Throw the big one back

Having been given a subscription to Scientific American for Christmas I got around to reading the February edition yesterday. Packed full of really interesting articles and reviews I quickly homed in on a particular piece about George Sugihara the mathematician (who looks unervingly like Jimmy Paige). An expert in Ecology, Maths and Complexity theory, he believes that both marine ecosystems and financial markets exhibit similar complex patterns and behaviours.

Sugihara believes that stock levels of fish are in decline because of

the harvesting of too many big fish. Fishing boats were leaving behind a population of almost all juveniles. Sugihara showed that mathematically such populations are unstable. A slight nudge can create a boom—or a catastrophic collapse.

The age old fishing adage that we should “throw the little ones back” is precisely the wrong way round:

“It’s not the young ones that should be thrown back but the larger, older fish that should be spared,” he explains. They stabilize the population and provide “more and better quality offspring.”

Reading this article reminds me of the many long conversations I have had about Knowledge Management and the merits of a Retirement programme that removes all the older very experienced individuals leaving a stock of only “young ones”.

My favourite line in the article makes sense whatever you replace the word ‘fisheries’ with be it ‘knowledge’, ‘financial market’ or ‘football team’:

Most fisheries management is based on the idea that these systems are stable. Watches are like that. Transistors are like that. But ecosystems are not.

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1 Comment

  1. One of the most memorable parts of Mark Kurlansky’s wonderful “Cod” was about overfishing and the complete lack of mature fish of up to 20 years of age.

    He definitely looks like Jimmy Page though – Photoshop his hair grey and he’s a dead ringer.

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