Wild fisheries

Wild fisheries

A fishery is an area with an associated fish or aquatic population which is harvested for its commercial value. Fisheries can be marine (saltwater) or freshwater. They can also be wild or farmed. This article is an overview of the habitats occupied by the worlds' wild fisheries, and the human impacts on those habitats.

Wild fisheries are sometimes called capture fisheries. The aquatic life they support is not controlled and needs to be "captured" or fished. Wild fisheries exist primarily in the oceans, and particularly around coasts and continental shelves. They also exist in lakes and rivers. Issues with wild fisheries are overfishing and pollution. Significant wild fisheries have collapsed or are in danger of collapsing, due to overfishing and pollution. Overall, production from the world's wild fisheries has levelled out, and may be starting to decline.

As a contrast to wild fisheries, farmed fisheries can operate in sheltered coastal waters, in rivers, lakes and ponds, or in enclosed bodies of water such as tanks. Farmed fisheries are technological in nature, and revolve around developments in aquaculture. Farmed fisheries are expanding, and Chinese aquaculture in particular is making many advances.

Marine fisheries


Gyres and upwelling


Coral reefs


Freshwater fisheries


Freshwater lakes in the world have an area of 1.5 million square kilometres. [Shiklomanov, I A, (1993) "World fresh water resources" in Glick, P H, ed., Water in Crisis: Oxford University Press, p 13-24.] Including saline inland seas in this total adds another 1.0 million square kilometres. [ [O'Sullivan, Patrick E and Reynolds, Colin S (2005) [http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=yq1dmAochIEC&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=total+area+of+all+the+lakes+in+the+world&source=web&ots=cyXeEYG-O-&sig=kZW28CBILCmne-jPnmhQRgMTUVk&hl=en "The Lakes Handbook."] Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0632047976] There are 28 freshwater lakes with an area greater than 5,000 square kilometres, totalling 1.18 million square kilometres or 79 percent of the total. [ [http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-0058-99/ U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS-058-99] ]



Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into an environment. Wild fisheries flourish in oceans, lakes, and rivers, and the introduction of contaminants is an issue of concern, especially as regards plastics, pesticides, heavy metals, and other industrial and agricultural pollutants which do not disintegrate rapidly in the environment. Land run-off and industrial, agricultural, and domestic waste enter rivers and are discharged into the sea. Pollution from ships is also a problem.

Plastic waste

Marine debris is human-created waste that ends up floating in the sea. Oceanic debris tends to accumulate at the centre of gyres and coastlines, frequently washing aground where it is known as beach litter. Eighty percent of all known marine debris is plastic - a component that has been rapidly accumulating since the end of World War II.cite book |author=Alan Weisman |title=The World Without Us |year=2007 |publisher=St. Martin's Thomas Dunne Books |isbn=0312347294 ] Plastics accumulate because they don't biodegrade as many other substances do; while they will photodegrade on exposure to the sun, they do so only under dry conditions, as water inhibits this process. [cite web |url=http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/270/ |title=Polymers Are Forever |accessdate=2008-07-01 |date=Summer 2007 |author=Alan Weisman |publisher=Orion magazine ]

Discarded plastic bags, six pack rings and other forms of plastic waste which finish up in the ocean present dangers to wildlife and fisheries. [http://www.algalita.org/pelagic_plastic_mov.html] Aquatic life can be threatened through entanglement, suffocation, and ingestion. [http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/publications/docs/anl_oview.pdf] [ [http://www.helpwildlife.com/sixpackring.html Six pack rings hazard to wildlife] ] [ [http://www.seagrantfish.lsu.edu/resources/factsheets/litter_mess.htm Louisiana Fisheries - Fact Sheets] ]

Nurdles, also known as mermaids' tears, are plastic pellets typically under five millimetres in diameter, and are a major contributor to marine debris. They are used as a raw material in plastics manufacturing, and are thought to enter the natural environment after accidental spillages. Nurdles are also created through the physical weathering of larger plastic debris. They strongly resemble fish eggs, only instead of finding a nutritious meal, any marine wildlife that ingests them will likely starve, be poisoned and die. [cite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6218698.stm |title=Plastics 'poisoning world's seas' |accessdate=2008-04-01 |date=7 December 2006 |publisher=BBC News ]

Many animals that live on or in the sea consume flotsam by mistake, as it often looks similar to their natural prey. [cite web |url=http://www.pulitzer.org/year/2007/explanatory-reporting/works/oceans04.html |title=Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas |accessdate=2008-04-01 |date=2 August 2006 |author=Kenneth R. Weiss |publisher=Los Angeles Times ] Plastic debris, when bulky or tangled, is difficult to pass, and may become permanently lodged in the digestive tracts of these animals, blocking the passage of food and causing death through starvation or infection. [cite web |url=http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/1103/1103_feature.html |title=Across the Pacific Ocean, plastics, plastics, everywhere. |accessdate=2008-04-05 |date=November 2003 |author=Charles Moore |publisher=Natural History ] Tiny floating particles also resemble zooplankton, which can lead filter feeders to consume them and cause them to enter the ocean food chain. In samples taken from the North Pacific Gyre in 1999 by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, the mass of plastic exceeded that of zooplankton by a factor of six.cite web |url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVwuPSLx2Xc |title=Plastics and Marine Debris |accessdate=2008-07-01 |date=2006 |publisher=Algalita Marine Research Foundation ] More recently, reports have surfaced that there may now be 30 times more plastic than plankton, the most abundant form of life in the ocean. [cite web |url=http://nonurdles.com/?page_id=23 |title=Learn |accessdate=2008-04-05 |publisher=NoNurdles.com ]

Toxic additives used in the manufacture of plastic materials can out into their surroundings when exposed to water. Waterborne hydrophobic pollutants collect and magnify on the surface of plastic debris,cite web |url=http://www.algalita.org/pdf/PLASTIC%20DEBRIS%20ENGLISH.pdf |title=Plastic Debris: from Rivers to Sea |accessdate=2008-05-29 |publisher=Algalita Marine Research Foundation |format=PDF] thus making plastic far more deadly in the ocean than it would be on land. Hydrophobic contaminants are also known to bioaccumulate in fatty tissues, biomagnifying up the food chain and putting great pressure on apex predators. Some plastic additives are known to disrupt the endocrine system when consumed, others can suppress the immune system or decrease reproductive rates.


Apart from plastics, there are particular problems with other toxins which do not disintegrate rapidly in the marine environment. Heavy metals are metallic chemical elements that have a relatively high density and are toxic or poisonous at low concentrations. Examples are mercury, lead, nickel, arsenic and cadmium. Other persistent toxins are PCBs, DDT, pesticides, furans, dioxins and phenols.

Such toxins can accumulate in the tissues of many species of aquatic life in a process called bioaccumulation. They are also known to accumulate in benthic environments, such as estuaries and bay muds: a geological record of human activities of the last century.

Some specific examples are
* Chinese and Russian industrial pollution such as phenols and heavy metals in the Amur River have devastated fish stocks and damaged its estuary soil. [ [http://www.npolar.no/ansipra/english/Indexpages/Ethnic_groups.html#19 "Indigenous Peoples of the Russian North, Siberia and Far East: Nivkh" ] by Arctic Network for the Support of the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Arctic] ]

* Wabamun Lake in Alberta, Canada, once the best whitefish lake in the area, now has unacceptable levels of heavy metals in its sediment and fish.

* Acute and chronic pollution events have been shown to impact southern California kelp forests, though the intensity of the impact seems to depend on both the nature of the contaminants and duration of exposure. [Grigg, R.W. and R.S. Kiwala. 1970. Some ecological effects of discharged wastes on marine life. California Department of Fish and Game 56: 145-155.] [Stull, J.K. 1989. Contaminants in sediments near a major marine outfall: history, effects and future. OCEANS ’89 Proceedings 2: 481-484.] [North, W.J., D.E. James and L.G. Jones. 1993. History of kelp beds ("Macrocystis") in Orange and San Diego Counties, California. Hydrobiologia 260/261: 277-283.] [Tegner, M.J., P.K. Dayton, P.B. Edwards, K.L. Riser, D.B. Chadwick, T.A. Dean and L. Deysher. 1995. Effects of a large sewage spill on a kelp forest community: catastrophe or disturbance? Marine Environmental Research 40: 181-224.] [Carpenter, S.R., R.F. Caraco, D.F. Cornell, R.W. Howarth, A.N. Sharpley and V.N. Smith. 1998. Nonpoint pollution of surface waters with phosphorus and nitrogen. Ecological Applications 8: 559-568.]

* Due to their high position in the food chain and the subsequent accumulation of heavy metals from their diet, mercury levels can be high in larger species such as bluefin and albacore. As a result, in March 2004 the United States FDA issued guidelines recommending that pregnant women, nursing mothers and children limit their intake of tuna and other types of predatory fish. [cite web | title = What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish | url = http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html | date = 2004-03 | accessdate = 2007-05-19]

* Some shellfish and crabs can survive polluted environments, accumulating heavy metals or toxins in their tissues. For example, mitten crabs have a remarkable ability to survive in highly modified aquatic habitats, including polluted waters.cite web |url=http://www.issg.org/database/species/ecology.asp?si=38&fr=1&sts= |title=Ecology of "Eriocheir sinensis" |author=Stephen Gollasch |date=2006-03-03] The farming and harvesting of such species needs careful management if they are to be used as a food.cite journal
last = Hui
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authorlink =
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title = Mercury burdens in Chinese mitten crabs (Eriocheir sinensis) in three tributaries of southern San Francisco Bay, California, USA
journal = Environmental Pollution
volume = 133
issue = 3
pages = 481–487
publisher = Elsevier
location =
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id =
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] cite journal
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title = Uptake of cadmium through isolated perfused gills of the Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis
journal = Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology
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pages = 189–196
publisher = Elsevier
location =
date = 2004
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* Mining has a poor environmental track record. For example, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, mining has contaminated portions of the headwaters of over 40% of watersheds in the western continental US. [cite web
last = Environmental Protection Agency
title = Liquid Assets 2000: Americans Pay for Dirty Water
accessdate = 2007-01-23
] Much of this pollution finishes up in the sea.

* Heavy metals enter the environment through oil spills - such as the Prestige oil spill on the Galician coast - or from other natural or anthropogenic sources. [Perez-Lopez "et al." (2006)]


Eutrophication is an increase in chemical nutrients, typically compounds containing nitrogen or phosphorus, in an ecosystem. It can result in an increase in the ecosystem's primary productivity (excessive plant growth and decay), and further effects including lack of oxygen and severe reductions in water quality, fish, and other animal populations.

The biggest culprit are rivers that empty into the ocean, and with it the many chemicals used as fertilizers in agriculture as well as waste from livestock and humans. An excess of oxygen depleting chemicals in the water can lead to hypoxia and the creation of a dead zone. [Gerlach: Marine Pollution, Springer, Berlin (1975)]

Surveys have shown that 54% of lakes in Asia are eutrophic; in Europe, 53%; in North America, 48%; in South America, 41%; and in Africa, 28%.ILEC/Lake Biwa Research Institute [Eds] . 1988-1993 Survey of the State of the World's Lakes. Volumes I-IV. International Lake Environment Committee, Otsu and United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.] Estuaries also tend to be naturally eutrophic because land-derived nutrients are concentrated where run-off enters the marine environment in a confined channel. The World Resources Institute has identified 375 hypoxic coastal zones around the world, concentrated in coastal areas in Western Europe, the Eastern and Southern coasts of the US, and East Asia, particularly in Japan. [ Selman, Mindy (2007) "Eutrophication: An Overview of Status, Trends, Policies, and Strategies." World Resources Institute.] In the ocean, there are frequent red tide algae blooms [cite web
title=The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone and Red Tides
] that kill fish and marine mammals and cause respiratory problems in humans and some domestic animals when the blooms reach close to shore.

In addition to land runoff, atmospheric anthropogenic fixed nitrogen can enter the open ocean. A study in 2008 found that this could account for around one third of the ocean’s external (non-recycled) nitrogen supply and up to three per cent of the annual new marine biological production. [Duce, R A and 29 others (2008) "Impacts of Atmospheric Anthropogenic Nitrogen on the Open Ocean" Science. Vol 320, pp 893–89] It has been been suggested that accumulating reactive nitrogen in the environment may have consequences as serious as putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. [ [http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-05/uov-at051208.php "Addressing the nitrogen cascade"] Eureka Alert, 2008.]


The oceans are normally a natural carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Because the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are increasing, the oceans are becoming more acidic.cite journal|last=Orr|first=James C.|coauthors=Fabry, Victoria J.; Aumont, Olivier; Bopp, Laurent; Doney, Scott C.; Feely, Richard A. "et al."|year=2005|title=Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact on calcifying organisms|url=http://www.ipsl.jussieu.fr/~jomce/acidification/paper/Orr_OnlineNature04095.pdf| journal=Nature|issn=0028-0836|volume=437|issue=7059|pages=681–686|doi=10.1038/nature04095] cite journal|last=Key|first=R.M.|coauthors=Kozyr, A.; Sabine, C.L.; Lee, K.; Wanninkhof, R.; Bullister, J.; Feely, R.A.; Millero, F.; Mordy, C. and Peng, T.-H.|year=2004|title=A global ocean carbon climatology: Results from GLODAP|url=|journal=Global Biogeochemical Cycles|issn=0886-6236|volume=18|issue=|pages=GB4031|doi=10.1029/2004GB002247] The potential consequences of ocean acidification are not fully understood, but there are concerns that structures made of calcium carbonate may become vulnerable to dissolution, affecting corals and the ability of shellfish to form shells.Raven, J. A. "et al." (2005). [http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/displaypagedoc.asp?id=13314 Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.] Royal Society, London, UK.] .

A report from NOAA scientists published in the journal Science in May 2008 found that large amounts of relatively acidified water are upwelling to within four miles of the Pacific continental shelf area of North America. This area is a critical zone where most local marine life lives or is born. While the paper dealt only with areas from Vancouver to northern California, other continental shelf areas may be experiencing similar effects.cite journal| journal=Science | year=2008 | volume=10 | last=Feely | first=Richard | coauthors=Christopher L. Sabine, J. Martin Hernandez-Ayon, Debby Ianson, Burke Hales. | title=Evidence for Upwelling of Corrosive "Acidified" Seawater onto the Continental Shelf]

Effects of fishing

Habitat destruction

Fishing nets that have been left or lost in the ocean by fishermen are called ghost nets, and can entangle fish, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, dugongs, crocodiles, seabirds, crabs, and other creatures. Acting as designed, these nets restrict movement, causing starvation, laceration and infection, and—in those that need to return to the surface to breath—suffocation. [cite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/highlands_and_islands/6248366.stm |title='Ghost fishing' killing seabirds |accessdate=2008-04-01 |date=28 June 2007 |publisher=BBC News ]


Some specific examples of overfishing.

* On the east coast of the United States, the availability of bay scallops has been greatly diminished by the overfishing of sharks in the area. A variety of sharks have, until recently, fed on rays, which are a main predator of bay scallops. With the shark population reduced, in some places almost totally, the rays have been free to dine on scallops to the point of greatly decreasing their numbers.

* Chesapeake Bay's once-flourishing oyster populations historically filtered the estuary's entire water volume of excess nutrients every three or four days. Today that process takes almost a year, [cite web|url=http://habitat.noaa.gov/restorationtechniques/public/habitat.cfm?HabitatID=2&HabitatTopicID=11|title=Oyster Reefs: Ecological importance|publisher=US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration |accessdate=2008-01-16] and sediment, nutrients, and algae can cause problems in local waters. Oysters filter these pollutants, and either eat them or shape them into small packets that are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless.

* The Australian government alleged in 2006 that Japan illegally overfished southern bluefin tuna by taking 12,000 to 20,000 tonnes per year instead of the their agreed 6,000 tonnes; the value of such overfishing would be as much as USD $2 billion. Such overfishing has resulted in severe damage to stocks. "Japan's huge appetite for tuna will take the most sought-after stocks to the brink of commercial extinction unless fisheries agree on more rigid quotas" stated the WWF. [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/jan/22/japan.conservationandendangeredspecies Japan warned tuna stocks face extinction] Justin McCurry, guardian.co.uk, Monday January 22 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-02.] [ [http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/japanese-accused-of-2bn-tuna-fraud/2006/08/11/1154803098670.html] ] Japan disputes this figure, but acknowledges that some overfishing has occurred in the past. [ [http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/10/16/asia/AS_GEN_Japan_Tuna_Fishing.php] ]

* Jackson, Jeremy B C et al. (2001) [http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/293/5530/629 "Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems"] Science 293:629-638.

Threatened species

The global standard for recording threatened marine species is the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. [ [http://www.iucnredlist.org/static/introduction The 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species] This list is the foundation for marine conservation priorities worldwide. A species is listed in the threatened category if it is considered to be critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable. Other categories are near threatened and data deficient.


Many marine species are under increasing risk of extinction and marine biodiversity is undergoing potentially irreversible loss due to threats such as overfishing, bycatch, climate change, invasive species and coastal development. By 2008, the IUCN had assessed about 3,000 marine species. This includes assessments of known species of shark, ray, chimaera, reef-building coral, grouper, marine turtle, seabird, and marine mammal. Almost one-quarter (22%) of these groups have been listed as threatened.IUCN: [http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/status_of_the_world_s_marine_species.pdf Status of the world's marine species] ]

* Sharks, rays, and chimaeras: are deep water pelagic species, which makes them difficult to study in the wild. Not a lot is known about their ecology and population status. Much of what is currently known is from their capture in nets from both targeted and accidental catch. Many of these slow growing species are not recovering from overfishing by shark fisheries around the world.

* Groupers: Major threats are overfishing, particularly the uncontrolled fishing of small juveniles and spawning adults.

* Coral reefs: The primary threats to corals are bleaching and disease which has been linked to an increase in sea temperatures. Other threats include coastal development, coral extraction, sedimentation and pollution. The coral triangle (Indo-Malay-Philippine archipelago) region has the highest number of reef-building coral species in threatened category as well as the highest coral species diversity. The loss of coral reef ecosystems will have devastating effects on many marine species, as well as on people that depend on reef resources for their livelihoods.

* Marine mammals: include whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, walruses, sea otter, marine otter, manatees, dugong and the polar bear. Major threats include entanglement in ghost nets, targeted harvesting, noise pollution from military and seismic sonar, and boat strikes. Other threats are water pollution, habitat loss from coastal development, loss of food sources due to the collapse of fisheries, and climate change.

* Seabirds: Major threats include longline fisheries and gillnets, oil spills, and predation by rodents and cats in their breeding grounds. Other threats are habitat loss and degradation from coastal development, logging and pollution.

* Marine turtles: Marine turtles lay their eggs on beaches, and are subject to threats such as coastal development, sand mining, and predators, including humans who collect their eggs for food in many parts of the world. At sea, marine turtles can be targeted by small scale subsistence fisheries, or become bycatch during longline and trawling activities, or become entangled in ghost nets or struck by boats.

An ambitious project, called the Global Marine Species Assessment, is under way to make IUCN Red List assessments for another 17,000 marine species by 2012. Groups targeted include the approximately 15,000 known marine fishes, and important habitat-forming primary producers such mangroves, seagrasses, certain seaweeds and the remaining corals; and important invertebrate groups including molluscs and
echinoderms. IUCN: [http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/status_of_the_world_s_marine_species_factsheet_en.pdf Status of the world's marine species factsheet] ]


Freshwater fisheries have a disproportionately high diversity of species compared to other ecosystems. Although freshwater habitats cover less than 1% of the world’s surface, they provide a home for over 25% of known vertebrates, more than 126,000 known animal species, about 24,800 species of freshwater fish,
molluscs, crabs and dragonflies, and about 2,600 macrophytes.IUCN: [http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/freshwater_biodiversity_a_hidden_resource_under_threat_factsheet_en.pdf Freshwater biodiversity a hidden resource under threat factsheet] ]

Continuing industrial and agricultural developments place huge strain on these freshwater systems. Waters are polluted or extracted at high levels, wetlands are drained, rivers channelled, forests deforestated leading to sedimentation, invasive species are introduced, and over-harvesting occurs.

In the 2008 IUCN Red List, about 6,000 or 22% of the known freshwater species have been assessed at a global scale, leaving about 21,000 species still to be assessed. This makes clear that, worldwide, freshwater species are highly threatened, possibly more so than species in marine fisheries. [IUCN: [http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/freshwater_biodiversity_a_hidden_resource_under_threat.pdf Freshwater biodiversity a hidden resource under threat] ] However, a significant proportion of freshwater species are listed as data deficient, and more field surveys are needed.

Fisheries management

A recent paper published by the National Academy of Sciences of the USA warns that: "Synergistic effects of habitat destruction, overfishing, introduced species, warming, acidification, toxins, and massive runoff of nutrients are transforming once complex ecosystems like coral reefs and kelp forests into monotonous level bottoms, transforming clear and productive coastal seas into anoxic dead zones, and transforming complex food webs topped by big animals into simplified, microbially dominated ecosystems with boom and bust cycles of toxic dinoflagellate blooms, jellyfish, and disease". [Jackson, Jeremy B C (2008) [http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/08/08/0802812105.full.pdf+html "Ecological extinction and evolution in the brave new ocean"] Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.]

ee also

* Ocean fisheries
* World fish production
* Fishing by country
* Population dynamics of fisheries



* World Ocean Atlas (2005) [http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/WOA05/pubwoa05.html "World ocean databasee."] Retrieved 19 April 2008.
* The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (2007) [http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/sci/A0860097.html "The World Ocean."] Retrieved 19 April 2008.
* Jacques, Peter (2006) [http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=eKrht90OBtAC&pg=PA17&dq=FAO+%22Recreational+fishing%22&source=gbs_toc_s&cad=1&sig=ACfU3U1AdF42qXFvFMAZnvZGh-zjrlZ3fQ "Globalization and the world ocean"] Rowman Altamira. ISBN 0759105855
* Pauly, Daniel; Watson, Reg and Alder, Jackie (2005) [http://journals.royalsociety.org/content/lm3ap4275xqebeyq/fulltext.pdf "Global trends in world fisheries: impacts on marine ecosystems and food security"] Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, Volume 360, Number 1453.

External links

* International Nitrogen Initiative: [http://www.initrogen.org/ Web site]
* [http://earthtrends.wri.org/maps_spatial/maps_detail_static.php?map_select=196&theme=1 Population Distribution within 100 km of Coastlines] (2000) World Resources Institute.
* NOAA: [http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/research/themes/carbon/ "Carbon cycle science"]

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