Maximum Sustainable Yield: A Lot Of Fish In The Sea?

by Owner on July 16, 2012

Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), when it comes to the fishing industry, is a lot more complicated than rowing your boat out to a good fishing hole and moving when the fish aren’t biting. The debate is about weather or not MSY serves a true purpose, or is just a bunch of scientists trying to regulate an industry that might be better understood by the fishermen trolling the waters.

The formula for determining MSY looks more like the white board from a college calculus class than a lesson in sustainable living. Stripping it down to its core, Maximum Sustainable Yield is the quantity of fish (or other wildlife) that can be harvested over a period of time without putting the species into extinction.

The scientific assumption is that fish are a renewable resource, that they grow and repopulate themselves. Governing officials maintain that the implementation of MSY regulations are necessary in sustaining the health of commercialized species. However, the problem is in the variables.

Some in the commercial fishing industry claim that we are too quick to blame over-fishing for the decrease in certain fish species, while our attention should be more on the toxic water pollutants affecting marine life stability. Indeed, this is one variable in the equation that can not always be accurately predetermined, and is a problem that is very real.

While the concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield works perfectly in theory, it is not always easy to apply in practice. That is because some variables, like man-made pollutants and natural disasters, are not easy for biologists to determine. Collected data can be unreliable, or in some cases data may be unobtainable.

Also, the MSY formula does not consider individuals in a species, but rather treats each individual the same as another. When harvesting fish, for example, one not yet reaching sexual maturity will be counted equally with a fish nearing the end of its life cycle. The age of the harvested fish could potentially have a huge impact on the long-term sustainability of a species.

Another issue is that the MSY guideline treats the environment as being unchanging, while we all know that it is in constant motion. Part of this constant change is the natural flux that most species undergo, without any outside forces as a direct cause of the population growth or decline. Apparently, some things in nature can not be scientifically explained or determined.

As the larger, more stable fish species like Tuna are depleting, industry rolls down the food chain to the less-valuable but more vulnerable smaller species, potentially causing major changes in marine ecosystems.

The Maximum Sustainable Yield guideline is undergoing a great deal of debate on the regulatory level, as it should. Even some proponents of the MSY as a baseline for fishery regulation are in favor of alterations to the system to take into account the dynamic nature of the ecosystem. However, the formula still serves a useful purpose as a jumping point in maintaining species that are quickly being depleted by rising world-wide consumption.

While it seems counterproductive for the fishing industry to deplete the fish species that they rely on for their own welfare, greed and ignorance can often dominate business practices. It is the job of regulatory bodies, such as the Fishing and Agriculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, to keep tabs on the fishing industry. This job is an important one, and biologists within these organizations are currently looking at more dynamic methods of determining how many fish can be removed from the sea while maintaining long-term species viability.

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