Remaining questions in the case for balanced harvesting

Matthew G Burgess, Florian K Diekert, Nis S Jacobsen, Ken H Andersen and Steven D Gaines


Balanced harvesting – harvesting all species and sizes in an ecosystem in proportion to their productivity – is a fisheries management strategy that has been suggested recently to increase yields, while reducing overall ecosystem impact. However, some aspects of balanced harvesting are controversial, including its call for extensive harvesting of juveniles and forage fish. Balanced harvesting also calls for targeting species and size-classes that are not currently marketable, possibly at a significant economic cost. Some have argued that this cost is outweighed by the ecological benefits of maintaining the ecosystem size and trophic structures and by the benefits of extra yield for food security. There is broad consensus that balanced harvesting would require major changes to fishery management institutions and consumer behaviour, and it is unclear to what extent it is physically possible with current technologies. For this reason, we argue that steps to implement balanced harvesting are difficult to justify until the case for it is more clearly resolved. We outline some of the pivotal questions that must be answered to make a convincing case for or against balanced harvesting, many of which can be answered empirically. In identifying these questions, we hope to offer a constructive path forward in resolving some of the key issues in the balanced harvesting debate.

Article first published online: 24 JUN 2015 in Fish and Fisheries

DOI: 10.1111/faf.12123

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Published Oct. 29, 2015 2:53 PM - Last modified Oct. 29, 2015 2:53 PM