Author Archives: Sarah Hagedorn Bowman

New Data Policy Can Help Recover Sea Turtle Populations

Loggerhead close up over aqua_2792097[1]_shutterstock_RFThe National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is proposing to implement a new rule this year that can help improve our understanding of sea turtles and how the fishing industry interacts with them. This is good news because the current data on “sea turtle interactions” isn’t very plentiful in most fisheries. The rule would be important because managers need to understand the activities that affect sea turtles so they can develop effective conservation programs that recover threatened and endangered populations, such as Loggerhead sea turtles.

The rule would work by identifying fisheries in state and federal waters that will be required, upon NMFS’ request, to take scientific observers on fishing trips to gather information about the number of sea turtles encountered and the types of interactions. Several fisheries would be put on a list, called an Annual Determination, and would be subject to carrying observers for 5 years. NMFS is proposing to include fisheries such as trawl fisheries and gillnet fisheries in this Annual Determination.
 
In addition to the use of observers, NMFS should consider using new technologies (such as at-sea video monitoring) that can be cost effective and may allow an increase in the level of monitoring, especially in fisheries where accommodating an observer is difficult. 

Good data will help NMFS evaluate existing sea turtle protections and develop better management measures. Regulations based on good data, sound science, and industry, accountability can improve management of sea turtles and help rebuild endangered populations.

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"Dock Talk" Shows that Books Can Only Take You So Far

Snapper Off-load in Destin, FLAt a recent meeting in Destin, FL, where members of our Gulf and South Atlantic teams met to discuss collaborative projects, I had the opportunity to see a commercial boat offloading its catch after a three day fishing trip. What an experience! 

As multitudes of red snapper, vermilion snapper, and grey triggerfish were loaded off the boat and put on ice, I took the opportunity to meet with the Captain and crew and ask questions.  I learned what species are caught together, and therefore which species probably share the same habitat. 

The Captain told me about the places he goes fishing, what depths he fishes, what gear he uses, and how far out he goes.  It was interesting to learn that many of the species he co-catches in the Gulf are same species that are caught together in the South Atlantic.  It reaffirmed for me, from a shared habitat and ecosystem point of view, that collaboration between the South Atlantic and Gulf teams is beneficial and even critical.

The Captain explained that he is pleased with the recent red snapper catch share program because he doesn’t have to go as far to catch fish since the red snapper stock seems to have expanded. He also doesn’t have to throw nearly as many fish back overboard.  His job is more profitable and takes less time.  Who wouldn’t be happy with that?

Additionally, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist was on hand taking otolith (ear bone) samples from fish to take back to the agency’s lab.  This random sampling of otoliths was taken in order to determine the ages of the fish that were caught.  Under a microscope, an otolith has rings on it, like a tree trunk, that can be counted to age the fish.  She even showed me how to take an otolith sample!

Overall, I learned a valuable lesson. As a fisheries scientist, it is imperative to get out in the field and ask fishermen questions.  As I think about how a catch share program would work for the snapper grouper fishery in the South Atlantic, it is important for me to understand the biological aspects of fish that are caught together and share the same habitat. These aspects must be factored into a successful catch share program. 

Fishermen are good at what they do and have insightful knowledge into the oceans they depend upon to make a living. This type of information and insight can’t be learned in a book, sometimes you just have to get out on the docks.

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