Balanced Harvesting of Fish Communities. What are the Consequences?

Lucy Towers
10 December 2013, at 12:00am

DENMARK - Balanced harvesting is a new proposal to the management of fished populations. The concept is to balance the fishery with the production of new biomass.

A balanced fishery is unselective and targets mainly small, and often immature individuals, and to a much smaller degree large fish. It is a controversial concept, as this fishing strategy allows young fish to be caught before they have a chance to reproduce.

In a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences), Nis S. Jacobsen, Henrik Gislason and Ken H. Andersen use a size-and trait-based model to compare balanced harvesting with traditional selective harvesting, which protects juvenile fish from fishing.

"We use a fish community model where fish are resolved in sizes, from egg to spawning adults, to investigate the consequences of this pattern compared to more traditional fishing patterns. We find that unselective “balanced harvesting” can provide a slightly larger total protein catch and fewer disturbances to the fish community than a traditional selective fishing pattern," explained Ph.D.-student Nis S. Jacobsen, DTU Aqua.

In the article four different exploitation patterns, generated by combining selective or unselective harvesting with balanced or unbalanced fishing, are compared.

The authors find that unselective balanced fishing, where individuals are exploited in proportion to their productivity, produces a slightly larger total maximum sustainable yield than the other exploitation patterns and, for a given yield, the least change in the relative biomass composition of the fish community. Because fishing reduces competition, predation and cannibalism within the community, the total maximum sustainable yield is achieved at higher exploitation rates than expected from single species models.

Very small fish

However, the yield from unselective balanced fishing is dominated by small individuals, whereas selective fishing produces a much higher proportion of large individuals in the yield. Although unselective balanced fishing is predicted to produce the highest total catch and the lowest impact on trophic structure, it is effectively a fishery predominantly targeting small forage fish.

"The catch is comprised of mostly very small fish that return low prices and are unsuitable for a Western market. So, even though balanced harvesting has some good properties it is probably an unlikely strategy for Western fisheries management as such," Nis S. Jacobsen, DTU Aqua explained.