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Ancient Hawaiians Caught More By Fishing Less

April 12, 2012

Centuries ago, Hawaiians caught three times more fish annually than scientists generally consider to be sustainable in modern times — and maintained this level of harvest for more than 400 years, researchers report in a new study in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

The findings could be instructive for agencies that enforce fishing limits in overfished waters around the globe.

Native Hawaiians caught about 50 percent more fish than modern fleets catch today in both Hawaii and the Florida Keys, the two largest reef ecosystems in the United States, said a co-author of the study, Loren McClenachan, a fisheries researcher at Colby College in Waterville, Me.

Hawaiians harvested about 15 metric tons of fish per square kilometer of reef annually from the years 1400 to 1800, the study found. That’s five times the median harvest in island nations worldwide today.

How did they do this?

The Hawaiians used many techniques similar to those employed today, like temporary or permanent bans from fishing in certain areas, restrictions on certain species and gear, and catch limits.  But they enforced the rules strictly; breaking them could mean corporal punishment or even death…

Dirk Zeller, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia who was not involved in the study, said that the conclusion made  sense: Hawaiians were able to maintain such high levels because their fishing activities were so well managed and focused on a  variety of different species, he said. They also left well enough alone, regularly outlawing fishing in spawning grounds and other areas to allow populations to regenerate, Dr. Zeller said.

More here.

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