Sunday, July 15, 2018

Water scarcity: an already systemic issue

Imagine yourself in a very hot day or after spending two hours working out at the gym. Would you get thirsty? It is just amazing to have an iced glass of water to refresh and hydrate our bodies or to take a long shower to relax after a working day. Water is so essential that no living being could survive without it. But have you ever thought that this resource could end or about the problems water scarcity could bring to the ecosystems and human lives as well? Could you imagine our blue planet without the blue part? Unfortunately, water shortage is a reality and we must understand what causes it and its consequences so that we could try to mitigate and avoid worse problems.

The amount of freshwater available in our planet is limited, which puts a cap at how much we can use of it. However, such threshold is likely to be close due to over-exploitation and human’s current unsustainable water use practices. Global demands for water have been increasing since the 1950s, whereas the freshwater supply has been declining. A fast-growing population, associated with ecosystems and land degradation, groundwater depletion, pollution of water courses and the use of water resources for producing more food to an increasing population (through irrigation) are some of the main reasons threatening water availability in terrestrial environments. Climate change is an additional effect that could exacerbate water scarcity in many areas of the world by increasing evapotranspiration rates and through reduced rainfall.

A group of scientists recently warned that water shortages are likely to be a major environmental challenge in this century. Indeed, even if we improved the efficiency of irrigations for agriculture, or managed water correctly, some predictions suggest that by 2050 our population will require 12,400 km3 of water, which is almost twice as much as our use today (6800 km3). Irrigation, one of the main uses of water, would probably be the first sector to be impacted by water scarcity, consequently constraining food production in the next decades. In that sense, water scarcity is projected to become one of the main drivers of food scarcity, leading to food insecurity and worsening hunger and poverty.

Water scarcity could also implicate in further ecosystem degradation, desertification, and droughts. These consequences together deprive people of means to survive and to carry on their economic activities, undermining social security and sometimes forcing local people to leave their homes to search for better life opportunities. This is what happened to the Urus-Muratos, a Bolivian population who traditionally depended on fisheries and hunting in the Poopó lake, the second largest lake of Bolivia. The saline lake dried up many times along its, but it would always recover to its original levels. However, because of its shallowness (max depth = 3m), Poopó lake is particularly vulnerable to water withdrawal for irrigation purposes, mining activities and decreased rainfall due to climate change. Since 2016, when it dried up for the last time, both locals and researchers believe the lake won’t recover. Without good perspectives, the Urus-Muratos are migrating to other Bolivian cities.

Fig. 1. Bolivia’s Lake Poopó in (a) April 12th, 2013, with water and (b) in January 15th, 2016, completely dried. From:

Such scenarios are even worse in arid and semi-arid lands where water is no longer abundant and where droughts have become more intense. Arid countries in the sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of South Asia are already subject to hunger, poverty and malnutrition, and water scarcity in such vulnerable areas tends to weight against any strategy to ameliorate social and economic security. As an attempt to better undestand these issues, in June 2018 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched a report two days before the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, which is celebrated every June 17th since 1995.

Fig. 2. From the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report on drought and the way its managed in the Near East and North Africa region. 

In this report FAO called for a shift in the way governments deal with drought in the Near East and North Africa region. This region is naturally affected by water scarcity and desertification due to its geographical position in the globe, though more severely during the past four decades, especially because of climate change. As a consequence, many socio-economic and environmental impacts are now more frequent. Smallholders and the poor layers of rural societies are especially vulnerable since their current economic activities, such as agriculture, forestry, livestock, and also fisheries, are particularly prone to be impacted by droughts and could severely affect food supply. FAO alerted to the need of a long-term planning and pro-active policy to reduce drought risks and build resilience amongst the 20 countries in the region. The report also states the importance of taking precautionary measures to strengthen societal resilience based on social, economic and environmental contexts of each country instead of just alleviating the consequences of drought through emergency responses.

In Brazil, since 2003, a government initiative called National Program to Support Rainwater Collection and other Social Technologies (“Cistern Program” in short) have been aiding the poor rural population to deal with water scarcity and drought, especially in the poverty plagued semi-arid Northeast region. This program aims to guarantee that people have access to water for human consumption and food production (for small-scale farming) through the use of ordinary and low cost social technologies. Although the program was successful and improved many local livelihoods, and also trained family members to apply these technologies (which enhances their capacity of learning and adapting), its budget for 2018 suffered a 95% cut, which basic kills it – a step back for a region desperately in need of affordable solutions to deal with ever repetitive and more intensive droughts.

Fig. 3. A cistern (on the left) in a rural community in the semi-arid region of the Rio Grande do Norte State, Brazil. From: Maria Clara B. T. Cavalcanti.

In an imminent possibility where freshwater scarcity will pose key challenges to humankind in all aspects of living (worsening poverty, hunger, security, and social inequity) and threats to the ecosystems as well, such as desertification, land degradation and impacts on ecosystem services, what could we do now to revert or stop such bad predictions? For a start, it would be nice if we could change our lifestyles to more sustainable food habits that require less water for irrigation, consume less animal products (as they require a lot more water per kg), invest in new technologies to generate “clean energy”, which could then reduce greenhouse gases emissions that contribute to warm up the planet, modernize irrigation infrastructure, plant more trees and reduce deforestation, preserve terrestrial ecosystems and aquifers, and be aware when using water and other natural resources…There are so many things we could do, both individually and in group!  Water is a collective good and the right to use it should be turned into the duty to save it.  We must start now.

By Maria Clara Bezerra

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ethics issues of consuming seafood

Maybe this is something that has never crossed your mind: despite the benefits of eating seafood, what are the ethical implications of doing this? Seafood consumption impacts consumers and the marine environment in both positive and negative ways. Fish consumers may experience an increase of gray matter in the brain, as well as nutritional benefits, but those benefits may be balanced against mercury contamination. Environmental impacts include unsustainable harvesting and other alterations to the oceans’ health. Yes, you probably heard about all of these before. However, in addition to consumer-related and environmental concerns, labor trafficking (over 45 million people around the globe are trapped in some form of slavery, see the Global Slavery Index 2016) – has become an issue in the fishery industry worldwide. Do you know or do you even care if your fish was caught with forced labor?

Forced labor or labor trafficking encompasses a range of activities (e.g.: recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining) involved when a person uses coercive means to compel someone to work. Most enslaved workers are involved in the agriculture, fishing, construction, manufacturing, and mining industries. In fishing, this forced labor is used on illegal vessels across the world, regions such as Asia and India being especially risk-prone both to labor trafficking and illegal fishing. 

The world’s fourth-largest seafood exporter from Asia, Thailand, has been gained international attention for labor trafficking because it is estimates that up to 300,000 people work as slave in its fishing industry. Forced labor and other rights abuses are widespread in Thai fishing fleets, which carry around 60 exploited workers per boat and go out to sea for months at a time. In this way, fishers wound up working in terrible conditions for no pay at all, for years at a time, and can be sold from captain to captain for not much more than $430 each.

Figure 1: Living quarters on the boats are hot and cramped, with crew sleeping just 2 hours between shifts, in Thailand. From:

In 2014, a report revealed the strong relationship between Thailand slave labor and the global shrimp supply chain, involving supermarkets and restaurants in the United Kingdom and the United States, like Walmart, Kroger, and Red Lobster. The United Kingdom already has legislation in place covering many aspects of work-on-board fishing vessels, but much of this needs to be updated in order to comply with the International Labour Convention – ILO 188. Furthermore, since the European Union threatened to ban its fish imports in 2015, Thailand’s government has been considering fishing industry reforms. That said, little has been done; the last Human Rights Watch’s report shows rights abuses and forced labor continue in Thailand’s fishing sector.   

Figure 2: Burmese fishers raise their hands as they are asked who among them want to go home at the compound of Pusaka Benjina Resources fishing company in Benjina, Aru Islands, Indonesia. From 

However, raising awareness with the goal of preventing labor trafficking in the fishing industry has inspired widespread activism and research working both against forced labor and for sustainable fishery. Recently, the Monterey Bay Aquarium launched its first database to combat forced labor in the fishery industry. The Seafood Slavery Risk Tool is a database jointly run by the Seafood Watch program, Liberty Asia, and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. It is designed to help corporate seafood buyers assess the risk of forced labor in the seafood they purchase by checking a fishery risk rating varying into critical, high, moderate or low. The new tool considers reliable indicators about known abuses, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, duration of the fishing trip, and evidence of forced labor, human trafficking and child labor in other sectors. Different from the Seafood Watch app, which advises retailers on which species into purchase, this new program seeks to change the seafood industry by working with suppliers to change their practices, talking openly about slavery and human rights. 

In 2014, nearly 3 billion people relied on fish as their main source of protein. Rather than leaving the government to address the causes of slavery labor, we, as fish consumers, can change corporate practices by speaking out against companies profiting from unsustainable fishery. Before we purchase seafood, we need to ask the following questions: How was this fish caught? Does the fishing gear result in bycatch and/or habitat destruction? Where on the food chain does the fish live? Is it wild or farmed? Did slaves catch my seafood? 

If we want fishing to remain part of our culture, we should choose seafood carefully, taking into account the social, environmental, economic, and, sure, ethical issues across the whole supply chain. With this in mind, would you think cautiously before eating or buying seafood next time? 

More interesting sources on slave labor in the fishing industry:

By Monalisa Silva

Friday, May 18, 2018

Tracing the distribution of fish species through fishing landings monitoring

The understanding the state of conservation of marine ecosystems and the distribution and recovery capacity of marine species continue to gain momentum among marine scientists, marine resource users and other stakeholders. The main concern is overfishing, which affects the supply of seafood, income generation for large, medium and small-scale fisheries and the livelihoods of resource-dependent coastal communities, especially those in the developing world.
Of the approximately 250,000 catalogued marine species, about 16,000 species are exploited by commercial fisheries. Projections made by marine scientists estimate between 2 to possibly 10 million fish species  yet to be discovered and probably exploited.
Predictive models coupled with bibliometric analyses showed that in the first decade of 2000 the number of authors describing new species each year increased to up to 4,900 authors. In Brazil, which covers almost half of South America and holds more than 20% of the total number of species on Earth, the species richness and range of known distribution grows each year. Surprisingly, in Brazil and elsewhere, new species are still being discovered and described even among large-bodied or economically important groups. Clearly, the rate of discovery is greater for taxonomic groups poorly studied in the past.
The number of marine species not described is partly due to the number of habitats and geographical areas that remain unexplored. One side effect is the current knowledge gap on the distribution of species along its expected range. This was the case of two coastal species in Brazil, recently registered in the coastal fishing of Rio Grande do Norte, on the northeastern coast of Brazil: the pacuma toadfish (Batrachoides surinamensis) and the spotted ocean triggerfish (Canthidermis maculata).
Pacuma toadfish are commonly found in shallow brackish waters of estuarine environments and were recorded in the northern portion of the state, while spotted ocean triggerfish are an offshore fish that have a tropical circumglobal distribution; its presence was recorded in the central portion of the state. The state of Rio Grande do Norte was, until then, the only gap in the expected distribution range for pacuma fish. On the other hand, it was expected that the spotted ocean triggerfish would occur along the entire Brazilian coast, although it was previously recorded only in two places: one in the northeast (Bahia state) and one in the south (Santa Catarina). Both species are listed as being of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN (Collette, 2010, Laws, 2015) and by the Brazilian Red List of Threatened Species (Decree 445, Brazilian Red List, 2014), and there is no record of their exploration in Rio Grande do Norte.
In general, most of the research concerns commercially important fish, explaining why fish, such as these two recently described, were not noticed. In addition to misreporting or total absence of reporting, there is also the risk of wrong labeling, since many species are often landed as fillets, making it difficult to identify and protect them properly. Finally, there has been a growing global demand for triggerfish for human consumption, for export and for aquarium purposes, making fishing pressure even heavier on this species.

We confirmed this trend, since after our first registration of the spotted ocean triggerfish, we registered the total landing of 1.6 tons of the species in five months of landing records in the main port of Natal (in the state of Rio Grande do Norte). On average, it represents 230kg of species landed monthly and more than 1,500 individuals captured per month only in the main port of Rio Grande do Norte. In terms of research, this is just the tip of the iceberg, , a lot more ought to be done before we can truly understand these species and attribute a precise conservation status to C. maculata and B. surinamensis.
If, on the one hand, commercial fishing can take these species out of the shadows, on the other hand, it can also lead them to exhaustion, especially if fishing has only started focusing on them because of a shortage of previously preferred targets. Therefore, while such records may boost interest in the economic importance of spotted ocean triggerfish in the Western Atlantic, as suggested by the recorded catch rate, we may not have time or human and economic resources to assess the ecological status of these resources before they are overexploited.
Pacuma toadfish (Batrachoides surinamensis) was recorded in Porto do Mangue. Spotted ocean triggerfish (Canthidermis maculata) was recorded in Natal harbor.

Roughly 100 individuals of Canthidermis maculata landed on 2nd March 2017 in the main port of Natal (Rio Grande do Norte state). Total landings recorded on this date reached 600 kg of the species.

By Adriana R. Carvalho

Paper referred:
Garcia Jr, J.; Alves,G.A.; Oliveira J.E.L.; Carvalho A.R. 2017. First record of Batrachoides surinamensis (Bloch & Schneider 1801) and Canthidermis maculata (Bloch, 1786) (Pisces: Teleostei) from Rio Grande do Norte, northeastern coast of Brazil. Check List 13(3): 1-4. 

References used:
Appeltans, W. 2012.  The Magnitude of Global Marine Species Diversity. Current Biology 22: 2189–2202. doi: 
MMA (2018) Biodiversidade. Accessed 17 Jan 2018.
Sahayak, S., Joshi K.K. and Sriramachandramurty V. 2014. Taxonomy of the Ocean
triggerfish, Canthidermis maculata (Tetradontiformes, Balistidae) from the Indian coast. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. India, 56 (2):56-61. doi:
Steege H, Vaessen RW, Cárden D, et al. 2016. The discovery of the Amazonian tree flora with an updated checklist of all known tree taxa. 1–15. 
doi: http://10.1038/srep29549   

Friday, April 27, 2018

Covering the patches in the Brazilian fishing statistics

Since 2010, the Brazilian government has not collected fish landing data, essential information for the monitoring the Brazilian marine fisheries. There is also no information on the actual number of fishermen, the number and capacity of the vessels involved and the state of the infrastructure linked to fishing. Without such basic information, we are left in total darkness in a game of guessing what is happening to our oceans and to the food that so many people depend upon for their food security and livelihood.

Copacabana no Rio de Janeiro 

We have repeated over and over: fishing statistics are fundamental to know the state of exploitation of our fish stocks. If we do not know what is happening to them, how could we propose sound management measures? How can we address the criticism of fishermen when they disagree with our proposals? In most cases, we only have scattered information to support our claims, while fishermen, especially the industrial ones, may have economic power to lobby their way against regulatory measures.

But not all is lost. Individual initiatives have been developed to cover the holes left by the government and worsened by the current political instability. One of these initiatives is based on a demand imposed on PETROBRAS, the Brazilian oil company, as a condition for their environmental licensing process in the Santos Basin Pre-Salt Pole and also due to the incidents of oil spill in 2011 during the drilling activities in the Campo do Frade - Campos Basin by Chevron Brazil. In this case, fishing statistics play a double role. The first and official is that statistics can be used as an indicator of some eventual consequence of oil exploitation and oil spill incidents. The second one is to have the statistics themselves, which can be used as, mind the novelty, statistics!!

Thus, since 2017, the Monitoring Project for Fishing Activity in the State of Rio de Janeiro has been under way, following the same steps of the monitoring that occurs in the States of São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina . In Rio, PETROBRAS is implementing compensatory measures aiming at the conservation of coastal biodiversity, the sustainable use of fishing resources, the strengthening of artisanal fishing and environmental education.

Boa Viagem in Niterói

The Rio project includes the daily landing monitoring (species, gear, effort and location of fishing ground) in 21 coastal municipalities. A forthcoming census is also expected to define and understand the socioeconomic profile of fishers, together with the identification of the existent fishing infrastructure. Such information will be available to the government, scientific and productive sector and society, and we hope it will be used to support the establishment of public policies for fisheries sustainable development. It is expected that all data will be available soon at: http//

It's a shame that the only statistics we may have in the future will come as a condition for oil exploitation, but on such gloomy days, we will stick to the notion that having this is better than nothing. 

By Ana Helena Bevilacqua

Thursday, April 12, 2018

ProjectAqui: A web application tool developed to explore the statistics of aquaculture in Brazil and South America.

Regardless of the industry or interests involved, most people have probably heard, at least once, about the importance of having good data. Good data, coupled with good data analyses, are critical to supporting better decisions of any kind, and avoid wasting time. The Brazilian aquaculture industry, together with government agencies, provide a lot of data, which is usually poorly analyzed, which motivated the creation of the web application ProjectAqui. This app was developed to present, in an interactive way, information on the aquaculture production of the Brazilian states and South American countries. 

It aims to enable policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders to explore local and continental patterns of growth and decline in the aquaculture industry. The information can be displayed as total production and also sorted by species. The data used correspond to the most recent reports published by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE - 2013-2016) and by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 2010-2016).

The Web app is available at:

Users can also follow the latest project updates at:

We encourage everyone to give us feedback and report bugs to:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

An interview with Leandro Castello

Leandro Castello’s research program focuses on the ecology and conservation of fish and fisheries in relation to global change processes, with particular attention to tropical regions. Most of his research has been on Arapaima spp., one of the largest and most overexploited fishes of the Amazon Basin.  His research on arapaima has focused on the migration, reproduction, abundance, and population dynamics, as well as on the skills and knowledge of arapaima fishers.  These studies have led to the development of a successful model of community-based management, where fishers themselves assess arapaima populations to determine fishing quotas*. This model has been successfully replicated throughout the Amazon, in and outside Brazil.

Lorena Candice, one of the FEME members and a personal fan of Leandro’s, interviewed him about his research. She is personally happy for having had this chance and we are even happier for learning about his opinions.
FEME: After almost 20 years managing arapaima in the Mamiraua Sustainable Development Reserve, what is your evaluation of the expansion and evolution of the arapaima management throughout the Amazon, within and outside reserves, and within and outside Brazil?
LC: I think the result of that work has been outstanding.  We had not idea that it was going to work as well as it did, and that it was going to expand to almost 500 fishing communities throughout the Amazon.

Photo by Ricardo Oliveira
FEME: What are the main challenges faced by managers? How do you think such difficulties could be minimized?
I think there are several challenges.  Perhaps the biggest one is finding a way for stakeholders, including fishing communities, government agencies, and the various NGO personnel involved to better understand the bio-ecological basis and intricacies of the system.  Several basic requirements and features of the ecology of arapaima in the area are not yet properly taken into account, and that decreases the effectiveness of the system.  Another challenge is understanding the key factors that promote or impede local communities from complying with the management system’s rules.  Illegal fishing for instance is widespread and the communities need help overcoming the social and economic factors that prevent fishers from complying with management rules.

FEME: As cattle raising grows in the Amazon, so does deforestation. In one of your recent papers, you showed how deforestation affects fisheries, although this is hardly ever taken into account by managers, policy makers and even by the large NGOs. Why do you think such important question has not made into the agenda of these groups? Are the local human communities already feeling the impact of deforestation in their fisheries?
Overall, freshwater ecosystems of the Amazon have been at the sidelines of government, conservation, and scientific agencies, so those issues just don’t get the attention they deserve.  Local communities have always known that floodplain deforestation decreases fish available for harvesting, but policies to prevent further deforestation are either inappropriate or not enforced.

FEME: Perhaps a more popular threat, the kind that makes the news and get into the NGOs' agenda, regards the growing implementation of large hydroelectric dams in the Amazon. We've seen some very desperate pledges in the literature regarding the effects such dams have on fish, especially on migratory ones. Are we being too alarmist or not alarmist enough? Are people already feeling the consequences of such large dams?
LC:  It may be too early to tell.  We don’t really know.  Those dams certainly impact the environment and livelihoods, and one of two will not cause much harm.  But the real issue is that several large dams, plus thousands of small stream dams, will certainly cause major changes for which no one is ready to manage.  A great deal of research is needed before we can predict their impacts with a reasonable degree of certainty.  In the lack of further information, the more cautious we are, the safer future generations will be.

FEME: If we assume that we will follow the same pace we did so far regarding how we treat the Amazon, what should we expect to happen to Amazonian fisheries?
LC:  Their long-term demise as we now know them.  We’ll probably be eating tiny detritivore fish.
By Lorena Candice

 *most of this text was extracted from Leandro´s blog.