The Dark Side of Reference Points
The United States and many other countries have developed sets of standard reference points that can be used to determine allowable harvests. Here I explore some of the problems that have arisen in this practice, including (1) uncertainties in current stock biomass and virgin stock biomass as applied in reference point formula, (2) the inappropriateness of reference points applied to species for which they were not derived, (3) the tendency of reference-point use to produce an environment in which stock-assessment scientists rarely evaluate alternative management policies, and (4) the role of concern about reference points as a displacement activity for scientists that keeps them from working on more significant problems in fisheries management. I suggest that alternative, data-based, rather than model-based, approaches to setting quotas should be preferred. I consider the true meaning of the precautionary approach and the trend toward neglect of the purpose of a fishery—to produce social and economic benefits to society; it is those benefits that need protection. Finally, I suggest that the key to successful fisheries management is not better science, better reference points, or more precautionary approaches but rather implementing systems of marine governance that provide incentives for individual fishermen, scientists, and managers to make decisions in their own interest that contribute to societal goals.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: March 1, 2002
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