Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). In August 1999, he convened the second
International Symposium on Krill, which was held at UCSC.
Increasingly, sustainability is being recognized as more important than maximizing
some measure of catch, said Mangel. "Scientists are just beginning to be able
to analyze and monitor the complicated interactions that occur among species,"
he said, acknowledging that broad political and public support for research will
be critical to securing the funds that are necessary to pay for the complex and time-consuming
Mangel hopes the panel's report to Congress will be used by conservationists, lawmakers,
regulators, and the commercial fishing industry.
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