Optimal fishing mortality assignment for southern hake Merluccius australis in Chile
Since 1979, southern hake (Merluccius australis) has been exploited in Chile from the Bio Bio to the Magallanes regions, between the parallels 41°28.6'S and 57°S. There is evidence of a constant fishing effort and a sustained reduction of the fish population, consistent with a progressive decrease in total annual catches. Management strategies based on the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and quota assignment/ distribution criteria have not been able to sustain acceptable biomass levels. A non-linear optimization model with two objective functions was proposed to determine an optimal total catch quota for more sustainable exploitation of this fishery. The first function maximizes the total catch over time in response to an optimal assignment of fishing mortality rates per fleet; the second function maximizes the total economic benefit associated with the total catch. The dynamics of the fish population were represented with the equations of a predictive age-structured model. Decision variables were fishing mortality rates and annual catch quotas per fleet, subject to constraints that guarantee a minimum level of biomass escape over a long-term period. The input parameters were obtained from the last stock evaluation report carried out by the Instituto de Fomento Pesquero (IFOP) of Chile. The historical background data of the fishery and the regulatory framework were relevant aspects of the methodology. Five scenarios were evaluated with the two objective functions, including a base scenario, which considered the referential mortality rate as input data as the average mortality rate per fleet from 2007 to 2012. Total economic benefits fluctuate between 102 and USD 442 million for total catches in the range of 108 to 421 thousand tons, which were obtained from maximizing the economic and biological objective functions. Economic benefit/catch ratios were reduced for scenarios with higher constraints on catch limits, and they were more efficient from a biological point of view. Situations with lighter constraints showed in general higher economic benefits and better performance ratios than those with stronger restrictions. The use of optimization models may provide a useful tool to evaluate the effect of regulations for adequate conservation and economical utilization of a limited resource.