Benthic Habitats and the Effects of Fishing

Perspectives on an Ethic toward the Sea

Stephen R. Kellert


Abstract. —This paper argues that beyond good science, management technology, and regulatory policies, long-term sustainable fisheries conservation depends on developing an ethic toward the marine environment based on a greatly expanded understanding of human self-interest. This ethic will require the recognition of how human physical and mental well-being relies on a diverse array of values and benefits derived from the marine environment. Conversely, this ethic will necessitate the realization that the degradation of the marine environment inevitably reduces human physical, material, emotional, intellectual, and even moral and spiritual welfare. This ethic of enlightened self-interest derives from far more than a narrow material and economic calculus, also including a greatly expanded notion of utility that emphasizes human dependence on the sea to enhance human creativity, problem solving, intellectual ability, affective capacity, moral understanding, and more. This perspective treats human dependence on the marine environment as rooted in human biology and evolution; as humans evolved, so did their dependence on the marine realm as a source of various adaptive benefits in the struggle to survive as individuals and societies. This human genetic affinity for nature, including the sea, is referred to as biophilia. The notion of biophilia is linked to nine biologically based values that, when adaptively expressed, support an ethic of stewardship for the marine environment. These nine values and their relation to an ethic toward the sea are nonetheless weak genetic tendencies, requiring adequate learning, experience, and cultural support to become functionally and adaptively expressed. An illustration is provided of radically altered values and ethical perspectives toward large cetaceans during the 20th century to indicate how profoundly, effectively, and rapidly an ethic toward aspects of the marine environment can develop under particular historical and cultural circumstances.