The recent report by McKinsey and Company 'Design for Sustainable Fisheries' takes some important steps towards meeting the challenge of integrating what we understand about the biology of fished species and the economic behaviour of those who fish. It is vital that we do this if we are to better understand the complexities that drive changes in human pressure on fish stocks and how these stocks respond.
Quantitative models have an important role to play in helping us to understand problems. This report by McKinsey, written in collaboration with several prominent academics, illustrates why.
Using three case study examples, the authors develop an approach that links biological models of how fish populations respond to changes in fishing pressure with economic models that try to predict how those who fish them will behave. Using this approach they explore the effects of alternative ways in which fisheries might be made more sustainable.
The authors are to be applauded for not proffering recommendations – modeling of this kind is a complex undertaking, requiring many simplifying assumptions - but they do highlight some important insights that should give us cause to reflect.
If I were to choose single words to summarize two of these insights they would be disguise and diversity. Disguise because of the finding that the drivers and root causes of key issues in a fishery can be unexpected and non-obvious. Diversity because of the many alternative pathways for transition that are available, each with different implications for both the resource and the people who benefit from them.
These are important findings. They re-enforce the idea that there is no silver bullet for fisheries reform; almost every fishery will require individual attention to understand its unique features and craft a viable route forward. General lessons no doubt can be learned about how best to facilitate the conversations among stakeholders that are essential for durable solutions, but to imagine that there is a widely applicable recipe is a chimera.
The report certainly has drawbacks, such as the restriction to three case studies, each for a single high value species, and the choice of a developing country example that is hypothetical due to lack of data. The approach taken was also, inevitably, unable to account for the roles of politics, leadership and power relations in the case study examples. These are key issues in any reform process that no amount of modeling will fully unpick.
But these limitations should not detract - the report is well worth a read and makes a valuable contribution. And it is encouraging to see prominent private sector institutions like McKinsey & Company offering both analysis and perspectives on the future of fisheries. It is a topic that is certainly worthy of such attention.
Dr. Stephen Hall
Photo credit: Brian J Skerry