A Conversation with Dr. Jennifer Jacquet on the Evolution of Global Fishing Practices

The Tyler Prize had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jennifer Jacquet, a visiting professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Dr. Jacquet is an expert in the field of oceanography and has conducted extensive research on the state of our oceans. We delved into the past and present perspectives on the oceans, the importance of data analysis, and the implications for global fisheries management.

(Photo Credit: Serge Hoeltschi)

The ocean was traditionally seen as a vast, endless frontier. How has this changed?

At the end of the 20th century, our view of the oceans was very much one of abundance; they were treated as a frontier that we could exploit. But a series of influential papers changed this, including works by Meyers and Warren on the depletion of ocean predators, Daniel Pauly’s groundbreaking research on fishing down marine food webs, and Jeremy Jackson’s exploration of the historical roots of overfishing. These papers, collectively, shifted our perception of the oceans, revealing a state of overfishing and depletion. This also highlighted the need to view the oceans as a global system rather than separate entities managed by individual agencies.

What role did Daniel Pauly (2023 Tyler Prize Laureate) play in changing our understanding of the oceans?

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Daniel Pauly’s work, particularly his creation of a global database of fishing catches, The Sea Around Us – named of course after the book by marine biologist Rachel Carson. By analyzing this data and examining trends over time, Pauly was able to demonstrate the unsustainability of fishing practices globally. He identified the phenomenon of “fishing down marine food webs,” revealing how fishing efforts expanded into new areas as populations were depleted. Pauly’s spatial disaggregation of the data, which showed the spatial expansion of fisheries and the need for comprehensive management strategies, has also been really key in developing our understanding of the problems of fisheries management. Pauly’s research laid the foundation for tools like Global Fishing Watch, enabling a deeper understanding of where fishing activities occur.

What has been the impact of Daniel Pauly’s work? 

Without access to the tools developed by Pauly – and the data that those tools have generated –  our understanding of global fishing would have been severely limited. The analysis conducted by Pauly allowed for insights into the depletion of fish stocks, the concept of fishing down marine food webs, and the importance of marine protected areas. These findings have underscored the urgent need for improved management practices and conservation efforts, and have generated a key movement for change in our marine management practices. 

What did Daniel Pauly and Rashid Sumaila’s research tell us about the way fisheries are managed?

Daniel Pauly and Rashid Sumaila’s collaboration has generated some really phenomenal results, like their examination of the failures of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) responsible for managing high-seas fisheries. Pauly and Sumaila showed that a significant proportion of fish stocks under the control of RFMOs were either depleted or overfished. By revealing the shortcomings of the current management system, their work has provided a strong case for considering a complete ban on fishing in the high seas – which is currently under consideration! 

Why have our current systems for managing high-seas fisheries proven inadequate?

The current management systems for high seas fisheries, as overseen by RFMOs, have faced numerous challenges. Regulatory capture by the industry and a lack of effective oversight have hindered the achievement of sustainable fishing practices. While there are conventions and agreements in place – such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – in practical terms illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is still occurring. The use of fishing subsidies has also distorted the economics of fishing. These challenges must be addressed if we are to protect our marine habitats for future generations.

A big thank you to Jennifer Jacquet for taking the time to share his views with us, for her work to direct public attention to the state of our planet, and for her continued support of The Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.

Additional Resources from Dr. Jennifer Jaquet:

Keep up to date with her on Twitter at @jenniferjacquet 

Explore the fascinating papers by Dr. Jennifer Jaquet here.

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