07 August 2020

Fisheries: Their Role in Conservation

Written by: Anabel Rosero

Fish are considered a renewable resource due to their ability to reproduce. Fisheries management has a long and vast history worldwide with some areas managing their local fish populations for hundreds of years.

For example, in New Zeland, the Māori people integrated spiritualism in their local fishing practices by limiting the species available by season and practicing Te ika whakataki or “the first fish” where the first fish caught is returned to the sea as an offering to Tangaroa, the sea god. Some estimates place these practices as being up to 700 years old! Historically, fish have provided coastal and river communities with a vital source of protein and nutrients, and today millions of people continue to rely on fishing as their livelihood. Thanks to modern commercial fishing, refrigeration, and transportation, those benefits can be reaped in areas that don’t have access to local fishing. 


Aside from their role in human diets, fish have a vital place in the environment and their ecology. One important aspect of having a healthy and diverse fish community is the huge role they play in nutrient cycling, or the movement of nutrients and energy in the environment. In a recent study done by the University of Georgia and Florida International University, researchers found that fish store and excrete important nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous needed as fertilizer at the bottom of the food chain for organisms like algae and seagrass. This is especially true in areas that are nutrient-limited, such as tropical coastal ecosystems. These producers are important in photosynthesis and feeding all types of marine life, making up the foundation of the marine food web. Fish also serve as important prey for larger marine animals such as cetaceans. 


With the advent of the industrial revolution and globalization, humans have increasingly driven the decline of many marine wildlife populations, especially fish communities. Also known as overfishing, this occurs when commercial fishing vessels harvest fish faster than they can reproduce. These large catches also often catch other marine animals such as turtles, causing their unnecessary death and population decline. Additionally, other anthropogenic impacts such as the creation of dams to divert water have implications on the natural movement of fish, such as salmon which move from fresh river waters to oceans at different points of their life cycles. These human-influenced changes have thus resulted in the endangerment of fish species putting them at risk of extinction. 


In 1973 Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which seeks to prevent the extinction of plant and animal species. Fisheries and the division of Fish and Aquatic Conservation within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seek to protect the health of aquatic habitats, restore fish and other aquatic species, and promote the enjoyment of using these aquatic resources through activities such as recreational fishing. Fish hatcheries play a big role in rearing and, usually, releasing endangered and protected species. For example, at Coleman National Fish Hatchery Complex release upwards of 13 million Fall Chinook Salmon, a federally protected species under the ESA. The efforts done by these facilities to restore fish populations have made impactful differences in the environment worldwide and are proven vital in addressing further species decline.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Sacramento Regional Office

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