Selected tags: science

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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Closed areas can decrease uncertainty in effects of climate change on New England Fisheries

Gulf of Maine Map

Photo Credit: New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance

As fishermen around New England will be the first to point out, this summer, much like last year, has been abnormal. The ocean waters were warmer and cod, haddock, and flounders—the mainstay of our fishing industry for centuries—are increasingly elusive. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including decades of mismanagement and overfishing, inexact science and a mismatch in abundance of certain predatory species. Looking beyond these factors, the impact of climate change on fisheries is another factor driving fish abundance that’s worth a hard look.

The level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has now exceeded 400 parts per million, contributing to rising ocean temperatures. Some of the fastest increases in the last few decades have occurred in the Northwest Atlantic, and 2012 registered the largest annual increase in mean sea surface temperature for the Northwest Atlantic in the last 30 years.  

It is clear that climate change is disrupting New England’s fisheries right now; it is no longer an abstract, future scenario.

In the face of this evidence, fisheries managers need to factor in climate change alongside fishing effort and other elements when determining how to manage and rebuild fish stocks. The impacts of climate change can prevent fisheries management inactions from rebuilding fish populations, and conversely, excess fishing pressure can hinder the ability of a fish population to adapt to changes in climate. As I have written recently, a network of well-designed closed areas represents a promising management strategy to address the effect of climate change on fisheries.

Warming waters, shifting populations:

The mechanisms by which shifts in water temperature affect fish populations are not completely understood, but temperature driven changes have been observed in various species. Species’ response to climate change may be manifested as a shift in geographical distribution of the species, an expansion or contraction of the species’ range, or a change in depth distribution. Shifts in abundance are likely to be most apparent for species on the southern end of their range, and indeed shifts in fisheries distribution caused by warming waters are already taking place in the Northwest Atlantic. One study found a number of fish stocks in New England have shifted their center of biomass northward over the past 40 years.

Climate-driven shifts have been documented for cod in particular, one of the most economically, ecologically, and culturally important fish species in New England. Cod stocks on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine are at the southern end of their range in the Northwest Atlantic. Temperature influences the distribution of cod in the region, and warmer water temperature has also been linked to a decline in productivity in the Gulf of Maine.

While climate change may be affecting iconic species in New England fisheries, other species may also be shifting their distribution north to areas where they are not typically found. Several news articles in local media outlets this summer featured fishermen who described the changes they’ve witnessed in the distribution of fish species. Fishermen in Maine have seen increasing numbers of black sea bass and longfin squid – species not traditionally seen in the Gulf of Maine – while fishermen in Rhode Island are catching warm water species like cobia and Atlantic croaker.

Finding management solutions to uncertain changes:

The New England Fishery Management Council is currently working to design a new network of closed areas in the region, which would build resilience in the fishery by providing protection for fish, as they shift their distribution and as they adapt to a changing ecosystem, thereby protecting fishermen’s businesses in the long-term.

Closed areas can protect the territory most critical to the productivity of target fish species, including important but vulnerable habitats, areas important for foraging and areas that harbor critical life stages like large spawners and juveniles. Refuges from fishing pressure can provide further resilience for fish species faced with a changing environment and a well-designed network of closed areas provides important stepping stones for fish species shifting their distribution in response to warming waters.

One way to increase resilience to climate change is to rebuild the population structure for overexploited fish stocks. Fishing pressure typically targets the largest (and oldest) fish. However, large, old females are typically more successful breeders, producing a much larger number of healthy larvae, and spawning more frequently than their smaller counterparts. Closed areas designed around known spawning grounds or other areas where these large females congregate can preserve a population of older, larger fish within the stock, reducing their exposure to fishing pressure and allowing them to reproduce and contribute to stock rebuilding.

Climate change needs to be considered when designing properly functioning closed areas, understanding that both fish and fishing effort may shift as a result of environmental change.

Uncertainty is inherent in both the marine ecosystem and our management of fisheries, and creating closed areas can ensure some level of insurance against this uncertainty.  A closed area network for New England’s fisheries should be broadly distributed throughout the region to provide refuges to fish, particularly as stocks shift northward from their traditional areas of abundance. A well-designed network of linked closed areas can allow species distribution to shift in response to climate change, but remain at least partially protected. This will be important not only to fish but to fishermen, creating the resiliency needed in a healthy fishery to support the long-term interests of the fishing industry.

This closed area network can provide resilience to climate change in the near term, and can be adapted to meet changing conditions as species shift.  The Council needs to consider climate change when making decisions about developing this closed area network.  They should not miss the opportunity to take a positive step in the direction of managing for a changing climate.

Dr. Sarah Smith is a member of EDF Ocean's Spatial and Ecosystems Initiatives team

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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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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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EDF presents analysis of illegal fishing to the Mexican Senate

EDF was recently invited by the Fisheries Committee of the Mexican Senate to present a study on Illegal fishing in Mexico that we have developed with the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO) and other partners. Three of the five Senators who make up the Committee were present: the Chair – Sen. Francisco Lopez Brito (PAN, Sinaloa), the Secretary – Sen. Oscar Rosas González (PRI, Campeche), and Sen. Ernesto Ruffo (PAN, BC). Also in attendance was the General Director and several staff from National Fisheries Institute of Mexico (INAPESCA), as well as representatives from fishermen´s associations from both the industrial and small-scale fleets.

This is the first time EDF attended one of the monthly public meetings of the Committee. Pedro Zapata (EDF de Mexico Director) and Rodrigo Gallegos (Director for Global Warming from IMCO) made remarks and presented key conclusions from this study, which we hope will open up a constructive dialogue on this critical and complex issue. A few of the main points presented follow:

  1. The Mexican fishing sector has consistently lost competitiveness over time, as reflected by its stagnant economic returns and catch volumes, even as the size of the fleet continues to increase (mostly in the small-scale sector). The fisheries sector has decreased consistently as a percentage of GDP, of which it now represents less that 0.06%.
  2. Part of the reason for this loss of competitiveness is the modest economic impact of fisheries in Mexico, which result in very little activity in the value chain, i.e. gear and equipment sales, processing, transport, etc… Mexican fisheries generate roughly 30 additional cents for every dollar of fish caught and sold back into the economy, far from the world´s average, which is closer to 3 dollars of additional economic activity.
  3. One of the reasons for this complex problem is the high level of illegal fishing, which, by our estimates, represents roughly 60% of total production in México. Other recent estimates place the number closer to 100%.
  4. Illegal fishing is driven by many factors, but one of the main causes is a highly complicated and obscure regulatory framework that is difficult to understand. There are so many laws and rules that fishermen often find themselves fishing illegally without realizing it. As the law stands now, there are more than 255 different ways to fish illegally. A fisherman can have the right gear, fish in the right season, for the right species, but in an area that is legally off-limits, or he can be in the right area at the right time of year but fail to land the fish in the right place. This over-regulation complicates the jobs of both fishermen and regulators.
  5. Predictably, corruption (mostly in the form of bribes to get permits or to avoid punishment) plays an important role and has fueled the increase of illegal fishing. This phenomenon, present in many areas of public policy in Mexico, is boosted by a combination of a complex institutional framework, overwhelmed authorities and very ineffective control measures. Read More »

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Recreational red snapper management system "stinks and punishes everyone"

Charter boats allow recreational fishermen who do not have their own boats to fish for iconic species such as this Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper. Photo Credit Gulf Wild™

As the Gulf of Mexico red snapper allocation becomes a hot topic for both recreational and commercial fishermen, I wrote to Saving Seafood to set the record straight about Environmental Defense Fund’s work in the Gulf of Mexico and views on the issues facing fishermen.  An excerpt can be found below:

“Gulf of Mexico states and their anglers are increasingly frustrated with short seasons for prized red snapper in federal waters.  They have every right to be angry. The management of the recreational share of the fishery is utterly failing. This year’s projected federal season of a few weeks at best, together with large over-harvests each year, are obvious signs.  The system stinks and punishes everyone including those who enjoy fishing on their own and fishermen and families who use for-hire guides to access the Gulf.

There are a lot of passionate voices advocating change. Open discussion should be respected and welcome – in fact, exploration of new ideas is the only way to get closer to solutions.  Unfortunately, the gossip and finger-pointing simply diverts attention from important issues and does nothing to help.

I am proud of the partnerships between Environmental Defense Fund and fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.  I am convinced that cooperation between conservationists, fishermen and government are critical to the long term health of the Gulf.  I am also convinced that the progress of commercial red snapper management towards rebuilding the fish population and sustained financial viability is vital to success.”

Read the full piece here.

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Fisheries Catch Data: A Tale of Two Approaches

photo credit: wanderlasss via photopin cc

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to entertain two opposed ideas at the same time and still function.

Two views on the importance of catch data for estimating the abundance of fish populations are portrayed as opposing ideas in recent articles, but both of the “antagonists” display first rate intelligence by coming to the same conclusion: catch data send an important signal about the status of a fish population, but other kinds of information must be applied to avoid being confounded by all the other things that affect catch and come to a reasonably accurate estimate of fish abundance.

This argument over methodology may seem arcane, but the stakes are high: estimates of the status of global fisheries based on catch data, which are available for most fisheries, suggest they are in pretty poor shape, because catches have declined sharply in many of them.  But when one looks at stocks that have been assessed by scientists who take into account fishery-independent measures of abundance, the situation looks far less dire, because decreases in catch can result not only from decreased abundance, but also from changes in markets, environmental conditions, regulations, and even in what fish are called – Hilborn and Branch point out that in the 50’s, all sharks were put into only 7 categories, but now there are 36 groups for which catch data are collected, so that reduced catch in some of the earlier categories may merely be the result of re-classification.

So catch data provide a satellite-eye view of the whole world that is out of focus, while stock assessments provide really sharp images of your town.  Which is the more accurate depiction of reality?  Neither, of course.  These two perspectives must be intelligently synthesized to find reality. Read More »

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