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Feedback loops for Fish
Jeremy Faludi, 25 Dec 04

We've talked about how to design better feedback systems for change, rather than simple legislation of specific practices or minimum standards. These ideas have been applied to things like air pollution and energy, but they have yet to make it into fisheries. writes about how the current methods of regulating fishing catches to protect endangered species are a perfect candidate for better feedback loops, and has the beginnings of some suggestions for "ocean cycle-based management". The problem, as they describe it, is this:

Our current regulatory system is slow to react to changes in our ocean, and the lag times this produces tend to hurt everyone... This lag biases against the fish when they most need protection, at the early stages of a decline, when overfishing can produce major damage that could take many years to undo. And the lag also biases against the fishing communities when the fish least need our help and when the fishermen need it the most.

They do not have a detailed proposal for a better feedback loop, as the science of predicting population cycles is not well developed yet, but they point out that a combination of tracking El Nino / La Nina weather cycles and yearly measurement of the reproductive health of the target species (basically weighing fish gonads) may give a good indication of what the population cycles will be. Once the population dynamics are understood, legislation could easily be rewritten to tie fishing quotas to these numbers. Tidepool's article points out that this would require some overhead costs for doing the tracking & measuring, but what they didn't mention is that these overhead costs may well be lower than the millions of dollars spent in legal battles between fisheries, environmentalists, and departments of fish & wildlife to change legislation every few years on a species-by-species basis.

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