Selected category: Science/Research

New Report Highlights Challenges, Opportunities, and Cost-Modeling of Electronic Fisheries Monitoring Programs

pacific-sascha-burkardOne of the keys to effective fisheries management in the 21st century is accountability. Accountability requires having timely and accurate data. Electronic monitoring (EM) is gaining momentum in U.S. fisheries and abroad as an efficient means of meeting accountability requirements. Yet the ‘recipe’ for implementation of EM has not been perfected, and the price tag – and who pays – is not always clear. These challenges partly explain why the rate of uptake has been painfully slow, even as industry increasingly bears the brunt of human observer costs without any cheaper alternatives.

Recognizing the need to better understand the costs associated with EM, EDF’s Pacific team engaged a group of experts – Dr. Gil Sylvia, Dr. Michael Harte and Dr. Chris Cusack of Oregon State University – to analyze the costs of fishery monitoring systems such as EM and traditional At-Sea Observers (ASO). The goal of this research is to describe the state of EM in U.S. fisheries with both agency and industry stakeholders to better enable them to compare costs and tradeoffs between EM and ASO programs.  If monitoring costs go down, profitability goes up, and everyone wins. Read More »

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New process helps managers make informed decisions, even in data poor fisheries

The coast of Galicia, Spain where octopus, goose barnacles, and many other species are harvested by small scale fishermen and women.

The coast of Galicia, Spain where octopus, goose barnacles, and many other species are harvested by small-scale fishermen and women.

Fishery managers, scientists and NGOs from all over Spain gathered in Madrid on a warm spring morning at a workshop convened by EDF and World Wildlife Fund Spain, eager to learn about how to collect, analyze, and use data to manage fishing mortality so that they could achieve their goal of good yields sustained over many years and even generations.

Like many people struggling to improve fishery outcomes around the world, the participants in this workshop felt like they couldn’t use the complex fishery assessment models they had learned in school because the data they actually had in hand were quite limited – and the models required rich streams of data.  The vast majority – probably over 80% – of the world’s fisheries appear to be in this situation.  The participants also felt like they had to make important management decisions with limited expertise by wading through a mass of technical papers on a variety of topics, none giving clear and specific guidance for the specific fisheries they care so much about.

Over the course of three intense days, participants worked together to synthesize guidance from the literature and from other fisheries on how to monitor fisheries, choose appropriate analytical methods and use the results to manage fisheries.  Together, we worked out how this guidance could be applied to specific fisheries.

We were thrilled to read the evaluations afterward.  Participants got a tremendous amount out of the workshop, but many of them said that it was too short (even though most of us were exhausted by the long days of thinking hard and practicing various skills).  They wanted to dig deeper and build on the skills that they had learned.  It would have been great to have a large body of international expertise on monitoring, data analysis and how to adjust fishing mortality to achieve fishery management goals in one convenient place that could be tailored to the fisheries that they care most about.

FishPath: Guiding managers in complex, data poor fisheries

Fortunately, a working group of international stock assessment experts convened by the Science for Nature and People program foresaw this need and developed a process called FishPath that does exactly that.  FishPath  elicits key information about a specific fishery and then uses that information to identify monitoring, assessment and harvest control options that will likely be appropriate for that fishery.  Read More »

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Crowdsourcing better data on small-scale fisheries

Photo credit: Jason Houston

Photo credit: Jason Houston

Many of the world’s fish are caught in small-scale fisheries that lack data about the health of fish populations, giving managers very limited information to base management decisions on. In turn, most of these fisheries appear to be under-performing with respect to conservation, the amount of food they can produce, the amount of money they can generate, and the quality of the livelihoods they can support. There is a perception that these fisheries cannot be assessed without large amounts of data. Because of this perception, many fisheries remain unassessed, ineffectively managed or not managed at all leading to under performance or even collapse.

Fortunately, there are alternatives: fishermen and women, community members, managers and scientists are collaborating to bridge the data gap for these important fishing communities; increasing knowledge and resources for effective fishery assessment and management. While these collaborations have started to fill in the gaps, we still need input from fishery managers and practitioners for a complete picture of the data.

In collaboration with small-scale fisheries around the world, we are beginning to collect information on the pathway and tools employed in actions of science-based fishery co-management in small-scale, data-limited contexts. Read More »

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New study underscores urgency to rebuild global fisheries

By: Rod Fujita & Doug Rader

iStock_000029334204_smallerPeople have been catching fish for thousands of years, so you’d think by now we would have a pretty good idea of how fisheries are doing.  However, the two most basic numbers that you need to answer that question – how many fish are in the sea, and how many are being caught – have been highly uncertain.

A new study published in Nature by researchers at the University of British Columbia finds that the number of fish in the sea has been underestimated, and that the world’s fisheries should be more closely monitored. We couldn’t agree more.

It’s critically important for scientists to estimate these numbers so we can tell whether catch is too high, too low, or just right.  The stakes are enormous: these numbers and trends will determine what management actions are necessary to ensure that fisheries can continue to provide healthy food for billions of people and provide livelihoods for tens of millions. Read More »

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Sharks need smarter management and better data to recover and thrive

By Amada44 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Dusky Shark  (Carcharhinus obscurus) are extremely rare. This one is swimming at Seaworld Aquarium in Queensland, Australia. Photo by: Amada44 via Wikimedia Commons

Shark advocates at Oceana recently sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), claiming that the way the agency controls fishing on dusky sharks violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  Duskies are overfished and have suffered overfishing for years, even though it is illegal to retain them if they are caught.  The duskies’ plight highlights the shortcomings of bans and similar efforts when it comes to protecting vulnerable species like sharks, especially when they are caught alongside other, healthier species.

Over the last several years, more and more people have learned about both the importance of sharks and the ongoing threats to their existence. This is great news because sharks are among the most important creatures in the ocean, playing a vital role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems.  Plus, they’re really cool.  Formerly of interest exclusively to fish geeks like myself, Shark Week is now a widely celebrated summer ritual.  Shark finning, a deplorable practice where a shark’s fin is removed and the rest of its body is discarded at sea, has been banned in the United States since 2000, and more than 70 other countries have enacted similar bans.

Despite this progress, shark populations remain threatened and overfishing is common. The FAO reports that the market for sharks has actually increased, and many sharks die as bycatch as a side effect of fishing for other species at healthier population sizes, such as Atlantic swordfish (which has recovered after a focused conservation effort). Read More »

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Cuba’s plan for shark conservation

A Caribbean reef shark encountered off the coast of Cuba.

A Caribbean reef shark encountered off the coast of Cuba. Credit: Noel Lopez Fernandez

Sharks are recognized by scientists, resource managers and the tourism ministry in Cuba for their critical role in marine ecosystems, as a tourist attraction for divers and as a protein source when caught by fishers. Leaders from various Cuban agencies, looking at how to balance these needs and protect sharks, are now for the first time creating a national plan for shark conservation.  This is important not just for Cuba but for the entire Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region where many shark populations travel throughout waters shared by many nations.

Earlier this year I sat in a hotel discoteca in Trinidad, Cuba that was converted into a teaching space for daytime use. Here I watched fishers jump at the chance to correctly identify shark species and prove their skills in front of their peers. This was the second shark and ray identification workshop organized by Cuba’s Ministry of Food (MINAL) and EDF where fishers, boat captains and port employees came together from across the country to learn about Cuba’s efforts to study and conserve sharks.

Because of ongoing concerns over declining shark populations in the region, the Cuban government is making shark conservation  a national priority through the development of its first-ever National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Sharks and Rays (NPOA-Sharks). They hope to complete it by the end of the year. Read More »

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