Friday, August 23, 2019

Drivers of abundance and biomass of Brazilian parrotfish

During the past weeks Natalia Roos, member of the FEME, published her first PhD chapter in the MEPS 40th Anniversary volume.
Here below a little summary. If you want to check the entire paper checks here:
The large Brazilian coast encompasses most of the reef environments in the southwestern Atlantic, which are characterized by unique reef formations and high rates of endemism. Parrotfishes (Labridae: Scarinae) are among the most ubiquitous and dominant reef fish worldwide, and in Brazil the group is composed by 60% of endemic species (i.e. six species). It is known that parrotfishes may affect the physical structure and composition of benthic communities through the grazing and bioerosion. Despite their ecological importance, parrotfishes have been intensively target in many regions worldwide. In Brazil four endemic species are now threatened at some level due overfishing, including the largest Brazilian parrotfish Scarus trispinosus, which may reach up to 90 cm of total length. Signs of depletion of these species bolster our need to understand their patterns of abundance and biomass, habitat preferences and assemblage structure across different reef types inform conservation and management. We assessed abundance and size class distributions of six parrotfishes in northeastern Brazil and identified habitat preferences based on reef attributes. Species distributions were variable and related to their respective feeding modes and reef types. Such heterogeneity in habitat use is suggestive of functional complementarity rather than functional redundancy among Brazilian parrotfish assemblages. Moreover, outer-shelf reefs sustained larger individuals for most of the species, whereas inner-shelf reefs supported higher abundances of small individuals. Despite being nurseries or developing areas, shallow inshore reefs sustain intense artisanal fishing activities targeting parrotfishes. The ongoing fishing pressure in nursery habitats may be causing significant declines in adult numbers in deeper outer shelf reefs that are yet to be quantified. Such information may have important implications for management and conservation in the face of increasing fishing pressure on parrotfish. Moreover, conservation of Brazilian endemic parrotfishes requires protecting reefs with diverse attributes in order to conserve functional diversity.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Who are the losers in the messy and unsustainable fisheries management in Brazil?

This is not a difficult question to answer: everyone in the social-ecological system will lose!! From the artisanal fishers to the Brazilian president and from the bottom to the top of the marine food web. In one of our latest posts, we learned that from the current government we should only expect unsustainable measures instead of measures that could benefit both fisheries and biodiversity conservation. In the foreseeable future, we can expect higher exploitation rates instead of control and protection of vulnerable stocks. As a consequence, fisheries could collapse affecting millions that depend directly or indirectly on this activity.

Almost one-third of global fisheries stocks are now overexploited or collapsed (FAO 2016), which is not different in Brazil. The last Brazilian Red List of Threatened Species was published in 2014 (Decree nº 445) and included 475 species of fish and marine invertebrates threatened with extinction (MMA 2104). Instead of being received as a warning sign that we should step on the break and adopt mitigating or precautionary measures, the Red List was met with strong opposition by the industrial fishery sector and even by some artisanal fishers. Those against the list argued about the economic effects this list would have on fishery-dependent people. Did they use any data to back up their claims? No. But I decided to check if fishers had any basis to oppose the list and what they would gain or lose if instead of fishing stocks uncontrollably, we decided to manage them (Silva 2018). 
I investigated how many threatened fish species may disappear from the Brazilian coast in the following decades, and I checked if the fishers’ economic gains would improve or not if stocks were rebuilt. For that, I evaluated the status of specific fish stocks in the Brazilian coastline and explored different management scenarios to provide an overview of the major trends besetting fishers’ economic gains in the medium and long-term. I identified the main endangered fishes targeted by all coastal states and predicted the biomass and maximum sustainable yield for these species. I also created three management scenarios based on the reduction of fishing pressure, and calculated fishers’ revenue in these scenarios: scenario 1 (Current level – historical catch), scenario 2 (20% catch reduction due to management), and scenario 3 (50% catch reduction due to management).
Among the most abundant landed species, ten species were selected for the analyses: Alopias superciliosus (Bigeye thresher), Epinephelus morio (Red grouper), Hyporthodus niveatus (Snowy grouper), Kajikia albida (White marlin), Lopholatilus villarii (Tilefish), Lutjanus purpureus (Red snapper), Mycteroperca bonaci (Black grouper), Mycteroperca interstitialis (Yellowmouth grouper), Mustelus schmitti (Narrownose smooth-hound) and Sparisoma axillare (Yellowtail parrotfish). Artisanal fisheries target four of these selected species: L. purpureus, M. bonaci, M. interstitialis, and S. axillare. Industrial fisheries also catch L. purpureus and M. bonaci, in addition to catching H. niveatus, K. albida, A. superciliosus, M. schmitti, the E. morio, and L. villarii.

Four of these species actually seem to present increasing biomass: E. morio, L. purpureus, L. villari and M. schmitti. In contrast, six species are in risk of collapse (A. superciliosus, H. niveatus, K. albida, M. bonaci, M. interstitialis and S. axillare), and for two of them, the management scenarios we tested did not seem enough to bring them back (A. superciliosus and M. interstitialis) (Hellooooo!!!! These species need urgent help!!!). Here, I am presenting only the historical catch and predictions of these two most worrying fish stocks (Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Situation of the Brazilian fish stocks analyzed, highlighting the two most worrying declining fish stocks. The graphs show the historical catch (Historical) and predicted biomass (historical and 2100 prediction – Predictions) for Alopias superciliosus and Mycteroperca bonaci fish stocks. 

After we evaluated the effect of management on declining species, we found that fishers’ revenues should increase in the shortterm for A. superciliosus and M. interstitialis, but once these species collapse, theirrevenue will of course drop to zero.On the other hand, even though H. niveatus and M. bonaci showed highermarket prices than the first two ones, their revenues are expected to decrease in allscenarios because their catches are already decreasing.However, for K. albida and S. axillare, fishers’ revenues can be maintained andeven increased in the long-term if managers implement one of the management scenarios. 

Failing to manage these species will keep fishers’ profit for a few years, but once theendangered species collapse all of their profits will drop to zero in a few years or decades, depending on the species.For these species, the future benefits that fish stocks can provide willdepend largely on how well they are rebuilt and managed. However, fishstocks can be rebuilt if Brazil takes the responsibility of assuring that fishers and fishes willnot be losers. Short-term pain is necessary for a long-term gain and it is up to the country to make sure that the pain is not felt the strongest by the poorest and most vulnerable fishing groups.

Summing up, I am saying that the fish stocks in Brazil present declining biomass pattern, reinforcing the need to implement urgent conservation strategies. Management actions that forces catch to decrease could be crucial to support the rebuild of these fish stocks and to maintain fishers’ livelihoods in Brazil in the long term. 

Although there is an effort to protect fisheries in Brazil with the Decree nº 445, it is not done seriously by the government. Brazil's Red List has been facing a political battle to define management measures, worsening an already serious problem and ignoring the consequences for the environment and society. The recent update about this novel, it is the request for temporary suspension of the decree by the current Minister for the Environment. To keep things not so good, the Brazilian government is  firing people for doing their jobs

An employee from IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) lost his position at the environmental agency because he arrested the president of Brazil for fishing in an ecological preserve where fishing is an environmental crime. 

Well, there is something wrong in this, we are going against what has been done around the world to protect marine biodiversity. We need governments to wake up and take responsibility for the devastating impact of overfishing, instead of presidents who really do not care about environmental issues. The future of all components of the fishing industry chain can be gloomier than ever if the government (and society) close their eyes for what has been happening. Let’s move because we all can be losers!!!

                                                                              By Monalisa Silva



Cited references:


FAO. 2016. The state of world fisheries and aquacultureFAO, Rome.


MMA, Ministério do Meio Ambiente, Brazil. 2014. Portarias Nos. 443, 444, 445, de 17de Dezembro de 2014. Diário of União Seção 1, 245:110 (18 December2014).


SILVA, M. R. O. 2018. Coastal social-ecological systems: an integrative analysis to fishery conservation in Brazil. Tese (Doutorado) – Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, p. 126. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Following the Fish: The Role of Subsistence in a Fish-based Value Chain

This week we are re-posting a post of the  University of British Columbia about a recent published article of our FEME members Ana Helena Bevilacqua and Adriana R. Carvalho, with Ronaldo Angelini, Jeroen Steenbeek and Villy Christensen. Check it out!!!

Bahia Formosa, RN State, Brasil. Photocredit: MGrazia Pennino.

Small-scale fisheries are important for livelihood in communities, providing jobs and food security to local inhabitants, but their contributions are poorly documented. A new study looks at how modelling can track the benefits provided by a fishery by following the people and activities involved in fish production.
The study measured the contributions of a small-scale fishery in the Baía Formosa area of the Rio Grande do Norte State, Brazil, to its local inhabitants. The researchers tracked the benefits that were created by the fishery, and what role it played for income generation and food security at the local level.
“We need to understand the importance of fisheries for communities, supporting food security and employment, and that doesn’t stop when the fish are landed at a port. We need to follow the fish from sea to plate,” said Dr. Villy Christensen, one of the study’s authors, professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and principal investigator in the Global Ocean Modelling unit. Along with professor emeritus Carl Walters and other fisheries scientists, Christensen helped develop the value chain methodology along with the modelling software used in the study, Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE).
To do this, the researchers followed the journey of a fish through its fish value chain using the EwE modelling software. Following the fish value chain involves tracking the activities, processes, and people involved in turning the raw fish caught by a fisher into the final fish product purchased by a consumer. The researchers then examined the benefits created by different levels of the value chain, including what kinds of jobs were created by the fishery, whether the fish caught were mostly eaten by local people or tourists, and other information relevant to understanding the role of the fishery in the community.
The researchers found that the small-scale fishery played a crucial role for the local inhabitants, providing a means for subsistence, food security and employment opportunities.

The researchers found that the small-scale fishery played a crucial role for the local inhabitants, providing a means for subsistence, food security and employment opportunities.

Most fish caught by the fishery were sold at the local marketplace or eaten by the fishers themselves rather than purchased by tourists, which establishes the local importance of the fishery as a means for subsistence and food security. In fact, nearly all of the catches – 94 per cent – were consumed by locals and fishers’ households, contributing to a substantial flow of 18.7 million USD per year into the local economy. Since most fishers were also eating their own catch, they also avoided the cost of buying other sources of protein, which produced average subsistence earnings that put them above the poverty line threshold for fishers.
In addition to its contributions to income, the researchers found that fishery also created employment opportunities beyond the fishers themselves. For every fisher there were two people working on land, mostly in restaurants and street markets, where one third of the employees were women. Restaurants also played a large role in the local economy, as they generated 35 per cent of the jobs and 23 per cent of the revenue from only 5 per cent of fish production.
Since the fishery plays such an integral role in the lives of Rio Grande do Norte fishers and local inhabitants, changes to the fish value chain can affect the community’s well-being, and increase its vulnerability and susceptibility to poverty.
In order to predict how conservation policies might affect fishery-dependent communities, the researchers argued that policy-makers and managers must first understand the contributions of fisheries and different aspects of the fish value chain. That way, they say, policies that benefit both people and the environment can be effectively put in place.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

What else biodiversity changes could reveal about the effects of marine fisheries?

Biodiversity is essential for the adequate provision of various ecosystem services which we depend substantially upon for, among others, the development of fisheries, extractivism and agriculture. Our connection with nature in general and with biodiversity specifically is as old as our prehistoric hunter-gatherer origins, as humans have always observed and tried to understand the rhythm of nature in our quest for benefits that improve our welfare. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or very different from the behavior of so many other species in doing this. Our problems only began to emerge when profit and unnecessary consumption needs associated with population growth got into the equation and unbalanced the game between humans and the rest of nature.

At some point, we began to indulge excessively in nature provisions, as if they were permanent, secure, and unchanging, until one day, belatedly, we realized that something was not going well between us and the relationships we have with ecosystems. Such relationships are supposed to be as harmonious as possible, but there is unequivocal evidence that this has not been the case for a while. Whole populations of species are disappearing because of the constant disturbances we cause on them. There are countless fish species that have a smaller body size today than they had in the past, because we prefer to catch and eat the larger ones (which are also the most fertile individuals). These non-isolated facts are signs that we have been weakening the vital functions that nature provides us and we do that by affecting the biological interactions that keep them operating. 

A universal premise assumed by the typology of the tree of life is here generically summarized as "only from life can more life emerge". This could even be considered the first general law of biology, since all micro and macroscopic life forms depend on their precursors, to subsidize the rates of diversification in a region. This is how speciation happens. There are striking differences between the "types of life" (i.e., animal, plant...) that inhabit the planet, including the various types of attributes we use to differentiate and recognize them, which are products of selective forces that operate in the systems that harbor them. In these environments, innumerable natural factors constantly act to determine how much life can exist for short or long periods across geographical scales. 

In all terrestrial and aquatic biomes, thousands of life forms have diversified to form the exuberant biodiversity that pulsates everywhere, although at first this was done so that they could "adapt", colonizing territories and establishing their niches. Accidentally, they have made available all the resources that we benefit from today, from the air that is breathed into matter that decomposes. On the other hand, all human acts that disturb or alter biodiversity, produce countless consequences that affect the organization of many communities and the functioning of vast ecosystems, especially in the tropical region. 

This is worrying because as species signal the devastating effects of impacts, we remain unaware of how the pathways of biodiversity change, especially those caused by selective fishing pressures, resulting in the depletion of fish stocks, for example. Thus, the interactions between the factors (human-fishing-biodiversity) are relevant to be scientifically understood, since their relations can affect species that directly or indirectly promote the desired goals of fishing sustainability. It is essential to elucidate how these relationships take place over time and space, in order to identify which aspects of biodiversity respond more directly or strongly to the effects of fishing, and which remain indifferent or neutral to it in some hotspot, if any at all, given the current levels of depletion and of global changes. 

It is reasonable to assume that fishing acts differently on diverse parameters of diversity, including other dimensions beyond species level, such as evolutionary legacy, nest variability, and morphological heterogeneities, which, when dissociated, represent what we call, respectively, phylogenetic and functional diversity. These exercise complementary roles and, when observed together, are considered essential variables to estimate and understand the main aspects related to biodiversity (Schmeller et al., 2018), and can overcome preconceived ideas about the consequences of fishing-mediated declines on us and on ecosystems. 

Mechanistically, it is possible to classify the correlation of fishing with biodiversity as an essential connection, which the stronger and more positively imbricated, the more it favors us. Otherwise, these forces inevitably annihilate or seriously compromise each other, depending on how intense and stable the associations between them are. The performance of this union is presented in two main ways. One route ensures that nature replaces stocks free of charge, through the natural regulation of biomass, diversity and co-occurrence of all fish species in addition to those of fishing interest. The species we catch and consume may be more or less similar to each other, such as mullet, sea bass and marlin, because of their position in phylogenetic trees. Such positions inform us how long ago individuals have differed from each other and therefore, on how much evolutionary history we are currently putting pressure on. In this way, each species participates as a small part of the big machinery known as biodiversity. And in each place of such machinery, various forces of nature synchronize in the same way to form communities, assemblies or multi-specific aggregates of fish targeted by fisheries.

Local gains from fishing tend to directly reflect the conservation status of a region's biodiversity, since local natural processes ultimately determine the diversity of individuals that may be caught. By maximizing the development of attributes that ensure the survival and plasticity of responses to dominant conditions (ie, fitness = individuals most suited to the highest reproductive yields), organisms end up developing in parallel, and especially to human eyes, valuable attributes such as size. But to the extent that we "preferentially" fish these attributes (eg, heavier and larger fish), there is a negative repercussion on the evolutionary aspects of the groups that are exploited by the activity. Over time, fish diversity and quantity decrease, and both fishing and wild communities are hampered by processes triggered by loss of composition and reduction of biotic heterogeneity in stocks. On its turn, this increases pressure on certain groups.

The process described above, of the influence of fishing on biodiversity, is the second route, which is not generally positive, since it leads biodiversity to respond to the stressful removal of species with the best commercial attributes. Not coincidentally, these species tend to be ecologically peculiar and quite difficult to be replenished or compensated for. In part this is because the more peculiar the evolutionary position of a species in relation to the abundance of close relatives that occur in a certain place (ie, more or less branches), the more vulnerable they are to overfishing, and they leave us without potential substitutes.

The intensity of the fishing-biodiversity (positive or negative) relationship is dynamic and may suffer significant imbalances over time. Such imbalances can act as good indicators of the biodiversity status directly as a consequence of fishing. A contrast between functional vs. phylogenetic compositions can inform how much a coastal environment is susceptible to decline or loss of biodiversity. It is through this lens way that we intend to look at the health of the biodiversity of marine fish stocks in Brazil. We believe that assessing the relationships of fishing activity with descriptors of spatial and temporal coastal diversity may bring up important information. We believe that fishing is not likely to always work on the same types of attributes (e.g. habitat preference, reproductive or trophic guild) with the same artificial selective intensity. This could lead to interesting differences between the sets of species handled by fishing, whose causes and consequences may lead us to predict the main types of transformations that may occur due to the patterns of changes in the general and essential descriptors of biodiversity.

A lot of people believe that fish is all the same, a mistake not taken easily by the ichthyologists! However, it is important to note that the more similar the target species are, in terms of basic attributes such as food habits (which reflects on the taste of the fish) and body size, the more dangerous the effects of long-term fishing on them. This is so because fishing tends to focus on certain patterns that are difficult to find (fishers, depending on consumer demand, always want larger fish with specific tastes, but only a few species have all the desired characteristics). Therefore, finding out which combinations of traits best express the ways in which fishing acts on biodiversity is paramount in identifying changes in fish composition patterns that may be signaling the health of the ecosystems in which they operate. 
We have been developing a conceptual model to show the correlations we expect to observe between fishing and biodiversity. We expect biomass removed by fishing to affect positively or negatively the variability in the clades or traits of fished subsets.

In this sense, we believe that the measures of richness, divergence and phylogenetic (Tucker 2017) or functional integrity (Hatfield et al. 2018) represent some of the most important ways to evaluate how, when and how much biodiversity variability is related to fishing as a source of chronic disturbances (e.g., Teichert et al. 2018). These indicators should allow us to identify where the greatest and worst effects of fishing are, and to predict which routes are responsible for their magnitude in each place or time period (e.g., Worm et al. 2006).

These inferences will allow us to find out if there are plausible reasons to worry about the differences between the levels of diversity associated with fishing yields along the coastal gradients of Brazil, and whether significant losses can be detected within one or more facets of biodiversity (ie, taxonomic, functional or phylogenetic). In what direction and at what pace is all of this developing? What are the deficits we are generating for future communities? And, what can we do about it, other than standing and watching? 

All of this is important not only to identify the way the coastal fishery has affected biodiversity, but also to inform and invite the consumer society to consider: "if we fished less, how many different fish communities there would be in the seas?" The answer to this can be both disastrous and spectacular (e.g., Duffy et al. 2016), depending on the quality of the legacy we choose to leave in the oceans. In addition, it represents a fundamental issue relevant to the life quality of the species that support our survival. It is our way of seeing and living with the other species that determines the quality of our own life history. Since the moment we were born until well after we die, nature acts upon us, in such a way that to harass it, to attack it or to despise it are acts of carelessness and disrespect that hurt our very existence. In the ship of life, we are navigating along with all other evolutionary branches. Fortunately or not, it is only us who enjoy the privilege of having the helm to choose the destiny of all, with the caution and parsimony that should precede the forecasts that are based on the accumulation of observations. Welcome aboard the Anthropocene!

By Priscilla Ramos Cruz and Priscila F. M. Lopes


  • Duffy, J. E., Lefcheck, J. S., Stuart-Smith, R. D., Navarrete, S. A., & Edgar, G. J. (2016). Biodiversity enhances reef fish biomass and resistance to climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(22): 6230-6235.
  • Hatfield, J. H., Harrison, M. L., & Banks-Leite, C. (2018). Functional diversity metrics: How they are affected by landscape change and how they represent ecosystem functioning in the tropics. Current Landscape Ecology Reports, 3:35–42.
  • Schmeller, DS, Weatherdon, LV, Loyau, A., Bondeau, A., Brotons, L., Brummitt, N., ... & Mihoub, JB (2018). A suite of essential biodiversity variables for detecting critical biodiversity change. Biological Reviews, 93(1): 55-71.
  • Teichert, N., Lepage, M., & Lobry, J. (2018). Beyond classic ecological assessment: The use of functional indices to indicate fish assemblages sensitivity to human disturbance in estuaries. Science of The Total Environment, 639: 465-475.
  • Tucker, CM, Cadotte, MW, Carvalho, SB, Davies, TJ, Ferrier, S., Fritz, SA, & Pavoine, S. (2017). A guide to phylogenetic metrics for conservation, community ecology and macroecology. Biological Reviews, 92(2): 698-715.
  • Worm, B., Barbier, E. B., Beaumont, N., Duffy, J. E., Folke, C., Halpern, B. S., ... & Sala, E. (2006). Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. science, 314(5800): 787-790.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Backward policies and environmental crimes in Brazil

The last few years have been calamitous for the Brazilian nature and environmentalism. In 2015, Brazil experienced one of its vilest environmental tragedies of all times. Due to the rupture of a large dam in Mariana (Minas Gerais State), some 60M m3 of toxic mud from an iron ore mine flowed downriver into the Atlantic, severely affecting the most important river basin of the densely inhabited southeastern region. Low oxygen concentrations and high levels of mercury, arsenic, copper and zinc make the muddy water toxic to both aquatic species and humans, sorely polluting some 760,000 ha of the Atlantic forest and its coast. This tragedy has been directly linked to hazard monitoring failures, amounting to immense management recklessness. To the current day, no one has been convicted for this crime and no fines have been paid, which is an open invitation to more wrongdoing and new attacks to nature.

It is not really surprising then that less than four years since the Mariana disaster, Brazil goes once again through the same tragedy in the same region, though even more catastrophic now. This time a larger dam broke in the town of Brumadinho, generating a mudslide avalanche, severely affecting the landscape and leaving hundreds of people dead and missing. In addition to corpses and environmental destruction, both disasters share the same mining company, which raises the question of how can a company get involved in two such tragedies in such a short time? The answer lies partially in the lenience of the Brazilian government in pointing and punishing the big players responsible for these environmental crimes. However, this is only part of the story…

In the Mariana case, behind the main perpetrating enterprise (Samarco) hides the world’s largest and Brazil’s largest mining parent companies, respectively: BHP Billiton and Vale (the same of Brumadinho case).  BHP Billiton’s profits reached almost US$2 billion in 2015 alone, while Vale’s gross income in the third quarter of 2015 was around US$6 billion. Conversely, fines likely to be levied to these companies by Brazil’s environmental agency (IBAMA) was around U$65M. These penalties can easily be assimilated by the companies’ annual profits and therefore are unlikely to promote any positive changes in their corporate behavior. Even so, these companies have paid less than 7% of the fines, while they have challenged them judicially.

Propelled by economic growth, emerging tropical economies such as Brazil are clearly embarking on a perverse development trap, whereby primary industries may generate thousands of jobs and a large amount tax base, but on the other hand carry high environmental and social costs. These conditions render these countries hostage to big enterprises. This has resulted in increasingly lax licensing laws and penalties, favoring conditions in which environmental crimes clearly pay off. In Brazil, for instance, fewer than 3% of all environmental fines are settled.

These mining ‘accidents’ deserve special consideration because capital-intensive development projects in Brazil are growing at an unprecedented scale. Mining activities in Brazil are expected to grow five-fold over the next 20 years (MME 2010) and there have been repeated political efforts to explicitly downgrade environmental licensing restrictions to favor large-scale mining enterprises. This is even more worrisome in the far-right Bolsonaro's era, whose myopic plans include a rollback of environmental protections and rights of traditional communities, a reorganization of federal science programs, and an aggressive agenda of agricultural, industrial and mineral expansion.

Figure. The town of Mariana after the mining environmental crime.

The project of law PL #3729/200 is a carte blanche for new infrastructure projects and other economic activities, as it considerable reduces their environmental licenses requirements. If implemented, the Brazilian society will not have enough time to analyze the social and environmental costs (or even benefits) of implementing such large projects. To make matters worse, many other bills severely threaten indigenous and traditional communities, preventing new demarcation of Indigenous Lands (IL) and Protected Areas (PA), and allowing mining activities within IL frontiers, without the consent of the indigenous people themselves. These policy setbacks are a clear attack on the sustainable development agenda and social rights of traditional communities, going against many of the agreements that Brazil have signed in the past. There is no sign that the federal government will review and back up on its own conduct even in the aftermath of the shocking crimes of Mariana and Brumadinho.

The civil society and sustainable-development friendly policy makers are in urgent need of rethinking their pillars of development pathways, while they still have to face the herculean task of ensuring that the government base its decision on science instead of ideology and short-term profit Unfortunately, in Bolsonaro's government the future seems muddier and muddier.

By João Vitor Campos-Silva

Further readings
Dr. João Vitor Campos-Silva is a post doc in the "Programa de Pós-Graduação em Diversidade Biológica e Conservação nos Trópicos", Instituto de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde, Universidade Federal de Alagoas, Av. Lourival Melo Mota, s/n, Tabuleiro dos Martins, CEP:57072-900, Maceió, Alagoas, Brasil.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Brazilian fisheries management: a musical chair game with no winners

The responsibility for fisheries management in Brazil was never a priority agenda of any government, a fact that culminated in this responsibility being assigned to different organs, secretaries and ministries several times in the federal autarchy, a real musical chair game of fisheries.

Before 1989, the management of Brazilian fisheries resources was under the supervision of the Superintendence of Fisheries Development (Sudepe, created in 1962), which was part of the Ministry of Agriculture. The main regulation during this period was the Decree-Law n° 221/67, which aimed to protect and, at the same time, provide incentives to fisheries. In 1998, fisheries management became the responsibility of the newly created Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA). Later, between 1998 and 2003, IBAMA was in charge of the management of overexploited or almost overexploited resources, while the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, under the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Livestock was responsible for the unexploited or underexploited resources.

In 2003, the attributions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Livestock were transferred to the Special Secretary of Aquaculture and Fisheries (SEAP/PR; Law n° 10,683/03), until the creation of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture in June 2009 (Law n° 11,958/09). One of the main changes of this new arrangement was the establishment of a joint management between this ministry and the Ministry of the Environment especially regarding the establishment of fisheries management norms.

In 2011, a new law (Complementary Law n° 140/11) changed again the attributions among the Union, States and Municipalities. Specifically states were in charge of controlling fishing within the limits of their jurisdictions.

In 2015, as a result of a new ministerial reform of the government, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture was extinct and all of its competences were fully transferred back to the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Livestock, maintaining in the meantime the joint management arrangement with the Ministry of the Environment, which has IBAMA and Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio, for fisheries done within the limits of protected areas) as the executors.

After that, a presidential Decree-Law n° 9,004/17 withdrew fishing powers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Livestock and transferred them to the Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade. However, the decree informs that it will also be the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture to dialogue with the Ministry of the Environment to ensure the sustainable use of fishery resources, based on statistical data (which is basically non-existent since 2011). The Ministry of Agriculture was also supposed to be responsible for articulating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to defend national interests in the sector. This change was criticized by the fishing sector, which called for the creation of an exclusive secretariat to deal with fisheries issues. In 2018, the Fisheries and Aquaculture sector was again part of the Special Secretary of Aquaculture and Fisheries, integrating the Presidency of the Republic, under Law n° 9,330/18, later confirmed by Law n° 13,502/17, which establishes the basic organization of the organs of the Presidency of the Republic and of the ministries. According to the law, Aquaculture and Fisheries was a Special Secretariat, which has again ministry status.

This last change assigns the new secretariat's competence: to subsidize the formulation of the national policy for fisheries and aquaculture; propose guidelines for the development and promotion of fishery and aquaculture production; present guidelines for the development of the fisheries and aquaculture action plan; and propose measures to ensure the sustainability of fishing and aquaculture. It is important to note that some competencies continue with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, such as the Fisheries and Aquaculture Health Control (Law n° 13,502/17).

The last change in this musical chair happened in the very first day of 2019, as the first measure of the new government of the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. He issued the Provisional Measure n° 870/19, which establishes the basic organization of the organs of the Presidency of the Republic and of the Ministries, bringing again the Special Secretariat of Aquaculture and Fisheries of the Presidency of the Republic to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, renamed as Aquaculture and Fisheries Secretariat. In this new arrangement, IBAMA is no longer part of the management of species that can be exploited, with decisions being entirely in the hands of the productive sector. The measure was highly praised by the sector, dominated by powerful industrial fisher.

In the opinion of the new head of the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries, Jorge Seif Júnior, fishing and aquaculture have returned home from where they should have never left because they are food production and should be treated as the other proteins. According to him, “We now have a strong base to strengthen fishing and aquaculture throughout Brazil. Our people can consume more fish. We have to boost not only the catch, but much more fish farming. We have a lot to grow!".

It remains to be seen whether fisheries management in Brazil will be treated with the seriousness it deserves, but so far there are no signs that there will be any sort of management regarding control and protection of vulnerable stocks. The latest myopic measures only aim to boost exploitation and production in the short term, disregarding the future of fish and of fishers themselves, especially of those that can not afford to build capital for future stock collapses. Not a word has been said about reestablishing regular landing monitoring, a unified system for tracking fishing vessels, independent oversight and policing of fishing limits, and the establishment of permanent and independent management scientific committees. The future is gloomier than ever for our stocks and our fishers and initiatives that aim to reach sustainability will have to come from grassroots movements and other societal initiatives. From the current government we should only expect larger nets, smaller mesh sizes and bad subsidies.

By Ana Helena Bevilacqua

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Mapping a Smoother Fishery for Smooth Dogfish

A commonly-used quote from John Shepherd states, “Managing fisheries is hard: it’s like managing a forest, in which the trees are invisible and keep moving around.” This is particularly true for highly migratory species like sharks, for which the full range is often poorly understood even for the most well-known species. In the past, fish movements were usually defined by the time of year a species is present in an area where they’re easy to observe. Telemetry and fishery surveys have gone a long way in telling us where else a species might travel when not within sight, but it’s impossible to tag every single shark, know what’s going on at a survey site when no one’s looking, or even to make sure research efforts are encompassing the full range of the species. To further complicate things, a species’ range might differ wildly between seasons and between males and females. 
To figure out where your target species is actually distributed, you have to take the information that you do have (survey catches, fishery landings, fishing effort distribution, telemetry detections, etc.) and do a lot of math (sometimes with lots of assumptions). With any luck, the data on were the species has been found can help identify other areas where it also might be found. In a newly-published paper first-authored by Andrea Dell’Apa with Maria Grazia Pennino, Chris Bonzek, and me, we did exactly that for the second most commonly-landed shark in U.S. fisheries.   
The Smooth Dogfish (Mustelus canis) is a fairly common coastal shark endemic to the North American Atlantic coast. These sharks reach a maximum size of five feet and feed mostly on small crustaceans like crabs and shrimp, but from personal experience I can attest to them being much more wily and powerful than should be necessary for that lifestyle (most of my cases of shark burn have come from this species). They also have the distinction of being second only to the Spiny Dogfish (less closely related than you’d think) in numbers landed in U.S. shark fisheries. While this in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing and both Spiny and Smooth Dogfish fisheries have been assessed as avoiding overfishing, Smooth Dogfish have the dubious honor of being exempt from the U.S. ban on removing fins at sea. With all this fishery management attention you’d think most aspects of Smooth Dogfish ecology would be pretty well-known, but aside from some studies on local movements and identified nursery habitats, little is actually known about where these sharks go when not in estuaries, or how the environment influences their distribution. To our knowledge, this hasn’t been attempted with this species before.
To get a better idea of where Smooth Dogfish are distributed, we took catch data from the Northeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (NEAMAP), which runs a nearshore trawl survey based out of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Smooth Dogfish are among the most commonly-encountered elasmobranchs on this survey, making it an ideal data source for both numbers and associations with environmental data. The cruise data gave us the numbers of Smooth Dogfish caught per trawl (the catch per unit effort, or CPUE) and catch locations, which were combined with environmental variables from other data sources including satellite-based remote sensing data and bathymetry maps to identify the ranges of those variables that were associated with higher shark numbers. Armed with this information, we could then use statistical modeling to predict what the CPUE should be across the whole U.S. Atlantic continental shelf based on the environmental conditions, season, and sex. To account for seasonal migrations, we modeled spring and fall CPUE separately, and we separated out males and females to account for differences between the sexes.
We used hierarchical Bayesian modeling to make our maps of predicted Smooth Dogfish catch. Without getting too far into the weeds, this type of modeling allowed us to account for both high numbers of survey sites where no sharks were caught and the tendency of sites where Smooth Dogfish were caught to occur near each other. These issues can affect model accuracy and are commonly-encountered when dealing with relatively rare and highly mobile species like most sharks. 
Maps of male Smooth Dogfish catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE, sharks per trawl) predicted using catch and environmental data from A) spring and B) fall. From Dell’Apa and friends (2018).

Maps of female Smooth Dogfish catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE, sharks per trawl) predicted using catch and environmental data from A) spring and B) fall. From Dell’Apa and friends (2018).

The results of all this modeling showed differences both between seasons and sexes in where you should expect to find Smooth Dogfish. Males were found at relatively low salinities and shallow depths during the spring, and at temperatures less than 15 °C and mid-level bottom rugosity (basically an index of how rough the seabed is) during the fall. Females were caught in greater numbers at more shallow, rugose areas of the seafloor during the spring, and areas of relatively low salinity and mid-range chlorophyll-a concentrations during the fall. Mapping these habitat preferences showed that both females and males are distributed widely along the continental shelf north of the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay during the spring while males are distributed considerable farther north (with an apparent hot spot along southeastern Cape Cod that calls for further investigation by fishery scientists) than females during the fall. 
Aside from improving knowledge of where Smooth Dogfish are distributed, our findings have some very specific applications for fishery management. When trying to keep a fish stock sustainable, it’s often effective to limit fishing effort on mature females (referred to as “spawning stock biomass” in fisheries science) so they can survive to reproduce. For long-lived species like most sharks, a targeted fishery landing mostly males is arguably the more sustainable option. Sorry fellow dudes, when it comes to sustainable fisheries we’re just more expendable (and if you feel threatened by that I have bad news for you about differences between sexes in size and trophic level among many shark species). What our findings suggest is that during the fall a male-only fishery for Smooth Dogfish may be possible in southern New England, which would allow fishermen to continue working while giving the mature females a break.
This paper shows how, thanks to advances in scientific surveys, environmental monitoring, and statistics, we’re getting better and better at counting those invisible highly migratory “trees”. Or at least predicting where they should be.
By C. W. Bangley
Cited Reference
Dell’Apa, A., M. G. Pennino, C. W. Bangley, and C. Bonzek. 2018. A hierarchical Bayesian modeling approach for the habitat distribution of Smooth Dogfish by sex and season in inshore coastal waters of the U.S. Northwest Atlantic. DOI: 10.1002/mcf2.10051