Several of the world's fisheries have recently experienced significant reductions in stock sizes and associated harvest levels. No single factor lies behind this, with explanations ranging from naturally occurring events (e.g., El Nino) to habitat degradation (e.g., pollution of rivers and estuaries). "Overfishing" is often cited as a significant contributor, although there is disagreement on both the role of this factor and its definition.
Nonetheless, it is clear that human decisionmaking must accept some; responsibility for this state of affairs in our marine fisheries. Indeed, mankind is a major predator of many fish stocks. This suggests that policies designed to redirect decisionmaking may address the problem. In fact, since the implementation of the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act in 1977, considerable attention has been directed to the development of policies that will increase the benefits of U.S. fisheries on a longterm basis. Such benefits have an economic component, a fact that is becoming increasingly realized.
For example, increases in prices can encourage harvesting effort on a stock of fish or shellfish where restrictions on such effort do not exist. A common response by management authorities is imposition of harvest restrictions. What is sometimes not appreciated, however, is that increased prices may provide social justification for some increases in harvest, even at the expense of future harvests. In addition, little information exists on what generates prices increases (or decreases) in the first place. What are the consequences, for example, of efforts to develop new product forms in an attempt to "add value" beyond that provided by current product forms? Information on the nature of markets for various seafood products could be used productively in the design of fishery policies.
This suggests that an understanding of the relationships between fisheries management and seafood markets could have significant social payoff. These relationships are not a oneway street, however. While knowledge of price changes and other market characteristics may inform fishing policy, it is also true that these characteristics are often the result of changes in fishery management policies and strategies.
A complicating factor of growing importance is the recent growth in the production of fish and shellfish from aquaculture. These products often compete directly with products of the traditional marine capture fisheries, and their role must be incorporated into any analysis of seafood markets. It is highly possible that the growth of aquaculture, may, in part, be associated with reduced harvests from traditional ocean stocks. We do not understand these developments very well, which means that, at best, we have only a weak understanding of the implications for both fisheries management and seafood marketing of the growth of and changes in aquaculture.
The growth of international seafood trade in recent years means that events in foreign markets and fishery management practices abroad have impacts on the U.S. seafood sector. Beyond this, it is important to recognize the interdependencies between agricultural and seafood markets. Seafood and other protein sources compete with each other for the consumers' dollar, and an understanding of seafood markets requires knowledge of the nature of that competition, including consumer needs and trends. Furthermore both fish meal and seafood byproducts are employed as inputs in some agricultural production.
All of this emphasizes the need for increased understanding of the interrelatedness of fisheries management and seafood markets. If management policies continue to be adopted in the absence of an appreciation of the role of markets, significant, social losses will be the likely result. To this end, it is critical that seafood be seen as the product of a set of dynamic processesboth biological and economicinvolving a complex group of foods from an aquatic environment. Unlike agriculture, where property rights are relatively strong and the emphasis is on farming, most fisheries are characterized by weak property rights (individuals do not own shares of the ocean). However, the growth of aquaculture may mean the emergence of a fisheries sector that is configured similarly to traditional agriculture. Moreover, where public policy in the agricultural sector is based heavily on market considerations, most fisheries policies are generated in the absence of an understanding of market impacts. It is clear that fisheries management policies affect the way in which the seafood industry pursues market opportunities, including the development of new markets and the use of "underutilized" species.
Other countries (examples are Iceland and New Zealand) have addressed these issues in the formulation of fishery and aquacultural policies and marketing strategies. It is important to conduct indepth analyses of the U.S. policymarkets relationship. This is true for U.S. fisheries in general, and west coast fisheries in particular.