What is Sustainable Management?

Ken Black

Sustainable management is a resource management technique that seeks to make any harvesting or consumption of natural resources as sustainable as possible. Thus, the main goal is to replenish any resources as fast as they are depleted. While this goal may not be practical, sustainable management can often help prolong the natural resource for as long as possible, such as with fossil fuels. It may be easier to sustain resources that are considered renewable, such as forests and fisheries.

Trees can be a sustainable resource, if managed correctly.
Trees can be a sustainable resource, if managed correctly.

In order to accomplish its goal, sustainable management often looks at two different factors: the rate of consumption and the rate of replenishment. In many cases, the goal is to keep these two factors in equilibrium. In cases where there is a surplus of a resource, consumption outpacing replenishment may be possible. In most cases, this is a very real problem if a surplus does not exist.

Natural resources are anything taken from the earthen environment and used to create goods or services used by individuals.
Natural resources are anything taken from the earthen environment and used to create goods or services used by individuals.

Though consumption often cannot be cut very easily, there are regulations that can promote replenishment. For example, many sustainable management policies require that forest trees be replanted if they are cut down. While this may not be the most ideal situation for the natural environment, it does help lead to a sustainable practice, especially if more than one tree is planted for each tree that is cut down.

In other cases, replenishment is less of an option, and the only sustainable management practice that can be implemented is a consumption or harvest limit. This is often done with fisheries, for example. In this case, as a government tries to sustain or build back up a fish population, catch limits are often imposed. Though not an exact science, catch limits are often very successful at helping to rebuild a species. Still, there is no way to know for sure exactly how many fish may be harvested.

In some cases, there may be a situation where both replenishment and harvesting can be controlled through sustainable management policies. One prime example of this is with freshwater fish species. Many states not only limit the catches of popular sportfish, but also have a program of restocking certain bodies of water.

No matter what strategy is chosen, the practice of sustainable management is funded through a variety of methods. Companies may directly pay for some of it, especially if they are harvesting certain resources, such as trees. User fees also play a role, such as those charged for fishing and hunting licenses. General tax revenue may also account for part of a government's budget for sustainability.

Fishing industry regulations are designed to prevent overfishing and ensure long-term sustainability.
Fishing industry regulations are designed to prevent overfishing and ensure long-term sustainability.

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Discussion Comments


@ ValleyFiah & PelesTears - Although some resource issues will arise from the implementation of stricter regulation on the fishing industry, the long term benefits will offset the short term hardships. The economic impacts of overfishing can be seen in the collapse of the Grand Banks Fishery in the North Atlantic (As ValleyFiah referred to in his/her post).

According to Green Peace, when the Grand Banks Fishery collapsed in 1992, 40,000 people lost their jobs. The Grand Banks Fishery has not fully recovered, due mainly to the fact that the fishery was only closed to cod fishing. Balance was never restored to the ecosystem in the Grand Banks.

Cod are still taken up in nets as bycatch and their ecosystem is not protected, so the species has not had a chance to recuperate. If the regulators would have taken into account the effect the cod had on the other species in the Grand Banks, the resulting industry failure could have been diverted.


@ ValleyFiah - There are some challenges to creating sustainable fisheries management programs. Much opposition is directed towards efforts to restrict fishing in international waters. Most of this opposition comes from residents affected by fishing bans as well as commercial fleets that suffer from lost productivity.

Another challenge to a fishery sustainment plan is that global fish prices will rise. This is especially troublesome when many developing nations rely on the oceans resources for food and economic viability.

I still don't believe this is enough to prevent the need for conservation efforts. If the current overfishing goes on unchecked, the economic impact will be much worse. Some sacrifices will need to be made. To be brutally honest, developed nations will need to pay more for seafood so that less developed nations do not pay overly inflated prices; especially considering more than a billion people receive all of their protein from seafood. People worldwide will need to change their lifestyles, and companies will need to take less of a profit now to sustain profits into the future. Some form of an international taxation/subsidy system will have to be implemented to ensure the economic burden is shared.


There are in fact other options besides catch quotas for sustainable fisheries management. Fisheries management based solely on catch quotas is an outdated way of managing the world seafood. New approaches to fisheries management are being taken all over the world. More has to be done, but the work on sustainable fisheries management has begun.

Current approaches to fisheries management looks at fisheries as distinct ecosystems. Modern fisheries management attempts to understand the effects different population levels of a species have on the entire ecosystem, the dependence of one species on another and the impact of fishing techniques on the local environment. This ecosystems-based fisheries management not only maintains species impacted by fishing, but species ecologically dependent on those species. It also ensures that there is genetic variability amongst the species.

Once the fisheries have been adequately researched programs are put into place that will protect the ecosystems diversity. These can be regulations on fishing techniques, temporary or permanent marine reserves, fishing seasons, and catch quotas. Today's fisheries management systems are much more sophisticated than the systems that were in place when the Grand Banks Fisheries collapsed.

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