Category Archives: Latin America & Caribbean

Community-based fishery management delivers individual and collective benefits in Belize

DSC_0088Recently, I traveled to Belize to see how TURF-reserves (territorial use rights for fishing co-located with no-take zones) are performing and learn about plans to expand them nationwide. The Mesoamerican Reef, the largest in the Atlantic Ocean, spans the Belizean coastline and is rich in biodiversity and a crucial source of income for thousands of fishers. Coastal fisheries, however, are at risk due to overfishing, and other pressures such as coastal development and climate change.

In Belize, fishers have seen a decline in their catch, and the Belize Fisheries Department is using TURF-reserves to provide fishers the right incentives to become better stewards of their resources.  As fishers take better care of their fishing area they will realize benefits and secure them for future generations.  This approach to fisheries management is known as “Managed Access.”  In 2008 the Belize Fisheries Department began working with EDF, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), and other Belizean institutions to deploy two Managed Access pilot projects.

Motivated by the success of the projects, the Belizean government is committed to expanding Managed Access to nearly half its fishing grounds, setting the country on a course to comprehensively rebuild and conserve its fisheries and precious biodiversity.

DSC_0074While in Belize, I saw fishermen, government managers, and environmental organizations working side by side to achieve this goal. Park Ranger Edwin Cabrera gave me a personal tour of one of the pilot sites, the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.  Edwin works for TIDE, the local organization that co-manages the reserve with the Belize Fisheries Department. He was preparing to head out to the Port Honduras guardhouse, where he’ll spend two weeks on patrol.   Enforcement is critical to the success of Managed Access because it ensures that only those who have licenses to fish in the area are fishing, that they’re following the rules inside the TURF, and that no one is fishing in the no-take zones. Edwin and I talked a lot about how the TURF is working, what his job involves, and what kind of challenges the rangers are facing. The rangers are a dedicated group; they work under difficult conditions and have to cover an expansive body of water. Under the TURF, fishermen work closely with Edwin to protect an area they are extremely invested in.

DSC_0129Compliance with regulations has increased dramatically.  Fishers themselves are now turning in offenders, signaling growing support for TURFs. Edwin is encouraged by the improvements he has seen in management and conservation of the area in the past three years. Approximately 70% of fishers fishing in the TURFs report that they are catching more fish than they were before Managed Access, resulting from the changes they’ve made as they become stewards of their marine resources.

The Fish Forever partnership is partnering with the Belizean government to expand upon the success at PHMR and Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve. Fish Forever is a partnership of EDF, Rare, and UCSB to reform small-scale fisheries in the developing tropics through the creation of TURF-reserves in five countries and will help to accelerate adoption of new TURF-reserves in Belize.  Expanding and implementing Managed Access isn’t easy. Accustomed to an open access fishery, transitioning to TURF-reserves can be difficult for both fishers and managers. This is why it’s very important to have open and honest conversations with fishers – the primary users and beneficiaries of local fisheries.  The Belize Fisheries Department, Rare, and EDF held a series of workshops throughout the country while I was there to talk to fishers about how to best support them as they make the change to Managed Access.

For example, one requirement of managed access in Belize is that all license holders must report all their catch. The fishers we met with see the benefit – knowing more about what you catch means that you can manage it better – but that doesn’t mean that filling out logbooks is easy. It takes a lot of time, you may have to travel far to drop them off, some fishers can’t read or write and there are multiple local names for lots of fish in different regions. Most importantly, fishers fear that this information could be used against them. We talked through these difficulties and then proposed ways to resolve them – such as have someone collecting data at a landing site, holding trainings on filling out logbooks, providing forms in both English and Spanish, using drawings and diagrams on the sheets, and hosting scientists to present on data and communicate how exactly it will be used. This type of conversation ensures that as managed access is implemented, fishers are part of the process and are given the opportunity to provide input and advice on the best way to manage marine resources.

DSC_0036I came away impressed by the progress underway in Belize.  This success is spreading by word of mouth and new groups of Belizean fishers are looking to implement TURFs in their own fishing grounds.  They are motivated and excited to participate in the joint effort to protect their future livelihoods.  Managed Access has its challenges, rendering advance engagement and coordination with fishers essential to gaining their support.  Next time I’m in Belize, I’m confident that Managed Access will have spread its roots across the country, that fishers are seeing consistent increases in their catch and income and that they see a secure future for themselves and future generations.

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Coral Reef Thresholds for Ecosystem Management

(c) Jim Patterson Photography, https://jimpattersonphotography.com/

(c) Jim Patterson Photography, https://jimpattersonphotography.com/

By: Rod Fujita & Kendra Karr

Fisheries management is principally focused on managing fishing pressure, with the goal of keeping individual fish stocks healthy enough to produce good yields.  But fisheries also affect the basic processes that keep ocean ecosystems healthy.  This is why it is important to understand how many fish need to be in the system to maintain the many important services that an ocean ecosystem can produce — including the maintenance of biodiversity, tourism value, and fisheries — and to manage fisheries so that fish populations remain at about that level.

The evidence that fish are important regulators of ecosystem processes is particularly strong in coral reefs.  The abundance and variety of fish is one of the most striking aspects of a healthy coral reef.  Some species transport energy and nutrients between seagrass meadows and the reefs.  Grazing fish species on a healthy coral reef keep seaweeds that would otherwise over-grow the reef in check.   Predators regulate populations of prey species, responding to natural variability by adjusting their feeding rates and numbers.  On a healthy reef, many different species occupy each of these niches, and each does their job in a slightly different way.  This enables the reef to resist threats and other changes (like hurricanes) and to recover from very storms or human impacts, within limits of course.

Like many complex systems with many elements that affect each other in many ways, coral reefs don’t always change in a simple, linear way when one of the elements is altered.  Similarly, your car will run, albeit a little roughly, if a single spark plug isn’t working.  But if the starter doesn’t work, it won’t run at all.  Coral reefs can exist in many different states, ranging from one in which live coral dominates, supporting a highly diverse mix of species and generating high levels of multiple ecosystem services to a state in which most of the coral is dead, species diversity is low, and the reef is no longer producing valued ecosystem services.

Photo Credits: Left, Kendra Karr. Right, blog.soleilorganique.com

Photo Credits: Left, Kendra Karr. Right, blog.soleilorganique.com

Some changes in coral reefs are gradual, but some are not.  A tipping point occurs when small changes in human use or environmental conditions result in large, and sometimes abrupt, impacts to marine ecosystems.  Certain factors can push coral reefs over an ecological tipping point, so that they change dramatically from one state to another.

Because fish are such important regulators of the processes that maintain coral reefs in these different states, fishing can act as a driver, pushing the reef toward a tipping point.  Once a tipping point is crossed, changes to the reef occur rapidly.  In the figure below, the levels of various drivers of change are at levels which enable the reef to exist in a healthy state (position 1) – the width of the basin in which it rests and the height of the ridge that defines the basin depend on how many species are present, how many are playing redundant roles, how high productivity is, and many other factors that contribute to the resilience of the reef.

EDF 2012

EDF 2012

However, if the system’s resilience is reduced and/or a driver becomes strong enough, the reef can transition (position 2) to a new, less desirable state (position 3).

Our analysis of coral reef health metrics and fish abundance (collected over 20 years, from 1994 to 2011, across 19 countries throughout the Caribbean) shows that coral reef metrics shift in response to changes in fish density, a measure of abundance.  Moreover, just as theory predicts, some changes are abrupt and nonlinear.

Macroalgal cover increases as fish density decreases to about 90% of the maximum levels in the data set (which we take to be a proxy for unfished levels), and variance becomes very high.  This may be related to the tendency for complex, regulated systems to exhibit higher variability as regulation (in this case, by fish) is reduced.  For example, if the thermostat in your house is partially broken, the temperature in your house may fluctuate between 60 and 70 degrees, instead of being held within a narrow range of temperatures by a well-functioning thermostat.

A number of metrics — including the proportion of invertivore fishes, the number of fish species, and urchin density – change dramatically when fish densities fall to between 50 and 60% of unfished densities.

When fish densities reach 30% of unfished densities, the ratio of macroalgae to coral increases, the proportion of herbivorous fish in the fish community decreases, and coral cover drops markedly – the fact that the reef is in a different state becomes obvious.

EDF will continue to refine the use of coral reef ecosystem thresholds and advocate their use in setting aggregate catch limits in order to keep healthy reefs healthy and to restore reefs that are in transition or in less desirable states.

 

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Maximizing Limited Data to Improve Fishery Management

By Ashley Apel

According to a recent study published in Science, nearly 80% of the world’s catch comes from “data-limited” fisheries.  Not surprisingly, research shows that many of these fisheries are facing collapse, jeopardizing the food security of hundreds of millions of people in developing countries who depend on seafood for a majority of their dietary protein.

Historically, fisheries with little data had few science-based management options. But new methods are being continuously developed and used in the field that deliver science-based results, even in the absence of long-term, historical catch data. Since fishery stock assessments can be extremely complex, EDF recently developed a user-friendly, six-step framework as part of an overall guide to Science-Based Management of Data-Limited Fisheries.

The framework outlines a systematic approach that fishery managers can use to conduct quick and relatively inexpensive assessments.  The methods allow stakeholders in data-limited fisheries to estimate risks to marine ecosystems, determine vulnerability of a stock to fishing pressure, calculate the level of overfishing, assess the sustainability of the fishery, and establish sustainable fishing targets and other management reference points.  

Download the guide on Science-Based Management of Data-Limited Fisheries or download the entire toolkit for fisheries.  Feel free to send questions or comments to catchsharequestions@edf.org.

Also posted in Alaska, Catch Shares, Cuba, EDF Oceans General, Global Fisheries, Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Pacific, Science/Research, South Atlantic | Comments closed

How a growing partnership is reducing overfishing in Belize and beyond

fisherman takes meat out of a conch shell

Gumercindo Cano, a Managed Access fisherman, takes the meat out of a conch shell
Photo credit: Heather Paffe

Fishing in the developing tropics looks very different from fishing in the United States. It’s easy to forget that millions of people around the world rely on wild fish for their daily protein and survival, rather than being able to purchase it from a grocery store. This is the case in the countries where EDF will work in partnership with Rare and University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) on our ‘Fish Forever’ project. Fish Forever will focus on work with communities in the developing tropics to reduce overfishing and implement new guidelines that will allow fisheries to recover and more consistently provide the nutrition that so many depend upon.  Part of that work will establish territorial user rights in fisheries (TURFs – called Managed Access in Belize), coupled with no-take reserves (replenishment zones/Marine Protected Areas) to advance sustainable fisheries, empower fishermen and bring those solutions to scale.

I recently returned from a governance committee trip to Belize with our partners, Brett Jenks, President of Rare, and Steve Gaines, Dean of UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and principal investigator for the Sustainable Fisheries Group. This trip was a vital way to connect with the community and government on the ground in Belize and understand the skills that each member of the partnership brings to the table.

The partnership provides an opportunity for EDF, Rare, UCSB and local partners to improve fisheries science and knowledge by using data-poor stock assessments to effectively design TURF-Reserves and use social marketing techniques to inspire the necessary behavior changes for sustainable fisheries management.

During this particular trip, we went to Port Honduras Marine Reserve, which already has a Managed Access system, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where the Government of Belize and partners in the Fish Forever initiative have already begun the process of engaging communities for the implementation of Managed Access.  By visiting these sites, we saw how important it is to link Managed Access with Replenishment Zones.  Fishermen in Managed Access areas will protect the replenishment zone because they benefit from the spillover effect of more fish.  The partnership will be coordinating with the Government, The Nature Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Society – the three organizations in Belize leading the initiative to expand replenishment zones.

EDF has worked with Belizean fishermen for the past five years to establish managed access pilot sites that are being used as a model for the national expansion. Our success on the ground is a result of hard work and relationship building. We have led several workshops that brought government officials, fishing cooperative leaders, NGO managers, conservationists and scientists together. We are excited to expand on our 5 years of work in Belize by bringing in additional partners that will add valuable skills and expertise to our existing partnerships on the ground to find common solutions for similar fishing nations.

During the trip I saw strong support from Government and the close working relationships with local partners.  I am excited to see the coalition partners planning further engagement with communities and developing a strategy for generating support for TURF reserves across the country. The project will operate in several developing tropic countries, and we hope that Belize will be a model for working successfully with fishermen and local governments to establish sustainable fishery solutions.

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Expedition Cuba Part 3: Collaborative Research Establishes Baseline Monitoring in Cuba

Cuban and Mexican researchers, Alejandra Briones and Ivan Mendez, look at a sample that will be analyzed in CIM’s lab to assess the faunal communities in the water column.

By: Kendra Karr and Valerie Miller

Part III of a blog series detailing a February 2013 Research Expedition in Cuba organized by EDF Oceans’ Cuba, Science, and Shark teams and funded by the Waitt Foundation. A team of scientists from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. along with EDF staff set sail to share knowledge, scientific methodologies and to survey shark populations in Cuba. The tri-national expedition was led by Cuban scientists from University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (CIM) and U.S. scientists from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida.

Researchers from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. participated in an exploratory research cruise in the Gulf of Batabanó along the Southern coast of Cuba to monitor shark populations, local faunal communities and to train fellow team members in monitoring techniques.  Leaving the port of Batabanó, the RV Felipe Poeytransected the shallow, soft-sediment habitat that comprises the majority of the Gulf.  The cruise set off for the remote and sparsely populated Isle of Youth, the largest island in the Canarreos Archipelago.  Canarreos Archipelago is home to a national park and several marine protected areas (MPAs) which contain habitats that possess ecotourism potential and provide refuge for ecologically and economically important species such as lobsters, sharks and finfish.

U.S. researcher Dr. Ernie Estevez collects the last sample of fauna from the water column outside the corals reefs of Punta Frances.

Monitoring activities started near the southwestern portion of the island, inside Siguanea Bay, continued around Punta Frances and into the nearshore waters facing the Caribbean Sea.  This part of the Isle of Youth has a diverse array of habitats, including some of the healthiest and most intact coral reefs and mangroves in the region, as well as seagrass beds, and soft sediment habitats.   Conducting a research expedition in multiple habitats presents a unique opportunity to observe organisms living at the bottom of the ocean (in benthic habitats) and in the water column surrounding these habitats. The expedition recruited two benthic researchers (scientists who study organisms living along the bottom of the ocean) to join the team comprised mainly of shark scientists, to capitalize on the opportunity and create a baseline monitoring program of these faunal communities across habitats in the Gulf Batabanó and surrounding waters.  Dr. Ernie Estevez of the U.S. and Mote Marine Laboratory and Dr. Maickel Almanza of Cuba’s Center for Marine Research led the design of the monitoring program.

Monitoring programs help provide information about the health of the area prior to future impacts (i.e. disturbance either natural or human caused), so that analysis can aid forecasting.  Baseline data helps measure the severity of ecosystem disruptions and helps to calibrate recovery programs.  Additionally, this data may help identify areas that are more resistant, or less resilient to disturbances over time.  Long term monitoring of ecological communities and populations is one of the most effective tools that managers and scientist have to track and analyze how ecosystems work.   Unfortunately, long-term datasets are rare and those that do exist are often limited in geographic scope.

What’s a faunal community and why are they important?

The team identified plankton living in the water column and macrobenthos (small fish, crustaceans, worms and mollusks living at the bottom of the ocean) across habitats as targets because changes in the diversity and abundance of these fauna can be indicators to the health of the ecosystem, and they are critical components of important fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. The small fish, crustaceans, worms and mollusks that comprise the fauna collected in the monitoring program are often the principal food source for fish in the region. Sharks, as apex predators, depend on highly productive foraging areas (e.g., dense seagrass meadows) and support abundant amounts of prey, such as larger fish that consume plankton. The team also recorded environmental variables necessary for a healthy habitat, including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, depth and organic content in sediments.   Absent baseline species and ecosystem data, future efforts to end overfishing, protect marine life and improve the management of marine resources will not succeed.  This is just one of the ways in which Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. are working together to improve monitoring efforts that will increase data availability and enable a tri-national assessment of shark population status, including an understanding of how variability in abundance of faunal communities and their predators influence foraging behavior and shark migration in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

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Expedition Cuba Part 2: Scientists Partner with Fishermen to Explore Cuban Waters

The tuna fishing crew meets up with the research team in the Gulf of Batabanó.

By: Valerie Miller & Kendra Karr

Part II of a blog series reporting on the February 2013 Research Expedition in Cuba organized by EDF Oceans’ Cuba, Science, and Shark teams and funded by the Waitt Foundation. A team of scientists from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. along with EDF staff set sail on an exploratory research cruise to share knowledge, scientific methodologies and to survey shark populations in Cuba. The tri-national expedition was led by Cuban scientists from University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (CIM) and U.S. scientists from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida.

In early February the team of researchers boarded the RV Felipe Poey and departed the south coast of Cuba for the Gulf of Batabanó.  The nine-day expedition was designed to monitor shark populations, collect baseline data on plankton and benthic communities and train scientists in data collection techniques for future monitoring.  It took the entire first day to steam to the Isle of Youth.   By the evening the smooth waters and night sky had blended into one endless black landscape. As a sense of isolation set-in, the boat turned towards some lights in the distance – which emanated from a lobster station floating in the middle of the Gulf.  After a day crossing the ocean with no land in sight, it felt strange stepping off the boat and onto the deck at the station. The lobster fishermen, friends of the Cuban scientists, showed us around the facility which stores their daily catch in pens.  This moonlight meeting was just the first of many productive interactions with fishermen throughout the journey.

Collaboration is key for shark monitoring

Tapping the expertise of local fishermen was central to accomplishing the objectives of the expedition in relation to both data collection and training. The entire team learned about shark capture and tagging methods, but since the techniques had never been implemented to monitor populations in the Gulf, we relied on fishermen’s knowledge to locate sharks. We were fortunate to come across a Bonito tuna boat on multiple occasions. The tuna fishermen track sharks to locate schools of tuna and sometimes use the sharks to corral multiple schools together and cast their bamboo fishing rods to selectively catch tuna. Fishermen are able to identify sharks from notches they have previously marked in their fins.  One fisherman declared, “without sharks, there is no tuna fishery.”

On one occasion we tied our boats to together, which allowed Dr. Jorge Angulo, the lead Cuban scientist and CIM director, to catch up with the Bonito’s captain.  The old friends were happy to see each other again, and discussed where sharks are congregating in the Gulf.  The captain suggested that we explore “Los Indios,” a region off the Isle of Youth.  We ventured to Los Indios the following day to set our gear. The scientists agreed that this “edge” habitat where the reef meets the sand was more likely to have sharks, whereas much of the Gulf is shallow open water with a soft sediment bottom seafloor, not the usual preferred shark habitat.

Scientist Anmari Alvarez of Cuba’s Center for Marine Research discusses manatee monitoring with two finfish fishers.

Scientist Anmari Alvarez of Cuba’s Center for Marine Research discusses manatee monitoring with two finfish fishers.

A day’s catch sparks conversation on sharks

Along with the tuna fishermen, we also met up with a finfish fishing boat. In the mornings, the fishermen picked up researchers to help retrieve the nets set the day before and assess the catch. We all reunited in the afternoon; the fishermen’s catch displayed on the deck—a mix of rays and fish—and the researchers had the opportunity to collect data and take genetic samples of the species of interest.   Dr. Bob Hueter, head shark researcher from Mote Marine Laboratory, used a hammerhead shark caught that day to impart some shark anatomy lessons.  Researchers and fishermen were quizzed on their biological knowledge and helped take genetic samples that could potentially connect Cuba’s sharks to known populations in other regions of the Gulf of Mexico.

Our crew and the fishermen dispersed between the two decks of the connected boats to discuss the day’s work and shark habitat in the Gulf. While the fishermen we met do not direct their fishing towards sharks, they sometimes catch them as bycatch. One fisherman mentioned that they used to catch sharks more often in certain regions but believe that they have been overfished. The scientists agreed that the extent of overfishing is difficult to know since there is so little historical data on sharks in the Gulf.

Learning from the experience of the fishermen, our group hypothesized about the shark populations — preferred habitats, seasonal migration patterns and potential locations of nursery habitats. EDF’s tri-national shark conservation program is essential to improve the monitoring of shark populations in Cuba and ensuring that species are managed sustainably.

 

Unexpected opportunities in marine conservation

While the main objectives of the expedition focused on understanding shark populations in the Gulf, our interactions with the fishermen included discussions on a variety of marine life. Anmari Alvarez, a Cuban scientist who specializes in manatees, always takes the opportunity to talk about the marine mammal with fishermen. She reviewed a colorful flyer with the details on how fishermen can report a manatee sighting and explained that involving fishermen in monitoring is invaluable to her, as she cannot be in the Gulf every day. In one unexpected opportunity for collaboration, the finfish crew presented the Cuban researchers with a tag they removed from a sea turtle. They had been saving it for months, not knowing to whom to report the inscribed number. It just so happened that the tag was marked with the abbreviation for Quitana Roo, Mexico, and Ivan Mendez, a scientist from Mexico, was on-board to recover it.

Like scientists everywhere, the Cuban researchers’ monitoring efforts rely on data from fishermen’s catch. They have recently expanded their monitoring of shark landings at several ports along the north coast but have fewer resources to collect shark data in the Gulf of Batabanó. The bonds between the fishermen and scientists proved particularly important for this exploration—from sharing knowledge of shark habitats to a bi-national turtle tag exchange. There remains much to learn about shark populations in Cuba and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Our research team is now better prepared to collect and organize shark data and looks forward to partnering with fishermen in future expeditions.

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Expedition Cuba: A Tri-National Journey to Share Science and Survey Sharks, Part 1

Shark researchers from Cuba, Mexico, &  the U.S. capture a bull shark in the Gulf of Batabanó, Cuba.

Shark researchers from Cuba, Mexico, & the U.S. capture a bull shark in the Gulf of Batabanó, Cuba. (From L to R: Pedro Reyes and Alexei Ruiz of the Center for Marine Research – Cuba, Jack Morris of Mote Marine Laboratory – USA) Photo Credit: Valerie Miller

 

By: Kendra Karr & Valerie Miller

Intro by Dan Whittle: With generous support from the Waitt Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has launched a new initiative to support collaborative field research with scientists from the University of Havana's Center for Marine Research. This initiative is enabling teams of Cuban, U.S. and Mexican scientists to carry out a series of scientific expeditions to conduct important new research on Cuba's remarkable—but understudied—marine and coastal ecosystems. This effort will also support year-round port sampling of shark fishery landings at Cuban ports, contributing to EDF’s overarching tri-national shark conservation efforts throughout the Gulf of Mexico.  

On our inaugural expedition in February 2013, our tri-national team embarked on a research cruise off of Cuba's south coast in the Gulf of Batabanó to share knowledge and scientific methods, and to survey migratory shark populations. The expedition was organized by EDF Oceans’ Cuba, Science, and Shark conservation programs and led on-the-water by scientists from University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (CIM) and from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida; with participation by a scientist from Mexico’s College of the Southern Frontier (ECOSUR).

Results from this expedition will be highlighted in a 3 part blog series. Today’s post focuses on sharing science in data-limited shark fisheries.  It will be followed by stories about the partnership of fishermen and scientists and baseline data.  Join the journey here and follow along this week!

Map, Gulf of Batabano

Expedition Location – Gulf of Batabanó & Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth)

The Story behind Sharks

Sharks are top predators, critical for maintaining the health and resilience of marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, some shark populations are in trouble, primarily because more sharks are fished than are reproduced.  Across the Gulf of Mexico, migratory animals such as sharks, tunas and others are an important source of food and economic activity.  Sharks are threatened by overfishing and some populations in the Gulf of Mexico are estimated to have declined over 90% in the last 25 years.[1]

Because they are migratory, many shark species traverse political boundaries. This makes monitoring their population status difficult and presents challenges to maintaining healthy stocks and rebuilding depleted ones. Many shark fisheries are considered “data-limited,” with little available information to assess the stock, including basic statistics covering reproduction, life span, migrations, abundance, and amount landed — both from targeted fishing and accidental catch – known as bycatch.

Eighty percent of all fisheries biomass and the vast majority of stocks in most countries are data poor.  Fortunately, scientific techniques exist to help assess fisheries with minimal data. EDF’s Oceans science team is advancing assessment methods that use easily gathered data or pre-existing information. The key to assessing data-limited fisheries is to have access to any available fishery data (for example, catch at sea or at a landing site) or to fishery independent surveys (for example, monitoring of shark size, sex and abundance). Depending on the method used, a data-limited assessment estimates the current population’s sustainable catch, risk of overfishing, or stock status – how healthy the stock is at current fishing levels. The first step to take advantage of these new data-limited assessment methods is to pull together any available data and improve monitoring.

Although some shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico are well studied and the U.S. has conducted comprehensive assessments, more data is needed on migratory shark species throughout the region.  EDF and our partners are taking the first steps to help determine the status of populations. Toward this end, EDF established a tri-national partnership for monitoring and management of shark fisheries among scientists in Cuba, Mexico and the United States. Scientists are working together to collect and organize information on shark catches from fishing ports and aboard fishing vessels, as well as conducting biological monitoring surveys across a diverse array of habitats apart from shark fishery catch. The partnership has reached agreement with INAPESCA, Mexico’s national fisheries research institute, to standardize shark monitoring methods across all of its Gulf States. Scientists from Cuba’s Center for Marine Research (CIM) are building a shark database and working with partners in Mexico to incorporate their data. All of these steps will aid in future assessments, setting conservation goals and sustaining populations and fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. These efforts are the backbone of a successful shark recovery program. Read More »

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ICCB: Capacity, Constituency & Conservation: An integrated approach to protect near-shore fisheries for people & biodiversity

Sarteneja sailboat

Sarteneja sailboat, Belize.
Photo Credit: Larry Epstein

EDF staff participated in panel earlier this week at the 26th International Congress for Conservation Biology, spotlighting our new partnership and initiative, Fish Forever, designed to improve fisheries management in developing tropic nations.  Organized by the Society for Conservation Biology, the Congress brings together students and conservation professionals from around the globe to discuss conservation challenges. Through symposia, workshops, printed materials and focus groups, the Congress provides an excellent opportunity to network and present new research and examine developments in conservation science and practice.

The panel, titled “Capacity, Constituency and Conservation: An integrated approach to protect near-shore fisheries for people and biodiversity,” allowed the Fish Forever partners – EDF, Rare and the Sustainable Fisheries Group at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB ) – to outline numerous aspects of the project.

Fish Forever will work with communities in the developing tropics to reduce overfishing and implement new guidelines that will allow fisheries to recover and more consistently provide the nutrition that so many depend upon.  Part of that work will establish territorial user rights in fisheries (TURFs), coupled with no-take reserves to advance sustainable fisheries and then bring those solutions to scale.

The panel addressed different aspects of effective TURF-reserve design and implementation. Dawn Dougherty of UCSB explained how even data-poor stock assessment models provide value and can be used in countries where Fish Forever will be working. Many small-scale fisheries have little data to estimate the health of fish stocks, but tools are available that can make the most of whatever data are at hand to make management decisions.   Jake Kritzer of EDF then described how marine reserves can be integrated into harvest control rules to improve management and more effectively achieve conservation and fisheries goals. Reserves can act as an assessment tool and serve as a buffer against risks of overfishing.

Next, Eleanor Carter of Rare gave an overview and cited case studies of “pride campaigns”, Rare’s framework for effecting environmental change and Dr. Stacey Sowards of the University of Texas – El Paso outlined the communications theory behind the pride campaign strategy.  Pride campaigns use social marketing techniques to increase knowledge, change attitudes and foster engagement with communities to achieve behavior change that improves conservation outcomes.

EDF’s Larry Epstein detailed the development and performance of TURF-reserves in Belize, where over capacity has resulted in nationwide catch reductions.  We worked with the government to develop a TURF-reserves policy to restore fisheries and improve livelihoods.   Currently, there are two TURF-Reserves pilot sites and we have seen positive results in terms of catch reporting and regulatory compliance in a very short period of time.  To gain access to the TURF, fishermen in Belize must report data on the fishery and their catch and comply with fisheries management regulations, creating the appropriate incentives for science and stewardship.   Given the success of TURF-Reserves, government, industry officials and fishermen in Belize are looking at scaling up TURF-Reserves to manage 40% of Belize’s fished waters by 2015. 

The Fish Forever partnership provides an opportunity for EDF, Rare, UCSB and local partners to improve fisheries science and knowledge by using data-poor stock assessments to effectively design TURF-Reserves and use social marketing techniques to inspire the necessary behavior changes for sustainable fisheries management.  We are excited to take lessons learned in Belize and leverage collective expertise and experience to deploy successful fisheries solutions in other countries in the tropics.

 

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