What’s the big deal with big fish?

Supervision team:

Dr Karen Alexander

Dr Asta Audzijonyte

Dr Ingrid van Putten

Increasing scientific evidence demonstrates the importance of big individuals in marine animal populations. They include fish, rock lobsters, abalone, and many other species that traditionally are valued (economically and otherwise) by humans. Big individuals often have disproportionally large input for reproduction, better viability of offspring and they also play a key role in ecosystem structure and function. However, in many cases the biggest individuals are also the most desired by humans for instrumental and intrinsic reasons. Commercial fishers may target large fish because the economic returns are higher and because fishing regulations typically protect small but not large individuals. Recreational fishers may have other reasons driving their desire to catch big fish, and catching the biggest fish is often formalised in fishing competitions and trophies. The desirability of big fish has deep roots in our history, where a big trophy proved the harvesters powers and provided a lot of food for the village. However, in some traditional societies the biggest individuals were voluntarily protected.

This project will be undertaken through the Centre for Marine Socioecology and will explore the history of perceptions about large fish and other marine organisms in traditional and modern societies around the world. What can history and cultural traditions tell us about our social norms and attitudes related to the size of fish? How do we perceive the size of fish in Australia and how does this compare to perceptions elsewhere? How do our attitudes, and descriptive and injunctive social norms shape our behaviour? Does the way a society perceives the ecological and social role of fish size conducive or hindering to sustainability? If societal attitudes and social norms are hindering sustainability outcomes are there examples of how we can change these attitudes? How can science influence human behaviour for the better and what are the most efficient ways of communication and engagement?

Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
October 7, 2019