From Science 26 October 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6106 pp. 474-475
The Risks of Overfishing
On page 517 of this issue, Costello et al. paint a dismal picture of the state of the world's fisheries. The authors report that globally, the vast majority of exploited fish populations have been depleted to abundance levels well below those recommended by conventional management guidance. Of even greater concern, most species are on a continuing trajectory of decline. These insights were gleaned from analyses of data from previously unassessed fish populations. These poorly understood fisheries, which represent about 80% of the world's fish catch, are in much worse shape than the relatively well-studied fisheries on which previous global status reviews have relied...
On the basis of these and other observations, the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force recommended that catches of many forage fish species be cut in half relative to conventional guidance, and that no new forage fish fisheries should be instituted in low-information circumstances.
Dayton argued for a shift in the burden of proof for fisheries management decisions, in line with that applied in other natural resource and human health and safety policy arenas. This shift in the burden of proof would require demonstration of no serious impact before fishing could proceed. It is justified not least because the risks of continuing fishing when it results in serious negative consequences are generally much greater than the risks of curtailing fishing when it does not have a deleterious impact.