There is good news about the world’s oceans. It comes from University of Washington researchers and the journal “Nature Sustainability.” A new scientific article in the journal begins, “Well-designed management systems can improve environmental outcomes of renewable resources.” The subject, specifically, is our ability to replenish stocks in the many places around the world that have been overfished.

In a nutshell, managing fisheries — with rebuilding plans that can include limiting take where fish stocks are depleting — actually works. That may sound obvious, but many who make their living harvesting from the sea often wonder whether do-good government agencies are really making a dent in a problem that doesn’t respect national borders or merely writing regulations for the exercise. Now there is science to back up the efficacy of sustainability efforts like those we see off the coast of California.

The research was rigorous and looked at 600 fish stocks around the world. One of the case studies involved groundfish off the West Coast that were declared overfished or depleted in 1999. Since then, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has mandated changes to fishing gear, closed some areas to fishing, limited take elsewhere and closely monitored its rebuilding plan. The result is that 9 of 10 groundfish stocks under the council purview have been successfully rebuilt. The council also manages salmon stocks and consults with the states on Dungeness crab rules.

You might think, given climate change and the state of the world generally, that the world’s fish stocks are troubled generally. That is certainly the cases in specific instances, but not everywhere. In fact, about half of the world’s stocks are scientifically monitored, and most of those are increasing in abundance, according to the Pacific management council. That is good news in a troubled world, where much of the food supply will be disrupted by climate change.

Fishermen (and fish eaters) sometimes grouse about regulation that can appear abstract above the water’s surface but is crucial to what’s going on down below. Now there is evidence that their restraint and sustainable practice are paying off.

— Clay Lambert

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