Chapter 7: Regulating Harvest
Daniel A. Isermann and Craig P. Paukert
Humans harvest fish from inland waters for a variety of reasons including consumption, display as trophies, use as bait, feed for cultured fish or livestock, and fertilizer. Harvest is an integral component of many inland fisheries and can have significant impacts on population viability, community interactions, and fishery quality. Consequently, regulating harvest is one of the most common management practices used by natural resource agencies. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of harvest regulations in North America, but they were in use well before the turn of the 20th century. Season closures for some saltwater fisheries were implemented in the 1600s (Redmond 1986), and by the time of the American Revolution numerous statutes were in place regulating the harvest of fishes (see Chapter 1).
Temporal trends in the use of harvest regulations have varied among fisheries (e.g., Redmond 1986; Paukert et al. 2001; Lester et al. 2003). Redmond (1986) suggested there have been three periods in the evolution of harvest regulations for inland fisheries in North America. From 1630 to 1940, regulations progressively changed from very liberal, based on the assumption that fisheries resources were inexhaustible, to more restrictive, in recognition that fisheries were finite. The expanding number of harvest regulations during this era reflected adherence to the concept of maximum sustainable yield (MSY), the prevailing fisheries management paradigm of the early 19th century (see Chapter 1). The primary objective of this management philosophy was to maximize harvest in terms of yield or numbers. In the late 1800s, resource agencies began to recognize that harvest of small fish did not always achieve this objective, and many regulations were implemented to delay harvest until fish had time to reach larger sizes. Furthermore, many agencies began enacting regulations that were designed to allow fish to spawn at least once before being harvested.
From 1940 to 1960, resource agencies recognized that based on population dynamics and the purpose of regulations, more restrictive regulations were not always necessary. Furthermore, many agencies and anglers began to recognize that implementing harvest regulations did not always ensure better fishing. By 1959, 34 states had removed previously established length restrictions on black bass, and by 1967 only 14 states continued to enforce minimum-length restrictions on sport fishes (Redmond 1986).