Call for a National Marine Stock Enhancement Effort

Expanding Responsible Use of Marine Stock Enhancement Technology

Guided by a responsible approach, marine aquaculture technology clearly has strong potential to help replenish depleted wild stocks by releasing offspring spawned from wild parents into the sea (Lorenzen et al., 2010; Leber, in press). This form of fisheries enhancement (restocking and stock enhancement) must be done carefully and responsibly, and is still in research mode. The Science Consortium for Ocean Replenishment (SCORE) is a national partnership of research institutions built around the accepted framework for a responsible approach to marine stock enhancement. SCORE is developing and implementing a powerful tool for US fisheries management to accelerate economic and biological recovery of economically important marine resources. Given the promising results from SCORE research, and from other projects like it, it makes good sense to expand this effort into a larger one to provide more rapid development of this fishery management tool for the US (Leber et al. 2012).

The nation's fisheries reached maximum production levels nearly two decades ago. Current catch trends show a high incidence of fully exploited, overexploited, and depleted fish stocks. The US is a leading consumer of seafood, with record imports exceeding $14 billion in 2007, and a record seafood trade deficit of $10 billion, the highest natural resource deficit next to imported oil.

Fisheries Enhancement and Replenishment, as part of a comprehensive fisheries-management strategy, holds promise for helping increase domestic fish abundance, which will reduce reliance on imports, and decrease the seafood trade deficit. Moreover, this technology will also benefit and help sustain the multi-billion dollar saltwater recreational fishing industry. A national stock enhancement effort would provide important and substantial intangible benefits as well, given that so much can be learned from stocked fishes and invertebrates about critical uncertainties in fisheries management; there would be clear benefits from the new information gained about essential fish habitat and fishery recruitment limitations, which will contribute greater predictability about the effectiveness of habitat restoration and other conventional fisheries management measures. This aspect of fisheries enhancement activities alone would justify the resources needed to further develop this technology.

SCORE currently supports projects in Florida, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Washington that are making significant progress in all fields relevant to successful fishery replenishment. SCORE research will soon be expanded into California. SCORE addresses critical questions about the biological and economic effectiveness of stocking marine organisms, understanding life-history and ecology of wild stocks in their natural habitats, conditions of the receiving waters, spatial and specific habitat requirements and the success from releasing aquacultured juveniles into the sea to recover depleted fisheries. SCORE bridges US federal, state and local fisheries agencies and stakeholder groups and provides a key resource for guidance and training agencies and stakeholders in effective and responsible use of marine fisheries enhancement.

To accelerate development and wise use of fisheries enhancement in the US, this consortium should be expanded to include not only the states currently involved in SCORE, but also states in other coastal regions of the US. Hawaii is a natural extension of the current effort, as much of the technology embodied by SCORE was originally developed there (see our publications page); and agencies and research organizations in several locales in the US have demonstrated clear interest in implementing or expanding marine stock enhancement and restocking technology. SCORE research over the past 10 years has been enabled by public and private funding, with significant financial supporters including NOAA and some state and foundation funding. However, to complete development and effectively demonstrate this emerging technology will require ramping up funding to at least $1,500,000 per state per annum. Scaling up from the current participants in SCORE to a broader national context could be done gradually over the next few years initially costing $12M, then $14 M, and then $18 M to maintain this important effort to develop and integrate responsible marine fisheries enhancement into the fishery-management system in a dozen states in the US.

We can seek now to hasten development of the knowledge, skills and approaches needed to use marine stock enhancement and restocking technology effectively and responsibly by placing greater emphasis on developing this technology nationally. Given the steady and rapid growth of US population size and the value of commercial and sport fishing, aquaculture-based fisheries enhancement is fast becoming a technology for the future. Expanding the pace of responsible development and wise use of fisheries enhancement technology is the kind of bold step that has led rapid progress in technology development in the US. Provide your support now for SCORE R&D and training to provide a bonafide responsible culture-based fisheries tool to add to the fishery-management toolbox in the US now.

Donate for science and responsible development of marine fisheries enhancement. For information on training or how you can help, contact our SCORE home office in the Directorate for Fisheries and Aquaculture at Mote Marine Laboratory.