Revisiting Leopold’s Land Ethic for Global Fisheries Sustainability: Thinking Like a Fish
Katrina B. Mueller and William W. Taylor
Throughout history, human societies have been closely linked to fish and associated water bodies that dictate fish abundances, community structure, and fisheries productivity. As described in this book, fish have influenced and continue to influence human settlement patterns, drive trade, supply critical food sources, offer recreational opportunities, and provide a source of income for both inland and coastal human communities. Fish are also extraordinary sentinels of ecosystem and societal resiliency—changes in their community structure and production dynamics can alert us to unsustainable human activities occurring at both local and global scales.
Despite these interdependencies, motivation to sustain the worldwide network of extremely diverse and regionally distinct fish communities has been shrinking for many centuries throughout much of the world. In part, this is a function of human communities’ shift in dependency from local to distant fisheries and subsequent loss of awareness of both local and global carrying capacities. Reliance on distant places to supply sources of sustenance and maintain or enhance a certain quality of life will continue as long as the carrying capacities of local landscapes are exceeded or exotic resources sought for economic and cultural reasons. Societies dependent upon the importation of resources, along with those societies that supply distant places with locally available resources, put the resiliency of local human and natural systems at risk in exchange for immediate enhancements in their own standards of living. As this global exchange occurs, the supplying societies also become increasingly reliant on distant resources.
This cycle is a trap in that it distances human links in the global fishery supply chain from their effects on the conservation and sustainability of fisheries resources and associated habitats. This disconnect decreases our ability to immediately recognize the true social and ecological costs of our actions and, in so doing, allows us to borrow from the future as we slowly bankrupt the world’s fisheries. This book has aptly demonstrated through case studies of fisheries throughout the world that this can ultimately lead to unintended and oftentimes undesirable ecological and social changes that, while challenging to prevent, can be even more difficult, if not impossible, to reverse (Box 1).