By Dr. Ambrose Jearld, Jr., Fisheries Biologist, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA

As Rich sails across the world’s oceans he may see occasional sharks or whales, but he will not see the thousands of fish species living in the waters far beneath his boat — many of them species that you and I eat for dinner. Fish is a growing source of food for people around the world, but as more people eat fish and the technology to locate and catch them improves, many species have been depleted (or are being depleted) by overfishing, climate change, and other factors.

We want to be able to keep eating fish, but we won’t have enough for the future unless we allow depleted fish populations to rebuild and grow, and unless we keep other populations at healthy levels.

The good news is that fish are a renewable resource, and they can naturally replenish their populations if the right management measures are put in place. As scientists we try to understand basic biological questions like how does each species of fish grow and reproduce, but we also need to know how the environment or ecosystem in which the fish live affects its behavior and life cycle. This way of looking at the whole picture (and not just the fish) is called ecosystem-based management, and it is being put into practice in many parts of the world. A number of depleted fish populations are recovering, but we have a lot more work to do.