Fishery Performance Indicator Shows Communities Need More Than Sustainable Fish Stocks

By on May 15, 2015
Yellowfin tuna and swordfish fisheries in Sri Lanka were among those assessed with the new method. (Credit: University of Washington)

Assessing a fishery’s success isn’t as simple as measuring productivity or catch rates. Because even a fishery with healthy fish stocks and pristine waters may not benefit local fishermen, or do much to support the surrounding communities.

Traditionally, fishery assessments have focused on economic, community or ecological sustainability. A new assessment method developed by researchers across the world allows cross-sectional analysis of all three aspects — the “triple bottom line” — at once, providing a more comprehensive understanding of fishery performance.

The tool, known as the Fishery Performance Indicator, was designed to work on a global scale, where “fishery reliability means more than having the fish,” said Chris Anderson, associate professor of fisheries economics at University of Washington and co-author of a paper detailing the new methodology.

“It means having government structure and having reliable businesses who you can deal with to harvest the fish and bring it into your supply chain,” Anderson said.

The new tool sets itself apart from previous analysis methods by examining the people and businesses that interact with fisheries on a comprehensive level, rather than studying stock health alone. It ranks each component of the triple bottom line on a scale from one to five, with five being the best. Where other methods usually measure only one fishery at a time, the Fishery Performance Indicator allows rapid assessment of multiple fisheries using a larger number of case studies.

Fish markets, such as this one in Dakar, Senegal, play a vital role in local communities and economies. (Credit: University of Washington)

Fish markets, such as this one in Dakar, Senegal, play a vital role in local communities and economies. (Credit: University of Washington)

Using the tool to measure performance at several fisheries around the world, the researchers found that a fishery’s success in one aspect doesn’t usually translate to success in others. For instance, the Alaskan salmon fishery, which is one of the most ecologically sound fisheries in the world, exhibits fairly poor economic performance. On the other hand, ecologically unsustainable fisheries in countries such as Ghana contribute plenty of benefits to the local community. The Fishery Performance Indicator provides researchers with a way of comparing multiple, seemingly disparate fisheries with common criteria.

“The thing that is the most interesting and surprising to me is that in a lot of developing countries, you have some pretty badly depressed fish stocks, but the fishery plays such an important role in the local economy and community. Even a very depressed stock is still very important,” Anderson said.

“I think it highlights an opportunity: If we are able to manage those fish stocks better, we have the chance to improve the quality of life in those places,” he said.

Developing such a broadly focused tool required the researchers to study literature across a wide range of disciplines. A glimpse at the paper’s long list of references reveals topics such as coral biodiversity, business evaluation, economic risk, stock market assessments and anthropological community health, among many others.

Now the team hopes to expand the tool’s usage, partly to help aid agencies and fishery managers as they benchmark their performance, but also to build up their own database, which will in turn improve the tool’s functionality.

“It was really a long, iterative process,” Anderson said. “But it was something that really works and we felt captured what was going on on the ground across a tremendous range of fisheries.”

Top image: Yellowfin tuna and swordfish fisheries in Sri Lanka were among those assessed with the new method. (Credit: University of Washington)

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