Friday, December 2, 2016

Interviewing Dr. Beth Fulton

It is always a pleasure to talk to people who think out of the box and Beth is indeed one of those! These days, thinking out of the box may just well mean to do things in the ways we did before, seeing the whole picture and not only the parts. Beth talks about this and much more here, but before we get there, let’s just remind you about who Beth Fulton is, a name very familiar for those studying fisheries. Beth has a PhD in ecomathematics from the University of Tasmania and is a leading marine ecosystem modeller with a background in marine ecology, mathematics and scientific programming. She has been leading the CSIRO ecosystem modelling efforts in Australia for the past 15 years. Her science focus is on marine natural resource management, conservation and ecosystems. 

Beth’s team focuses on the development of programs that model marine ecosystem models (e.g. Atlantis, InVitro and CORSA). In particular, such modelling software give equal attention to biophysical and human components of marine ecosystems. These models allow users to explore the impacts and management of the myriad pressures on marine and coastal environments. The approach underpins CSIRO’s research into managing potentially competing uses of Australia’s marine environments and adaptation to global change and is currently used up by researchers and management bodies in 26 countries around the world. 

In August (2016) during the IMBER ClimEco5 Summer School in Natal, Brazil, we had a chance to have a quick chat with her. Check it out!

FEME: There is still some resistance from scientists in relation to the modeling of nature. For instance, some of them believe that is impossible to model nature with all its complexity. What is your view on that?

Beth Fulton: I would say that everybody models nature already, they just do it in their heads. And so, by getting the models out into mathematics or onto a piece of paper you at least have all of the assumptions clear, so that everybody can talk around it. You are not assuming that people know the same things that you do, because people will make decisions regardless of the models or not. So, it is better to have that information out there to make clear what we do and what we don’t know and to help understanding than to just give up and keep it all in their heads and keep it messy. 

FEME: In your opinion, how reliable are IPCC scenarios?

Beth Fulton: Of course there is going to be things that don’t work exactly like in the model. It is just a model! But the basic fundamental principles of the way that the atmosphere works and what that means for the oceans have been known for over a hundred years. They got the same basic answers with pencils and papers a hundred years ago. The finer details of today around specific locations are why we continue to need to refine this work. But they (IPCC scenarios) are basically reliable for the general pattern of change. We can’t wait to the changes to happen to see what it is before we can react, because of the long- term timeframes. The changes we are making today will already influence the next a thousand to a million years of the ocean and the world, so we need to act now. It is like when you save in a bank account, the earlier you save the more difference that you make. That is why you need to just say we don’t know everything perfectly, we might need to change a few things as we go along, but the basic reliability is pretty strong for general patterns.    

FEME: What changes would you like to see in the scientific community for the future?

Beth Fulton: That one I would like to see across all academia: an embracing of the idea that we are all equal, that no group is better than any other group, and that we share that information and understanding together. As we have understood more and more, we have become very constraint into a one little bit of science, which can be so different from place to place. There are thousands of different kinds of science. So, I would like the renaissance idea of all science together across the disciplines. So people have that big broad view again, instead of getting stuck there in their one little bit.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Protecting the reef fish we catch: the case of parrotfish

We already know that parrotfish (Labridae: Scarini) are large (and beautiful!) fishes that play critical functional roles in reef environments when they feed, which in their case, we call “grazing”. Parrotfishes spend their day biting off bits and chunks of algae and other benthic organisms with their beak-like teeth. However, macroalgae may not be their preferred dish, they seem to like smaller diet items then what has been previously assumed. Because of this new finding, they have been recently reclassified as microphagous (“eaters of tiny particles”) (Clements et al., 2016), which by no means diminishes their importance in shaping the reef community. In other words, their nutrition comes from protein-rich autotrophic microorganisms, which in their turn are associated with macro organisms. By eating microorganisms, parrotfish affects the structure and composition of benthic communities by maintaining algae free corals. 
Unfortunately, fishing pressure on parrotfishes has grown in the last decades around the world, and in Brazil, it is not different. Small-scale fisheries are exploiting large numbers of parrotfishes from Brazilian reefs, which could be leading to significant changes in the community structure. In particular, three species, Scarus trispinosus (Valenciennes, 1840), Sparisoma frondosum (Agassiz, 1831) and Sparisoma axillare (Steindachner, 1878), labeled as threatened in 2014, have been intensively targeted, mostly on the northeastern coast.

Scarus trispinosus landings. Photo by Natalia Roos.
In the Brazilian northeast, fishermen use different gears, including gillnets, handlines and spearguns, depending on the parrotfish species targeted. The effects that gears have in a given fishing are important to be understood because they may change catch composition, catch per unit effort (CPUE) and fish size frequencies. Therefore, the understanding of the effects of gear may guide suitable management strategies to maintain fish populations and long-term fishing yields.
The paper “Multiple management strategies to control selectivity on parrotfishes harvesting” assesses gear size selectivity and fishing pressure on the three most caught species of parrotfishes in the Brazilian northeast. The results showed that the annual total catch of S. trispinosus was estimated in 9.4 tons, while S. frondosum and S. axillare (usually caught together) were estimated at 15.4 tons, totaling 24.8 tons of parrotfish fished per year in a tiny area of the Brazilian coast.
Both S. frondosum and S. axillare are being caught by gillnets and handline above the size of first maturity, however, the CPUE value for gillnets are much higher than handline. For S. trispinosus, which is caught with gillnets and spearguns, the scenario is worse. About 80% of all S. trispinosus caught were below the size of first maturity, and most of the immature individuals are coming from gillnet fishery. 

Besides parrotfish artisanal fishing being multi-gear, multi-species and multi-strategy, there are many other problems involving this kind of fishery. First, parrotfishes are also targeted by unreported recreational fishing. Second, Sparisoma species are targeted by trap industrial fishing and exported to other countries. Third, some spearfishermen also hunt at night, when parrotfishes are asleep and much more vulnerable. Fourth, parrotfishes are protogynous hermaphrodite (i.e., they begin their life cycle as a female than they shift to male), and not protecting the larger individuals (males) can lead to several consequences to their reproduction. 
Due to all of these reasons, a multiple strategy approach is suggested for parrotfish management. Besides controlling artisanal gears by establishing a slot size limit for handline and speargun (gears that fishermen can choose the size of fish) and increasing the gillnet mesh size, banning recreational fishing, night fishing and exportation of parrotfishes should be taken into account. It is also important to consider spatial planning to protect sensitive areas. Clearly, all of these measures have to be monitored to ensure good results.    
The implementation of these multiple management strategies may oppose the latest Brazilian Red List, which recommended banning S. trispinosus fishery, as this was classified as Endangered, although it could support the need to manage S. axillare and S. frondosum. These two species are classified as Vulnerable and could be fished under restrictions. A repeal of the list would be a serious hindrance for the conservation and management of parrotfish. On the other hand, if this list is implemented, all the vulnerable species will require specific management measures, and this study is a timely contribution for the ecologically relevant and iconic groups of parrotfishes.

by Natalia Roos


Clements, K. D., German, D. P., Piché, J., Tribollet, A., & Choat, J. H. (2016). Integrating ecological roles and trophic diversification on coral reefs: multiple lines of evidence identify parrotfishes as microphages. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.
Roos, NC, Pennino, MG, Lopes, PF, & Carvalho, AR. 2016. Multiple management strategies to control selectivity on parrotfishes harvesting. Ocean & Coastal Management, 134, 20-29.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What do fishermen know about dolphins and why do they know what they know?

Every time you go to a different beach, the most prudent thing to do is asking local people where the safe places to swim are (places with no currents, for example). It is very likely that you would ask people somehow involved with the sea at that particular beach, such as lifeguards, surfers, and fishermen. The reason is obvious: since they are used to the local environment, they would know the risks. The same is true when researching any specific characteristic of a given area. Sometimes, when you want to understand specificities of a place, the best option is to ask local people about its characteristics and dynamics. When living in a place and depending directly on its resources, people learn how to deal with things available at the place. As these people spend time on their daily activities, they also have more opportunities to observe and accumulate knowledge of the surrounding area. Gathering this local ecological knowledge (LEK) is a good way to learn about local features without spending too much time and money, since they would already be the result of local experience through years (and, sometimes, over generations).

Based on this, several researchers have been including the LEK into their studies to learn about the ecology and biology of different species. In our paper [“The behavior of the estuarine dolphin (Sotalia guianensis, van Bénéden, 1864) according to fishermen from different fishing environments”], we investigated the knowledge fishermen had about the behavior of a local dolphin. Even though dolphins are charismatic species, even for researchers, we still have a lot to learn about them because it is not that easy or cheap to study the behavior of species that spend most of their time underwater. Fishermen, on the other hand, have a natural chance to learn about dolphins, simply by performing their profession. But fishermen are just regular human beings and, as such, will have their cultural biases as well that will shape the knowledge they carry.

Sotalia guianensis, PHOTO:
Assuming that such biases would affect knowledge construction, we investigated how the perception of small-scale fishermen regarding the behavior of the estuarine dolphin (Sotalia guianensis) is affected by their education, experience, the type of environment where they predominantly fish, and the extent to which they are involved in dolphin watching tourism. We interviewed fishermen in routine contact with populations of S. guianensis in NE Brazil. Overall, most fishermen correctly reported the habitat, distribution, seasonality, and feeding behavior of this dolphin, besides bringing new insights into the dolphin’s reproductive behavior and its possible migration patterns. As expected, more experienced fishermen provided more details. Interestingly though, those fishermen that studied more years could also provide better details, perhaps suggesting that formal education could fine-tune their perception. Another important finding of this study is that fishermen’s knowledge is widely affected by the fishing environment they commonly use, because dolphins perform different behaviors depending on where they are. This finding has as additional implication and could be used as an attention flag to studies using LEK: you better carefully select your informants depending on what you want to learn, besides considering the effects of their cultural biases. Once you are aware of those limitation, inherent to human beings, be sure that fishermen, besides knowing a lot about fish, may also provide information on cetaceans that could be used in management and conservation when scientific sources are missing or insufficient. 

Manzan, M & LOPES, PFM. 2014. Fishers' knowledge as a source of information about the estuarine dolphin (Sotalia guianensis, van Bénéden, 1864). Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 187: 4096.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Interview with Laurent Bopp, international expert on climate change

Laurent Bopp is a researcher at the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement (LSCE), Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace (IPSL) in France. His main research interests concern the links between marine biogeochemical cycles, marine ecosystems and climate. He is an expert in marine biogeochemical and ecosystem models (such as the PISCES model), coupled to Earth System Models (such as the IPSL climate model). 

Laurent Bopp during a lecture in the IMBER summer school 2016.

Question: Some researchers say that climate change has a higher impact on women than men. Do you agree? Why? 
Laurent:  It is a good question. I guess it depends a lot on where in the world they are. I mean, society inequalities between men and women are stronger in some places, and surely climate change is believed to increase inequalities. So, that will be the case where such inequalities exist already. Where inequalities are not so pronounced, we hope not to see so many differences in the impacts. 

Question: Which challenge is the hardest to overcome: adapting to climate change or reaching zero emission?
Laurent: I guess we have to do both: go to zero emission and adapt to climate change. And again it will depend where on the planet we are talking about, countries that are very dependent on fossil fuel will have much more difficulties to reduce the emissions, whereas it is believed that countries that have a higher G.D.P will adapt more easily than others. My personal guess is that going to zero emission is difficult, because this is a global goal: if you do it, and your neighbor does not, you simply do not achieve it. Adaptation is much more likely, you can adapt just counting on yourself. So, in a very integrated world, where we share things, maybe we can do both at the same time. In a more fragmented world, adaptation is ok but going to zero emission is impossible. 

Question: What changes would you like to see in the scientific community in the future?

Laurent: I see some nice changes already. But I’d like to see more. So, if I take the examples of the system in France, and I know that in many other places it is the same, it is very hierarchical. We have the professors, then we have the post-docs and the PhD students, and we always see the same ones giving the big presentations, and we should include more flexibility into this. We should have a bit more talking at all levels, not just at the highest ones. But, I’ve seen some changes. So I think it is coming. 

by Natalia Roos

Thursday, October 6, 2016

How new tech is catching IUU fishing in small-boat fisheries

This week Melissa Garren, chief scientific officer of the Pelagic Data Systems and Anne Hawkins of the Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, talk about a new technology against illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and actor Leonardo Di Caprio unveiled Global Fishing Watch at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. As its big-name spokesmen would suggest, Global Fishing Watch is a big deal. Created by Google, Oceana, and SkyTruth, it uses satellite data to track and make public the fishing activity of the world’s largest fishing vessels. This enables public oversight and pressures vessel operators to fish legally.

Global Fishing Watch is a huge step in the fight against illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, and there also remains much work to be done. Right now, it’s still possible for vessel operators to turn off their satellite tracking devices, and there are many smaller vessels that have no tracking capability at all due to the expense and power requirements of most systems. This poses a significant challenge because ~95 percent of the world’s fishing fleet is comprised of these small vessels.

At Pelagic Data Systems, we developed an autonomous, tamper-proof Vessel Tracking System (VTS) with these small vessels in mind. Our VTS is a solar-powered device, roughly the size and shape of a smartphone, that collects, encrypts, and securely transmits data on a boat’s location, and it can monitor storage temperature and catch methods. By filling in the data gap for small-scale fisheries, this technology complements efforts already under way to rid the world of IUU fishing.


Pelagic Data Systems recently teamed up with Global Fishing Watch and industry partner PT Bali Seafood International (BSI) to begin putting that data on the public map of global fishing. The project is collecting data on small fishing vessels in Indonesia that feed into BSI’s international supply chain, and this data will be made public online through Global Fishing Watch. Projects like this one are wins for traceability, sustainability, and for the fishing industry’s bottom line. Consumers are increasingly demanding seafood caught transparently and through a sustainable supply chain, and companies like BSI are paving the way.

Our vessel tracking systems also provide valuable information for use in marine spatial planning. As Anne Hawkins and I presented at the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) Annual Science Conference last week, this data collected by the fishing industry can help to preserve their access to valuable fishing grounds and inform decisions on how new projects in the marine environment are sited. By providing fishing communities with the data-oriented tools to get involved in this process, we empower them to help manage the resources that support their livelihoods.

Ultimately, the more ways we can monitor the world’s fishing fleet, the faster we can eradicate IUU fishing and guarantee that fishing resources relied on by billions of people around the globe are sustainably managed.

by Melissa Garren and Anne Hawkins 

Melissa is a marine biologist who specializes in the intersection of technology and marine conservation. At Pelagic Data Systems, she is responsible for providing scientific leadership and aligning the company's technology development programs with the needs of both the ecosystems and the communities dependent on them.  She holds a B.S. from Yale University, and M.S. and Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and completed postdoctoral work at MIT in the application of cutting-edge technologies to marine conservation solutions.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Prehistoric fisheries: learning about the past to inform the present and the future.

We are probably sounding repetitive by now, but fishermen’s tales can tell us a lot about  how  things were in the past. Still, there is  a limit  to how far back in time fishermen can go with their memories. They would not be able to tell us about things that happened thousands of years ago, right? Well, not exactly, past fishermen might still be able to communicate with us through other means, for example, through some physical evidence of what they were targeting in the past. We already know that fishing was practiced by very ancient civilizations (Fujita et al., 2016), which relied on limited technology. However, when we say “limited technology” we are  simply comparing it with our current technology, which by no means implies that fishermen had no impact on their target  stocks in the past. Assuming that they did  impact, we still have to understand how their forefathers influenced the current patterns of diversity and abundance of marine species. 
Along the Brazilian coast, there are over 2,000 shellmounds with a high concentration of marine faunal remains, including fish components such as cranialbones, otoliths, teeth and others. These shellmounds can provide lots of information about prehistoric fisheries activities, including gears used, types of fishing ground,species diversity and even some evidence of overexploitation. That is what Lopes et al., (2016) have investigated in their study "The Path towards Endangered Species: Prehistoric Fisheries in Southeastern Brazil”. Remains of 13 shellmounds ranging from 8,720 to 985 years calibrated before present (cal BP) from the southern coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro were analyzed. Patterns of similarity between shellmounds based on fish diversity, ages of the assemblages, littoral geomorphology and prehistoric fishing were identified. The results showed a well-developed prehistoric fishing activity, with 97 marine species identified. Such species represent 37% of all modern species (i.e., 265 spp.) that have been documented along the coast of Rio de Janeiro state. 

Figure   from   Lopes,   et   al.,   2016:  Teleostean   skeletal   remains   from   the   Rio   de   Janeiroshellmounds.   (1a-b)   Scarus   sp.,   anguloarticular,   Algodão,   MNUFRJ-ZA-496, and (2a-c) pharyngeal tooth, Acaiá, MNUFRJ-ZA-724. (3a-c) Sparisoma sp., dentary, Acaiá, MNUFRJ-ZA-720, and (4a-b) angulo-articular, Acaiá, MNUFRJ-ZA-666. (5a-b) Scarus sp., lower pharyngealtooth plate, Acaiá, MNUFRJ-ZA-674. (6a-c) Trichiurus lepturus, dentary, Acaiá, MNUFRJ-ZA-746.   (7a-b)   Katsuwonus   pelamis,   maxillary,   Acaiá,   MNUFRJ-ZA-705,   and   (8a-c)   vertebrae,Acaiá,  MNUFRJ-ZA-   710.  (9) Scomberomus sp.,  hypural complex, Acaiá, MNUFRJ-ZA-701.(10a-b) Istiophorus albicans, hypural.

Many species that are currently main targets, such as snappers,  groupers and tunas, were  already  being  targeted by prehistoric fishermen. However, their main targets used to be sharks, rays and finfishes in productive areas influenced by a coastal marine upwelling. The presence of adult and neonate shark (including even great whites!), especially oceanic species, is interpreted as evidence of prehistoric fishing capacity of exploitation of nursery areas. The data also brought some novel and stronger evidence of our selective pressure on fish size. Whitemouth croaker records have shown, for instance, that this species is now about 28% smaller in comparison to the period of when such shellmounds were formed. 
The tale that such ancient fishermen are telling us might be one of early over-ormisguided exploitation, perhaps much earlier than our “shifting baseline” minds have been telling us in the last decades. By discovering all we can about the past, perhaps we can understand our present exploitation pattern a little better and infer what the future has in store for us, promoting further, deeper and more meaningful debates about changes we have caused and continue to cause in our oceans.

  • Fujita, M., Yamasaki, S., Katagiri, C., Oshiro, I, Sano, K., Kurozumi, T., Sugawara, H., Kunikita, D., Matsuzaki, H., Kano, A., Okumura, T., Sone, T., Fujita, H., Kobayashi, S., Natuse, T., Kondo, M., Matsuura,  S.,  Suwa,  G., Kaifu,  Y. 2016. Advanced  maritime  adaptation   in   the  western Pacific coastal region extends back to 35,000–30,000 years before present. PNAS.
  • Lopes, M.S., Bertucci, T.C.P., Rapagnã, L., Tubino, R.A., Monteiro-Neto, C., Tomas, A.R.G., et al. 2016. The Path towards Endangered Species: Prehistoric Fisheries in Southeastern Brazil. PLoS ONE 11(6): e0154476. 

by Natália Roos

Friday, September 16, 2016

Interview with Lisa Maddison, the deputy executive officer of IMBER.

We open our new series of interviews with Lisa Maddison, who is the deputy executive officer of IMBER – Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research. For us, she is much more than that, she is the soul of IMBER and the one who made it possible for us to host it in Natal in August 2016 the ClimEco 5 – Towards more resilient oceans: predicting and projecting future changes in the ocean and their impacts on human societies. She was happy to help us understand a little bit more about this organization and this summer course. We were more than happy to spend a few more minutes chatting with this amazing and exciting person. 

On the left, Ana Helen, member of the FEME and on the right Lisa Maddison.

FEME: How did you migrate from science to consultancy?

Lisa: I worked for an environmental consultant; these are people that are not governmental and not the university, it is a business. They have lots of scientists who work for them and they apply to projects to different levels of government: local, regional, and national. In our case, we also applied for some international projects, which brought a lot of scientists in the company working on different issues.

FEME: Was IMBER your fist big project?

Lisa: No, when I worked for this consultancy, The Common Ground, I worked on a lot of projects there. In fact, the biggest project I worked on involved writing a coastal management policy for South Africa. It is really good policy, and I helped to write the paper. We, all different people in the company, did different sections. I was involved with writing the state of art for the whole coast of South Africa. We divided it up into nine regions, and then talked with the local people there, the fishermen, people from the local communities, and government people. We talked about how fish stocks were like, how biodiversity had changed, and some issues that the local people had. It was a very exciting project because it was right after the end of the Apartheid, it was the first time when everybody was asked for their opinion: black, write, pink, green, it didn’t matter. It was the first time most of the people in South Africa had a voice. We did this big public policy, with lots of workshops and other things with local communities, for them to see the issues that they raised being put into the policy. That was my biggest project. IMBER is different because it is a big international project, we work with people all around the world.

FEME: When did you start to work for IMBER? How many events did you make for IMBER?

Lisa: I started in IMBER in 2009, so I have been there for eight years. IMBER has 8 working groups that work on different projects, and we also got 4 regional programs. One of them is all about fisheries, it is called CLIOTOP, Climate Impacts on Top Ocean Predators, it deals with all the big fish, dolphins, whales, seals, all the top predators. That one is completely international, completely around the world. It is really interesting. I do not manage this program, but I help with any logistical organization. For instance, if they have a meeting, I help to arrange the meeting, usually with the local host.
I have done 5 Summer Schools and 4 IMBIZOs in alternated years. IMBIZO is like a small symposium, for about 120-150 people, and the next one, IMBIZO 5, will happen in 2017 in Woodshole in the USA. We also organize a big open science conference for about 500 people; we have done that twice.

FEME: What is the most difficult aspect of this job? And what are the gratifications?

Lisa: To get money, money is always the problem! There are some things that you can raise funds for quite easily, although it depends on where it is. But there are many projects that are working on global change and the oceans, but there is only a limited amount of money, so we all have to share it. There is always a lot of competition and when a call comes out, every project applies. That means that you have to write very good proposals, you got to be very focused. Then you get a little bit money here, a little bit money there and that is the frustrating part, because you want to bring people. That is hard!

But we are very fortunate, many of the scientists volunteer their time and often they pay for themselves, just so we can fund more students. You always have to give and take.

Also some of the funding comes with restrictions. For example, if we get money from American foundations, which is normally for people from developing countries, they have to fly an American airline, because it is tax payers’ money, so the US must benefit, which is understandable. But very often these tickets are double the price of the local airlines. I understand it but it is frustrating, you could be funding three students, but you end up funding one because they have to go on the expensive airlines.

The most rewarding thing for me is to bring people together. The Summer School is a perfect example: we bring some big scientists to interact with students. This is an amazing opportunity for you to learn from them. But there is more. I just talked to the lecturers and one of them told me how to be able to connect people, put people together, is already some achievement! In all the meetings we do, there are amazing links that happen.

IMBER is international, we try to bring people from all around the word, and we try to get the genders balanced too, making sure the women are represented. Linking the world together is fantastic for me! The people we meet are fantastic, we find out that there is amazing work going on, and that is really interesting. There are always wonderful local people helping in the organization.

FEME: How could we convince more of those big companies to fund environmental projects?

LISA: I think just by communicating more! Actually, sometimes by bringing them to meetings, if you can get somebody. I went on a research cruise recently and we had somebody from the Norwegian research council and somebody from the biggest oil company in Norway. They had sponsored a project with an ROV – remotely operated vehicle, and they were invited on the cruise to come and see how their money had been spent. Maybe they will help more If they can see the product, the output, and interact with the scientists, even if it is one person at a time.

We need to improve our marketing and communication with people. Communicating is essential! The scientist knows the issues, but as Rashid was saying: nobody is going to read the whole poster or paper. We need something short and shocking that will really attract the attention of a businessman. If you can just click on the right thing that can make they think, something that they can see visually, we can connect more. Again, there is never enough money to have a graphic designer or funding to print things. But I think with the social media we can do better.

FEME: Which changes would you like to see in the scientific community?

Lisa: Communication! It is all very well to write papers and to tell the other scientists what you’ve done, and they can use your work. But I think we need that science to filter down to communities, to funders, and to businesses. The scientist is the one who can do it, because they understand the subjects, the basics. I think we could improve their communication at that level, not just writing scientific papers. But like writing blogs!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fishers and ecosystem modeling

One of the goals that Ana established for her PhD is to understand a little more about the small-scale fishers from Brazilian northeastern coast, bringing their knowledge closer to the academic science. She intended to do that by combining fishers’ knowledge in marine sciences with published literature, showing that fishers could help fill gaps in scientific information.  She has just achieved this goal by publishing her most recent study, which is described below. Ana knows that filling such gaps with alternative methods is especially relevant in data poor places, where such knowledge could be used to base management plans and public policies.
Ana used information she got from fishers and information from the literature to build two marine ecosystem virtual models: one based on scientific information and another one based on conversations with fishers. The models were built in the free software Ecopath with Ecosim, which is nothing more than a computational program where we insert the information we have of a real aquatic environment to get a more detailed and complete virtual environment. This software was created by Villy Christensen and Daniel Pauly in 1992, at the Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries (former Fisheries Centre), at the University of British Columbia (Canada), and is continually updated and enhanced. This program is based on energy balance equations that define the natural dynamic present in the marine environment and the ecological interactions that occur there (for more information about Ecopath:
To build an ecosystem model it is necessary to define the area, add the species or groups of species, insert information about the diet of these species, determine their predators, their dietary intake per day and their growth rate, not forgetting to insert the fisheries, by vessel type and gear. From that information, the software builds the biological interactions and creates a trophic web, just like the diagram below. Besides providing an easy visualization of the ecosystem, the software shows the effects of putting fishing pressure on certain target species, including the consequences of fisheries on by-catch (a common expression in fisheries science to define fish caught unintentionally). By doing so, one can “predict” how the ecosystem would react to an increase or decrease in fishing pressure, restriction of certain gears, creation of no-take zones or even a total ban of fishing. That gives us some direction to plan the consequences of adopting or not specific conservation actions.

What is really interesting about Ana’s study is that the model she built totally based on fishers’ information was almost the same of the scientific one! This is to say that fishers have knowledge similar to science on some issues. For instance, fishers were able to provide information on total and modal weight of the species, their most frequent predators and their diet items.
Of course, fishers don’t know everything! For instance, fishers had trouble answering about the average lifetime of fish species and had difficulties estimating the growth rates for non-pelagic species. Apparently it was easier for them to know such details for species they see on the surface. Besides, familiarity is possibly a strong predictor of the accuracy of the answers provided by the fishers, as they mostly provided answers that regarded their most commonly caught species. Again, they could provide only qualitative information on stock size, a topic that is also hotly debated among scientists as well. It seems like some issues still remain a mystery for all, fishers and scientists alike.
What Ana’s study comes to show is that perhaps filling some of the scientific gaps in marine science with fishers’ knowledge is not a far-fetched dream after all.... Besides, interviewing fishers is cheaper and faster in comparison to scientific research. Some, like Ana, would even say that it is more fun too! 

By Ana Helena.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

2030: not enough oxygen in Oceans to sustain marine life.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) said that by 2030 the ocean will possibly have an alarming level of depleted oxygen, which could affect the marine life and human resources as well. Again, climate change is behind this news.
CREDIT : Image courtesy Joe Raedle

Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of climate change, and a major threat to marine life. According to a study published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, "a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap the ocean of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe".

CREDIT: Image courtesy Matthew Long, NCAR

Fish and other marine animals survive underwater because of the presence of oxygen, with reduced oxygen their potential to thrive will be compromised. Besides, the oxygen level is important to regulate metabolic and biogeochemical processes that happen in the ocean.

As our ever-warming atmosphere heats the surface of the ocean, the oxygen content starts to fall. Also, as water warms, it expands and gets lighter. This makes oxygen less likely to sink, which in turn reduces the transport of oxygen from the atmosphere into the deep ocean. Therefore, marine life in deeper waters will be threatened as well.

There are plenty of reasons for us to try and curb climate change, but lets just add the very serious risk of compromising the entire marine life to this list. If such predictions do happen by 2030, they won't just affect marine life but the natural cycle in life. Imagine how a dead ocean ecosystem will affect our livelihood and all the direct and indirect resources we extract from the oceans.

Title: Finding forced trends in oceanic oxygen
Authors: Matthew C. Long, Curtis Deutsch,and Taka ItoJournal: Global Biogeochemical Cycles

Friday, May 6, 2016

Social Dimension: An Urgent Need for Fisheries Management

It´s about time to discuss in this blog the role that people play in fisheries management, after all, it is impossible to untangle fisheries from their human context: fisheries have substantial social and economic importance. Fish is one of the most important renewable natural resources supporting human well-being and food security.
Unfortunately, as discussed previously here and in multiple of our previous posts, global fisheries are currently under-performing by the combined impacts of overfishing, degradation of ecosystems, pollution and climate change. It is easy to see that humans are the main, if not the sole cause of losses in our fish stocks. We behave as if we could take whatever we wanted out of the oceans, returning everything we do not need anymore without limits. Such destructive interaction only grows with an increasing population of consumers.
However, if we depend heavily on fisheries resources, how smart are we to be using them in such an unsustainable way? If we are so good at destroying, could we be of any good at restoring and protecting what is left of our fishing resources? Yes, we know, scientists know a lot about how to restore and protect things. But sometimes decision-makers simply do not listen to them. Or, when they do listen, users do not, and users are the ones getting all of this fish out of the oceans. It seems then that we need to understand the users as well, or else we may be missing an important link between the social and the ecological systems
Scientists have come up with many strategies to preserve the biodiversity and marine ecosystems, such as protected areas, quotas, gear restrictions, closed periods, among others. In general, these strategies are based on studies about maximum sustainable yields for fishing stocks and lists of endangered fish species. But, in reality, how do these strategies perform? The answer to this question depends on multiple factors, one of them being where and under what conditions such strategies are implemented. For instance, the poor performance of an area subjected to fisheries management may be the outcome of inadequate governance for a given socioeconomic context, or lack of knowledge on resource users’ behavior and their attitudes. Taking the social dimension into account is likely very necessary for a better management performance.

Photo by: Monalisa Silva

There are, however, many examples of successful fisheries management worldwide that included people (users) in the decision-making. Such shared arrangements are called co-management. Among these, there are the co-management of Pirarucu fishery in the Brazilian Amazon and the Chilean coastal TURFS (Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries). Co-management is an arrangement that can bring together governments, non-profits, scientists and resource users, who share knowledge, responsibilities and a a learning-by-doing process. A recent research about knowledge partnership in small-scale fishery shows that the information provided by fishers can complement current and past information on target species and on fisheries in general (see Damasio et al. 2015). Besides, establishing and maintaining participative arrangements is critical for the management efficacy because by involving the community we can increase the cooperation with possible positive effects on monitoring and enforcement of management rules.

Photo by: Lorena Andrade

Photo by: Monalisa Silva

With this in mind, we must remember that people are different in their values, knowledge, motivations, attitudes and perceptions. These characteristics can be affected by their livelihood, age stratus, and cultural background. Understanding and accepting that we have to deal with a plethora of attitudes and motivations by users might put us a step closer to proposing successful management initiatives. That, at least, seems to be part of the successful recipe implemented in the Amazon and in Chile. The inclusion of social knowledge in the management process represents a new era of natural resource management. Perhaps we will finally walk the path that leads us to fishermen's compliance with legitimate rules, which in turn may ensure the success of conservation strategies.

Silva, M. R., & Lopes, P. F. (2015). Each fisherman is different: Taking the environmental perception of small-scale fishermen into account to manage marine protected areas. Marine Policy, 51, 347-355.
Damasio, L. D. M. A., Lopes, P. F., Guariento, R. D., & Carvalho, A. R. (2015). Matching Fishers’ Knowledge and Landing Data to Overcome Data Missing in Small-Scale Fisheries. PloS one, 10(7), e0133122.

by Monalisa Silva