15 Takeaways for Successful Fish Conservation

15.1 In Search of Principles

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

There are few laws of fisheries conservation and management. One such law is “Fish Die!” Its witty is, “If your parents had no children, odds are good that you will not either.” The first Great Law of Fishing — “Fisheries that are unlimited become unprofitable”—has persisted since formulated by Michael Graham (1943). Scientists search for guiding principles to help organize our knowledge. A principle, when it is understood and accepted, serves to guide our thinking and assist in guiding actions. In the first chapter, I proposed the working principle, “Passionate and persistent people who understand the fish and the place will find a way to create partnerships to conserve valued fish in perpetuity.” This principle highlights the importance of groups of people because groups are collectively smarter than individual experts in problem solving, decision making, innovating, and predicting (Arminpour et al. 2020). Recovery stories of collapsed fisheries highlight the importance of people and partnerships (Krueger et al. 2019). In fact, the common traits of important leaders in nature conservation are passion, persistence, and engagement in partnerships (Nielsen 2017).

Here I summarize key takeaways for implementing successful fish conservation organized as Fisheries Systems, Ecological Systems, and Management System principles.

Decisions are made in context that includes ecological systems, social systems, and institutions or management systems.

Flow chart depicts fishing decisions are centered around connections between social, ecological, and management systems
Figure 15.1: An improved understanding of coupled social-ecological system dynamics will yield more effective fisheries and marine conservation decisions.

Fisheries are continually changing as the many actors, institutions, and fish resources are influenced by the social-ecological setting (Figure 15.1). Each of these interacting systems may contribute to success or failure. In some cases, the habitat may be degraded. In others, the management system fails to respond to declines in catches in a timely manner. In others, the social system fails to support efforts to protect fish. Furthermore, understanding social systems, including cultural norms and institutions, local knowledge, and social learning, provides more options for enhancing well-being of fishing communities (Carlson et al. 2020).

15.2 Fisheries Systems Principles

Fisheries that are unlimited become unprofitable.

Russell (1931) derived a simple equation for overfishing by expressing sustainable yield as the sum of recruitment and individual growth minus mortality (Figure 15.2). This simple equation means that what comes in must go out if you ever intend to get the population stabilized. Russell’s equation has had a profound influence on early thinking to classify fish stocks as overfished when their population is below the level that would maximize harvest. Consequently, much of fisheries science in the mid-20th century focused on estimating parameters and maximum sustainable yields for stocks (Schaefer 1954). Yet this simplistic single-species model underestimates the risks of harvesting on populations and ecosystems (Lichatowich and Gayeski 2020).

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 15.2: Conceptual model depicting key factors that decrease or increase fish stock biomass according to Russell’s 1931 equation. Long description.

Fishing remains the last major hunting and gathering industry. As such fishing supports human livelihoods, food security, human health, and recreation., the tremendous diversity of fishing activities and styles complicates management. Because fisheries are often public resources where access cannot be easily controlled, overfishing and fisheries collapse are common. Famous collapses of the Northwest Atlantic Cod and California abalone and sardine fisheries highlight the failures of weak regulations on fishing (Radovich 1982; Tegner 1993; Mason 2002; Bavington 2010; Kurlansky 2010) and subsequent ecological, economic, and social disruptions. Widespread and well-publicized fisheries collapses generated substantial public awareness (Clover 2008; Hilborn and Hilborn 2012), leading to the passage of new amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1996 and 2007. The recent amendments made overfishing illegal, while mandating the rebuilding of all depleted fish stocks.

Overfishing is common across the full spectrum of fish life histories, not just top predators (Pinsky et al. 2011). Furthermore, overfishing is often exacerbated by illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, leading to food and nutritional insecurity, loss of jobs, and loss of income to local fishers and economies (Agnew et al. 2009; Sumaila et al. 2020). Progress toward sustainable fisheries requires a global commitment to environmental, economic, and social goals over time (Duarte et al. 2020). Use of commonsense reforms could result in recovery of overfished stocks and increases in fish abundance, profits, and food security from marine fisheries (Costello et al. 2016; Cabral et al. 2018).

Anthropocene era will be a time of uncertainty.

Concern for the decline of biodiversity in the world’s oceans has never been higher as the combined failures of science, governance, subsidies, overcapitalization, and international cooperation have revealed (Costello et al. 2010; Sala et al. 2021). Nowhere is the biodiversity crisis more acute than in freshwater ecosystems, which cover less than 1% of Earth’s surface yet host approximately one-third of vertebrate species and approximately half of all fishes (Fricke et al. 2022). Twenty-eight percent of freshwater fishes are at risk globally (Dudgeon 2019; Tickner et al. 2020). Given recent dramatic declines in freshwater biodiversity, which far exceed declines observed in terrestrial or marine ecosystems, priority actions must be taken to reverse this trend (Ahmed et al. 2022). Yet many forms of freshwater life are valued more for their value than their ecological and intrinsic value. Many fish are given unpopular or misleading labels, such as “trash fish,” “rough fish,” or “bait,” and receive little conservation attention (Monroe et al. 2009; Rypel et al. 2021).

The future will bring uncertainty associated with rapid change in climate regimes worldwide (Davies 2016). As ocean temperatures warm, fish move poleward or upstream to find suitable temperatures. For example, fewer Atlantic Cod are caught in U.S. waters compared with historical levels, and sustainable yields for many exploited populations are declining (Free et al. 2019). Climate warming will result in a shift in some tropical tuna beyond traditional prime fishing grounds. Warming of inland waters will challenge current fisheries management priorities, as cold-water specialists are relegated to new habitats (Lynch et al. 2010; Dauwalter et al. 2020; Gallagher et al. 2022). Inland fisheries are important sources for food and sport, and collapses induced by recreational fishing and climate change will be challenging to predict (Cooke and Cowx 2004). While uncertainty can contribute to inaction, we should accept uncertainty as an inevitable reality that calls for continual learning and adaptive management. Given the growing uncertainty, alternative approaches to creating and applying new knowledge in collaboration with many partners will be needed to fill the gap that exists in applying evidence-based conservation in fish conservation (Toomey et al. 2016; Kidd et al. 2019; Nguyen et al. 2019).

Learning from past successes, we can get off the treadmill that impedes recovery.

Successful examples of fish conservation often share similar elements of governance structures that include successful and trusted partnerships. Partnerships are key to effective responses to management problems. Without engagement, governing bodies respond to problems with interventions that fail to solve the problem. Instead, the signals of problems increase, leading to further political concern (Figure 15.3; Webster 2015). For example, once overfishing is recognized as a problem, it is difficult to stop. Typically, when fish populations are severely overexploited, fishing effort increases with diminishing returns. While demand increases, fishing fleets have few alternatives and oppose new fishing restrictions. As conditions worsen, more and more intense signals are received by scientists, decision makers, firms, the public, and other actors. Political concerns grow until the political will supports new governance measures that permit a shift to the effective management cycle (right-hand side of Figure 15.3). A more effective vision of fishing often means catching fewer fish with greater value, less effort, and less habitat alteration. Over the long term, fisheries governance cycles between periods of effective and ineffective management. Strong and effective governance structures can prolong periods of effective governance.

Ineffective and effective governance cycles
Figure 15.3: The management or governance treadmill. The left-hand side shows an ineffective cycle, in which environmental problems send out socioeconomic signals that lead to increasing political concern. Strong governance leads to an effective cycle (right-hand side), where the problem decreases, signals weaken, and political concerns decline during a process of crisis rebound.

It’s time to stop pretending that fish don’t feel pain and formulate animal welfare guidance for fishing and aquaculture.

Currently, many are engaged in lively debates regarding the welfare of fish in recreational and commercial fisheries, as well as fish farms. Fish are capable of certain higher cognitive processes, which raises questions regarding ethics and welfare. The fundamental question whether and why fish matter in our moral deliberations is an applied ethics question (Bovenkerk and Meijboom 2012). New research is devoted to the difficult goal of establishing whether fish have awareness and can suffer (Browman et al. 2019; Hubená et al. 2022; Mason and Lavery 2022). The debate will continue, as some remain unconvinced that fish are and call for higher standards for evidence, while others advocate for welfare protections for fish. An argument presented by Arlinghaus et al. (2020) bypasses the debate by promoting welfare based on the functions of natural populations of fish. This argument is summarized as follows:

Premise: Well-being is important to the conservation of populations and fisheries, regardless of whether the animal is able to think and feel.

Premise: Animal welfare can be considered without invoking or relying on concepts such as consciousness, sentience, or pain.

Claim: Therefore, recreational angling welfare and ethics relies on measurable endpoints of fish well-being other than pain.

Oversight and sanctions are needed to encourage compliance with regulations.

Noncompliance with fishing regulations is a pervasive problem in recreational, commercial, and subsistence fisheries (Boonstra and Österblom 2014; Cepic and Nunan 2017; Bergseth and Roscher 2018). Without oversight, knowledge of fishing regulations may be lacking. Without oversight, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing will lead to overfishing. Subsidies for fishing fleets lead to and overfished fisheries. Advances in vessel tracking and electronic monitoring continue to improve our abilities to monitor for compliance.

Comanagement holds great promise for successful and sustainable fisheries.

Comanagement respects the rights of stakeholders to organize and establish institutions (including regulations) for long-term sustainability that are recognized by higher authorities (Ostrom 2009). Moving from top-down decision making based on Decide-Announce-Defend (DAD) to Engage-Deliberate-Decide (EDD) may lead to better decisions for complex fish conservation issues. DAD approaches may lead to quicker decisions but often results in ineffective policies. The DAD method is not suited for fisheries where a wide range of technical, social, cultural, and economic factors are influencing the current situation. Also, successful implementation involves a lot of people, and these people are not in an obvious command structure, but they can choose whether to cooperate (Walker 2009; Prince 2010). Comanagement of fisheries leads to enhanced interaction, deliberation, learning, and participation of stakeholders from the fishing community and government (Gutiérrez et al. 2011; Wamukota et al. 2012; McCay et al. 2014; Berkes 2015; Botto-Barrios and Saavedra-Díaz 2020; Arantes et al. 2021; Gurdak et al. 2022; Silver et al. 2022).

Ecocertification of products from capture fisheries and aquaculture contributes to more sustainable, socially responsible seafood.

The United States is the world’s largest fish importer, with 90% of seafood consumed by Americans coming from foreign fisheries (NOAA 2017). Yet, 25–30% of wild-caught seafood imported into the country is illegally caught (Pramod et al. 2014). Therefore the U.S. demand contributes to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing worldwide. The power of this market demand can be used to encourage socially responsible fishing and seafood guides that affect retailers’ choice of what they will sell (Kittinger et al. 2017). To leverage the power of the market, fisheries must develop reliable systems for tracing seafood products so that labeling is possible (Willette and Cheng 2018).

The Marine Stewardship Council’s theory of change describes how certification influences responsible fishing and marketing practices in ways that combat illegal fishing and provides greater benefits to fishers (Figure 15.4; Adolf et al. 2016; Arton et al. 2018; Willett and Cheng 2018).

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 15.4: The Marine Stewardship Council’s theory of change describes how the organization envisages itself contributing to more sustainable seafood practices. Long description.

15.3 Social Systems Principles

Fisheries management in poorer nations should have a much stronger emphasis on human health and well-being.

People in the developing world heavily rely on fish for nutrition and fishing to support their livelihoods. Unfortunately, many of these developing countries have weak governance and are often net exporters of seafood to well-nourished countries with strong governance (Golden et al. 2016). Fish and other seafood will be essential to feed the estimated 10 billion people expected to be living on Earth by 2050. Industrialization of fishing, poor governance, and the expansion of foreign fishing threaten fisheries of small nations. Sensitivities to food insecurity in tropical ecosystems will be exacerbated by climate change and other human-induced habitat alterations (Free et al. 2019). Consequently, the historical rights of small-scale fishing communities to marine and inland resources, as traditional users for thousands of years, should be recognized to allow equitable allocation of fishery benefits (Schreiber et al. 2022). Currently, fishing incomes are below national poverty lines in 34% of the countries with data (Teh et al. 2020). In many artisanal fisheries (Figure 15.5), most of the catch is consumed domestically. Coral reefs and mangroves, which are essential ecosystems for many tropical coastal subsistence and artisanal fisheries, will be heavily degraded by coastal development, warming, and ocean acidification.

Rights, equity, and justice are mainstream principles of good fisheries governance.

Man on shore balances 15 fish hanging from a stick
Figure 15.5: Small-scale artisanal fisheries target many species using handlines, and most fish landed are sold and eaten domestically.

New norms of practice in the form of governmental laws and regulations, voluntary codes of conduct, trade agreements, and market-based tools have emerged in response to global concerns about overfishing and unjust distribution of fishery benefits (Lam 2016). Consequently, we apply ethical reasoning in fisheries management. Rights, equity, and justice are mainstream principles of good fisheries governance. The ethical matrix (table 15.1) combines consequentialist and rights-based ethics along with Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness, while considering all interest groups. Better compliance with the FAO code of conduct for responsible fishing will lead to enhanced fisheries sustainability.

Interest group Ethical principle
Well-being (consequentialist or utilitarian theory: welfare and health) Autonomy (rights-based or deontology theory: freedom and choice) Justice (social contract theory and Rawlsian "justice as fairness")
Producers Satisfactory income and working conditions Managerial freedom Fair trade laws and practices
Consumers Food safety and quality of life Democratic and informed choice Availability of affordable food
Organisms Animal welfare Behavioral freedom Intrinsic value
Environment Conservation Biodiversity Sustainability

Table 15.1: Ethical matrix from Lam (2016) showing outcomes for interest groups by following three ethical principles. Deontology refers to the study of the nature of duty and obligation. Rawlsian refers to a theory of justice, developed by John Rawls, that aims to constitute a system to ensure the fair distribution of primary social goods.

Effective governance of fisheries depends on effective community leaders.

Leaders who can build legitimacy and find ways to balance the concerns of competing interest groups help make the shift to effective governance responses. For example, the fisheries commissioner in Maine, who is credited with establishing more effective lobster management, built social networks and won the trust of lobster fishers while keeping abreast of scientific studies of the lobster fishery. Consequently, when difficult times emerged, the political will was sufficient to support governance responses instituting a conservation ethic to prevent overfishing (Acheson 1997).

Transform arguments into partnerships because facts don’t win arguments.

The popular press often unwittingly spreads misinformation and misunderstanding about fish conservation issues (Orth et al. 2020; Shiffman et al. 2020). Increasingly, citizens are ready to deny findings from science that contradict their opinions (Schmid and Betsch 2019). Many of us do nothing to correct false or unsubstantiated beliefs, based on the presumed “backfire effect” myth, in which attempts to correct false beliefs increase misperceptions among the group in question (Nyhan 2021). However, it is preferable to form partnerships and develop trust among all stakeholders. The guidance to “build trust and listen” leads to group efforts focused on seeking the right answer together rather than defending one view. Formation of viable, long-term partnerships is more likely to lead to lasting policy changes.

A nudge may be more effective in changing behavior than forced compliance.

A nudge, unlike forced compliance, uses subtle changes and indirect suggestions to make certain decisions more , thereby improving voluntary compliance (Thaler and Sundstein 2008). For example, scientists know that keeping fish in or over the water and holding them with clean, wet hands or a soft rubber net will help keep their slime layer and scales intact and the fish disease free. The nonprofit organization Keep Fish Wet works to change social norms about the practice of catch-and-release angling. Prominent anglers and guides demonstrate how to land fish with minimal air exposure and handling, thereby nudging others to adopt the new behavior. Social norms are important drivers of human behavior and are known to influence how fishers interact with animals and their environment. The role of social norms within the context of recreational angling is of particular interest, given that angling behavior is seldom formally or easily monitored and enforced (Mackay et al. 2018). Increasingly, findings from psychological science may serve to promote behaviors that support conservation (Clayton and Myers 2015).

Conflicting value orientations are common in many fisheries.

Throughout this book, we have seen many ways in which fish and fishing matter to people. Relational values comprise a broader framework for including all values, not simply economic values, that can arise from a person’s or society’s relationship with nature (Chan et al. 2018). The ecological, spiritual, cultural, financial, academic, and recreational significance of a fish in human experience reflects pluralistic values to consider when formulating conservation strategies. We may think about the values-beliefs-norms-action causal chain when evaluating potential conservation interventions. For example, consider how biocentric values support beliefs, norms, and actions regarding shark conservation (Figure 15.6). Those with strong biocentric, , and values are likely to believe in an ecological worldview that sharks are at risk and they have the ability to effect change. From these beliefs, a sense of obligation to take actions becomes a norm, which leads to certain specific actions to protect sharks. Similarly, biocentric values lead to beliefs about harms to individual fish and implementing welfare actions in aquaculture and in fisheries. Successful conservation requires that we acknowledge and consider pluralistic values from biocentric to anthropocentric.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 15.6: Values-belief-norms-actions framework for depicting the chain of causality liking relational values to beliefs, norms, and actions in the context of shark conservation. Long description.

Values drive selection of management objectives, policies, and practices.

A wide variety of conservation and management approaches naturally emerge as a result of differing values (Figure 15.7). Heterogeneous values among stakeholders translate to differing priority for objectives, policies, and practices. approaches arise from strong values of autonomy and belief in the workings of the free market. Utilitarian values lead to selecting an objective of maximum sustained yield, precautionary policies, and practices such as closed seasons or quotas. Conservation and wise use of fishery resources may in some cases greatly alleviate poverty and improve the well-being in fishing communities. In other cases, recreational fishing and diving provide largely unexamined psychological benefits to participants whose values focus on spending time in unspoiled natural systems. Laissez-faire approaches arise from strong values of autonomy and belief in the workings of the free market. Utilitarian values lead to selecting an objective of maximum sustained yield, precautionary policies, and practices such as closed seasons or quotas. Conservationists have put considerable hope into the idea that we may be able to defend ecosystem services by translating them into monetary terms. A fundamental criticism of this approach is that it may lead to marginalizing certain social groups (Sorlin 2012). In other cases, ecological reference points are emerging when stakeholders hold ecocentric values, such as we saw with new policies and practices implemented for Atlantic Menhaden management. Over long time horizons, we should anticipate shifts in how people value fish. For example, the change in anglers’ values from utilitarian self-interest toward , ecosystem-based conservation is evident among fly fishers and rough fish anglers. Biocentric value orientations contribute to greater support for stewardship objectives, policies, and practices, while at the same time contributing to less support for the use of technological angling aids (Bruskotter and Fulton 2007).

The tragedy of the commons is not inevitable if we embrace pluralism and pragmatism.

Tree diagram. From roots to leaves: values, objectives, policies, practices.
Figure 15.7: Values drive selection of management objectives, policies, and practices.

When fishers act solely in their own interests when accessing a public fishery, they ultimately overfish. The primary roles of government at the local, state, national, and international levels is to define and manage shared fisheries resources. However, notable failures have led many to adopt some type of participatory approach to involve fishers in management. Adopting means that we emphasize actionable knowledge and practical experiences of all stakeholders. For these participatory programs to be effective, it must be clear how stakeholder input is used in decision making (Crandall et al. 2019). emphasizes respect for multiple ways of knowing and thinking about fish conservation issues. Plurality means we examine perspectives and understandings from traditional Western and Indigenous knowledge systems to support decisions (Bingham et al. 2021; Reid et al. 2021).


Building trust among various stakeholders is critical to effective governance and conservation.

Conservation programs require substantial interagency coordination, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. Yet, many fisheries institutions have a history of conflict and discrimination against women, Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Although historical injustices cannot be undone, changes in treatment may reduce discrimination in the future. Differing value orientations often lead to distrust. Distrust is often recognized as a major obstacle to effective natural resource management, leading to fear or opposition (Stern and Coleman 2015). Procedural fairness and technical competency are keys to developing stakeholder trust. Procedural fairness exists when stakeholders believe they have a voice in the decision process regardless of outcome (Riley et al. 2018). Direct, frequent, and timely communication is essential to demonstrate that stakeholder input is valued. Also, dialogue with stakeholders should focus on conversations that allow stakeholders to share their concerns and fears. New norms are emerging for stakeholder engagement with a greater attention to diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and accessibility (Arismendi and Penaluna 2016; Worm et al. 2021).

15.4 Ecological Principles

Big, old, fat, fecund female fish, or “BOFFFFs,” contribute substantially to population productivity and stability.

The examples presented in fishing for living dinosaurs, Arapaima, and grouper highlight the importance of BOFFFFs for conservation. Larger females are far more productive than the same weight’s worth of smaller females (Barneche et al. 2018). Management practices that ignore the value of large females contribute to declines seen in some fish stocks, such as the Atlantic Cod Gadus morhua (Figure 15.8). In a broad range of fishes, older females spawn earlier and may have more protracted spawning seasons than younger females (Francis et al. 2007).

Increasingly, modern methods for aging fish reveal longevity estimates far exceeding those from earlier studies. Fish having long life spans with repeated spawning is a bet-hedging response to life in variable environments where larval survival and successful recruitment may be uncommon. More large fish are living life in the slow lane. Recent studies revealed that Bowfins live ~2–3 times longer than previously estimated for wild populations. With Bowfin, over the past two decades, there has been increased demand for roe for caviar, increased participation in recreational angling, and increased harvest through modern bowfishing (Lackman et al. 2019, 2022; Scarnecchia et al. 2019). Ecological functions of Bowfin and other rough fish must be considered (Rypel et al. 2021).

Sometimes it’s the habitat.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 15.8: Atlantic Cod is one of many fish where large females play a disproportionate role in producing future offspring. Long description.

Initiatives to “protect the habitat” are common among supporters of bonefish, tarpon, trout, char, grouper, salmon, sharks, sturgeon, and many others. In fish that use multiple habitats to meet different resource needs throughout their lives, a loss of an essential habitat may limit the ability of an overfished population to recover. For example, many studies demonstrate the key function of mangroves and seagrass beds as reef fish nurseries and freshwater streams as salmon nurseries. Increasingly, marine protected areas (MPA) are used to protect essential habitats (Giakoumi et al. 2018; Sala and Giakoumi 2018; Gilchrist et al 2020). More than 17,000 MPAs protect almost 11.2 million square miles (29 million square kilometers) of ocean. In other words, nearly 8.2% of the ocean, an area the size of North America, is under some kind of protection (UNEP–WCMC 2020).

Although there are few freshwater protected areas, the enforcement of the U.S. Clean Water Act and water quality standards led to improvements in diversity and abundance of riverine fish and other biota in many large rivers (Yoder et al. 2019). Scientific management of the Chesapeake Bay crab population that has called for cleaner water and improved habitat also will help crabs. Reducing the levels of nutrients reaching the bay from farms and lawns and better managing of polluted runoff before it gets into rivers and streams will help improve water quality and contribute to the recovery of both Blue Crabs and bay grasses. Habitat restoration is the most effective tool for conservation of nongame fish, which are often hardly visible, small bodied, co-occurring with a large number of species over their distributional range, and sharing essential habitat requirements. Because of these characteristics, freshwater (especially stream) habitat protection should achieve conservation for multiple species.

Recovery of fish populations is possible but takes long-term effort and partnerships.

Well-documented case studies demonstrate this principle for Eastern Brook Trout, Goliath Grouper, Lake Erie Walleye, and Snail Darter, as well as others (Kraft 2019; Vandergoot et al. 2019; Koenig et al. 2020). In all successful recoveries, there is substantial effort in developing coordinated, multiagency approaches with stakeholder input. In 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced an important milestone in fish conservation. The most famous darter in the world, the Snail Darter, was considered recovered (Loller 2022), demonstrating that the Endangered Species Act is working to recover endangered species.

15.5 Final Takeaway

It is easy to become disillusioned with the magnitude of the global challenges for recovering at-risk fish populations or maintaining valuable fisheries. However, if we focus on the principle that passionate and persistent people who understand the fish and the place will find a way to create partnerships to conserve valued fish in perpetuity, we can work to implement actions at local levels. Many inspiring stories exist about the recovery of overfished or collapsed highly degraded ecosystems (Krueger et al. 2019). Collectively, these stories revealed that no single silver bullet worked. Rather, strategies that engaged and nurtured partnerships with stakeholders led to increased trust and effective collaboration.

Profile in Fish Conservation: Emmanuel A. Frimpong, PhD

Headshot of Emmanuel Frimpong
Figure 15.9: Emmanuel A. Frimpong, PhD.

Emmanuel A. Frimpong is currently Professor in the Department of Fish Conservation at Virginia Tech. He grew up in Ghana, a country where fish were, first and foremost, food. He began fishing with his dad at the age or nine and recalls that every fish caught came home to be eaten by the family. This reminds us of the priority of food for human survival before humans can consider the role of fish, fishing, and conservation in a broader context. He recalls that for centuries, the indigenous people of Ghana have loyally guarded patches of forest and accompanying streams where freshwater fish are protected from harvest.

Dr. Frimpong received his BS from the University of Science & Technology in Ghana, MS from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and PhD from Purdue University. Later he earned a second MS in statistics from Virginia Tech. He joined the faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007. He collaborates with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s AquaFish Innovation Lab on research and development projects in Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania. He is a significant contributor to research and development in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa and was named to the prestigious Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow program. As a fellow, he is actively engaged in educational projects proposed and hosted by faculty of higher education institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. His research in the United States is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Aquatic Gap Analysis Program.

Dr. Frimpong and his students study the ecology and conservation of freshwater fish, with emphasis on how anthropogenic alterations to habitats and landscapes differentially affect species as a result of differences in their life history traits and the nature of biotic, especially mutualistic, interactions. Findings of his research team demonstrated how specific landscape and habitat changes, such as agriculture and aquaculture, urban development, introduction of nonnative species, and climate change, drive current conditions for stream fish. Frimpong developed a comprehensive database describing more than 100 biological traits of 809 freshwater fish, which is available to scientists everywhere. This improved understanding of determinants of fish distributions helps us predict how the distribution of species will respond to anthropogenic changes to their environment, while suggesting solutions to declining populations. In addition to studies of stream fish ecology, he has examined approaches to encouraging sustainable production aquaculture (especially in sub-Saharan Africa) as an alternative to overexploitation of natural fisheries.

Dr. Frimpong has demonstrated that unremarkable streams and common fish can reveal many ecological principles, such as the existence of important mutualistic interactions among stream fishes. These small, common fish are also important to fish conservation initiatives. Lack of information about common fish perpetuates ineffectual conservation practices. Frimpong recommends that we put ourselves in the fins of a fish to better appreciate their special underwater capabilities and threats to their continued existence. Particularly, aquatic biodiversity in West and Central Africa is grossly undersampled and unstudied. In Ghana and elsewhere, many undocumented, undescribed, and cryptic clusters of species are lumped into one species due to lack of detailed study. These taxonomic oversights influence our understanding of rarity, a key to conservation status. Yet, he explains to his students and colleagues that people are unaware of fish in local waters, and fish appreciation remains an untapped need for fish conservation.

This chapter was reviewed by Francesco Ferretti and Emmanual A. Frimpong.

Long Descriptions

Figure 15.2: Flow chart depicts key factors in fish stock biomass; 1) recruitment; 2) growth; 3) stock biomass (leads back to recruitment and growth). Stock biomass points to either harvest or natural death. Jump back to Figure 15.2.

Figure 15.4: 1) fisheries which meet the MSC standard are independently certified as sustainable; 2) consumers preferentially purchase seafood with the MSC ecolabel; 3) retailers and restaurants choose MSC certified sustainable seafood; 4) a traceable supply chain assures consumers that only seafood from an MSC certified fishery is sold with the MSC ecolabel; 5) market demand for MSC certified seafood increases; 6) more fisheries choose to improve their practices and volunteer to be assessed against the MSC standard. Jump back to Figure 15.4.

Figure 15.6: 1) Values: biocentric, altruistic, and egotistic. 2) Beliefs: ecological worldview, perception of risk to sharks, realization of personal agency to reduce threats of sharks. 3) Norms: sense of obligation to take action to reduce threats. 4) Actions: adoption of shark conservation-centric fishing guidelines, membership in shark/marine conservation groups, participation in shark conservation policy processes, personal advocacy for fishery compliance, policy adoption. Jump back to Figure 15.6.

Figure 15.8: Atlantic cod that is gray green with reddish brown spots. Their lateral line is pale, almost white. Cod are streamline in shape, have a broad square tail fin, three rounded dorsal fins, two anal fins and no fin spines. Jump back to Figure 15.8.

Figure References

Figure 15.1: An improved understanding of coupled social-ecological system dynamics will yield more effective fisheries and marine conservation decisions. Kindred Grey. 2022. Adapted under fair use from Bridging the Divide between Fisheries and Marine Conservation Science, by Salomon et. al., 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.5343/bms.2010.1089.

Figure 15.2: Conceptual model depicting key factors that decrease or increase fish stock biomass according to Russell’s 1931 equation. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 15.3: The management or governance treadmill. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0. Adapted from Scapegoats, Silver Bullets, and Other Pitfalls in the Path to Sustainability, by D. G. Webster, 2017. CC BY 4.0. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/elementa.212.

Figure 15.4: The Marine Stewardship Council’s theory of change describes how the organization envisages itself contributing to more sustainable seafood practices. From What Do We Know About the Impacts of the Marine Stewardship Council Seafood Ecolabelling Program? A Systematic map, by Arton et. al., 2020. CC BY 4.0. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-020-0188-9.

Figure 15.5: Small-scale artisanal fisheries target many species using handlines, and most fish landed are sold and eaten domestically. Photography by Dino Sassi – Marcel Fayon, Photo Eden LTD, 1977. Public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fisherman_and_his_catch_Seychelles.jpg.

Figure 15.6: Values-belief-norms-actions framework for depicting the chain of causality linking relational values to beliefs, norms, and actions in the context of shark conservation. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0. Adapted from Introducing Relational Values as a Tool for Shark Conservation, Science, and Management, by Skubel et. al., 2019. CC BY 4.0. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00053,

Figure 15.7: Values drive selection of management objectives, policies, and practices. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 15.8: Atlantic Cod is one of many fish where large females play a disproportionate role in producing future offspring. Peter. 2011. CC BY 2.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Atlantic_cod_%281%29.jpg.

Figure 15.9: Emmanuel A. Frimpong, PhD. Used with permission from Emmanuel A. Frimpong. CC BY-ND 4.0.

Text References

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