Unplanned ecological engineering

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Fisheries can double the production of protein and revenue by abandoning current single-species management. This provocative prediction is the implication of the work in PNAS by Szuwalski et al. (1). Using the East China Sea as a case, they show how an indiscriminate fishery can support unexpectedly large catches by removing predators from the ecosystem. Such ecosystem engineering stands in stark contrast to reigning management paradigms that do not allow fishing down predators to increase the productivity of their prey.

The theoretical support for such a feat of ecosystem engineering is well developed (2, 3). Trusting the Chinese catch statistics, Szuwalski et al. (1) provide empirical evidence that theory may be turned into practice. But their work is more than “just another fisheries paper;” it underscores highly controversial issues about the unavoidable trade-offs in managing fisheries and ecosystems. If we narrowly consider food security, maximizing fisheries catch from the ecosystem is a “no-brainer,” but from a conservation point of view, the loss of biodiversity in the East China Sea may seem like Aquacalypse come true (4). Can we really double fisheries’ production by turning the oceans into mega-scale mariculture operations? Is it what we want?
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)634-635
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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