A new idea about a very old and wicked set of problems

Menhaden, used for fertilizer. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

A wicked problem is a social science term to describe problems where the solutions are impossible because everything is so complicated, messy, and generally contradictory.  Like fisheries, policy, for example.

A London think tank, the New Economics Foundation, has just issued a new report that suggests the majority of fisheries could be restored withing five years. If fishermen stopped fishing on 49 of 54 overfished stocks, most would recover within four years; a few would take a little longer. If private investors came up with about 10 billion pounds ( assume to pay fishermen for not fishing), the potential return on investment would be fourteen pounts for every pound invested.


This is provocative. First of all, it’s a report that it is filled with assumptions and I don’t know what those assumptions are. Most important would be the assumptions about ocean conditions and productivity. Another set of assumptions would be age of the stocks involved.  Long-lived, deep-water stocks will not rebuild within such a short time frame, regardless of how much fishing is curtailed. The poster fish here is Pacific Ocean Perch, or Sebastes alutus, which was drastically overfished by the Soviet factory processing fleet in the North Pacific during the 1960s. While there is limited recovery off Alaska, stocks have not rebuilt off Washington and Oregon, despite five decades of limited fishing.

But even with the caveats, I applaud the New Economics Foundation for taking a creative look at the gridlock around fisheries management. We all know what the problems are –too many boats, too many subsidies, too much political power to fish and not enough weight placed on the science. If fisheries policy is going to change, the pressure is going to have to come from citizens, outside the fishery management establishment, and any new idea that offers ideas worth thinking about is an important step forward.


About finleyc

I'm a writer and a historian of science. I'm interested in the intersection of science and policy in the oceans, and especially around fishing.
This entry was posted in fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rachel Carson Center, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history' and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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