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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.

Photo of Marc Mangel
Marc Mangel
Photo: Jennifer McNulty
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 and research.

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 said.

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 over time.

"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 catch."

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 research.

Mangel hopes the panel's report to Congress will be used by conservationists, lawmakers, regulators, and the commercial fishing industry.

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