Fishery Science 101

nutshellFishery science is often confused with its cousin subject: marine biology. They are similar and related but not identical. Like most branches in science, everything is connected. In the realm of fisheries science itself, there are numerous foci that one can study. However, to elucidate the differences and similarities between marine biology and fisheries science, I will use fisheries management as a example of fisheries science. Marine biology is typically associated with underwater research– scuba diving in coral reefs, observing multitude of fishes in azure waters, tagging whales… etc. This is not incorrect, but let’s take it a step further and explore the intersection between the aforementioned examples with fisheries science.

venn diagram of fisheries

As an analogy, imagine fish in the ocean as assets. In the corporate world, financial asset managers have the responsibility to manage investments. In doing so, the asset manager will make purchases as short-term sacrifices, in order to generate profits as the long-term goal. Similarly, as an exhaustible resource, fish in the ocean needs careful management that calculates costs and benefits of different options. As you can imagine, in reality, the managing of fish abundance (fish stocks) is a complex and delicate process. Millions of people depend on fishing and fishing related activities for their livelihood and their food source. Even if a proposed management method sounds good on paper, sometimes the socio-political conditions does not allow for that method to be executed. For example, although stopping fishing will definitely increase fish abundance and biomass, you cannot just tell every single fisher to stop fishing all together. It is not feasible and the amount of social revolt will not make it into a sustainable course of action in the long term.

“…because managing fish is pretty much managing people.”

Therefore the study of fisheries encompasses everything from fish to table, economics, social and political science. In a matter of fact, fisheries science put an emphasis on people; because managing fish is pretty much managing people. By the end of the day it is about humans and our relationship with our environment. Fish stocks and ocean ecosystem health is a byproduct of our judgement, decisions and actions.

To make things more complicated, to deliver good management suggestions, we need to quantify certain aspects of the fishery such as how much fish is left, how fast they propagate, how much we are harvesting every year, how fishing affects the population, etc. This is where our cousin, marine biology steps in. More “mariney-biologyey” topics such as looking at genetic connectivity between two fish stocks can help fill in the gaps to make an informed strategy on how to manage the fishery. So in short, fisheries science is a nice mush of everything related to fish. Depending on the focus, you can have a scientist focusing on the intersection between social conditions of a fishing village and fish stocks or the intersection between size of maturity of different species and fishing gear technology. The variation is endless! I am most intrigued by the direct and relevant application of fisheries, and also the versatility.

Similar to human population census, we conduct fishery stock assessments to learn about the condition of a fish stock. We are continuously improving our methods of data collection and assessment methods to generate the best assessment.

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