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.