Category Archives: Science/Research

Tri-national collaboration & research in the Gardens of the Queen: The expedition begins

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

With support from the Waitt Foundation, EDF launched an initiative last year with the University of Havana's Center for Marine Research that allowed teams of Cuban, U.S. and Mexican scientists to carry out a series of expeditions to conduct vital new research on Cuba's remarkable—but understudied—marine and coastal ecosystems. 

A Special Caribbean Reef

Coral reefs are some of the world’s most imperiled marine habitats.  Impacts from climate change, pollution, overfishing and resource extraction combine to threaten reefs all over the world.  This is especially true in the Caribbean, where rapid development is underway across the Caribbean Sea, exacerbating the stressors on coral reefs and their related seagrass and mangrove ecosystems.

However, in one special corner of the Caribbean, the Gardens of the Queen archipelago, has remained remarkably resilient in the face of this collective pressure.  A Caribbean marine paradise, The Gardens consist of more than 600 cays and islands and is home to the largest contiguous reserve in the Caribbean at 2,170 square kilometers.  It supports a mosaic of mangrove, seagrass, patch reefs, fringing red and reef slope and is abundant with fish, sharks and other marine life.

To reach the Gardens of the Queen from mainland Cuba, one must bisect the Gulf of Ana Maria, a shallow-water system comprised of mangrove, seagrass and coral reefs. The ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and Gardens of the Queen together cover more than 10,000 square kilometers of productive habitat, making the entire archipelago a magnet for eco-tourism, including SCUBA diving and recreational fishing. Despite a growing eco-tourism industry and offering one of the best examples of a resilient Caribbean reef, much about the Gardens remains a mystery.

We are excited about our partnership with the University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) and the Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeras (CIEC), and the potential for collaborative scientific exploration to yield foundational data  and information about marine habitats in and around the Gardens of the Queen.  Our inaugural expedition in (February) 2013 harnessed expertise from a tri-national team of scientists, which shared knowledge and scientific methods while surveying migratory shark populations off Cuba's south coast in the Gulf of Batabanó, to the west of the Gardens of the Queen.  In October 2013, scientists from the three organizations hopped aboard the RV Felipe Poey and RV Itajara to journey to the Gardens reserve itself, and the nearby Gulf of Ana Maria.  This 19-day expedition produced new data about the special Gardens ecosystems, and shared expertise among scientists from the three organizations, promoted collaboration, increased scientific capacity and forged new friendships. Read More »

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Catch Shares: Harvesting Sustainable Catches

Originally published on November 18, 2013 on the Oceans Health Index Website


Introduction

Written by Steven Katona, Managing Director, Ocean Health Index

Maximizing sustainable food production from the ocean by harvest of wild fish stocks and production of farmed species by mariculture is one of the 10 goals evaluated by the Ocean Health Index, and it is especially closely watched because it is so critical for the future.

Three billion people out of today’s world population of 7.1 billion people depend on seafood for their daily protein and fish contribute a greater proportion of protein to the average diet than poultry.  A single serving of fish or shellfish (150 g) provides 60% of a person’s daily protein requirement, but the ocean’s continued ability to meet that need is in doubt.  Our population is rising steadily and will reach about 8 billion by 2024 and 9 billion by 2040, but the annual catch from wild ocean fisheries has stayed at about 80 million metric tons since about 1990 despite increased effort.  The reason is that too many stocks are overfished and too much productivity is sacrificed as bycatch, illegal and unregulated catch and as a result of habitat loss caused by destructive fishing practices.

Yet without increased wild harvest and augmented mariculture production, the risk of malnutrition will increase for hundreds of millions of people, because the catch will have to be shared by so many more mouths.

Why would we expect fish landings to increase in the future if they haven’t done so since 1990? Clearly with business as usual, they won’t, but a number of new strategies and tools offer hope.  Catch shares is one of them.  We’re pleased to welcome Kate Bonzon, Director of Environmental Defenses Fund’s Catch Share Design Center, to explain how catch shares are working worldwide and highlight some of their benefits.

Even though catch shares have been used in a diversity of fisheries around the world, the idea of catch shares is new in many places, and it has occasioned some misunderstanding and subsequent debate around the best way to manage fisheries.  However, catch shares give a powerful incentive and opportunity for fishers to care for their fish stocks, thereby improving the consistency, sustainability and possibly magnitude of their catches, while also improving their livelihoods.

More sustainable fishing will not only help fishers and fish stocks, but it will also improve scores on many of the other goals evaluated by the Ocean Health Index.  Of course there are trade-offs between the goals, but meeting the goals for sustainability embodied within each goal will improve the ocean’s ability to sustainably deliver a range of benefits to people now and in the future.  What’s more, the ocean’s animals, plants and habitats will benefit too.

Catch Shares: Harvesting Sustainable Catches

Fish were once thought to be so abundant that we could take our fill and never deplete them; that wild fisheries were inexhaustible and would always be plentiful. But over the past few decades, there is growing recognition that most of the world's wild fisheries are in trouble and fishing has had a tremendous impact. Globally, nearly two-thirds of wild fisheries are overfished, leaving depleted fish stocks and low yields. New evidence on fisheries with little data, which account for 80% of the global catch, is especially concerning. Once thought to be relatively stable, many of these fisheries are, in fact, overfished and facing collapse. Depletion of this resource threatens not only ocean health but the billions of people who depend on fish for food and jobs.

The good news is fisheries are a renewable resource. And the key to sustainably managing them is ensuring there are enough fish left in the ocean to produce future generations. Future fish generations will keep fresh and sustainable seafood on the plates of the billions of people around the world who rely on them for protein, and wages in the pockets of millions of fishing industry workers who depend on them to support their livelihoods.

And there is more good news. There are effective fishery management programs-called catch shares-that are doing all of the above. As of 2013, about 200 catch shares programs are  managing more than 500 different species in 40 countries. Very much like dividing a pizza or pie, catch shares give a secure fishing area or privilege to catch a share of a fishery’s total allowable catch to an individual or group. And with this privilege, fishing participants are expected to fish within their allotted amount.

The success of catch shares lies in the ability to give fishermen a long-term stake in the fishery and tie their current behavior to future environmental outcomes. Specifically, catch shares align fishermen’s incentives through a system of rights, responsibilities and rewards. By giving fishermen the privilege or right to a secure area or share of the catch, fishermen also retain the responsibility to conserve fish stocks and marine ecosystems and are subsequently rewarded by stable and healthy fish populations. Importantly, catch shares are flexible and can be custom designed to meet the different characteristics and goals of diverse fisheries.  Some catch share programs have allocated shares to groups—often called Cooperative catch shares—and others have allocated shares to individuals—often called Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) or Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs).  Area-based catch shares, often called Territorial Use Rights for Fishing, or TURFs, allocate secure, exclusive areas to fishermen. And within these differing types of catch shares are a multitude of design features that have, and can, be used to meet different goals. Around the world, from small artisanal fisheries to large commercial fishing operations, well-designed catch share programs are increasing compliance with catch limits, reducing the amount of bycatch and discarded fish, increasing revenues and reducing fishing expenses, proving that good yields can indeed happen sustainably. A 2011 study of 345 fish stocks around the world found that those managed with catch shares had significantly lower cases of overexploitation when compared to conventional management practices. And another study found that the implementation of these systems “halts, and even reverses—widespread fishery collapse.” This positive trend is largely driven by catch shares ability to encourage compliance with mortality controls.

Numerous studies on these fisheries have reported a dramatic drop in bycatch and discarded fish including a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report which found that catch share fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico reduced red snapper discards by 50% in 2010, just three years after a catch share program was implemented. And in some fisheries like the Alaskan pollock fishery, fishermen create voluntary no-take zones to avoid bycatch of at-risk species while targeting specific species. In the Alaska halibut fishery after just one year of catch share implementation, there was an 80% drop in ghost fishing (when lost or abandoned gear continues to kill fish). Read More »

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Setting aside space provides room for innovation

By Sarah Poon

Territorial Use Rights for Fishing, or TURFs, have been in place for centuries in fishing communities around the world.  In a TURF, fishery participants have a secure, exclusive privilege to fish in a defined area.  Many fishery policy experts view TURFs and catch share programs as separate options for managing fisheries. TURFs are a type of catch share, since the area-based privileges assigned under a TURF provide the same rewards for stewardship as quota-based privileges.

In recent decades fishery managers have channeled the historical successes of this approach by formally recognizing customary TURFs, applying them to more fisheries and experimenting  with modern adaptations.

Community-based territorial rights that have existed for centuries are now formally recognized by national law in Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Palau.  Empowered by national law promoting traditional community-based management, the Safata District of Samoa implemented a district-wide TURF in 2000.  Bylaws developed by the community manage members’ fishing efforts and limit outsiders’ access.  Safata’s leaders have further improved biological performance by establishing a network of no-take reserves.  With a formalized role in management, the district has received strong community support, high regulatory compliance and increased abundance for important species.

TURF systems have been used in different types of fisheries, but they are particularly well-suited for managing near shore fisheries where there is a clear spatial range of fishing activity. While these systems are ideal for less mobile species that don’t move beyond TURF boundaries, they can also be designed for more mobile species.

In Mexico, fishermen are benefitting immensely from the Baja California Regional Federation of Fishing Cooperative Societies (FEDECOOP). Under the federation, 13 fishing Cooperatives from 10 villages manage Baja spiny lobster, abalone, and other species in 10 area-based concessions or TURFs. By coordinating management across a network of TURFs, FEDECOOP has served as a model for sustainable fisheries management. The fishery was awarded Marine Stewardship Council certification in 2004, making it the first small-scale fishery in a developing country to receive accreditation.  The system has incentivized fishermen to protect stocks and many Cooperatives have even implemented voluntary no-take zones, allowing fish populations to recover more quickly and the oceans ecosystems to become more resilient to change.

Across the world, the Japanese Common Fishing Rights System is a model for managing nearshore species—including more mobile species—through a coordinated system of co-management. Japan’s program, formally established in 1949 when Fishery Cooperative Associations (FCAs) were granted TURFs, spans most of the nation’s coastline and includes more than 1,000 FCAs. Under the TURF system, FCAs are responsible for the day-to-day management of coastal fisheries.  Fishery management organizations (FMOs) have also emerged to improve management by promoting collaboration between fishermen targeting certain species or using certain gear types, often including fishermen from multiple FCAs. Innovation is an outcome of the TURF system, and fishermen within and between Cooperatives have agreed to pool effort, costs, knowledge and revenues to increase profits and improve stock conditions.

These are just a few examples of fisheries that are successfully using TURFs to manage their resources. Below you will find links to additional examples of how fisheries have designed TURFs to meet biological, economic and social goals.  A step-by-step guide to designing TURFs can be found here. To access our full fisheries toolkit click here.

Mexican Vigía Chico Cooperative Spiny Lobster Territorial Use Rights for Fishing Program

The most productive fishing Cooperative in the Mexican-Caribbean since 1982, this area-based catch share program has steadied the Punta Allen lobster catch while ensuring access to community members.

Chilean National Benthic Resources Territorial Use Rights for Fishing Program

Among the largest area-based catch share programs in the world, the Chilean TURF system includes more than 17,000 artisanal fishermen and co-manages more than 550 distinct areas along the coast.

Spanish Galicia Goose Barnacle Cofradía System

The Galician goose barnacle fishery’s integration of traditional fishing guilds, provision of secure and exclusive fishing areas and use of an on-site fisheries ecologist have established one of the most successful models of fisheries co-management in Spain.

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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.

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Effective monitoring is critical for the New England groundfish fishery

[Video credit: Archipelago, NMFS and Frank Mirarchi- FV Barbara Peters]

Collecting timely, accurate and complete information from fishing vessels is fundamental to successful fisheries management.  There is an important nexus between the quantity and quality of data collected by monitoring programs that are used for fisheries science and management that makes it more credible to industry and other stakeholders.

EDF continues to work to improve the performance of New England groundfish sectors by supporting the design and implementation of a cost-effective and comprehensive monitoring program that incorporates the use of electronic monitoring (EM).  The current crisis facing the groundfish fishery with low stock abundance and resulting quota cuts, and high uncertainty of stock assessments, highlights the need to produce reliable fisheries information.

Benefits of electronic monitoring:

Monitoring provides a number of benefits to managers, scientists and industry alike.  A well-designed program enables managers to set and monitor annual catch limits (ACLs) and sector quotas – the foundation of the management system.  The information collected provides managers with a better understanding of the effectiveness and impact of management measures on the fleet.  Monitoring programs can also be an early detector of changing environmental conditions, signaling that a shift in stock abundance or other ecosystem change is occurring, providing managers with an opportunity to respond.

A robust monitoring program allows scientists to better account for total catch and characteristics of the catch to reduce uncertainty in the data needed for reliable stock assessments.  With increasing scientific uncertainty of stock status and distrust of stock assessments by the fishing industry and other stakeholders, monitoring is critically important to improving our understanding and increasing confidence in these assessments.

For industry, monitoring increases participation in management and research and moves towards greater co-management of the fishery.  It also allows industry to improve product traceability and marketing.  And it allows industry to track their quota caught in real-time, an essential element to ensure catch limits are not exceeded.

Overcoming challenges:

In New England, there have been numerous challenges to improving the effectiveness of the groundfish sector monitoring program.  The program is costly and relies on incomplete information with too many assumptions that lead to increased uncertainty and bias in science and management, making it hard for fishermen to operate efficiently.

EDF is collaborating with industry, the New England Fishery Management Council (Council), NOAA and other stakeholders to bring the sector monitoring program into the 21st century by approving the use of EM to improve the effectiveness of the program while reducing costs.

Used in conjunction with traditional data collection methods like onboard observers and dockside monitors, these technologies can achieve comprehensive and cost-effective monitoring. Read More »

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Electronic Monitoring: A Roadmap to Efficient & Effective Fisheries Management

Fisheries Monitoring Roadmap

Successful fisheries management is dependent upon timely data collection and analysis.  A robust monitoring program will provide data on catch, specify gear use and evaluate bycatch for fishery stakeholders and managers, which in turn, support and improve stock assessments and ensure catch limits are both optimized and sustainable in the long-term.  Monitoring is a necessary component of accurate catch accounting, yet comes with costs which can be a barrier to implementation.  EDF is working to establish cost-effective monitoring programs in the United States, using a multifaceted approach including electronic monitoring, electronic reporting, on-board observers, logbooks, dockside catch accounting and other tools.  The Fisheries Monitoring Roadmap is a guide developed by a working group of fisheries stakeholders facilitated by EDF to help realize this goal.

As fishery managers and other stakeholders look to new and emerging technologies to meet fishery monitoring and data needs, it is important to recognize that incorporating EM into a fishery monitoring program is a multi-step process that must be tailored to the specific needs of the fishery, fleet and often individual vessels.  The Fishery Monitoring Roadmap outlines the differences between monitoring tools, and matches them with clearly identified management and monitoring goals, ultimately allowing for the optimization of fishery monitoring programs.

The “Roadmap” is essentially a multi-stage, ‘how-to’ manual for developing or revising a fishery monitoring program.  Additionally, the Roadmap provides anecdotes and case studies highlighting trade-offs that must be considered when selecting among various fishery monitoring tools.  In order to provide the context, background and resources stakeholders may need, the Roadmap includes the following five complementary sections:

  1. A step-by-step process for evaluating, designing and implementing a fishery monitoring program;
  2. A table/matrix that matches fishery data needs with an assessment of the ability of monitoring tools to meet those needs;
  3. A comparison and evaluation of viability and trade-offs (such as cost and accuracy of data) of different monitoring tools;
  4. A list of studies, papers and reports related to electronic monitoring; and
  5. Case studies demonstrating how similar fisheries are implementing different monitoring tools and outlining some of the associated costs.

Although electronic monitoring technologies are being implemented in a number of other countries, the use of electronic monitoring systems in U.S. fisheries is limited. Several fisheries across the country are considering electronic monitoring approaches, and are evaluating technical requirements necessary to ensure effective deployment.  Concurrently, many of the Regional Fishery Management Councils are beginning to explore how electronic monitoring tools can be integrated within existing monitoring frameworks to meet specific data needs.  Next January a national workshop of key technical experts, decision makers and stakeholders will produce updated technical, logistical and policy recommendations.

This is the first in a series of blog posts focusing on electronic monitoring.  Future posts will include snapshots of fisheries in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, highlighting challenges, needs and electronic monitoring research currently underway in each of these regions.  A European Union fishery currently using electronic monitoring systems for catch accounting will also be profiled to demonstrate functionality once fully implemented.  Finally, we will conclude the series with a summary of the outcomes and key takeaways from the national electronic monitoring workshop in January.

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Newsflash! Warming oceans=changes in fish populations and ecosystems

A number of scientific studies indicate that warming waters are affecting fish populations globally—and often in unpredictable ways. This finding is significant for fisheries management because as fish populations shift, whole ecosystems are changed. A recent study covering 40 years of data illuminates these changes in fish distributions and a Huffington Post article examines the research conducted to date and highlights the uncertain implications of this knowledge. The article extensively quotes our own scientist and Director of Spatial Initiatives, Jake Kritzer. Jake comments on the difficulty of making management predications without a complete understanding of how complex underwater ecosystems are shifting:

“It's an immensely complicated situation. You have climate change overlaying everything, and it seems to be changing the way everything works, which means we have a lot of problems. It's getting harder and harder to assess the stocks, to model them and understand their dynamics and predict what's going to happen. Because those models are based on years and years of experience reading fish stocks and studying them, they have been tested over a long time and they rely on a certain set of assumptions and conditions that now seem to be rapidly changing. Tools that have been fairly well established and worked well in the past just don't seem to be working as well anymore."

Read the full Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/17/ocean-climate-change-fishing-industry_n_3275505.html

Access the recent study published in Nature from researchers in British Columbia: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v497/n7449/full/497320a.html

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Sound Fisheries Management is No Fluke

 

Summer Flounder

photo credit: Michael McDonough via photopin cc

Recently a US Senate subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Developments and Opportunities in US Fisheries Management,” with testimony by federal, regional and state officials that focused on the need for collaboration in fisheries management and decision-making based on sound science.  More than two and a half hours of testimony and questioning by Senators focused on the role of science and the Magnuson Stevens Act in effective management of our nation’s fisheries, especially summer flounder or “fluke.” 

New York and New Jersey have long been embroiled in an interstate conflict over what New York Senator Chuck Schumer has called “our decades long fight to bring fairness, flexibility, and accountability into the management of summer flounder.”  To that point, a reoccurring theme in the testimony was that effective fisheries management requires high quality data and regular stock assessments.  This notion was also echoed at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing a week earlier.

What is clear in the early hours of debating MSA’s reauthorization is that stakeholders across the board are focused on a common top priority – simply, good science is fundamental to good management.  This reality is at the core of the interstate summer flounder battle, with NY arguing that the use of outdated data has led to an unequal allocation of fish between states.

Fluke is an important species.  Managed jointly by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the 2012 stock assessment indicated that it is not overfished and that overfishing is not occurring.  Fishery managers have allocated 60% of the fluke harvest to the commercial fishery and 40% to the recreational fishery.  While the commercial quota is allocated between the states based on historical commercial landings (a common practice), the recreational harvest targets are assigned proportionally to the states based on estimated harvest data in 1998 using a data collection method called the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS).  Herein lies the cause of conflict.  MRFSS is antiquated and is actively being replaced. It is considered largely unreliable by anglers up and down the East Coast and limited in efficacy by managers, and 1998 was 15 years ago.  I’m willing to bet the characteristics of the fleet and the fishery have also changed significantly over that time. Read More »

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