More Heat than Light in Fishing Data

4 27, 2016

The state of our environment is a popular subject in the media with the focus often being on the more negative aspects. Although it is important to be aware of environmental issues, it is also essential to reflect and concentrate on the areas that have had positive change. By reflecting on the success of these areas we can learn from them and implement similar changes in areas under major threat.

Recently the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand released a report on the state of New Zealand’s environment. The report, “Environment Aotearoa 2015”, has obtained data from hundreds of sources and provides an overview of the state of our Air, Atmosphere and Climate, Fresh water, Land and Marine environment.

Positive results for NZ Fisheries

While we face plenty of challenges in terms of protecting and enhancing our environment, there were also some positive signs. None more so than in the marine area, where some fisheries statistics stood out. According to the “Environment Aotearoa 2015” report, between 2009 and 2014, the proportion of fish stocks subject to overfishing decreased from 25 percent to 14 percent. Furthermore in 2014, more than 95 percent of fish caught were from stocks that are not overfished.

These are good results reflecting the positive effect of New Zealand’s Fisheries Management regime, and provides encouragement for it’s continual strengthening and improvement.

This situation is a microcosm of the global picture, where there often seems to be more heat than light when it comes to the discussion of fisheries data. So much so that a group of respected scientists have banded together to try and correct some of the more persistent myths about fisheries sustainability.

"Real story" from science-based approach

CFOOD (Collaborative for Food from Our Oceans Data) is a network of scientists, including distinguished fisheries experts like Professor Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington. According to their website (, CFOOD “has evolved out of frustration with erroneous stories about fisheries sustainability that continue to appear in mainstream media. Whether it’s a critique, appraisal, or just commentary, CFOOD’s science-based approach to communicating the real story on fisheries sustainability seeks to set the record straight.”

Initiatives like CFOOD are important because the quality and clarity of data is essential to effective fisheries management. It is important policy makers and policy enforcers are not unduly influenced by sensationalist and selective reporting, and instead are equipped with a robust source of data to drive their decision-making.

Fishing for Data

Fisheries information can be collected in many ways. Fisheries statistics systems, observer programmes, vessel monitoring systems (e.g. e-passport in the UAE), fisher logbooks, camera technologies, scientific catch sampling, research surveys, research experiments, and remote sensing technologies to name some. Using these sources, fisheries managers can access the key types of data required such as:

  • Biological e.g. growth rates, natural mortality rates and other population dynamics parameters; reproductive biology; stock definition and structure; stock size; habitat requirements.
  • Fishery e.g. size at first capture (i.e. indicating gear selectivity), catch data, effort data, and fishing mortality rates.
  • Environmental e.g. ecological interactions such as bycatch issues or habitat damage, seasonal change.

Using the available sources to collect all the information required provides a good foundation for effective fisheries management. Building on that foundation requires some principles for managing and sharing it within a fisheries management area, such principles are:

  • Data is standardised, openly shared between agencies, of high quality and available in a timely way
  • Confidentiality seen as crucial: fisher-dependant data must respect commercial and personal sensitivity
  • Capture shouldn’t be inefficient, duplicative or burdensome to those providing the data. The COUNT (collect once use numerous times) principle should prevail.
  • Managed with good systems, clear processes and trained people

It is this best practice approach to gathering, managing and sharing data that FINNZ is trying to promote with its KUPE fisheries management system (see more information here). Properly armed fisheries regulator and managers can make decisions, monitor their effectiveness and make ongoing adjustments.

Learn more about the work FINNZ is doing in fisheries here.

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Posted on November 22, 2015

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