1 Fish, Fishing, and Why They Matter

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the multiple benefits of fish conservation.
  • Define fish and describe multiple approaches used for classifying fish.
  • Describe changes in history of fishing over time.
  • Classify and compare major types of fishing practices.
  • Compare and contrast the importance of commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing.
  • Describe why fish matter to humans.
  • Describe the types of ecosystem services provided by fish.
  • Construct a list of threats and trends in the uses of fish.

1.1 Introduction

Fish live on every continent and in all types of aquatic environments. Think about a fish that you are most familiar with. Its value to you depends on if, how, and where you interact with the fish. The essence of this fish depends on your perspectives. Your familiar fish may be valued as a living room pet, favorite food, trophy, or the source of your livelihood.

Imagine you are sitting in a meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which conserves and develops the state’s fishery resources. Before the formal meeting you would hear commercial gillnetters speak of their concerns about season lengths and quotas. Outfitters and local tourism officials are concerned about crowding during sportfishing seasons and what locals call combat fishing because of anglers competing to find and protect fishing spots. Native American tribal fishers, like many others, would complain about declining quotas and gradual loss of culture and identities tied to salmon fishing. You thought you knew all about salmon, but the conversations are filled with unfamiliar terms, such as over-escapement, subsistence, hatchery strays, purse seiners, humpies, ocean warming, the salmon enhancement tax, drought, heat stress, damn seals, and Pebble Mine. More than once you hear someone say, “Fishing is in my blood.” Fish and fishing may be central to everyone present, but everyone has different preferences.

It is a challenge to ensure that the benefits provided by fish and fishing continue long into the future. Fish of the world are becoming increasingly imperiled, and the search for simple, generally applicable solutions for fish conservation often elude us. Humans and ecosystems alike benefit from the very presence of fish in all aquatic habitats on earth, but it is this presence that also results in conflicts with other human activities.

and are complicated subjects. Conservation of fish is not easy. Fish represent over half the vertebrate animals on our planet, but receive little attention in major conservation initiatives compared to birds and mammals. Think of the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Gray Wolf (Canis lupus), Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), Tiger (Panthera tigris), and African Elephant (Loxodonta africana). These are flagship species, or ‘‘popular, charismatic species that serve as symbols and rallying points to stimulate conservation awareness and action.’’ (Caro 2010). Most of the fish lack such high levels of public awareness.

Ultimately, because fish inhabit diverse environments and serve many important ecological and anthropogenic services, fish conservation and management issues come down to our value systems. Goals for conservation are derived by asking “What should we care about?” Personally, I believe that fish conservation should be to ensure that fish persist so that future generations may decide on how they will interact with these fascinating animals. Values influence how we define sustainable fishing and how we reverse the tendency for overharvest and degradation of aquatic ecosystems. Planning for fish conservation requires ethical reasoning about fish and fishing. Answers to fundamental questions about conservation of fish may involve rethinking and adopting ethical principles in governance and giving people a bigger role in conservation. Thinking about fish as sophisticated and sentient creatures may change our perspective about how fishing should be conducted. Ethical issues such as social justice, corporate responsibility, and power sharing in democratic decision making should be central to fish conservation. From the case studies provided in later chapters, we learn that the keys to successful conservation of fish include persistence, passionate leadership, partnerships, trust, and optimism. I propose the following working principle that serves as an overarching guide: passionate and persistent people who understand the fish and the place will find a way to create partnerships to conserve valued fish in perpetuity.

In next sections, I characterize the types of fish and fishing, and how the way humans interact with fish can influence the way in which we classify and value fish. In doing so, we begin our exploration into why fish matter, and the challenges facing us we work to conserve fishing and fishing in the Anthropocene.

1.2 Types of Fish

What is a Fish? A biologist would define a fish as a “cold-blooded animal that lives in water, breathes with gills, and usually has fins and scales.” (Berra 1981). But that definition, though accurate, does not fully describe the essence of a fish. That indispensable quality of a fish is given by humans. An evolutionary biologist might say that fish are the dominant vertebrate group, highly successful in their radiation, colonizing every conceivable habitat niche in almost every part of the world. After 400 million years of evolutionary innovations, fish comprise some of the most sophisticated and complex examples of evolution. For example, pupfish can live in geothermal springs at 94°F, icefish occur at temperatures below freezing, and wrasses change sex from female to male to ensure mating success.

Ichthyologists classify fish into five major classes. The most ancestral groups are the jawless lampreys and hagfish, which are in classes Petromyzontida and Myxini, respectively. All other fish have jaws; these include the sharks, skates, and rays (class Chondrichthyes), coelacanths and lungfish (Sarcopterygii), and the ray-finned fish (class Actinopterygii). The ray-finned fish represent the largest and most diverse group, containing 96% of the 36,345 valid fish species (Fricke et al. 2022). Given this diversity of fish, simple definitions seem uninspiring.

Major class of fish Number of species
Hagfishes — Myxini 88 species
Lampreys — Petromyzontida 48 species
Cartilaginous fishes — Chondrichthyes 1,291 species
Lobe-fin fishes — Sarcopterygii 8 species
Rayfinned fishes — Actinopterygii 34,910 species

Table 1.1: Number of fish species for each of the five major classes of fish.

Beyond taxonomic classification, scientists can classify fish in other ways that describe their human uses or ecological characteristics. For example, fish can be described by their habitat requirements or preferences (freshwater and saltwater or stream fish), their behavior (highly migratory or sedentary), whether they are targeted by anglers (sport fish and nongame fish), and many others. Some use terms such as “rough,” “coarse,” or “trash” fish, pejoratives ascribing low-to-zero values. However, use of such terms say more about the person using the term than about the fish itself.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 1.1: Classification of life history of fish. Long description.

One way that scientists classify fish is based on the species’ life-history traits, namely precocial, opportunist, survivor, extreme survivor, and episodic (Figure 1.1). Precocial fish, such as seahorses, have few large offspring, small body size, rapid growth, early maturity, and short lifespan. Opportunist fish, such as herring, have many small offspring, small body size, rapid growth, early maturity, and a short lifespan. Survivor fish, such as sharks, have few large offspring, large body size, slow growth, late maturity, and a long lifespan. Some sharks such as Greenland sharks live over 400 years and are extreme examples of survivors. Episodic fish, such as Brown-Marbled Grouper, have many small offspring, large body size, slow growth, late maturity, and a long lifespan (Kindsvater et al. 2016). Classifying fish by life-history traits often provides insights into species’ unique conservation needs and challenges.

Yet, scientific classifications may mean little to the average person. When humans think of fish, we may connect more strongly to the water, the life-giving element of the world, than to scientific jargon. In some cultures, fish symbolize rebirth, good fortune, fertility, strength, or endurance. In 2017, ethologist Jonathan Balcombe in What a Fish Knows explored evidence of perception and cognition in fish, thereby changing our view of fish from simple to more complex. No longer were fish the dead-eye offerings at the fish market, the fish oil in a capsule, or processed flesh in cans. Thinking about fish as sentient, aware, intelligent, and social beings changes our relationship with fish. Fish may still be the target of your next fishing trip, but your actions are certainly influenced by what you know about the fish. The more you know about the target of your fishing, the more likely you are to be successful. More people are finding ways to view fish in their environment via mask, snorkel, and SCUBA, and even deepwater submersibles. For these reasons, how fish are classified often extends beyond strict scientific definitions and depends on how humans interact with fish. Some classifications may be based on methods to capture fish, while others may focus on how a fish is used for food or recreation.

Questions to ponder:

Before reading the chapter, how would you normally classify fish or which dominant values would you place on fish? How does this reflect your personal cultural biases?

1.3 Types of Fishing

Humans have been capturing fish for tens of thousands of years. Stone Age burial heaps in Africa contained harpoons, spears, fish bones, and a wide range of terrestrial animals dated from 90,000 to 75,000 years BP (Sahrhage and Lundbeck 1992; Robbins et al. 1994; Henshilwood et al. 2001). It’s only in the last 1,000 years that humans have developed a pervasive culture around fishing for profit (Pitcher and Lam 2015). Today, there are many types of fishing, and fish can be classified by how, where, and by whom they are caught.

To manage fishing, one must first understand the types of fishing, fishers, and communities, to impose the correct regulation from a diverse array of management actions. The term “fisheries” refers to the place or occupation or industry of catching fish. Fisheries are based on the capture of fish or shellfish, even if there is the possibility of their release after capture. Historically, humans have focused on highly valued food fish, such as tuna, bass, salmon, and cod, which continued to be intensively harvested for food (Figure 1.2; Greenberg 2011). Commercial fishing is the activity of catching fish or seafood for commercial profit, and is the last wild harvest of wild food. Given this, and perhaps not surprisingly, most valued fish are easily overfished. Meeting the future demands for fish will depend on domestication and fish culture to supply the increasing demand as consumption per capita increases (FAO 2018).

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 1.2: The four most consumed food fish are (A) Pink Salmon, (B) Skipjack Tuna, (C) European Sea Bass, and (D) Atlantic Cod. Long description.

There are many ways to commercially fish, and gear selection plays a role in determining cost, efficiency at catching the target species, and rate of bycatch of nontarget species. Seines (including purse seines), trawls, gill nets, and longline gears are responsible for over 90% of the commercial catch (Figure 1.3), and successive technological improvements to fishing gear and vessels have increased their effectiveness (Watson et al. 2006). Small fish, low on the food chain, are typically caught in seines and bottom trawls, either intentionally or unintentionally as part of bycatch. Large top predators are most often caught via longline gears. Industrial fisheries are a subset of commercial fishing that harvests fish with a high level of technology, investment, and impact, often with large purse seiners, trawlers, and factory boats.

Commercial fishing may target seafood for human consumption, or for nonfood purposes, such as fish oil and fish meal. Commercial fishing most frequently occurs in oceans where most of the landings consist of only 200 marine fish species, or roughly 1% of all species found in oceans (Palomares and Pauly 2019). Despite our substantial scientific knowledge of fish and fishing, we are faced with troubling headlines about the dismal state of the world’s fisheries (Worm et al. 2009). Fishing occurs on more than 55% of ocean area and has a spatial extent more than four times that of agriculture (Kroodsma et al. 2018). Commercial fishing in the high seas is dominated by countries that subsidize fishing fleets, in particular China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Spain, France, the United States, and Indonesia. Governments subsidized high-seas fishing with $4.2 billion in 2014, far exceeding the net economic benefit of fishing in the high seas (Sala et al. 2018). Drifting longliners and purse seiners, targeting mainly large, mobile, high-value fish such as tuna and sharks, are among the most profitable high-seas fisheries. Deep-sea bottom trawling catches everything, much of which is wasted. Despite our long history of commercial fishing, unresolved fisheries problems, such as widespread unreporting, unfair wages or forced labor, and shipment at sea, remain (Pew Charitable Trusts 2019).

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 1.3: Purse seines (top) and longlines (bottom) are common techniques for commercial fishing. Long description.

Fisheries employ 260 million people, and fish are the primary protein source for ~40% of the world’s population. Over the past 50 years, annual global consumption of seafood products per person has more than doubled, from almost 10 kg in 1960 to over 20 kg (or approximately 200 servings) in 2014 (Figure 1.4). Overfishing is therefore common, which threatens the food security in countries dependent of fish for protein (Pauly and Zeller 2016).

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 1.4: World capture fisheries and aquaculture production. Long description.

Many nations rely on imports to meet national demands for seafood products, which complicates the management of commercial fishing at national level. As much as 60% of the fish harvested for fish meal or fish oil enters international trade markets rather than local markets (Guillen et al. 2018) Some of this is used in developing aquaculture feed, which is more efficiently converted to human food than livestock, poultry, or pork.

Inland fisheries are also important sources of nutritional, recreational, and economic value. While only 1.2% of the Earth’s water is fresh and surface water, inland capture fisheries contributed 12.7% of the global fish catch in 2019 (FAO 2019). The actual inland fish harvest is likely substantially higher due to methodological or reporting issues (Cooke et al. 2016). While most marine fishing is commercial or subsistence, inland fisheries may be commercial, recreational, or subsistence. The biggest commercial inland fisheries are in Asia and Africa, whereas, recreational freshwater fisheries predominate in higher latitude and developed countries (Funge-Smith and Bennett 2019).

Questions to ponder:

What types of fish are most overfished and where? Do a quick search on Google News (or similar) for the term “overfishing.” What about the term “fishing down the food web?” How many hits do you get? What species and places are in the current news?

Recreational fishing uses a variety of gear types, but the most common is rod and line to catch fish for fun and/or food. Recreational fishing is defined as the fishing of aquatic animals (mainly fish) using one or more of several possible techniques in which aquatic animals do not constitute the individual’s primary resource to meet basic nutritional needs and are not sold or otherwise traded on export or domestic or black markets (Cooke et al. 2018). The objective of recreational fishing is the overall recreational experience, and catch is only one important component. The propensity to harvest or to engage in voluntary catch-and-release varies among cultures, locations, species, and fisheries. The role of recreational fishing in supporting nutrition (and thus food security) at regional, national, or global scales is underappreciated (Cooke et al. 2018).

In addition to being a valuable food source, recreational fishing can also contribute significantly to local economies. In the United States, there are over 49 million recreational anglers that are a potent economic force due to spending habits. Outdoor recreation in general and sportfishing in particular are growing enterprises that contribute greatly to the overall economy. Fishing licenses and boat registration, taxes on boat motor fuel, and fishing equipment provide the funding for recreational fisheries management programs. Recreational angler motivations change over time from catch any, to catch many, to catch big fish, and finally to catch no fish but pass on knowledge and passion for fishing (Table 1.2; McKenna 2013). At some point many successful anglers wish to help others catch fish or to help researchers better assure that the fish and fishing experiences enjoyed in the past will still be around well into the future (Oh and Ditton 2008).

Stage Motivation
1 I just want to catch a fish!
2 I want to catch a lot of fish!
3 I want to catch big fish.
4 I’m just happy to be out fishing.
5 I want to give back. I want to pass on my knowledge and passion for fishing and help others or the fish themselves.

Table 1.2: Stages of development of the recreational angler.

1.4 Fish Harvest

Human perception of fish and fisheries depends not only on fishing method, but also on whether the fishery intends to harvest their catch. For indigenous peoples who live on islands or on the water, fish are a principal source of protein and nutrition. Because fish flesh spoils quickly, many methods have been developed to make fish last longer in different parts of the world. Therefore, we have canned, smoked, fermented, pickled, dried, pureed, and even lye-soaked fish (i.e., lutefisk) to increase their shelf life. Today, fish are important nutritional resources. Fish are a source of many micronutrients, and fish consumption can prevent nutrient-deficiency diseases, a leading cause of infant deaths worldwide (Hicks et al. 2019). Marine-derived oils in fish (omega-3 fatty acids) provide many human health benefits, reduce risk of coronary and neural disease, and enhance cognitive development (Morris et al. 2003, 2016; Hibbeln et al. 2019). In many instances, fish are more affordable animal-based food with a lower environmental impact (Willett et al. 2019). Because of the prevalence of fish in our diet, contamination of aquatic environments (e.g, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, or ) is a global health concern.

Traditional small-scale fisheries are prominent in many parts of the world. These artisanal and subsistence fisheries generate about one-third to one-half of the global catch that is used for direct human consumption and employ more than 99% of the worlds 51 million fishers (Pauly and Zeller 2016; Jones et al. 2018). Small-scale fisheries may also be described as (1) subsistence, (2) aboriginal, or (3) artisanal fisheries. Subsistence fisheries are “local, noncommercial fisheries, oriented not primarily for recreation but for the procurement of fish for consumption of the fishers, their families and community” (Berkes 1988). Subsistence fishers may forever be the “forgotten stepchild” in fisheries management and are adversely affected by the attention lavished on the commercial and recreational sectors (Schumann and Macinko 2007). Aboriginal or indigenous fisheries harvest fish for sustenance and customary and traditional uses. One example would be Alaska Native tribes’ harvest of Pacific Halibut. Artisanal fisheries employ small vessels and short fishing trips to capture fish for local consumption and can be commercial or subsistence. These are traditional fishers who employ small vessels and short fishing trips to capture fish for local consumption.

In many cases, fish are killed by nonfishing activities. Legally, this is referred to as “take.” Section 3(18) of the Federal Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.) defined “take” to mean “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” Bowhunting, minnow trapping, noodling, and all take fish and are typically regulated by inland fisheries agencies.

The diversity of fishing practices complicates conservation and management strategies. We don’t often appreciate the diversity of fishing practices and behaviors. While we know there is no such thing as the average angler or the average boat or typical fishing day, we often assume as much to simplify analyses. Regulations on fishing must be compatible with the type of fishing. For example, recreational anglers do not appreciate quotas because they may close fishing just when recreational anglers are vacationing to fish. If inappropriate regulations are imposed on some types of fishers, they will lose confidence in the management authority and the likelihood of noncompliance will increase. In the case of recreational angling, the angler may choose to quit participating, resulting in a loss of license revenues to support fish conservation. Effective management and conservation require that we know our fishers well because the diversity of perceptions and fishing styles influences how they will comply with fishing regulations (Boonstra and Hantati-Sundberg 2016).

Questions to ponder:

A healthy, balanced diet should include at least two 3-ounce portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish. Which of the following fish products do you think is most expensive? Bluefin Tuna, sardine, farmed Atlantic Salmon, or Haddock. How does the cost of the most expensive fish compare with cost of porterhouse steak (per pound)? Do a quick google search for “fresh seafood for sale” to find current prices for fresh fish. Why are salmon, tuna, bass, and cod so highly valued by humans?

1.5 Why Fish Matter

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 1.5: Four types of ecosystem services provided by fish with examples. Long description.

Valuation of fish populations for human societies has predominantly focused on fishing, yet fish can also be classified by the direct services they provide to humans and other organisms. For example, fish provide four types of ecosystem services, namely provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural (Figure 1.5; Cowx and Aya 2011). Fundamental services are essential for ecosystem function, such as nutrient cycling. These are ultimately a prerequisite for human existence. Demand-derived ecosystem services are formed by human values and demands, and not necessarily fundamental for the survival of human societies. These include recreational activities.

Bright orange and white koi with orange and black spots in a huddled group
Figure 1.6: A variety of ornamental koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus).

Scuba diving is a fast-growing form of special interest tourism that attracts individuals interested in underwater recreation and fish watching. Scuba diving is now a multibillion-dollar industry and one of the world’s fastest growing recreational sports (Ong and Musa 2011; Musa and Dimmock 2013). Although there is generally no harvest of fish, scuba diving can have negative effects on fish populations, as heavily dived sites experience habitat damage, and popular areas are managed to regulate diver carrying capacity. Similarly, fish watching with snorkeling is a low-cost entry into this recreational activity, and many localities are facilitating growth of this activity. Other new and growing fish-watching activities include Whale Sharks, stingrays, and cage diving to watch Great White Sharks.

Fish keeping has grown 14% per year since the 1970s, and the global aquarium fish trade is valued at between $15 and 30 billion and involves >5,300 freshwater and 1,802 marine fish species (Penning et al. 2009; Raghavan et al. 2013; and Evers et al. 2019). The Guppy (Poecilia reticulata) and Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) dominate by numbers but certainly not value. Aquarium keeping supports an extremely lucrative industry and sparks conservation efforts among the serious participants (Marchio 2018).

Among the ornamental fish, the Koi are special forms that originated in Japan in 1781 and is now a global commodity with as many as 120 different varieties produced by breeders (DeKock and Gomelsky 2015). Many varieties are judged at competitions based on their colors (Hi = red, Shiroji = white, and Sumi = black) along with their degrees of finish, body size, and steps in the patterns. These fish are swimming jewels, and their colors and elegant bodies create a feast for the eyes in many ornamental koi ponds (Figure 1.6).

Questions to ponder:

Imagine the variety of tropical fish that are kept by aquarium hobbyists. What do you think are the most expensive ornamental fish? Do a google shopping search for “tropical fish for sale” or “saltwater fish for sale” to find online stores that advertise price. What was the most expensive fish you found for sale? 

Other examples of ecosystem services provided by fish include disease vector control. Some fish eat mosquito larvae, which could reduce local abundance of adult Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria (Walsche et al. 2017). Some cichlids feed on snails that serve as hosts for , a disease caused by parasites (Stauffer et al. 1997). After these snail-eating cichlids were overfished or lost due to changes in water quality in Lake Malawi, the prevalence of schistosomiasis increased dramatically from initial zero prevalence (Madsen et al. 2011).

Fish play ecological roles in life and in death. Think about the brown bears eating salmon as they migrate upstream. Bears transfer marine-derived nutrients from the salmon to the terrestrial ecosystems. Carcasses from anadromous fish have been shown to constitute a substantial transfer of carbon and nutrients from marine to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. These increased nutrients stimulate productivity of freshwater streams and fish growth rates (Wipfli et al. 2003; Collins et al. 2015; Twining et al. 2017). Many fish serve as bioturbation agents, meaning that their activity can rework sediments and modify the substrate. Salmon disturbance of the streambed during redd digging can have strong short-term and seasonal effects on stream microbes. Similarly, many other fish mix bottom sediments.

Some parrotfish species feed directly on live corals and produce large quantities of carbonate sediment (i.e., sand) as a by-product of grazing on reef surfaces (Perry et al. 2015). Parrotfish are building coral reef islands! Fish serve as nutrient sinks through their feeding behavior. Some fish, such as Gizzard Shad, via their feeding behavior, resuspend adsorbed nutrients from benthic substrates into the water column (Havens 1991; Vanni 2002). Coral reef fish, such as the Gray Snapper, slowly and steadily feed (via concentrated urine) the coral reef ecosystems that, in turn, provide food and shelter to the fish (Allgeier et al. 2016).

Painting of orange goldfish swimming among other fish in a pond
Figure 1.7: “Goldfish in fish swimming amid falling flowers” by Liu Cai.

Fish feed us, fish inspire us, and fish are part of our living natural history. Louis Agassiz, a famous Swiss naturalist and zoologist, would exhort his students to “Take this fish and look at it.” Professor Agassiz knew that a full appreciation of the specimen required the full examination of its internal and external anatomy. Why do fish matter? I urge you to take a look at the fish and look at it to provide your own answer. Let the fish inspire you and learn how and where they live.

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Figure 1.8: “Fish Market” by Frans Snyders. Long description.

For thousands of years, humans have found inspiration in fish as they painted fish and fishing scenes (Jackson 2012). Living fish were painted depicting their natural habitats and flowing movements during the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279; Figure 1.7). The Golden Age of painting included many sea fish paintings, depicting landed fish in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The “Fish Market” painting by Frans Snyder depicts an endless variety of fish and other inhabitants of rivers, seas, and lakes (Figure 1.8). Whether depicted being caught or cooked, fish remain a constant source of fascination for artists and writers. Some classic literature on fish and fishing includes A River Runs through It (Norman Maclean), The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway), The Founding Fish (John McPhee), Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (Mark Kurlansky), Your Inner Fish (Neil Shubin), and The Compleat Angler (Izaak Walton).

1.6 Fish Conservation in the Anthropocene

Conservation is “securing populations of species in natural habitats for the long term” (Barongi et al. 2015). In the Anthropocene geological epoch, which began at the start of significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems, conservation of fish will require substantial change in policy and human behavior (Steneck and Pauly 2019). Fish conservation and management professionals and citizens must deal with the long-standing and emerging threats from climate change, overfishing, deforestation of watersheds, widespread overfishing, dams and hydropower, irrigation, invasive species, eutrophication, plastics, dead zones, harmful algal blooms, and more (Reid et al. 2018). As demand for fish increases, fishers implement technological innovations, and use more efficient methods to harvest many species before management policies are in place.

In the next chapter, we explore a values framework for examining efforts to conserve and manage fisheries. An interdisciplinary approach is essential to successful conservation of fish. For example, the naturalistic fallacy is often suggested. This belief suggests that if we could just go back to the way things were, fisheries and ecosystems would be restored to their previous state. However, this view fails to recognize that there is no chance of going back to an earlier pristine world without the effects of humans. We can mourn the loss of the past, but your experiences with fish and fishing will not be the same as those of your parents or grandparents. For that reason, this book emphasizes effective, forward-looking conservation which relies on many elements, including: (1) public education and participation; (2) ecological research, management, and monitoring; and (3) a legal framework for enforcement (Jacobson 1995). Collectively, the chapters provide ample evidence that successful conservation depends on people who display persistence, passionate leadership, partnerships, trust, and strategic optimism. Therefore, in each chapter I profile at least one conservation professional in “profiles in fish conservation.”

Question to ponder:

Select one of your favorite fish. Discuss three ways of classifying that fish. How do these different schemes influence how the fish is protected or conserved in the future?

Profile in Fish Conservation: Holly K. Kindsvater, PhD

Headshot of Holly Kindsvater
Figure 1.9: Holly Kindsvater, PhD.

Holly Kindsvater is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech. She received her undergraduate degree in marine biology from University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. from Yale University in ecology and evolutionary biology. Her research group examines basic and applied questions in marine and freshwater systems, from high seas fisheries to Appalachian salamanders. From advancements in understanding the life-history theory, she connects unique fish biology to population models for fishes such as tuna, sharks, rays, and grouper, and estimates rates of population decline and species loss. Many of these fishes are at risk from overfishing and, without the advancements from her lab group, investigators would lack sufficient data for sophisticated analyses. The Shark Conservation Fund supports her lab’s development of a large data base, SharkTraits https://www.sharktraits.org, to aid in the assessment of risks of overfishing and extinction.

Previous investigations examined how social interactions and variation in mate quality affect reproduction in species with parental care, including swordtails, darters, and wrasses. Kindsvater and associates validated a novel approach for reconstructing mathematical models to understand the consequences of this variability for the life-history traits of numerous populations of tuna that sustain some of the world’s largest and most valuable fisheries. Grouper and salmon are two valuable fish groups that display aggregation behaviors that increase catchability in fisheries. In the case of grouper, overfishing risk is further increased because “plate‐sized” fish are highly preferred in the live reef food fish trade and sex changes from female to male as grouper grow. Kindsvater and associates analyzed the consequences of size-selective harvesting in grouper, thereby providing management rules in allow sustainable harvest.

Holly Kindsvater was raised in the Mojave Desert in southern California and was fascinated with fish from an early age. Early visits to Puget Sound and visits to the Monterey Aquarium stoked her curiosity about rockfish, a large, long-lived live bearer that lives in the kelp forest. She wanted a career that kept her in contact with the ocean and learned about the controversy related to overfishing rockfish in California by commercial fishing fleets. She worked during college as a field technician for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on surveys of salmon streams in California. These experiences led her to appreciate how the role of human modifications via barriers and water use influenced salmon viability. She also realized you can get paid to study fish.

Both field and analytical skills allowed her to investigate numerous fishes in a variety of habitats around the world. Clever wrasses quickly learned how to avoid capture, and in field studies Kindsvater improved her skill to collect fish with a small dip net underwater while using SCUBA or mask and snorkel. Kindsvater examines the effects of fishing because “Fishing gives us a window on the world of the ocean.” Fishing is exploration and often the first sign of a change in ocean conditions. The notion that evolution happens on current time scales was first revealed in a landmark study on fishery-induced evolution (Conover and Munch 2002) that Holly Kindsvater read as a graduate student in 2002. She witnessed the scientists debating on the topic and realized that “this must be important.” Through her persistence and many collaborations, she is making a difference today in examining the effects of fishing intensity and fishing selectivity and providing advice for sustainable fishing practices. In “Ten principles from evolutionary ecology essential for effective marine conservation” published in 2016, Kindsvater and her associates provide ensuring a sustainable relationship with our seafood.

For more information about her work, review the website https://kindsvater.fishwild.vt.edu/.

Key Takeaways

  • Fish are cold-blooded animals that live in water, breathe with gills, and usually have fins and scales.
  • Fish are highly successful in colonizing every conceivable aquatic habitat on the planet.
  • Fish are classified by their taxonomic position, human uses, ecological characteristics, or life history.
  • Commercial fishing is the last wild harvest of wild food, recreational fishing dominates fishing in inland waters, and subsistence fishing is the dominant type of fishing in much of the developing world.
  • Not all types of fish are harvested for food, many are converted to fish oil and fish meal.
  • Fish provide benefits to ecosystems in the form of provisioning resources, regulating, supporting ecosystem components, and contributing to human cultures.
  • In addition to feeding us, fish inspire humans to create art and literature.
  • Fish conservation and management are complicated issues, and the goals of those endeavors depend on our value systems.

This chapter was reviewed by Holly Kindsvater.

Long Descriptions

Figure 1.1: High adult mortality and low juvenile mortality include, Precocial: few large offspring, small body size, rapid growth, early maturity, short lifespan, example: Tiger Tail Seahorse; Opportunist: many small offspring, small body size, rapid growth, early maturity, short lifespan, example: Atlantic Herring; Low adult mortality and high juvenile mortality include, Survivor: few large offspring, large body size, slow growth, late maturity, long lifespan, example: Smalltooth Sawfish; Episodic: many small offspring, large body size, slow growth, late maturity, long lifespan, example: Brown-marbled; Extreme Survivors have an overall low mortality: very few large offspring, very large body size, very slow growth, very late maturity, very long lifespan, example: N Pacific Spiny Dogfish. Jump back to Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.2: Pink salmon (bright greenish-blue on top and silvery on its sides), skipjack tuna (streamlined body that is mostly without scales; their backs are dark purple-blue and their lower sides and bellies are silver with four to six dark bands), European sea bass (silvery gray to bluish on the back, silvery on the sides, and white on the belly; elongated body, larger scales, and a stripe down their sides), and Atlantic Cod (heavy-bodied with a large head, blunt snout, and a distinct barbel under the lower jaw). Jump back to Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.3: Top: The fishing vessel surrounds a school of fish with a large net that has floats to keep the top of net at sea level and weights holding the bottom of net below. The bottom of the net is brought together and then hauled on-board. Bottom: The fishing vessel drags a long line with baited hooks behind it. Jump back to Figure 1.3.

Figure 1.4: Steady increases in global aquaculture and capture fisheries starting in 1950 with 20 million tonnes leading to 2018; aquaculture = 180 million tonnes and inland waters =140 million tonnes; capture = 80 million tonnes and inland waters = 10 million tonnes. Jump back to Figure 1.4.

Figure 1.5: Ecosystem Services include: 1) provisioning, products obtained from ecosystems, ex. food, fish meal, oils; 2) regulating, benefits obtained from regulation of ecosystem processes, ex. disease vector control; 3) cultural, non-material benefits obtained from ecosystems, ex. indigenous fishing; 4) supporting, services necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services, ex. sand, corals, whales, seabirds. Jump back to Figure 1.5.

Figure 1.8: Painting of a scene at a fish market from the 1600’s. Various general and exotic species of fish lay in piles on a table and a seller pours them from a basket into a large display area. Jump back to Figure 1.8.

Figure References

Figure 1.1: Classification of life history of fishes. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0. Adapted from https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.2012 (CC BY). Includes Seahorse by Laymik, 2017 (Noun Project license, https://thenounproject.com/icon/seahorse-1078152/), Herring by Mallory Hawes, 2012 (Noun Project license, https://thenounproject.com/icon/herring-7089/), Smalltooth Sawfish by NOAA (public domain, https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/smalltooth-sawfish), Pacific Spiny Dogfish by NOAA (public domain, https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/pacific-spiny-dogfish), and Brown-Marbled Grouper by Rickard Zerpe, 2020 (CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brown-marbled_grouper_(Epinephelus_fuscoguttatus).jpg).

Figure 1.2: The four most consumed food fish are: (A) Pink Salmon, (B) Skipjack Tuna, (C) European Sea Bass, and (D) Atlantic Cod. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0. Includes Pink Salmon FWS by Timothy Knepp, 2001 (public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pink_salmon_FWS.jpg), Katsuwonus pelamis by NOAA FishWatch, 2012 (public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katsuwonus_pelamis.png), FMIB 51236 Bass (Labrax lupus) by Reinhold Thiele, 1904 (public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FMIB_51236_Bass_(Labrax_lupus).jpeg), and Atlantic cod by NOAA Photo Library, 2004 (public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Atlantic_cod.jpg).

Figure 1.3: Purse seines (top) and long lines (bottom) are common techniques for commercial fishing. Kindred Grey. CC BY SA 4.0. Includes Purse-Seine by Lauren Packard, 2013 (CC BY 2.0, https://flic.kr/p/i2VTBd) and Ecomare – tekening visserijtechniek longline (longline) by Ecomare/Oscar Bos, 2016 (CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ecomare_-_tekening_visserijtechniek_longline_(longline).jpg).

Figure 1.4. World capture fisheries and aquaculture production. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0. Data from FAO, 2020 (page 20 of https://www.fao.org/3/ca9229en/ca9229en.pdf)

Figure 1.5: Four types of ecosystem services provided by fish with examples. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 1.6: A variety of ornamental koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus). Bernard Spragg. NZ. 2009. Public domain. https://flic.kr/p/2o1rKG8

Figure 1.7: “Goldfish from fish swimming amid falling flowers,” by Liu Cai. Liu Cai. c.1080–1120. Public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Goldfish_in_Fish_Swimming_Amid_Falling_Flowers_by_Liu_Cai_(cropped).jpg

Figure 1.8: “Fish market” by Frans Snyders. Frans Snyders. 1620s. Public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frans_Snyders_-_Fish_Market_-_WGA21513.jpg

Figure 1.9: Holly Kindsvater, PhD. Used with permission from Holly Kindsvater. CC BY 4.0.

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