Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thousands of scientists give a second notice to humanity

More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries have published a second warning to humanity advising that we need to change our wicked ways to help the planet. Among them the FEME members signed this call.
This new message is an update of the original warning sent from the Union of Concerned Scientists 25 years ago. But today the picture is far worse than it was in 1992.
It's true that some progress had been made in some areas - such as cutting ozone-depleting chemicals, and increasing energy generated from renewable sources - but this was far outweighed by the damaging trends.
In the past 25 years:
  • The amount of fresh water available per head of population worldwide has reduced by 26%.
  • The number of ocean "dead zones" - places where little can live because of pollution and oxygen starvation - has increased by 75%.
  • Nearly 300 million acres of forest have been lost, mostly to make way for agricultural land.
  • Global carbon emissions and average temperatures have shown continued significant increases.
  • Human population has risen by 35%.
  • Collectively the number of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish in the world has fallen by 29%.
Many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.

In this letter scientists give 13 suggestions for managing our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.
We can all do something every day to stop this negative trend. Take a look at the article here:

Ripple, W. J., et al., (2017). World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second NoticeBioScience.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Plastic nanoparticles cause brain damage in fish

A study conducted at the University of Lund (Sweden) revealed that plastic nanoparticles reduce the survival of zooplankton and penetrate the fish brain, causing behavioral disturbances. This pioneering study was published in the journal Scientific Reports, last month.
The increase in the production of plastic material in the last decades around the world has turned plastic waste into a major problem in the oceans. About 60-80% of all marine litter is made out of plastic, affecting at least 660 marine species (the ones we know so far), showing that this material is a serious pollutant for aquatic environments. Through physical-chemical and biological reactions caused by environmental conditions, the plastic material is divided into smaller and smaller pieces, reaching the size of nanoparticles. Being so small is a dangerous characteristic because the plastic nanoparticles are able to overcome biological barriers, penetrating tissues and accumulating in organs, thus affecting the behavior and the metabolism of the organisms.
One of the things this study shows is how plastic nanoparticles strongly affect an aquatic food chain from the zooplankton Daphnia magna to the top consumer, the freshwater fish, Crucian carp (Carassius carassius), which is a species common in anthropogenically affected waters. The researchers showed that amino-modified polystyrene nanoparticles were transferred through a three-level food chain, algae-zooplankton-fish, directly affecting the brain of these fish, modifying their behavior in terms of activity, feeding time and distance they need to swim to consume the food provided.
IStock Photo.
The authors suggests that the effects caused by plastic nanoparticles to the biota depends on both concentration and size of particles, therefore they specifically appeal to plastic manufacturers to adjust the nanoparticles production to sizes that are less dangerous for the metabolism of organisms, so that from a wider perspective, the top consumers, humans, will not come to be affected by their own garbage.

By Thiago Guerra
Literature cited:
Mattsson et al. Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain. Scientific Reports 7:11452.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Brazilian fishery is drifting

In December 2015 we interviewed Mauro Ruffino. In this interview we asked his opinion about the extinction of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture (MPA) and its incorporation into the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA), among other questions. At the time, he made it clear that the change was being made in a disorderly way, but that should not be a problem as long as MAPA gave aquaculture, artisanal fishing and industrial fishing the same treatment. Little did we know that that was only the beginning of a political saga involving Brazilian fisheries…
The truth is that the story does not really begin in 2015. Since 2011 the institutional fishing sector has been quickly dismantled, probably with the support and applause of many that do not want to see sustainable fishery policies being properly implemented. Specifically, 2011 marks the end of national fisheries statistics and the beginning of an era of political instability. In 2015 we watched, still rather hopefully, the end of a dysfunctional Ministry of Fisheries, and the incorporation of the fishing sector into MAPA, as the Aquaculture and Fisheries Secretariat. The transition was turbulent, and right when parts of the sector, namely the industrial one, had begun to adapt, we are surprised by another change, driven by political party interests. In March 2017, the Aquaculture and Fisheries Secretariat was once again transferred to another ministry, this time to the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services. Yes, the names of ministries are as schizophrenic as their goals. 
Charge depicting the "requirements" to be a Ministry in Brazil ("if he knows how to change a light bulb, he will be the new minister of Mines and Energy"). By Sinovaldo.

It seems that Dr. Ruffino’s fears of not having small-scale fisheries properly represented might just come to pass under a ministry that carries “industry” in its name. Such incorporation of all fisheries into the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services seeks to encourage investments of national and international business, as an attempt to industrialize the national fishery further. Under such policy, small-scale fisheries are not that relevant after all, they just provide barely more than half of the fish we eat and employ most of the fishers in the country.  
Sarcastic comments apart, the country is not prepared to boost industrial fisheries and aquaculture, without basic knowledge on our stocks and on our environment. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge and fix the mistakes done in 2011 with the suspension of fishery statistics before venturing into uncharted waters. Besides, I do want to draw attention to the marginalization of the whole small-scale fishery sector, which seems to become more and more invisible under stronger and stronger neoliberalism. The new policies tend to follow the revitalized heading of the country: wealth centralization at the costs of ignoring millions of families that depend on these resources. 
One thing is certain: the fishing industry is being forced once again to adapt to a new way of working, hoping to pave its way through the corridors of a new political institution. The small-scale sector, on the other hand, without any power to lobby, sinks in dark waters, while few politicians that completely ignore the reality of Brazilian fisheries, celebrate their new positions.

Fábio Carvalho

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A plastic soup called Ocean

Does plastic around the world really get recycled? Not at all! Only 9% of discarded plastic is recycled. Plastic pollution is threatening the marine ecosystem worldwide. More than 8 billion tons of plastic are produced by humanity, and about 8 million tons are dumped into our oceans every year, where it persists for decades. Over the next years, the amount of marine plastic waste will double if we do not act. A global issue affects our ocean, our health, and our well-being. In fact, oceans host 80% of the planet’s biodiversity, they are the largest ecosystem on Earth, and are an import source of food. Despite the fact that researchers are uncertain about the nature and extent of the risk of marine debris on ecosystems and humans, the concern about plastic persistence and their effects on the oceans has increased since the last decade.

Once in the ocean, the huge amount of plastic, although widespread, affects the safety of sea transport, fisheries, tourism, recreation, and biodiversity. Bags, bottles, straws, rope, fishing gear and pieces of plastic are affecting a diversity of ocean wildlife, such as whales, turtles, fishes, crustaceans, and seabirds. Even marine animals living in the deepest waters are influenced by the high concentration of plastic in the oceans. Besides, the entry of plastic pieces into our food chain is one of the biggest unknown to human health. For example, when plastic broken up, its tiny pieces can attract toxic chemicals released from industry and agriculture, and move up across the food chain, from bottom feeders to apex predators. However, beyond the food web issues, the interaction with wildlife, by ingestion and entanglement, is the most direct impact from plastic pollution (Rochman et al., 2016) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: A small crustacean that make his home in plastic container carried to the ocean. 

Nevertheless, how does the concentration of plastics in the ocean have affected almost all islands around the world, even though those practically uninhabited? How all this plastic comes in remote places? A range of factors influences the abundance of plastics debris in beaches, including local currents, beach topography, and weather conditions. A study published this year provided a comprehensive analysis of the quantity and source of beach-washed plastic on one of the world’s remotest island (Lavers and Bond, 2017).

The Henderson Island, located in the South Pacific, presents the world’s highest density of plastic waste, about 671 items per square meter totaling almost 18 tons (Figure 2). How an uninhabited island got the world’s highest density of trash? In spite of no one lives there, the island is in the way of a circular ocean current and receives waste from ships coming from the coast of South America, acting as sinks for the waste of the world. Aside from fishing gears, the researchers found a variety of familiar everyday items in the island’s beaches, such as water bottles, toothbrushes, lighters and razor blades.

     Figure 2: Plastic debris on East Beach on Henderson Island, much of them originated from fishing-related activities and land-based sources.

More in general, plastics have become increasingly dominant since the 1940s. At least 4 billion tons of plastic have been manufactured only in the last 13 years, and current trends point to the production of 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050. The annual production of plastic has increased from 1.7 million tons in 1954 to 311 million tons in 2014 (Plastics Europe, 2015). However, the highest recycling rate is only 30% (Europe), followed by 25% (China) and 9% (USA). Fortunately, a team of scientists has found a species of bacteria that eat a type of plastic (polyethylene terephthalate or PET) found in most of disposable water bottles (Yoshida et al., 2016). The study shows that these organisms can eat the PET pretty well, so a bowl of plastic soup would be a good meal for them. However, others initiatives, encompassing different sectors, are necessary to reduce the mismanaged plastic waste generated by society as well as industry. For example, the production of coating tiles from PET bottles by Brazilian architecture, an innovative product that takes 66 bottles from the environment to produce 1 m2 of coating (  

However, although, small changes can generate a big impact, the issue of how manage all the retrieved plastic is still open. When you cast plastic into the ocean, it does not go away. Well, this is not really true! Indeed, in spite of plastic is so permanent and so indestructible, some technologies have been developed to recycle plastic removed from the sea. Some initiatives have been established by nongovernmental organizations and foundations, such as the Cleanup Day Organization ( and the Plastic Oceans Foundation (, but also big companies are supporting conservation actions. For example, in 2016, the Beazley Designs Award ( selected a trainer sneakers made of waste plastic filtered from the ocean. In the same year, another product was announced how the first ocean friendly swimwear produced by recycling fishing nets and other discarded nylons. Sustainability initiatives that create products and encourages creatives to repurpose sea waste and raise awareness of the growing issue have been increased and are crucial to protecting marine life below the surface. 

Figure 3: Running sneakers (Adidas brand) and swimwear (Volcom brand) made out of recycled ocean waste.

Another crucial point about plastic in the oceans is regard fishing gear left at sea (also called ghost gear) having a severe negative impact on the oceans life. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative ( is an important project to create global awareness and to reduce the amount of plastic on the oceans. In addition, the Forestry Foundation and the Fisheries Institute of Sao Paulo State are working in a similar initiative in Brazil, called Lost Fishing Gear Project. This partnership aims to tackle the problem of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear in the waters off the coast of Brazil. Since the project started in 2009, over 2 tons of lost fishing gear have been removed during clean-up diving campaigns around Brazilian coastline.

Nowadays, the scientific literature about marine plastic debris is increasing considerably, probably reflecting a growing concern that marine debris are hazardous. The study to quantify ocean trash on a global scale concluded that 8 million tons of trash flow into the ocean every year (Jambeck et al., 2015). However, without waste management improvements, and based on population growth data, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025. Prevention and mitigation of this issue are extremely challenging and costly and requires considerable time although is crucial to breaking the vicious cycle of plastic pollution. If we do not change our behavior we might end up with more plastic than fish in the ocean. 

Then, will the unrecycled oceans survive in the Anthropocene? Once the marine debris is a global environmental issue, the oceans’ survival will depend on the global efforts and investments in solutions that will raise awareness of plastic pollution. Sustainability efforts have been created around the world, but some mitigation strategies, including economic, socio-cultural, and environmental concerns, must be adopted, such as controlling plastics consumption and waste generation, creating new methodologies to recycle plastic waste, and extended producer responsibility as well. Since the oceans provide a variety of vital ecosystem services, the general population, the industry and the political system need to work together to reverse that plastic soup into a healthy meal! 

Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., et al. 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), 768-771.

Lavers, J. L. and Bond, A. L. 2017. Exceptional and rapid accumulation of anthropogenic debris on one of the world’s most remote and pristine islands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114 (23): 6025-6055.   

PlasticsEurope. 2015. Plastics – the Facts 2015: An analysis of European Plastics Production, Demand and Waste Data (PlasticsEurope Market Research Group, Brussels).

Rochman, C. M., Browne, M. A., Underwood, A. J., Franeker, J. A., Thompson, R. C., & Amaral‐Zettler, L. A. 2016. The ecological impacts of marine debris: unraveling the demonstrated evidence from what is perceived. Ecology, 97(2), 302-312.

Yoshida, S., Hiraga, K., Takehana, T., Taniguchi, I., Yamaji, H., Maeda, Y., ... & Oda, K. 2016. A bacterium that degrades and assimilates poly (ethylene terephthalate). Science, 351(6278), 1196-1199.

 By Monalisa Rodrigues

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How does climate change affect fishing?

            Worldwide over 600 million people depend directly or indirectly on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods. Fish provide essential nutrition for over 4 billion people and at least 50 percent of animal protein and essential minerals to 400 million people in the poorest countries. In addition to the pressure exerted by human activities, such as over-fishing, habitat degradation and pollution, both fisheries and ecosystems are exposed to threats related to climate change. It is known that climate change is part of Earth's geological history, but that is not all. In the last 150 years we have been observing a rapid warming of the atmosphere, intensified in the last decades and attributed to the increase in the emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide from human activities.
            Climate variability and change are already affecting aquatic systems physical, chemical, and biological processes. On the coastal zones for instance it is observed increasing levels of the sea. Climate change can also lead to a number of other impacts, such as intensification of storms, changes in freshwater precipitation and freshwater inputs, increased saltwater intrusion into the soils and coastal aquifers, ocean acidification, and profound changes in the force, direction and behavior of marine currents. Such alterations are expected to be already affecting fish life cycles, habitats, species compositions, distributions, and abundance, which can impact fisheries management, livelihoods, food security and sustainable development.
            The potential effects of climate change on fisheries can be divided between those that will affect the fishing activity itself and those that will affect the biological and ecological dynamics of the fishery resources. In the first group, sea level rise and the increase in the frequency and intensity of the storms are highlighted, mainly for the artisanal fishery, because the climatic conditions are a limiting factor of the fishing activity. In the case of fishery resources, the main expected biological effects refer to changes in breeding or migration periods of the species; increased occurrence of diseases; changes in latitudinal and depth distribution patterns of species; changes in population size and community composition; and changes in inter- and intraspecific relations, such as competition and predation.
            Brazilian fishermen already notice these changes. A study published in 2016 reports that in several Brazilian states (AL, SE, BA, CE, PI, RN, PA and AM) fishermen have observed increased tidal and river levels and the drying up of rivers, lagoons and reservoirs. Changing water regimes is detrimental to species cycles and causes failures in the species food chain and fish production. In the states of Piauí and Sergipe, the migration of marine species to the rivers has been identified. At the same time, the mortality of river fish is observed due to the increase in the quantity of salt water in the estuary. There has been a recurrent complaint that the winds have changed their incidence and intensity, and that more extreme events are now common. There is a higher number of registries of accidents with vessels, mainly in Ceará, Pernambuco, Pará, Espírito Santo, and Rio Grande do Norte, due to sudden changes of the winds and storms.
            The expected effects of climate change on fishing will be greater than in other periods of geological history that we took part, because for the first time we will have given a hand to make it worse. The sum of these effects endangers the survival of millions of people especially in developing countries. Fisheries management should consider the potential effects of climate change because regular measures alone may not protect species and environments that are rapidly changing.

By Ludmila Damásio

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Modeling fisheries - an interview with Dr. Paul Suprenand

We finally got to the end of our sequence of interviews with the IMBER crew, closing it with a flourish. We had a quick chat with Dr. Paul Suprenand, an expert modeler working with the Ecopath family, who also integrates physiology and ecology to address challenges associated with environmental change, especially related to fisheries. Paul is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at MOTE, in Florida (USA).

FEME: What are the advantages and disadvantages of modelling nature?
Dr. Paul Suprenand. Source: IMBER
PAUL: Nature is a very complex system, it has so many wonderful things to it, but in the model you cannot always capture all these little differences and they could be very important. So, the advantage would be that you have a way to look at some of the most important factors that could influence ecosystems or the animals within the ecosystem. However, you may lose some of the complexity. What is neat about the model is that it is more readily understood; you can ask questions or formulate hypotheses that could actually have some meaningful results to direct further research, or to help guide policies or ways in which you look at the system. So, overall, I think it is a pretty powerful tool, you have many different ways that the models can actually maybe capture some of the complexity lost in the individual model.
FEME: What would be the next steps for the improvement of Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) approach?
PAUL: I think one of the neediest things is actually coming out, and it is something I had wanted for a long time. In the Ecospace portion of the modelling framework, there is now a way that you can start updating each of the individual maps for environmental drivers or things that may drive those trophic dynamics or energy exchanges in the ecosystem. For instance, in the artic or in the Antarctic, when you have sea ice coming into the ecosystem that is a very important part of how animals respond, their distribution, or whatever may occur. Historically in the ecospace system, you would have a static map, and so you could not see some of these differences of the environment drivers, like sea ice, overtime. Now there is a way that you can actually integrate or upload this data like the sea ice, so that when it changes you can also see the animal or food web responses as a whole. That is pretty cool, it is getting more into the complexity of the real life.
FEME: What changes would you like to see in the scientific community?
PAUL: I think we all have a need in our individual sciences to do more collaboration. Things like this [ClimEco Summer School], those workshops, are wonderful; you cannot reproduce them over emails, phone calls and the kind of relations you have here. However, I also think that us as individuals in the science, we have probably a greater opportunity these days to communicate our sciences, whether in social media or meetings on public libraries engaging the community in which we are living. I think it takes more these days to spread the science and the validity of science, or the things you know that essentially might get lost when you have translations in the news, when they say one result of science and they could be completely wrong in their interpretation. As scientists, we have a kind of obligation to make sure that we are reaching our communities, our audience, or our colleagues or hopefully the people who will be making decisions or people that you are living with, side by side; I think that would be important.

By Carolina Tavares

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bringing technology to our side – the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to help marine conservation

Unthinkable technologies – or thinkable only in Hollywood – have been emerging rapidly in the last decades. One incredible example and recently spread are drones. Drones are unmanned aerial devices that make a noise similar to drones, the male bee. Drones were originally created as a strategic war artifact, but now they have all kinds of applications, formats, and sizes. Some are so tiny that fit in your hand (Fig 1). 
Fig. 1. You can fit a drone in your hand.

Drones are polemic objects because they were originally created for military purposes. The USA has surveyed and attacked Afghanistan and Iraq using drones. In fact drones have seem to become really famous during the chase of Bin Laden. Several people also argue that the use of drones can shape wars to worse by reducing people’s empathy due to the lack of human-human contact (beats us to try to imagine an empathic war….). The use of drones also faces some legislation issues in several parts of the world. A few countries have clear legislation regarding the use of drones, its maximum flight height, size and permitted areas; in most case drones are not allowed to fly near airports and populated areas.

The association of GPS, smaller and more accurate cameras, thermal infrared cameras, and other sensory devices to drones expanded their uses. Drones have been used in cinema, advertisement, agriculture, and sports. Their widespread use is associated to their cost-benefit, as drones are relatively cheap, depending on what you need, you can purchase one for less than U$ 2,000.
Fig. 2 Dugong identification in Australia. Source: Hodgson et al. 2013.
Apart from these more popular uses we are all familiar with, drones are also helping solve problems in the biological sciences, and the integration among marine conservation biologists, computer scientists, and engineers are providing a handful of new applications for drones. For example, aquatic organisms use to be difficult to study and require methods such as underwater visual censuses, direct sampling, and aerial surveys, which tend to be all expensive and logistically difficult. Surveys of marine megafauna, in many cases, are already done with planes or helicopters, which are not only really expensive, but also noisy, which can disturb the animals being studied and interfere with the results. This is where drones, as predicted, come in handy: they come at a fraction of the cost of a plane, sound bug-like, and fly at lower altitudes, therefore providing more accurate images.
In the complex Amazonian environment drones are being used to map the distribution of the Amazon River Dolphin over a large area. This work is just beginning, but it has already provided an impressive amount of information at a low cost. Along the Australian coast, drones have counted hundreds of Dugongs during only seven flights covering 1.3km² each (Fig 2). Green Turtles have been successfully located and identified, and, even more impressive, their mating behavior has been also described using drone images (Fig 3). And the list goes on: drones have been used to map seabed coverage and nursery areas for juvenile fish, to detect body condition in humpback whales during breeding events, to survey cetacean in Timor Leste and to study sharks and rays densities in reef systems. Those who study small organisms can also benefit from the use of drones: for example, they have provided centimeter-scale images of reefs.

The potential of drones seems endless. They have been used to empower human communities and aid conservation: with proper training, people can use small drones to monitor forest use by local communities under a community-based management system. They can also be easily applied to monitor fisheries. In Belize, for instance, the government has compromised to use drones to fight illegal fishing.
Fig. 3. Location of green turtles. Source: Bevan et al. 2015
Two main flight methods are usually used in biological surveys and conservation monitoring. The first one requires the pre-programming of a grid to be covered during a flight, which is usually done with fixed-wing drones. This is a more systematic approach and can be used to get abundance and distribution data of a given species. The second approach requires a ground pilot to maneuver the drone and choose specific locations, individual or small groups of animals or areas to monitor. In this free-flight method rotary-wing drones are used, because these are more flexible and can fly at even lower heights.
Just as some other new technologies developed along the last years, the challenge now is how to analyze an enormous volume of data that drones provided. Nevertheless, a new path has been set to give drones are much more positive use than what made them initially famous for. 

 By Júlia Tovar Verba
Anderson, K., & Gaston, K. J. (2013). Lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles will revolutionize spatial ecology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 11(3), 138-146.
Bevan, E., Wibbels, T., Navarro, E., Rosas, M., Najera, B., Sarti, L., ... & Burchfield, P. (2015). Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs) Technology for Locating, Identifying, and Monitoring Courtship and Mating Behavior in the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas). Herpetological Review, 47(1), 27-32.
Chabot, D., & Bird, D. M. (2015). Wildlife research and management methods in the 21st century: Where do unmanned aircraft fit in? 1. Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, 3(4), 137-155.
Chirayath, V., & Earle, S. A. (2016). Drones that see through waves–preliminary results from airborne fluid lensing for centimetre‐scale aquatic conservation. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 26(S2), 237-250.
Hodgson, A., Kelly, N., & Peel, D. (2013). Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveying marine fauna: a dugong case study. PloS one, 8(11), e79556.
Kiszka, J. J., Mourier, J., Gastrich, K., & Heithaus, M. R. (2016). Using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to investigate shark and ray densities in a shallow coral lagoon. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 560, 237-242.
Paneque-Gálvez, J., McCall, M. K., Napoletano, B. M., Wich, S. A., & Koh, L. P. (2014). Small drones for community-based forest monitoring: An assessment of their feasibility and potential in tropical areas. Forests, 5(6), 1481-1507.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A fragile sex in fisheries?

In coastal settlements in Brazil, we often see women at the edge of the mangrove swamp, harvesting clams and seaweed, or back in their villages weaving nets and benefiting fish, with children in tow. The activities performed by these women are unstable and discontinuous, which depend unconditionally on environmental conditions, and also on social factors, such as being pregnant or with very young children at home.
Women’s work is socially, economically, and ecologically relevant, but still invisible. We don´t know exactly what, how much, when and why they harvest. We don´t know how much of their product ends up in the market and if their market poses the same limitations faced by fishermen. We don´t know if their work is even more important to food security than male’s work and if it also contributes to the household economy when other activities fail. We, as a country, fail to recognize the overall role of artisanal fisheries in Brazil, but we manage to do a much poorer job when it comes to recognizing the role played by fisherwomen.
Apart from the characteristic informality of the sector, one of the difficulties in making these women visible is the fact that we don’t have a general definition of the meaning of "fishing". Common sense and also current legislation define fishing as the harvest of fish from the sea or freshwater using some sort of fishing gear (net, line and hook, trap, harpoon, etc.). Under such definition, women participation in fisheries is basically irrelevant.
Clam and crab harvesting, locally known as mariscagem, is one of the most emblematic example of invisibility in fisheries in Brazil. This activity is performed in mangroves and tidal flats and is particularly dominated by women, especially clam harvesting. There is no database that accounts for how many shellfish women collectors are scattered along the Brazilian coast, but there are certainly over tens of thousands. In most instances they are not even locally and socially recognized as fishers, which contribute to the lack of statistics on their total number.

Dona Vera fishing in Bahia. Photo by Laura Honda

However, according to the World Bank, women play an extremely important role within the fishing industry; their data suggest that 47% of the people engaged in fishing are actually women. Recently, a study published in the journal Coastal Management sought to quantify and characterize the contribution of women in fishing, based on five countries: Mexico, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Vietnam. The authors had to dig into whatever source they could find, but their findings did corroborate the utmost importance of women for the fishing industry. In these five countries, 1% to 13% of the people directly engaged in the fishing activity are female. While on the one hand these figures seem to indicate a modest contribution of women to the sector, their representativeness in activities indirectly related to the fishing sector such as processing and commercialization can reach up to 90%, as observed in Senegal. In Peru, for example, women represent 77% of the total number of people engaged in activities indirectly associated with fishing. If expanded for the other countries, we would very likely find the same exact picture. For instance, in the Brazilian northeast, women are estimated to represent about 35% of the workforce in activities related to the fish and seafood trade.
Another problem that women face to be recognized is the fact that their work often ends up being confused with domestic work. In the case of small-scale fisheries, women's work usually involves processing and marketing the catches, whose production chain is almost 100% informal. Most of the work is done from home, while women perform regular house chores.
For being invisible, these women do not enter fishing records and statistics, do not participate in decision-making processes and many fail to receive social benefits associated to fishing and social recognition. Bringing fisherwomen to the forefront necessarily involves a more precise quantification and characterization of their role in the fishing value chain and the strengthening of their organizational mechanisms. Women, especially in the northeast of Brazil, have been trying to improve their participation, not only by claiming rights for themselves but also for their communities. These women have been fighting to achieve representation for all fishers, regardless of their gender, and also for their communities in political instances where decisions are made; they have been trying to promote the insertion of the fishing economy in new socio-environmental contexts; and to unveil themes related to democracy, rights and environmental dynamics. The future belongs to them, but it is our role as scientists and organized civil society to make their path more amenable. 

By Ana Helena Bevilacqua


[1] Bevilacqua, A.H.V. et al. 2017. Following the fish: the income distribution in a Small-Scale fishery. In press.

[2] Guy, A. 2016. Vital but invisible: how subsistence fisherwomen around the world feed their families. Topic: Save the Oceans Feed the World. Oceana International Blog,, April 7.

[3] Harper, S.; Grubb, C.; Stiles, M.; Sumaila, U.R. 2017. Contributions by women to fisheries economies: Insights from five maritime countries. Coastal Management, 45(2): 1-16.

[4] Maneschy, M.C.; Siqueira, D.; Álvares, M.L.M. 2012. Pescadoras: subordinação de gênero e empoderamento. Rev. Estud. Fem. vol.20 no.3 Florianópolis Sept./Dec. 2012.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Managing a transboundary fishery in the Amazon: The ornamental silver arawana case.

The Amazon basin is home for the silver arawana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum), a fish better known in the international aquarium business as the “dragon fish” due to its phenotypic characteristics that makes it resemble a Chinese dragon, which has turned it into a highly popular pet in Asian countries. In such countries, this fish is believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Although not famous for its good looks, it is still an interesting fish that presents parental care by the male.

Silver arawana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum). Image from

At the tripoint where the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru meet in northwestern Amazonia, the ornamental fishing of the silver arawana is a highly important economic activity for many riverine communities of the three countries. However, the management policies vary greatly between countries to the point where what Brazil implements is exactly the opposite of what the others do. In Brazil its ornamental fishery is forbidden in order to protect its stocks, but the adults can be exploited by the commercial fishery for consumption. It is a large fish (up to 1 m) and widely appreciated in the Brazilian Amazon diet. In fact, the silver arawana is the third species (in biomass) landed in Tefé, a Brazilian town near (~600 km) the study sites, where its demand keeps growing. On the other hand, Colombia and Peru legally permits the silver arawana live exploitation at the fish larval stage (3-5 cm) for the aquarium trade millionaire business. These countries regulate the ornamental fishery by imposing closed seasons (Colombia also imposes a quota). It does not mean though that Colombia and Peru actually sit down to agree on dates and areas to be closed; they make their decisions without talking to each other. In common, however, we have that both countries chose to ignore the recommendations done by researchers on the best period to close the fishing in order to protect the reproductive period of the species. Instead, they established closed periods that satisfy the market stakeholders’ (middlemen and exporters) interest.  What is already bad gets worse when fishers and middlemen disrespect an already inappropriate closed season, which is easy to do under institutional weakness. 
In a region where countries boundaries are not more than an abstract concept for people and for the fish they depend upon, it is easy to imagine that larval fish are also illegally collected in Brazil. In 2014, for instance, around 17% of the fish gathered by one of the study sites in Colombia (the middle Putumayo-Iça river) came from Brazilian grounds. Brazilian farmers open lakes that are inside their properties to Colombian fishers for an average of USD 4,400. In return, a lake can yield up to 30,000 silver arawana larvae worth more than USD 13,300. Where poverty reigns, such easy profits are hard to pass. 
Of the total volume of fish caught in Colombia or Brazil, 17% were marketed by Peruvian (illegally) and 83% by Colombian middlemen to the export firms of each country respectively. We can all see that managing this fishery is a herculean task because of its high profitability and the fact that it is performed in the middle of a very isolated region. However, it would be helpful if countries could talk for once and agree on their best policies, ideally considering the results provided by research. Countries and their managers would do even better if they could also address the consumer markets, namely the United States, Asia and Europe. One recommendation would be to call for the importing countries and regions to demand that the exporting ones comply with national and international laws, regulations and advice on fishery sustainability. One way to do that would be do demand fish traceability, where we could know if the fish are being harvested with environmentally friendly methods and subjected to better post-capture practices  that decrease mortality rates. No obstacle should be used as an excuse to not move towards an integrative management approach, under shared monitoring programs, management and market goals. Perhaps, existent programs, such as the Amazon Cooperation Treaty of 1978, can be used as a kick start to get the ball rolling.  Who knows, maybe this fish will be the key to unlock a true dialogue about sustainability in South America. 

By Adriana Maldonado


Maldonado et al. 2017. Transboundary fisheries management in the Amazon: Assessing current policies for the management of the ornamental silver arawana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum). Marine Policy 76: 192-199.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's all about Bayes in data-poor fisheries modelling

It is widely recognized that marine resources, although renewable, are not endless and need to be properly managed if their contribution to the nutritional, economic and social well-being of a fast growing human population have to be sustained. In this sense, maintaining long-term marine fisheries sustainability entails not only socio-political significance, but also economic and ecological importance.
So far, most of the fish stock assessments* performed rely on methods proposed in the first half of the twentieth century. Although robust, these methods are clearly outdated and inflexible because they demand big data set and they do not take into account the interactions that exist between the biological, physical and anthropic components.
However, most of the ongoing fisheries research has to face the lack of regular data, making conventional stock assessment tools usually not applicable to data-poor situations. This is particularly a concern for developing countries, where fisheries tend to be poorly documented and inadequately managed due to limited funding for monitoring and data analyses. Still, in such countries fisheries play a major role in food security and well-being for the poor.
 One alternative that has been adopted to overcome this issue is to use more flexible models. Nevertheless, one might still wonder: could more flexible quantitative methods still perform well and be reliable under limited information? The answer to this crucial question is: Yes, it could! And indeed they do it very well!
A paper published very recently has used a set of different statistical approaches in order to extend the scope of data-poor fisheries. The study was carried out in Rio Grande do Norte state - a small coastal state on the Brazilian northeast - where the authors studied the endangered lane snapper (Lutjanus synagris) that is caught by the artisanal fleet (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: (A) Typical artisanal fleet that operates with bottom-set gillnets along Rio Grande do Norte state and (B) an example of an adult lane snapper (Photo of the fishing fleet: Marcelo Nóbrega; Photo of the lane snapper: Garcia Jr. et al., 2010)

   The new ingredient of this paper was based on the legacy left by the English Reverend Thomas Bayes (and also by Pierre S. Laplace, although this one is not properly recognized) (Fig. 2), and which has come to be known as Bayesian reasoning. Through Bayes theorem one might update her initial belief about something with new information, and thus get a new and improved belief. In essence everybody could consider herself a Bayesianist, as our updated knowledge is always initially shaped according to our initial beliefs. 

Figure 2: Thomas Bayes (left) and Pierre-Simon Laplace (right) (References: Wikipedia).

  Specifically, the authors of this paper addressed Bayesian reasoning into two important fisheries modelling issues, namely the estimation of mean size at which a species reaches first maturity (L50) and the prediction of a species’ spatial distribution. By knowing the L50 of a fish stock (or fish population) we can divide it into juveniles and adult individuals and therefore propose policies to restrict the fishing of juveniles, i.e., when a fish mean length is smaller than the estimated L50. Moreover, knowing the spatial distribution of juveniles and adults gives an overview of where each one occurs preferentially. This information helps subsidize management policies based on the use of the space by the fish, as it allows for instance the protection of specific fishing grounds,  where juveniles aggregate. 

     In this sense, by including Bayesian reasoning in these two issues, it was shown that it is a useful model for data-poor situations. This happened primarily because of the Bayesian properties, which permits that a researcher not only handles smaller datasets than usual, but also incorporates any available information to the data. The latter case is of particular interest, once it allows the results to adapt themselves automatically as we acquire more data. Thus, even if someone has a small dataset, she can either use the literature or use her own information to accumulate data and produce more reliable results.

  Last, but not least, by using Bayesian models the researchers were able to quantify the uncertainty of the predictions in a straightforward way.  In fisheries science, we do not control the data, we typically only observe it, and such observation is usually incomplete, which leads to several error sources (imperfect observations, inappopriate sampling procedures, model structure and parameter definition, etc.). This is where uncertainty emerges. Thus, if one desires to provide an accurate picture of the investigated phenomenon, it is of fundamental importance to account accurately for these multiple uncertainty sources in the models. Also, by quantifying the uncertainties someone has greater control of the quality of her results and, consequently, more freedom to make specific decisions upon the evaluated process.  For instance, in fisheries management, questions like ''what is the probability that the current catch levels of a given fishing resource remains sustainable'' or "what is the probability that area A has greater conservation potential than area B'' can only be answered under the Bayesian paradigm. Therefore, knowing that uncertainty is inherent to all scientific realms, its inclusion in the decision-making process is not only desirable, but essential.

By Marie-Christine Rufener
*a stock assessment is an evaluation of a given fish population. It can provide multiple information, such as the total biomass or the total number of individuals in that population, but it can also bring information on age estructure, fecundity, proportion of males and females, etc.

Garcia Jr., J.; Mendes, L. F.; Sampaio, C. L. S. & Lins, J. E. 2010. Biodiversidade marinha da Bacia Potiguar: ictiofauna. Rio de Janeiro, Série Livros 38, 195p.

Web references accessed on March, 2017 accessed on March, 2017