An Ounce of Prevention: The Key to Fisheries Management is Starting Smart

This is a guest post from Lee Crockett, director of U.S. Oceans at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

An old adage popularized by Benjamin Franklin says that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Many of us in the marine conservation community believe that would, indeed, be a good way to manage our nation’s ocean fish. But that’s not happening. Too often, fisheries begin in a new location, or target a new species, without any scientific evaluation of potential adverse effects on the health of the ecosystem. Instead of employing management measures to prevent trouble, we’ve been spending our resources on curing difficulties that might have been averted.

And now, unprecedented shifts in the range and behavior of fish populations because of increasing water temperatures, combined with a growing global demand for seafood, are creating pressure to expand fishing to new geographic areas or to fish that have never been major commercial fishing targets. But if management of fishing in U.S. waters starts only after damage has already been done, we’re ignoring Franklin’s good advice. Without taking strong, proactive steps, we will continue to chase problems rather than prevent them.

Congress should address this weakness as it updates the primary law governing management of our nation’s ocean fish—the Magnuson-Stevens Act. While U.S. efforts to curb overfishing and restore depleted fish populations stand as one of the great ocean conservation success stories of the past decade, more can be done to shore up the health of the marine ecosystems that support these fish.

We need a new national policy that guides federal managers to “start smart” by factoring in, up front, all available research on potential damage to marine ecosystems that would occur with new or expanded fishing activities. This would benefit ocean ecosystems as well as the residents of coastal communities who depend economically on a healthy and vibrant ocean.

A great example of starting smart can be seen up north. As the Arctic ice cap melts, it’s opening new places and opportunities to fish commercially. Fortunately, forward-thinking members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council realized that they should evaluate the related environmental impacts before any new fishing starts. Beginning in 2006, the council hosted many meetings with communities in the region and other engaged stakeholders. Three years later, the council wisely opted to prohibit any new commercial fisheries until it collects enough data to sustainably manage them.

Precautionary action like this will help contribute to more productive ocean ecosystems. Unfortunately, there are no national policies to ensure that this science-based approach is used consistently around the country. Some councils do proactive planning, and others do not.

Evaluating the potential ecological consequences of fishing—as well as a fish population’s abundance level, reproductive capacity, ability to withstand fishing, and role in the food web—in advance of allowing a fishery to start is a common-sense approach that could help identify and mitigate problems before they start. Congressional leaders should take this opportunity to promote this important aspect of ecosystem-based fishery management on a national scale — so that we can apply Franklin’s sage “ounce of prevention” advice to guide informed, proactive fishery management decisions.

Photo Credit: Pew Charitable Trusts


Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

Thank you for the post.

Donnaa D.
donnaa D3 years ago


Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se3 years ago


heather g.
heather g3 years ago

Those people who are in Government in general don't make decisions which relate to respecting nature.
In the fishing industry, greed seems to be the culture....

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K3 years ago

Ron L: Humans deciding to STOP doing something that was destructive to an ocean ecosystem is the exact opposite of 'fooling with mother nature' - it's restoring it to what mother nature intended, which is for sharks to own the oceans, as they have for 400 million years. Sharks have always posed a minor danger to swimmers everywhere, but Florida will have a long way to go before it catches South Africa and Australia.

You know what's going to keep tourists out of Florida? When they get wind of the fact that your stupid government doesn't want to spend the money to control mosquitoes which carry Dengue and other tropical diseases, or that they won't spend the money to test and close beaches when risks of contracting nasty crap to swimmers is high. Sea Lice has ruined more vacations than sharks. Here's another tip - get rid of Stand Your Ground. Tourists from outside the US are really turned off by the fact that it's perfectly legal to shoot anyone, anywhere, anytime, as long as you then claim you were scared. Most Americans really disapprove, too, but lets face it - we're used to assholes with guns - but to non Americans? - you look like crazed animals.

Colin Hope
Colin H3 years ago

Thanks for sharing!!

Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago


Brett Byers
Brett B3 years ago

Ocean acidification, caused by absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere by the oceans, could threat nearly all ocean life within decades. So perhaps the most important ounce of prevention and proactive planning for fisheries is reduction of CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

For the cost of a cup of coffee, stop 1000 tons of CO2 emissions by saving acres of rainforest:

Fred L.
Fred L3 years ago

Big ups once again to Pew Charitable Trusts for a well-reasoned, cogent article. However, I don't have much faith in Congress to take "strong, pro-active steps." Factory fishing is driven by immediate profit, not conservation of resources. Their lobbyists can, and will buy congressional votes. I don't think Mother Nature can rely on the many venal, ignorant imbeciles in Congress to save her. Stay positive, people!

John chapman
John chapman3 years ago

To be able to really manage our fisheries.

We need to expand our offshore distances, to control foreign boats, & factory ships.

If we hold to a 3 mi. limit, these ships can set up right on the line, & fish basically unregulated.

When they deplete an area, they can just relocate, & do the same somewhere else.