Friday, December 25, 2015

The current political situation of Brazilian fisheries: an interview with Mauro Ruffino

Drawing on recent outcries about the recently decommissioned (October 2015) Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministry (from Portuguese, MPA) in Brazil, we interviewed Mauro Ruffino regarding his opinion. Ruffino is an oceanographer with a lot of experience in Amazonian fisheries, former consultant to the World Bank, and a former Director of the Department of Monitoring and Control of the now extinct Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministry. He also has an extensive list of scientific publications on fisheries.

1. In a recent letter published by Science, Brazilian researchers warned about the risk of ignoring the new proposed list of endangered fish species because of political pressures. Following the government’s decision to not enforce the updated list, a follow up letter also published by Science, researchers this time warned about the ongoing deconstruction of the aquatic/fisheries policy. This has happened for example, through initiatives considered disastrous, such as the suspension of fishers’ salaries during certain reproductive fish seasons, the reclassification of what is considered an artisanal boat (now larger than before) and an apparent increase in the marginalization of de facto artisanal fishers. What might such measures imply in the short and long run for the artisanal and industrial fishers and for aquatic resources in general?

The Interministerial Directive MMA/MAPA[1] 192/2015 suspended ten normative acts regulating closed seasons in continental waters in some Brazilian states for 120 days. Although, the recent Decree no. 293 (Dec 12, 2015) has suspended such a directive, it is still not clear how the closed season salary will be paid. I believe fishers will be able to get their salaries from the period December to March.
Either way, I believe, that both the MMA and the MAPA should use this chance to discuss the usual mechanisms for fisheries management and to implement ways to monitor and evaluate the efficacy of such mechanisms for the sustainability of fishing resources, besides testing other innovative tools.
As for the reclassification of fishers, depending on how it is done, it can be a setback, because the Brazilian fishers have achieved their recognition as a profession through the Law 11.959/2009, which has given them the right to access bank credits, for example. On the other hand, for the closed season salary I believe that only those that actually fish should have the right to it, because those are the ones that extract fish and suffer the economic consequences of having the fishing closed for a period. What we have seen along the last years is a lot of fishing workers that do not directly fish, but are part of the fishing value chain, benefitting from the closed season salary.
Let´s see some definitions below:
Closed season (defeso): the temporary halt in fishing activities to preserve a given species by allowing its reproduction or recruitment. It can also include temporary halts due to natural phenomena or accident.
Closed season salary (seguro-defeso): it is the artisanal fishers’ unemployment insurance benefit; it is paid to professional artisanal fishers for the time they cannot fish due to the closed season. The fisher has to prove that s/he has fished uninterrupted, be it alone or under a family business.
Therefore, the closed season means that fishing activities are put on hold as a political strategy with an environmental goal, protecting the reproductive period of some species as a way to assure sustainable fishing stocks and, consequently, assure the activity and income of fishers. During this period, which is defined by specific legislation according to the region and species to be protected, fishers receive their unemployment insurance benefit. This benefit is paid in monthly installments equivalent to a Brazilian minimum wage for the whole closed season. To receive the benefit, the fisher has to fulfill the conditions established in the Normative Act no. 06, of June 29th, 2012, and present the documents defined by the Ministry of Labor and Employment, which is the institution in charge of paying the benefit.
However, it is crucial that the government develops more efficient and accurate mechanisms to authorize and determine somebody as a fisher.  The number of frauds and fishers´ licenses conceded to those that do not primarily fish is notorious. This mismatch between the legal determination fishers and actual fishers diverts significant amounts of money that would otherwise be used to support the lives of those that actually depend on fisheries and their sustainability.

2. Was the decommissioning of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministry (MPA) and its embodiment by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) done in a proper way?
Certainly not! In the eagerness to respond to political and societal pressure[2] (to cut costs and reduce the number of ministries), the government, at the stroke of a pen, decided to end it without any discussion or involvement of the fisheries sector. As a consequence, the sector has not been really embodied by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA), which has made most of the previous initiatives come to a halt! Among such paralyzed initiatives, we can cite the Committees for Permanent Management (CPGs), and the fisheries statistics program, among others.
After an inertia period (2011-2014) and before its decommissioning in 2015, the MPA had restarted attempts of reestablishing the fisheries statistics and the CPGs implementation, but now everything is back to the start.
The lack of shared management between MAPA and the Ministry of the Environment (the two institutions now responsible for fisheries), the lack of information on stocks that require management, as well as the canceling of important fisheries management tools, such as VMS (Vessel Monitoring Satellite), logbooks, and observers on board programs, only reinforce an already stagnated and inefficient management of fisheries. Cumulatively, these all worsen the deterioration of fishing stocks.

3. What is your opinion about having fisheries being managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA)?
I do not see it as a problem as long as MAPA really absorbs all the fishing activities and gives the same importance to Aquaculture and Industrial and Artisanal fisheries. However, as MAPA is historically a productionist and elitist ministry, there is the risk of having artisanal fisheries as a low priority again, as it used to be, and the same could happen to important management tools, such as VMS, logbooks, and observers on board programs, among others.
The point is that MAPA was not prepared to deal with such a demand and is now incapable of continuing the activities related to fisheries and aquaculture.

4. Why does it seem that society does not care about the fate we are tracing to our aquatic environments? What are you doing wrong?
Because there is no popular awareness of what is really going on, we have some NGOs and institutes doing painstaking work, but the government itself does not feel responsible, and therefore, it just does nothing. There is a shortage of information about the economic value of such environments, the benefits they bring to society and how some economic activities can impact aquatic environments.
Society seems to be touched by big catastrophes only! But it is necessary to join efforts (government, NGOs, researchers, etc.) to anticipate and generate discussion forums that will increase participation and facilitate social pacts targeting the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems, and the resources and socioeconomic benefits they provide. 

[1] MMA – Ministry of the Environment
MPA – Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture
MAPA - Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply
[2] In 2015, amid a stagnated economic period, there was political and social pressure to force the government to cut costs and reduce the number of ministries. Note of the bloggers.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How many women fish in Brazil?

Sarah Harper, PhD Candidate, Fisheries Economic Research Unit, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia, Canada. 
Supervisor: Dr. Rashid Sumaila.

Women in fisheries: overlooked and undervalued.

In many parts of the world, including Brazil, fishing is considered a male domain. The generally accepted division of labour has men going out to catch fish while women stay onshore to process and sell the fish, and to do various other fishing-related activities. However, looking a little deeper, we can see that this division is neither clear nor stable.  There is a growing body of literature which highlights that women also fish, but major gaps exist in our understanding of the varied and dynamic nature of the roles and contributions by women in fisheries. In some regions of the world, because of a focus on the role of small-scale fisheries in food security and poverty alleviation, the contributions of women have been made more visible, while for other countries and regions these contributions have been largely overlooked. From an economic perspective, this understates the important role that women in fisheries play in food security and local economies, while from an ecological perspective, this underestimates human pressure on marine ecosystems (Harper et al. 2013). In an effort to raise the profile of women in fisheries, I am interested in quantifying these contributions on a global scale. For some countries data exist, while for many others, information is sparse. To fill these gaps and as part of my PhD research, I am asking, on a country-by-country basis, how many women participate directly and indirectly in fisheries.
Studies that highlight women in Latin American fisheries are limited in contrast to other regions such as Asia and Africa. However, the gender dimension of fisheries is receiving increasing attention around the world, from local community groups all the way up to national policy makers. 

So what do we know about women in fisheries in Brazil?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations publish online fisheries profiles for countries all around the world. The country profile for Brazil, estimates that in 2008 women represented 34% of fishers, numbering approx. 238,000 out of a total of 694,000 fishers, with the majority of fishers located in the North and Northeast of the country. Interestingly, women represented a larger percentage of total fishers in the North and Northeastern regions (34-38%), than in the Midwest, South, and Southeastern regions (19-28%). However, it is not clear whether these numbers refer only to direct fishing activities or may include some indirect fishing activities such as processing. Furthermore, these numbers may fail to reflect participation by women in fisheries activities that are simply considered household duties. In any case, women do fish in Brazil (Rocha and Pinkerton 2015).
In the State of Bahia, over 20,000 women participate in shellfish collection as marisqueiras, while in the state of Maranhão, women have been recognized for their role in the capture of shrimp from shore using small nets, a practice that also occurs in other Brazilian states (Diegues 2008). Women have also been recognized as participants in shrimp, crab and mollusk fisheries in the south of Bahia (Di Ciommo 2007). To highlight the significance of women’s role in one particular fishery, a study conducted on the Northeast coast of Brazil (Ponta do Turbarão) found that Venus clam (Anomalocardia brasiliana) harvesting and processing is an activity dominated by women (i.e., two thirds of active clam harvesters were women, accounting for 80% of the registered clam harvest activity). Based on a survey of 20 families, a total of roughly 450 tonnes of clams were harvested annually, the majority being collected and processed by women (Rocha 2013). Men also participated but only as a secondary fishing activity when other target species were unavailable or in times of economic need. 

In addition to direct capture activities, women are also involved in various other aspects of Brazilian fisheries, including processing and marketing activities and to a lesser extent in fisheries management and decision-making (Di Ciommo 2007).  A study that investigated fish processing in Southern Brazil found that 57% of plant workers were women (Josupeit 2004).  Interviews with fishing families at Itaipu Beach, Rio de Janeiro also found that women are involved in fish processing and net manufacturing. However, the study went on to highlight women’s important role in providing social and economic stability within the community, especially in response to changing local conditions and external pressures (Barbosa and Begossi 2004).   
These are only a few examples, covering only a portion of the country and its fisheries. While these indeed highlight the varied roles of women in the fisheries of Brazil, they provide only snapshots of an often overlooked aspect of fisheries-the role and contributions of women. I am curious what other examples exist that would help provide a more complete picture of women in the fisheries of Brazil as a whole.  If you have any information on participation by women in the marine fisheries of Brazil or any other maritime fishing country of the world, please contact me so that it can be included in a global assessment of women in fisheries.

Dona Vera fishing in Bahia. Photo by Laura Honda
Dona Vera. Photo By Laura Honda

  • Barbosa, S.R. da C.S. and Begossi, A. (2004) Fisheries, Gender and Local Changes at Itaipu Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: an individual approach. MultiCiência 2, 1–14.
  • Di Ciommo, R.C. (2007) Pescadoras e pescadores: a questão da equidade de gênero em uma reserva extrativista marinha. Ambiente & sociedade 10, 151–163.
  • Diegues, A.C. (2008) Marine protected areas and artisanal fisheries in Brazil. Samudra Monograph. Chennai. 
  • Harper, S., Zeller, D., Hauzer, M., Pauly, D. and Sumaila, U.R. (2013) Women and fisheries: contribution to food security and local economies. Marine Policy 39, 56–63.
  • Josupeit, H. (2004) Women in the fisheries sector of Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil. FAO Fisheries Circular No . 992. Rome.
  • Rocha, L.M. (2013) “Ecologia Humana Manejo Participativo Da Pesca Do Búzio Anomalocardia brasiliana (Gmelin, 1791)(Bivalvia: Veneridae) Na Reserva De Desenvolvimento Sustentável Estadual Ponta Do Turbarão (RN).”
  • Rocha, L.M. and Pinkerton, E. (2015) Comanagement of clams in Brazil: a framework to advance comparison. Ecology and Society 20, 7.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The discard issue: an interview with Dr. José Maria Bellido

Dr. José Maria Bellido is a researcher of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (Spain) and Professor in the "International Master in Sustainable Fisheries Management" at the University of Alicante (Spain). He is deeply interested in spatial modeling (using spatial stats and GIS tools) and stock assessment, with experience in Atlantic and Mediterranean stocks (ICES and GFCM WGs). He was the Director of the Oceanographic Centre of Murcia (IEO) from 2009 to 2015. Lately, he is more and more involved in discards and by-catch issues.


· What is the discarding issue?
The FAO describes discards as "that proportion of the total organic material of animal origin in the catch, which is thrown away, or dumped at sea for whatever reason. It does not include plant material and post harvest waste such as offal. The discards may be dead or alive" (See the FAO Fisheries Glossary

· What is the economic cost of discarding to the fishing industry?

Discarding unwanted catches has many negative environmental and economic effects, especially as very few fish discarded will actually survive. There are a number of consequences, some of them are the following:

-   Discarding juveniles means lower future catch opportunities and reduced spawning biomass;
-   Discarding mature individuals weakens the stock’s productivity both in the short and the long term;
-   Discarding fish, crustaceans, sea birds, sea mammals and non-targeted species undermines the balance of the marine ecosystem;
-   Some vulnerable species can become severely depleted even in the absence of any directed fishery (e.g. certain sharks and rays);
-   For fishers, discarding is a waste of time and effort in the present, as well as a serious potential loss of future income.

· What measures can be taken to reduce unwanted by-catch and eliminate discards?

The best discards mitigation measure have to occur directly at the sea and will be to not catch unwanted species. Some specific measures and tools to mitigate discards of juveniles and unwanted catches can be:

-   Measures of control of fishing effort;
-   Better fishing selectivity, improvement of the design and use of fishing gear and by-catch mitigation devices;
-   Spatial and/or temporal fishing restrictions and/or closures for vulnerable sizes and/or areas;
-   Limits and/or quotas on by-catch.
-   Self-organization and co-management together with incentives for fishers to comply with measures to manage by-catch and reduce discards.

· The new European Union Common Fisheries Policy plan, proposed for 2014-2020, presents a controversial goal: to enforce the landing of fishing discards as a measure to encourage their reduction.  What would be the socio-economic impact of this upcoming discard ban?

The discard ban will produce important changes on how the fishing sector operates at the sea and this can bring some socio-economic consequences that we don’t know exactly yet. The discard ban and landing obligation should be accompanied by other measures for its successful implementation. Some of these measures are improvements of control of fishing effort, effective enforcement and finally an agreement of the fishing sector to comply the rules and regulations. Additionally, discards should be managed in a fishery-by-fishery basis. Exemptions (minimis) can be an alternative for some selected fisheries, of course based on scientific studies.

· The farewell:

Many thanks for this interview and for your interest in our research in fishery discards and by-catch. The “Discards problem” is a key-point in fisheries. It is not an easy issue, as it involves the hardcore of fishing operations, both from economic, legal and biological point of view. However, there is a common and positive perception from all sides (citizenship, NGOs, fishing sector, policymakers, scientist, etc) that discards are negative for all us. We all should find a better solution.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A clever and simple alternative to reduce ghost fishing in Brazil

People around the world appreciate the wonders and beauty of the ocean, be it from a distance, underwater or at the beach. But, no matter how often you go to the beach and the activity you practice, you have certainly seen evidence of one special threat faced by the seas: ghost fishing. If you follow our blog, you already heard about it here recently.

Ghost fishing is the catch of marine species by derelict fishing gear, which continues fishing long after it is thrown away, adding to fish mortality in a relatively unaccounted way. Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) responds for about 10% of the marine debris that are released annually into the oceans worldwide. Crude estimates set the catch potential of ghost fishing as something between 0.5% and 30% of all market species that are officially landed in various European and North American fisheries.

Gears may be lost due to bad weather, strong currents, vandalism, human error, vessels collision and traffic. They may also be abandoned or intentionally discarded when the gear becomes snagged on submerged features, when there is malfunctioning or use of improper gear design and material, when it is risky to pull it off the sea, or simply to avoid blatant flagrant of illegal fishing. Nets are among the most common derelict gears found in the oceans. Old nets can either become additional trash at the beach or, when floating, keep erratically catching and killing individuals of many species. 

Pieces of fishing gear and floats usually found on the Brazilian beaches. Photo from
In Brazil there are no estimates of the impacts of ghost fishing, despite the fact that derelict gears are easily found on the beaches of the 7,491 km of the country’s coastline. This problem has bothered researchers and students from the Laboratory of Ichthyology at the Federal University of Paraná, who are now searching for solutions specifically to deal with the loss of floats and buoys, which are sometimes accompanied by the loss of the whole net. When trawling or using gillnets, fishers constantly change the height they are setting the nets: at the bottom, middle water column, or at the surface of the sea; and they do that by adding or removing floats. However, to save money, fishers try to use the same float more than once. They manually cut the float to refit it later to the net with the help of nails, glue or other makeshift material. If floats are damaged in the process, they may simply be discarded in the water. Even if they are not discarded after their first use, they will be discarded the next time fishers need to change the net height. This happens because the improvised holes do not always attach well to the net.

The solution proposed by these researchers involved the development of a replaceable float that  comes with a removable T-shape opening. If the fisher needs to remove the float, he simply forces the T-shape piece out of the float. The float is easily removed and can be stored for its next use. Next time the fisher needs to use it again, he attaches the float using the T-shape opening and glues the piece together. The T-shape piece allows fishers to add or remove the floats always by the same fit. As a result, floats last longer and decrease the amount of derelict gear in the sea. The new floats are not only better for the environment, but also for the fishers’ pockets, because fishers would not have to buy floats so often!! 

  On the left side, two T-shape floats designed by the Laboratory of Ichthyology at the Federal University of Paraná. On the right side, floats that have been reused (see the handmade cuts) and the new float (whiter) showing the T-shape float with a better and long lasting fit.  Photo from

The T-shape floats were distributed to fishers to be tested in three different Brazilian states (Paraná, Santa Catarina and São Paulo). Soon, it will be tested in Rio Grande do Norte as well.

Fishers have already provided their feedback and are now helping the researchers to find the best glue for the T-shape part. Meanwhile, kids are also learning about the problems caused by ghost fishing at the local schools and trying to come up with their own solutions. Since many of them are fishers’ children, researchers are hoping to avoid the same problems in the future, besides spilling the discussion into their homes.

T-shape floats being introduced to fishers in Paraná State. Photo from

This is a neat first step to approach such a harmful human-created problem. We are glad the world is also filled with creative people trying to minimize our impacts on Earth and specifically on our oceans.
Children being presented and searching for solutions to the problem of derelict fishing gear and ghost fishing. Photo from

                                                                                                                                                                                     By Adriana Carvalho 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

How to integrate different perceptions for shark conservation?

Sharks are amazing animals that have been living on the Earth for hundreds of millions of years (waaaaayyy older than humans!!!). Today, there are over 500 species of all shapes, colors, sizes and behaviors. For example, the dwarf lanternshark (Etmopterus perryi) is the smallest shark known to science with adults reaching a maximum of 20 centimeters, whereas the much more famous whale shark (Rhincodon typus) can reach up to 12meters! Sharks are top predators that regulate populations of other species and help maintain healthy marine ecosystems worldwide. Despite their key importance for the world oceans, shark populations are rapidly declining all over the globe, especially due to the Asian taste for shark fins, which kills 100 million sharks per year. This decline is also worsened by the reproductive strategies of most shark species, marked by slow growth, late sexual maturity and small offspring, features that make it difficult for them to recover from the high mortality caused by commercial fishing. In this scenario, global conservation strategies are needed to help shark populations recover and thrive in the oceans. However, the completely unjustified negative image that the general public has of sharks (“human-eaters and murderers”) does not help conservation efforts. In a recent article, we have investigated the knowledge and attitude of residents and tourists towards shark species of Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, a marine protected area, and one of the major ecotourism destinations in Brazil, famous for shark-watching tourism. We interviewed 178 residents and 277 tourists in the main island of the archipelago. We showed that residents and tourists have slightly different perception and attitude towards shark conservation: while residents know much more about the local shark species (Fig. 1), tourists are more aware of the fact that some shark species are endangered. While the majority of residents know that Fernando de Noronha is an important birth and mating area and a great site to observe sharks, tourists are more likely to agree that shark fishing should be prohibited and that fishing other species could harm shark populations in the island. Nevertheless, both residents and tourists believe that it is important to protect shark species and are aware of their ecological role in marine ecosystems. Such different perceptions are important when developing conservation strategies for sharks. We suggested, for example, (I) offering shark-watching experiences for residents guided by local scuba diving operators. This would provide the residents a chance to enjoy the marine environment and sharks, which are usually enjoyed by tourists only. (ii) Shark-watching could be included as part of schooling activities for children and teenagers. These schooling activities are expected to increase the residents' awareness of sharks and increase the success of shark conservation. (iii) The training of residents as local scuba divers and snorkeling guides could strengthen their participation in tourism and engage them in conservation and environmentally driven attitudes. (iv) We also suggested integrating residents’ knowledge of sharks into educational material for tourists in order to improve their knowledge of local shark species and provide clear orientations during shark-watching activities. In conclusion, we found that individual values may differ between visitors and residents, which demand the development of integrated management strategies capable of bringing conservation issues to different segments of the society.
 By Gustavo Paterno.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The life of an observer on board

Interview with Gema Canal

Observers on board are specialists that work on board of commercial fishing vessels or at fish processing plants. They can be employed by a fisheries observer program, such as MRAG Americas INC (working on North Pacific groundfish), either by a third-party contractor or by a governmental agency. An observer on-board is mandatory for some cases, for example for all the member countries of ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas). Fisheries, mammal and bird research depend on the information provided by observers, which is considered the only independent source of data available from fishing operations.
Gema Canal is a marine biologist that works as an observer on-board on fishing boats since 2005. Currently, she works an observer on-board for two research groups: the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the ICCAT.

Which are the tasks of an observer on-board?

The observer on-board is a person that works for scientific organizations, like ICCAT, or CCAMLR, hired through consultancy agencies1. For each survey2 the scientific organization determines the tasks that the observer has to develop on-board. That means that the observer has to know different fisheries, species and legislations and be ready to spend a period of time at sea that can vary from one day to 6 months.
The tasks vary widely, from observing if the fishing legislation is being followed during the fishing operation and reporting any eventual infraction, to collecting biological data of the species (size, weight, maturity stage, etc.) and data of each fishing operation (date, location, gear used, etc.)

Why is it important the work of an observer on-board for the marine conservation?

It is important for two main reasons. First, the observer is in charge of making sure the vessel adheres to fishing guidelines. Second, all the data collected on-board are essential to do the stock assessment of target species, to know the status of fishing grounds and also to evaluate the proportion of discards and by-catch.

What are the dangers of this work?

Most importantly, the observer is exposed to all the dangers common to any seafarer, i.e. accidents, fires, sinking ... and adding to these, there is the attitude displayed by some fishing crew when they do not want someone in a regulatory position who is reporting any wrongdoing in the vessel. Mobbing sometimes happens in such cases, which is aggravated by the facts that observers normally work alone and in usually conflicting fisheries.
In closer fishing grounds observers can access the Internet. Observers usually send their reports using a computer available at the vessel and, therefore, information leakage is common. The already delicate situation of an observer can be worsened when they report an illegal operation or a possible violation.

How long an observer does usually stay at sea? 

In my specific case I need to work on at least two surveys (fishing operations) a year. I usually do one long survey of 4-5 months and a shorter one of about one month. On average you usually spend 6 months at sea. The maximum I have spent was 5 months and 14 days. But I've also had campaigns of 20 days only.

What is the proportion of women that do this work? 

The proportion of women varies depending on the project and the conditions of the vessel. The long surveys with a reduced space on-board are normally assigned to men, even though there have been many cases in which a woman observer had to share a cabin with an officer of the vessel.
To summarize, there are projects where women are the majority and others where there is barely any women.

What are the measures that you think should be taken to improve the conditions of the observers?
Experienced observers are highly qualified people, but due to poor working conditions and insecure temporary contracts, they always seek for better paying and more stable and safer jobs. This results in them being replaced by cheaper and less experienced staff and this is a great disadvantage that influences the quality of the data collected and therefore the assessment and management of fish stocks. Improved working conditions would benefit not only the observer herself but also the functioning of the system. These improvements could include the establishment of a minimum wage, paid vacation, and benefits.
Another major problem is that the work of an observer is poorly considered or valued by the scientific community. There is, for example, the opinion that the work of an observer can be done by anyone or even be replaced by a camera (iObserver).

Recently, an observer on-bard went missing during a survey, what do you think about it? 

What happened to Keith Davis is a great tragedy, and it is not common. Shipment conditions vary widely and in my case I can say that my experiences are mostly satisfactory. Despite the fact that there is always the feeling of being isolated during a survey, once you overcome this point you can have a unique experience with marine life.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Accessible technology to monitor fishing resources

Whether we are talking about people living in a megalopolis like São Paulo or those living in the middle of the Amazon, we know they spend increasing time on smartphones and tablets. Arguably, younger generations do not even seem able to function without their smartphones. While most of the time spent on these gadgets can be wasted, not all is lost. We pay bills, check the weather, call taxis, learn a new language, control our diet, monitor exercise, and now we can also monitor natural resources! 

Two apps launched recently in Brazil intend to help monitor fishing resources: “Fisheries Monitoring Software” (in Portuguese, Software de Monitoramento Pesqueiro, by iSUS) and “Fish+” (Portuguese, Pesca+, by WWF Brazil). The two apps target different audiences. The Fisheries Monitoring Software intends to be used by collectors of fishing data, such as governmental institutions in charge of fishing statistics. Fish+ was developed to be used by fishers, especially those living in remote areas or those neglected by official monitoring. 

The Fisheries Monitoring Software offers multiple interfaces where one can enter data about fishers, catch, fisheries technology (boats and gears), biometry of different species, and the advantage of generating quick, simple reports useful for management. The idea is that the software will save time and money by avoiding the use of extra personnel to enter all the data into a computer later. Moreover, such extra work often results in partial databases lacking the complete set of collected information. With the cellphone app, the data can be easily downloaded to a computer everyday or whenever necessary. 

Fish+ is a tool for people living in isolated communities, meaning that the app works offline. Fishermen can register their activity (crew size, boat type, gear, size and length of the catch, etc.) and whenever they have access to the internet, previously logged data is uploaded to a common database. In the Amazonian region where it is currently being tested, the data are uploaded when fishermen go to the closest urban center, which happens every 30-40 days. The use of the app can potentially increase the involvement people have with conservation and make them aware of their own activities, through this type of participatory monitoring.

These are good news for fisheries: we can use technology to know how we are affecting fish populations. Now please, use your smartphone, tablet or laptop and spread the word by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter!

                                              Photo from:


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Knowing where the parrotfish are: modeling sensitive parrotfish (Labridae: Scarini) habitats along the Brazilian coast

Parrotfish (Labridae: Scarini) are large (and beautiful!) herbivorous fishes that play a critical functional role in reef environments when they feed.  By grazing on algae, they actively affect the structure and composition of benthic communities, mainly by maintaining algae  free corals. Even though these species used to have relatively low commercial interest in the past, when others, more appreciated and usually higher in the food chain (e.g.: predators) were available, they are now a favorite target. This is true for many parts of the world, including Brazil, where parrotfish have been increasingly exploited, with many of them already showing signs of depletion. In particular, three species, Scarus trispinosus (Valenciennes, 1840), Sparisoma frondosum (Agassiz, 1831) and Sparisoma axillare (Steindachner, 1878), currently labeled as threatened, have been intensively targeted in Brazil, mostly on the northeastern coast. 
That means we have to care about parrotfish as well, before they suffer the same fate as other large predatory fish fished to their commercial exhaustion. One way to do that is through an ecosystem approach, which, in the case of reef fisheries should include careful marine spatial planning of reef use to ensure the protection of the relevant habitats of key species. For that, it is a requirement to have a solid knowledge of species-environment relationships and to identify priority areas for conservation and management. The article “Modeling sensitive parrotfish (Labridae: Scarini) habitats along the Brazilian coast” maps the distribution of these three parrotfish species, showing their hotspots of occurrence along the Brazilian coast.
The modeling results brought about the most sensitive habitats along the Brazilian coast that indicate the best areas to be protected. Specifically, this study confirmed the suitability of existing marine protected areas, such as Parcel Manuel Luís, Atol das Rocas, Fernando de Noronha, Abrolhos Archipelago, and Trindade. It also indicated the potential of enhancing the protection in such locations, including its surrounding areas and buffer zones, besides suggesting the full protection of some some additional hotspots. 
However, the article did not disregard the fact that today there is an important group of fishermen that depends on parrotfish exploitation and that simply closing all important areas could have the fishermen deemed illegal and could threaten their wellbeing. Therefore, it is suggested that, in addition to establishing new protected areas, fishery management should focus on measures that regulate fishing operations, such as temporary closures and restrictions on non-selective fishing gear in unprotected places. The way to assure that these species continue performing their ecological role while also being part of our diet may require a compromise between different degrees of conservation measures (e.g., permissive vs. restrictive). 
Now we know where to protect such important species in Brazil and we also suggest the first steps on how to do it. The question is: who will take the next step?

by Natalia C. Roos

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview with Dr. Rashid Sumaila

Dr. Rashid Sumaila is a prominent Fisheries Economist and Professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada ( He is deeply interested in how economics, through integration with ecology and other disciplines, can be applied to ensure sustainable use of  environmental resources.

FEME: Some authors (for example, Acemoglu &Robinson. 2013. Why Nations Fail, 2013) argue that, in general, fewer laws and regulations and less bureaucracy could help nations achieve higher levels of development. Do you agree with this view? Do you think the same principles could be applied to fisheries management?

Rashid Sumaila: The problem I see with this statement is that these authors say: “… fewer laws and regulations and less bureaucracy could help nations achieve higher levels of development”. Two questions immediately come to mind.

First, what do the authors mean by ‘fewer laws’? Does it mean that if one country has 10 regulations and another has a million for the management of similar fisheries, for example, would reducing regulations to 9 and 999,999 for the two fisheries, respectively, help the two to achieve higher levels of development? Second, what do the authors mean by development: higher GDP, higher score in the UN Development Index (HDI)?
If it is GDP then no regulation may be the best but if it is the latter (i.e. the level of HDI), it depends.

Given the last paragraph, I do not agree with the authors because the important thing is to implement an optimal set of regulation to help managers and policy makers achieve their goals for the fishery.

FEME: Many papers have debated fishing subsidies, including your publication from 2010 (Journal of Bioeconomics DOI 10.1007/s10818-010-9091-8). Would you consider subsidies (the capacity enhancing subsidies) as one mechanism for market regulation, once they support economic and ecologically unsustainable fisheries? Could the reduction or even the ceasing of those subsidies stimulate actors involved in fishing activity to produce sustainable innovation and protection of fish stocks?

Rashid Sumaila: The justification for imposing taxes or providing subsidies to an economics sector comes from the existence of externalities, which occurs when producing or consuming a good causes an impact on third parties not directly related to the transaction. Positive externalities have a positive impact while negative externalities impact third parties negatively. Hence, to achieve maximum benefits for society, subsidies are provided in the case of positive externalities, and taxes are imposed in the case of negative externalities.
Since the provision of capacity-enhancing or harmful subsidies results in overfishing of fish stocks, it makes no economic sense.

So the answer to your questions are yes eliminating those subsidies would reduce overfishing while stimulating fishers innovate.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Enough of ghost fishing: turning old fishing nets in skateboards and sunglasses.

According to the United Nations, every year an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution enters our oceans, and fishing nets (10% of all waste) are one of the most harmful forms of this destructive waste. More than 690 marine species are known to interact with marine litter. Turtles mistake floating plastic for jellyfish, and globally around one-third of all turtles are estimated to have eaten plastic in some form. The same is true for seabirds. Plastic also acts as a chemical magnet for environmental pollutants, such as metals, fertilizers, and persistent organic pollutants. These are adsorbed onto the plastic. When an animal eats the plastic “meal”, these chemicals make their way into their tissues and, in the case of commercial fish species, can make it into our dinner plates. Plastic waste is the scourge of our oceans, killing our wildlife, polluting our beaches, and threatening our food security. However, there are solutions!


On the coastline of Chile, the team behind Bureo Skateboards is helping out in style!The company uses some of these old fishing nets to make skateboard decks and sunglasses.
The three founders of Bureo – David Stover, Ben Kneppers and Kevin Ahearn – began working with the Chilean fishermen in 2013, after realizing that something had to be done about these abandoned nets. The team then set up a program called “Net Positiva” in late 2013. The program established net collection points, where fishermen can discard nets that they now consider useless for fishing. What is useless and over for some can be just the beginning for others. And the beginning takes multiple forms here. First of all, Bureo pays the local communities for every kilogram of fishing net collected. Such funds are administered by local NGO’s alongside with the leaders of local fishing syndicates. The idea is that the money be used on education and waste management programs aiming to prevent various forms of ocean plastic pollution.
Finally, the old nets are transported to a warehouse, sorted, shredded and melted down, before they are made into nylon pellets and injection-molded into Bureo’s signature fish-scale-patterned skateboards and sunglasses. One new skateboard requires 3 square meters of used nets.
Bureo, a word that comes from the native Mapuche Chilean language meaning “waves”, received seed funding from StartUp Chile and from IDEA, a Northeastern University’s venture accelerator fund. They have also received support from Patagonia’s “$20 Million and Change Fund", which was set up by the Patagonian founder Yvon Chouinard to support entrepreneurs who are “working with nature rather than using it up”.
Bureo is now looking to extend “Net Positiva” to fishing communities around the world, which will broaden the reach of its wave of positive change. We, here in Brazil, hope to see this wave coming soon to our shores!

by Maria Grazia Pennino