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Let’s not turn back the clock on U.S. fisheries

G.W. Bush signing MSA Re-authorization 2006

President George W. Bush signs the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006, joined by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers.
Photo Credit: AP, from talkingfish.org

Fisheries management can be a contentious business. So it’s all the more striking that the business of legislating on federal fisheries has historically been a relatively cordial affair. The gains of the last two decades have been possible because of strong cooperation across the aisle. In 1996 the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) prioritized conservation in federal fisheries management for the first time. Alaska’s Republican Congressman Don Young jokes that the Magnuson-Stevens Act could have been called the Young-Studds Act because of his close collaboration on the SFA with Gerry Studds, then a Democrat from Massachusetts. It passed both chambers by overwhelming margins and was signed into law by President Clinton. Ten years later, the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act strengthened conservation mandates in response to continued overfishing and the failure to rebuild overfished species. It was championed in the Senate by Republican Ted Stevens in close cooperation with his Democratic counterpart Daniel Inouye. It cleared the Senate by unanimous consent, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

With Congress once again considering reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), there’s a welcome bipartisan consensus that the law is working. Senior lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are talking about building on our recent successes and exploring minor tweaks to the law rather than pursuing any kind of far-reaching rewrite. Despite serious ongoing challenges in specific fisheries, the legal framework created by Congress is clearly succeeding. Science-based annual catch limits are ending overfishing; and statutory rebuilding timelines have driven the recovery of more than 30 previously depleted stocks. This is great news for the health of the ocean. It’s even better news for seafood lovers, saltwater anglers, and coastal small businesses—the most important long-term beneficiaries of fishery management success.

In this context, a reauthorization discussion draft that has been circulated by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings is all the more befuddling. Chairman Hastings voted for the 2006 reauthorization and celebrates its success. At a committee hearing convened to consider the discussion draft earlier this month he was emphatic: “In the [previous] hearings we’ve held there was general agreement that the Act is working,” the Chairman said in his opening statement. “I have said all along that the Act is fundamentally sound.” Yet as EDF outlines in a comment letter submitted to the committee today, the substance of the Chairman’s discussion draft is deeply discordant with his affirming rhetoric. His overhaul of the law would do more than merely “shift the balance” of fishery management in modest and benign ways. On the contrary, if enacted in its current form we fear it would set us on a path back to the failed management practices of the past.

Take overfishing. This scourge devastated many coastal communities in previous decades, costing countless jobs and forfeiting untold billions in lost economic output. During this month’s hearing, Chairman Hastings was careful to assert that his draft does not eliminate requirements to prevent overfishing, and in a narrow sense that’s true. Yet those provisions failed to prevent widespread overfishing until legislators added requirements for enforceable science-based quotas, which the discussion draft would undercut. It doesn’t take a fisheries scientist to see that rolling back those specific mandates will wind back the clock. Indeed, the discussion draft explicitly allows overfishing to continue after a population is declared overfished. And it permits catch limits set at the overfishing limit, inviting management on the knife’s edge.

Or take rebuilding. NOAA estimates that renewing depleted fish stocks will ultimately result in $31 billion in additional sales impacts, supporting 500,000 jobs and increasing dockside revenues by more than 50 percent. During this month’s hearing Chairman Hastings was quick to argue that his discussion draft does not eliminate the requirement that fisheries be rebuilt. But that assertion obscures the real story. As the testimony of NOAA Fisheries Deputy Assistant Administrator Sam Rauch made clear, managers struggled to rebuild depleted fisheries until the MSA imposed a statutory timeline, which has been the impetus necessary to do the hard work of rebuilding our nation’s fisheries.  To do away with any meaningful rebuilding timeline, as the discussion draft proposes, would be a highly retrograde step.

At the same time, the draft threatens to stymie needed improvements. It could place obstacles in the way of wider use of electronic monitoring, which many see as the next step in reducing costs and improving data collection. It would limit the flexibility of many Councils to adopt new catch share programs—and it defines the term so broadly that it would include shifts in allocation. It would also expand state waters for the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico—but only for red snapper management, creating a confusing and unwieldy patchwork of regulations.

To be sure, challenges remain in federal fisheries. The scientific basis for establishing quotas and other management actions can and should be improved. Twenty-first century tools must be employed to assess species, and data from fishermen, academia, and other non-governmental sources must be integrated more effectively where possible.  Costs of modern management threaten small boat operators in some areas. Conserving the ecosystem on which fisheries depend, rather than focusing on each species in a vacuum, could make our marine resources more resilient.

But addressing these challenges does not require rewriting the central provisions of the MSA.  Improved implementation can address many of them, along with narrow revisions to the statute where the need has been shown to exist.  EDF joined a diverse group of fishermen, other industry leaders, and academics in submitting a letter to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calling for more and better cooperative management of fishery resources.  Congressman Wittman recently introduced H.R. 3063, which would make the stock assessment process more transparent and accessible to non-governmental participants without sacrificing conservation requirements.

The discussion draft, on the other hand, would make sweeping, disruptive and problematic changes to the MSA.  The good news is that there’s still plenty of time for Congress to get reauthorization right. With the Senate moving closer to the release of its own discussion draft, there’s reason to hope that Chairman Mark Begich and Ranking Member Marco Rubio will forge a bipartisan approach that can emulate the traditions of their Senate predecessors. And with leaders in industry, government and academia all lining up to express concerns about the House discussion draft, there’s still the possibility that Chairman Hastings will consider wholesale changes to his reauthorization bill before it’s introduced. For the sake of fishermen, coastal communities and seafood lovers everywhere, we urge the Chairman to do just that.

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Monitoring with an eye towards cost-effectiveness in the Pacific Groundfish fishery

In the Pacific, electronic monitoring (EM) research is currently focused on individual accountability of both catch and bycatch in the trawl catch share fishery.  Since 2011, vessels in this fishery have been required to carry an on board observer.  Additionally, the crew of each vessel operates a vessel monitoring system (VMS), submits logbooks, and reports 100% of landings. This comprehensive program, along with individual fishing quotas (IFQs), has proven to be an effective approach to managing the fishery.  This success is evidenced by a decrease in catch of overfished and rebuilding species, as well as a significant reduction in unwanted catch, or “discards.” 

Why Electronic Monitoring?

The West Coast Groundfish monitoring program is working well, but its high costs could push some of the smaller vessels out of the fishery, especially those that operate out of remote locations where it is difficult to deploy fisheries observers.  EDF’s Pacific Ocean team, along with many other stakeholders, is working with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to identify and approve appropriate electronic monitoring options.  The integration of EM into the Pacific groundfish monitoring program is expected to help reduce costs and increase operational flexibility while maintaining high levels of accountability.

 

Preliminary EM Research Results:

Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSFMC) has overseen EM research with various portions of the groundfish fleet since March 2012.  Results of the 2012 research from whiting (midwater trawl) and shoreside groundfish (longline, pot and trap) vessels were released at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting in June 2013, highlighting key factors to be considered to ensure successful deployment of EM, including:

  1. Hardware makes a difference.  Digital cameras (as opposed to analog cameras) facilitate the accurate identification of fish species.  Vessels will also need to have an adequate power supply to avoid situations necessitating powering down an EM system during a fishing trip.
  2. Communication is key.  Feedback between data analysts/program managers and the captain/crew is needed to ensure: catch handling protocols are appropriate for the vessel and the camera locations; equipment is properly maintained; and that cameras are not obstructed during fishing operations.  This collaboration is essential for developing vessel-specific monitoring plans.
  3. Define your terms.  A clear definition and expectation of what constitutes “catch” and “discard” is necessary to accurately compare EM and observer collected data.
  4. Data drives it.  The duration of a fishing trip and fishing activities will determine the amount of data to be recorded and stored.  Knowing data storage needs in advance will ensure hard drive capacity is not exceeded, which can result in the inadvertent loss of data.
  5. Size matters.  Knowing the dimensions of the vessel and fishing gear can assist data reviewers in calculating volumetric estimates of catch.

 

Next Steps:

PSMFC and Archipelago Marine Research are currently working with 14 fishing vessels to continue EM research.  Likewise, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is on track to tackle regulatory aspects of implementing EM in the groundfish fishery.  Starting this week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting to adopt a range of alternatives for EM regulations, with the goal of implementing electronic monitoring for major segments of the groundfish catch share fishery by January 1, 2015.  To accomplish this work, the Council established two ad-hoc EM advisory committees, one of which I serve on along with stakeholders from the Pacific Groundfish fishery.  A calendar of the Pacific Council’s EM-related work can be found here.

Although a timeline has been established, much work remains to complete the Pacific regional implementation plan and resolve some of the logistical and political challenges to putting a fully operational EM program in place.  Given the importance of fishery-dependent data to fishery management, and the need for cost-efficient means to monitor fishing activities, EDF will continue to support the adoption of EM and other technological solutions in the Pacific and nationally.

 

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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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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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Climate Change is Changing Fisheries

Recently, the impacts of climate change on fisheries have been in the news.  The emphasis has been on the inability of scientists to explain how climate change is affecting fisheries or to fix the problems it seems to be causing.  These include shifting distribution and abundance patterns of commercially valuable fish stocks – shifts that may leave fishermen stranded with very restrictive catch limits, even when they have been doing everything possible to protect and restore their stocks.  These problems are being felt acutely in New England, where catch of some valuable stocks has been highly restricted to rebuild stocks depleted by overfishing – but they face even more restrictions as scientists find less fish in the water, possibly due to migrations induced by climate change.

A better scientific understanding of how climate change influences the distribution and abundance of fish is certainly needed, but that may be less important than the need for more flexible human institutions that can rapidly adjust to those changes.

The fact that we’ve allowed greenhouse gases to accumulate in the atmosphere means that the ocean has warmed too.  The ocean is even more resistant to remediation efforts than the atmosphere due to its enormous thermal inertia.  The ocean will hang on to that heat for decades, resulting in changing temperatures at sea.  Because fish favor certain ranges of temperatures over others, this should cause fish stocks to migrate in pursuit of their favorite temperatures. A new study shows that catch composition has been changing over the last several decades in ways that support this hypothesis: warmer water species are being caught in areas where catch used to be dominated by cold water species.  This state of affairs demands institutions that are flexible and can adjust rapidly to changing conditions.

Most fishery institutions, on the other hand, seem inflexible and incapable of rapid adjustment to a changing world. For example, the Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1985 allocated harvest of shared stocks of salmon to the United States and Canada based on average distributions.  But then, changes in the distribution and abundance of salmon (which are prone to such changes, being migratory) resulted in a fish war between these two strong allies.  In many other fisheries, too, declines in fish stocks have led to declines in  allowable catch limits, leaving  fisherman who invested in boats and gear during boom times saddled with debt.

Catch share programs, in which shares of allowable catch are allocated to individuals or groups, are much more suitable to a world in which the climate is changing. Shareholders can buy or sell shares, allowing the fishery to contract or expand depending on how many fish are around.  For example, fishing capacity had built up to high levels in the Pacific groundfish fishery, resulting in a federal buyout of about half of the capacity.  However, the fishery was still constrained by very low catch limits for species depleted by decades of overfishing.  Catch shares have allowed the fleet to adjust to these new catch limits by incentivizing fishermen to extract more value from their catch and engage in creative strategies to avoid catching the overfished species. Read More »

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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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