Fishing for Solutions

Daniel Pauly
Marine biologist Daniel Pauly discusses shrinking fish sizes in the world's oceans, using this cartoon during his slide presentations to make his point.
Marine biologist Daniel Pauly discusses shrinking fish sizes in the world's oceans, using this cartoon during his slide presentations to make his point.

The Nierenberg Prize

• Named in the honor of the late William (Bill) Nierenberg, Director of SIO, 1965-1986

• Funded by the Nierenberg Family as a legacy project

• Includes a bronze medal and $25,000

By Claire Discenza

Marine biologist Daniel Pauly presented the lecture, “Jellyfish Burgers, or How We Changed the Oceans and Then Changed Us,” at the 11th annual Nierenberg Prize Ceremony on May 9 at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

SIO awards its Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest annually to a person who exemplifies the Scripps mission to extend science to the public. This year, the prize, which includes a bronze medal and $25,000, was awarded to Pauly.

Daniel Pauly

Devoting his work to addressing worldwide threats to fish populations, Pauly has developed widely-acclaimed projects, such as FishBase and SeaLifeBase, online encyclopedias of fish and marine life, with information on more than 132,000 different species. He has created novel software, documented in more than 500 scientific and general-interest publications all over the world, and has written prolifically of the human impacts on fisheries, both in scientific peer-reviewed journals and for the lay audience.

“Pauly warns that modern fishing practices, left unmanaged, will leave little but jellyfish and plankton in the sea for future generations to eat -- a frightening vision of our oceans and our lives,” said SIO Director Tony Haymet during his introductory remarks.

Pauly, putting up a picture of a giant jellyfish hamburger, continued, “We have encouraged life stages of jellyfish with our fishing, so there are jellyfish galore, and so we have to do something about it.”

In his entertaining, but also sobering, Nierenberg lecture, Pauly discussed the grave problems facing the world’s fish populations. Due to climate change, habitat destruction, overfishing and irresponsible fishing practices worldwide, humans have had to travel progressively farther out to sea to fish the remaining smaller, more sparsely populated schools.

“You can calculate when all the fishing boats will be in Antarctica fishing krill, and everything else will be essentially gone,” he said.

“A few countries, actually about a dozen of them, fish the whole world. These countries tend to over-report domestic catch and under-report foreign catch. Chinese fishing vessels catch 500 tons of fish, which was not reported. Really, we are using the Earth very much.”

In the oceans, humans use approximately 30 percent of available marine resources, and this number is only growing. “The fisheries increase at a rate of one million square km per year,” Pauly said. “Four-million square km per year is approximately one Amazon River per year.”

Pauly also explained that through trawling, a common fishing practice where large damaging nets are dragged along the ocean floor, humans are also destroying huge swaths of lush undersea environments. “This transformation from a diverse habitat into mud pit is actually something that is happening on a grand scale,” he said.

Overfishing and damaging fishing practices are encouraged in part by subsidies and current policies. “You subsidize the fishing and what does it do? It builds capacity more. They wipe out the fish, so they make more subsidies,” said Pauly, describing the “vicious cycle.”

Even aquaculture, one supposed solution to fishing problems, has fatal flaws, according to the scientist. “If aquaculture has a future, it’s going to be in small-scale fishing,” he said.