We Are the Apex Predators
James L. Anderson
People entering the fisheries science and management profession generally love fish. Some love their intrinsic beauty, some love to eat them, some love to catch them, and some are captivated by complexity of the aquatic systems and fundamental importance of healthy rivers, lakes, and oceans to life itself. I am one of them. When I was a kid, the first big thing I ever bought with my own money was a fishing rod. I had seven fish tanks, I worked in a tropical fish store, and I never missed a Jacques Cousteau documentary. I wanted then, and still do now, to conserve fishery resources and ecosystems. There are many of us with the same motivation. We teach fisheries sciences, work in environmental organizations, and dominate the bureaucracy around fisheries management. However, many who are engaged in fisheries management realize late in their career that they are often not well trained to do their job.
There are many important problems facing fisheries, such as overfishing, habitat loss, postharvest waste, pollution externalities, fraud, illegal fishing, and invasive species. However, the core source of these problems has a simple origin. We have a fisheries problem because we eat fish; we live and work in habitat that is essential for fish to grow; and under open access, we will ultimately overharvest this limited resource, deplete the stocks, and make little net economic return. In order to manage this complex system, we need to understand more than fish biology. We need to understand the dynamic behavior of the organisms in the system, including the apex predators, and we are the apex predator. We dominate any species, and we can modify essentially any habitat. If fisheries managers do not understand the apex predator’s behavior, they have little hope of managing the system. The apex predator is an economic, global, and innovative animal. Therefore, the question is not how to manage fish, but how to manage the apex predator—people. All fisheries scientists must understand fish and ecology, but fishery managers need to manage people and their behavior.