A fishery (plural: fisheries) is an organized effort by humans to catch fish or other aquatic species, an activity known as fishing. Generally, a fishery exists for the purpose of providing human food, although other aims are possible (such as sport or recreational fishing), or obtaining ornamental fish or fish products such as fish oil. Industrial fisheries are fisheries where the catch is not intended for direct human consumption.
Regardless of purpose, however, the term fishery generally refers to a fishing effort centered on either a particular ecoregion or a particular species or type of fish or aquatic animal, and usually fisheries are differentiated by both criteria. Examples would be the salmon fishery of Alaska, the cod fishery off the Lofoten islands or the tuna fishery of the Eastern Pacific. Most fisheries are marine, rather than freshwater; most marine fisheries are based near the coast. This is not only because harvesting from relatively shallow waters is easier than in the open ocean, but also because fish are much more abundant near the coastal shelf, due to coastal upwelling and the abundance of nutrients available there.
Egyptians bringing in fish, and splitting for salting
Fisheries have been important parts of human life and food production throughout history. Fisheries have become a part of human cultures and mythologies, providing a community identity and a subject for artists throughout the ages. Partially, this is because fisheries are irretrievably wrapped up in humanity’s perpetual fascination with the sea, and partially, because they have been a major source of food and income for many communities throughout the ages. One of the world’s longest lasting trade histories is the trade of dry cod from the Lofoten area to the southern parts of Europe, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The cod trading started during the viking period or before, has been going on for more than 1000 years and is still important.
Fisheries in the present day
Fishing boat deck with white hake, 1936
Today, fisheries are estimated to provide 16% of the world population's protein, and that figure is considerably elevated in some developing nations and in regions that depend heavily on the sea. Fisheries are a huge global business and provide income for millions of people. Fisheries have been and continue to be culturally important for many communities as well.
According to The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2002 (published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), in 2000, total world capture fisheries production was 86 million tons. The top producing countries were, in order, the People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan), Peru, Japan, the United States, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, India, Thailand, Norway and Iceland. Those countries accounted for more than half of the world's production; China alone accounted for a third of the world's production. Of that production, over 90% was marine and less than 10% was inland.
Fishing methods vary according to the region, the species being fished for, and the amount of income and technology available to the fisher. A fishery can consist of one man with a small boat hand-casting nets, to a huge fleet of trawlers processing tons of fish per day. Some common commercial techniques today are trawling, seining, driftnetting, handlining, longlining, gillnetting, and diving.
Fisheries and communities
For some communities, both currently and historically, fisheries provide not only a source of food and work but also a community and cultural identity.  (http://www.icsf.net)]
Salmon Fishery in Puget Sound, WA., no date
This shows up in art, literature, and traditions. These communities are generally those that have been historically dependent on fishing as a source of income and food.
Important global fisheries
There are large and important fisheries worldwide for various species of fish, mollusks and crustaceans. However, a very small number of species support the majority of the world’s fisheries. Some of these species are herring, cod, anchovy, tuna, flounder, mullet, squid, shrimp, salmon, crab, lobster, oyster and scallops. All except these last four provided a worldwide catch of well over a million tonnes in 1999, with herring and sardines together providing a catch of over 22 million metric tons in 1999. Many other species as well are fished in smaller numbers, both locally and globally.
Fisheries science is the academic discipline of managing and understanding fisheries. It draws on the disciplines of biology, ecology, oceanography, economics and management to attempt to provide an integrated picture of fisheries. It is typically taught in a university setting, and can be the focus of an undergraduate, master's or Ph.D. program. It is in universities worldwide, usually organised as multidisciplinary programs involving parts of traditional university disciplines. In some cases new disciplines have emerged, as in the case of bioeconomics. A few universities also offer fully integrated programs in fisheries science.
See also: International Council for the Exploration of the Sea
Important issues and topics in fisheries
Considering the importance of fisheries, and that they depend on a natural resource, it is no surprise that there are many pressing environmental issues surrounding them. These can be classed into issues that involve the availability of fish to be caught, such as overfishing, sustainable fisheries, and fisheries management; and issues surrounding the impact of fishing on the environment, such by-catch. These fishery conservation issues are generally considered part of marine conservation, and many of these issues are addressed in fisheries science programs. They are also, however, controversial. There is an apparent and growing disparity between the availability of fish to be caught and humanity’s desire to catch them, a problem that is exacerbated by the rapidly growing worldwide population. As with some other environmental issues, often the people engaged in the activity of fishing – the fishers – and the scientists who study fisheries science, who are often acting as fishery managers, are in conflict with each other, as the dictates of economics mean that fishers have to keep fishing for their livelihood, but the dictates of sustainable science mean that some fisheries must close or reduce to protect the health of the population of the fish themselves. It is starting to be realized, however, that these two camps must work together to ensure fishery health through the 21st century and beyond.
For further information
The literature on fisheries—both scientific and popular—is vast. The literature is subdivided into dozens of topics, from fishing gear design, to the impact of fish biology and oceanography on fisheries, to how to most effectively manage fisheries. Some good places to start are the websites of fisheries science departments and the catalogs of university library. Some well known journals about fisheries are Fisheries, Fisheries Oceanography, Fishery Bulletin, and The Canadian Journal of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. In addition, many countries have their own regional journals.
- Castro, P. and M. Huber. 2003. Marine Biology. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.
- first picture from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA): http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/history/
- Next two pictures from the Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, University of Washington, Seattle