Category Archives: Science/Research

Establishing a biological and ecological baseline of Cuba’s coastal ecosystems

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

A team of scientists from Cuba and EDF set sail on an expedition to assess the status and health of marine ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve in southern Cuba, one of the most pristine and intact coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

One morning we awoke to a small tuna boat pulling up alongside the RV Felipe Poey.  The crew of the “Unidad ‘77” had been targeting bonito, a small tuna-like fish, south of the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve. EDF scientists were eager to tap into the captain’s localized knowledge, and peppered him with questions that were ably translated by CIM’s Patricia González.   The captain described his fishing grounds, proudly displayed his catch and explained how his crew times their trips to coincide with certain phases of the moon.  Before shoving off, the captain asked for some cooking oil for his next voyage.  We traded oil for tuna and enjoyed fresh fish for many meals over the next few days.

 

A Scientific Baseline for Management:

Vessels like Unidad ‘77 are common in Cuba: small boats that work for the state, the livelihoods of their crews dependent upon a stable resource base.  This and future expeditions will synthesize scientific findings to inform the management of Cuba’s marine resources.  While our voyage was one of discovery, there were practical benefits too; the datasets we initiated will ultimately increase understanding of how ecosystems in Cuba work, which is essential to developing its coastal fishing economy in a sustainable manner.

Long-term monitoring programs are some of the most powerful tools that managers and scientists have to track and gauge ecosystem performance, variation and resilience.  They generate baseline information about the status of a target species or ecosystem. In many cases, baseline information is used to analyze an impacted region after a major change (such as a disturbance either natural or human produced), or as reference data to compare between areas of interest; for example, to compare Cuba to other regions of the Caribbean that have been heavily impacted.  Well-designed programs aid in evaluating impacts and help tailor recovery and management strategies. Additionally, long term monitoring data helps to identify areas that are more or less resilient to change over time. We can identify factors that enhance ecosystem health and resilience, as well as factors that have negative impacts.

But long-term fishery datasets are rare, and of those that exist, most are limited in their geographic scope.  The data collected during this expedition and future trips represent a significant step forward for Cuba.  Additional trips are planned in other regions of the country, alongside annual sampling across all of the monitoring regions including the Gardens of the Queen. Read More »

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Collaborative research in the Gulf of Ana Maria & the Gardens of the Queen

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

A team of scientists from Cuba and EDF set sail on an expedition to assess the status and health of marine ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve in southern Cuba, one of the most pristine and intact coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

Cuba’s Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeras (CIEC) field station in the Gardens of the Queen is a cozy lodge in a quiet inlet tucked away on a mangrove-covered cay.  Near the Caballones Strait in the middle of the beautiful Gardens of the Queen, the station is a base for Cuban students and researchers studying Cuba’s unique coastal ecosystems.  On our research cruise in October 2013, scientists from EDF, CIEC, and the University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) spent a few nights at the station, interspersed along the two week trip.  We used the shore time to compile data and organize gear, scramble for a few minutes of (very) limited Internet access to send updates home and simply enjoy a night on dry ground.

Sitting on the dock watching the sun set over the Gardens provided a chance to reflect on the work we were doing, and to ponder about the interconnectivity between the data sets we had collected.

A Diversity of Data:

During the cruise, researchers from CIM, CIEC, and EDF surveyed more than 30 sites across multiple habitat types, both inside and out of the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve. In the future, these sites will offer a baseline measure of connectivity between the offshore environments and nearshore fishing grounds.  During the expedition, researchers collected samples from commercially-valuable fish species, corals, sessile and mobile invertebrates and macroalgae.

All of the samples will undergo an independent stable isotope analysis, which allows researchers to quantify the relative contributions of individuals from each region/site to the fishing grounds and identify migration corridors among important habitats.  In short, it will help determine where an individual fish, coral colony, etc. originated from.  Combined with oceanographic and abiotic data collected during the expedition (for example, nutrients and sediments in seawater; tides, currents and waves), this information will reveal a more complete picture of interconnectivity between the various marine habitats in this unique region of the Caribbean.

We used a variety of methods to gather data.  To assess coral health, researchers used SCUBA to get close enough to the reef to document the diversity of species at each site and look for signs of degradation or disease.  To study which fish used shallow seagrass – mangrove habitats as either nursery grounds or as adult habitats, we used a beach seine net from the shoreline to corral, count, and measure individual fish.  By seeing which species of fish utilized the nearshore mangrove and seagrass beds, and then counting the fish on the nearby coral reefs with a visual transect method, we could begin to see, literally, the biological connections between these distinct habitats.  As some researchers were in the water, counting fish or documenting coral health, others collected water samples for chemical analysis or hauling in a sampling net. Read More »

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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. 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. Read More »

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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. 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: Read More »

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