Fish decline concerns Asia-Pacific nations

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2003

HONOLULU A worldwide decline in fish is likely to continue unless better, multifaceted management strategies are adopted by countries and fisheries management groups, researchers said Monday.

''Unless there's a change, there will be no change in what's going on,'' said William Walsh, an aquatic biologist with the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. ''We'll be asking ourselves the same thing 50 years from now: 'How come everybody let the resources decline?'''

Walsh was among scientists, researchers and other representatives from Hawaii and 12 Asia-Pacific nations gathered in Honolulu for a two-week seminar to discuss strategies for better managing fish and fisheries in the region.

The conference comes two months after two marine scientists at Dalhousie University in Canada released a report showing a 90 percent decline in large predatory fish in the world's oceans over the past half century.

The study, which analyzed nearly 50 years of data, reported that commercial fishing killed off all but 10 percent of populations of large prized tuna, swordfish, marlin and other fish species. Average weights of those remaining also have declined sharply, they said.

Researchers gathered for the conference at the East-West Center in Honolulu said the study, which was met with skepticism by commercial fishers, is being reviewed by other scientific organizations.

Many, however, agreed with the assessment that the world's fishing populations are in decline.

''I, personally, feel that it's not something new,'' said Ray Tulafono, director of American Samoa's Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources. ''It's something we know from the beginning that our fisheries resources are declining. The question is why?''

Two approaches to replenishing fish populations that have not worked are increased regulation and introduction of other species, Walsh said.

''If we keep to the same course nothing is going to improve. We'll just keep deteriorating,'' he said.

Walsh and others suggested an approach that includes other management tools such as the establishment of more marine protected areas, where fishing would be prohibited. Other approaches include a community-based management system similar to that used by native islanders.

''The major difference between how Hawaiians managed fisheries and how we manage fisheries today is Hawaiians managed fisheries for the benefit of the community,'' said William Aila, a Native Hawaiian fisherman and vice president of the Hawaii Fisherman's Foundation. ''The Western concept of fisheries management is so compartmentalized, so spread across so many agencies that everybody can point to each other and go: 'It's not my problem, it's their problem.'''

The conference runs through Friday.

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