Science & Technology
7:24 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Cal Poly and UCSB professors team up for global fishing study

A couple of Central Coast university professors are the authors of a new study that is receiving polarized reactions from within the fishing industry. The research looks at the health of our world's fish populations and how a ban on fishing the high seas could benefit coastal fisheries.

The study was published March 25 in the peer-reviewed journal, PLOS Biology.

Global map of exclusive economic zones (green) and high seas (blue) oceanic areas.
Credit Crow White, Christopher Costello

Christopher Costello is a professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara and is the study's co-author. Costello says a high seas fishing ban could help maintain or even improve fish populations within an area known as the exclusive economic zone—a 200 mile wide band surrounding the nations of the world.

"We actually think that the local fishermen in Morro Bay and Santa Barbara are quite responsible and very progressive, so I want to make sure that's really clear," said Costello. "By no means are we saying 'gosh you should stop fishing locally.' In fact we're saying the opposite. We're saying, because the high seas are being plundered, that is reducing our fishing opportunities locally."

But, Jeremiah O'Brien, a director with the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen's Association questions the motive behind such a proposal.

"There is no need for it because everything is highly regulated, we have big organizations all around the world," said O'Brien. "Not only [do they] regulate the fisheries on the high seas, but they also regulate what they call IUU fishing, which is illegal, unlicensed and unreported fisheries, and every country in the world monitors these fishermen and they're arrested at every opportunity."

Stephanie Mutz is the president of the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara, and says the study doesn't apply to the real world.

"If there's no cooperation for a solution amongst countries now, how would there be any cooperation with closing down international waters altogether?" said Mutz. "It's not applicable."

The research team used a computer program to study the theory, designed by Cal Poly Assistant Biology Professor Crow White. He is the study's lead author and disagrees with the idea that the international oceans are well regulated. White says the United Nations is even considering the study as a solution to the world's overfishing problem.

"Although it's dramatic, it is a simple solution, and so it's something the U.N. had piqued interest in, and of course they want to know more details before they would consider trying to pursue implementing such a thing," said White. "I think everyone wants more details, myself included."

The professor says the next step would be to look at the numbers country-by-country, as well as studying how the individual fish species would be affected.