Tag Archives: Fisheries

How special is a ‘Special Area of Conservation?


This week it has been brought to my attention that there is a proposal to dredge for scallops inside a ‘Special Area of Conservation’ located in Cardigan Bay, Wales.  This proposal has divided opinions.  On Twitter this week Professor Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York (UK) lamented that there was ”No hope for UK marine conservation if this mad proposal to scallop dredge in a protected area goes ahead” .  Dr Magnus Johnson, a Crustacean Fisheries and Ecologist researcher at the University of Hull (UK) quickly countered “It is worth reading the science by first!”, following with a couple of hashtags “#eatmorefish #eatmoreshellfish”.  Two scientists, with two opposing views… what is going on?


What is a Special Area of Conservation anyway?

These are something unique to the European Union.  They arise from the Habitats Directive, first adopted in 1992 in response to a European convention called the Berne Convention.  Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are designed to protect a number of habitats and species (plants and animals) considered endangered, vulnerable, rare, or endemic.  Once a SAC has been formally designated, the establishment and implementation of management measures are largely left down to the individual Member State.  However, there are certain things that they must do.  Briefly, under Article 6 of the Habitats Directive, these include:

Continue reading How special is a ‘Special Area of Conservation?

How deep is too deep for commercial fishing?

Our ever-improving technology has allowed us to fish longer, catch more, and move further from land.  It has also allowed us to fish deeper.  EU statistics indicate that between 1950 and 2006 fishing depths increased from an average depth of 407 metres, to 535 metres.

Life in the deep is slow-paced.  Food is scarcer than in the sunlit surface waters.  Species grow slower and live longer.  Some deep-sea corals, like the one in the image, are thought to be over 4,000 years old. Traits like these are why organisations like Marine Conservation Institute that ” The deep-sea is the world’s worst place to catch fish” .  It’s not just the sustainability of targeted species that is causing concern, but of those caught as bycatch, as well as damage to the seabed and the flora and fauna living in and on it – like the coral in the photo.  So can deep-sea fishing ever be managed sustainably?    A recently published study from Joanne Clarke, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, and colleagues suggests that there might be a way to make the practice less damaging. Continue reading How deep is too deep for commercial fishing?

Climate Change Impacts on Kenya’s Fishery-dependent communities

 We now have a number of scientific studies that tell us how climate change is altering coral reef ecosystems, but how will these changes impact on communities that depend on them for their livelihood?  According to Joshua Cinner of James Cook University in Australia and colleagues from around the world, that answer depends more on the  community capacity for adaptation than its location.

Fishery-dependent communities in Kenya are not in a great situation.  Their reefs were heavily affected by a massive bleaching event in 1998 that has been linked to an extreme El Niño event and have not necessarily recovered as well as we might hope, and Kenyan reefs are likely to face increasing amounts of climate-related stress into the future.  Across three years, Cinner and co surveyed 15 ecological sites associated with 10 coastal communities along the Kenyan coast.  Using a range of ecological indicators of vulnerability of these reefs, they linked up the ‘health’ of the ecosystems with the vulnerability of the human communities that depend on them. Continue reading Climate Change Impacts on Kenya’s Fishery-dependent communities

Community-based conservation to rebuild fish stocks

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind being there right now. This is one of the Fijian islands in the Pacific, and the second largest in the group.  As serene as the picture is, not all is serene for the Islanders.  Fishers in Nagigi, a small community based on the south coast of Vanua Levu Island have been noticing that the number of fish and the size of fish have been decreasing, and habitat degrading – a big problem for a community heavily dependent on its marine resources.  This decline isn’t necessarily down to big foreign boats coming in and taking the critters on which they depend.  Instead, overexploitation and habitat destruction seems to arise from the ever-increasing number of locally based fishers.  The source of this claim?  The villagers of Nagigi.

In this paper,  Abigail Golden from Columbia University and fellow researchers explore the idea of setting up a short-term no take marine protected area within Nagigi’s coastal tenure area (known aqoliqoli ).  This idea hasn’t come from the researchers nor from any top-down government as tends to happen in western countries.  Instead the idea has come from the village leaders themselves.  This sort of bottom-up governance is far from unheard of.  The Pacific Islands are small and numerous, and have a long history of small areas of land and coastal waters managed by local communities.  Some have worked well, some have not, and many have come under strain or been lost through both technological developments, increasing population, increasing demands for resources, and cultural change.  Still, a well-managed community based MPA can work well, particularly in these remoter locations, and especially were more rigorous research and recording is absent.  Regardless of where you are in the world, there are a number of vital steps needed for good management.  One involves getting as much information as possible – about the species that are there now, the fishing methods used, an idea of how conditions have changed, and perceptions towards different management methods.  The other involves bringing the local community into the conservation planning in a meaningful way.  So the team went out and conducted two types of surveys – one looking at the species living on the reef at the time, and one talking to some of the villagers themselves. Continue reading Community-based conservation to rebuild fish stocks

The changing face of fisheries in the English Channel

This not so small ocean critter is an angelshark (Squatina squatina) – also known as a monkfish.  Back in the 19th and early 20th century the angelshark had a pretty wide distribution across Europe, and was particularly common around the coasts of the UK, Ireland, and Atlantic Iberia.  A nocturnal feeder, these guys bury themselves in sediment and lies in wait for a tasty morsel which, for the angelshark, includes skates, flatfish, and (as once recorded) cormorants.  Unfortunately, being a demersal species (living on or near the seabed) they are quite vulnerable to being caught as bycatch in fishing gear like trawls, and bottom lines.  Unfortunately for the angelshark, they are also quite a tasty species, so they have also been deliberately targeted by fishers.  Slow growing, and producing relatively few offspring, angelshark numbers plummeted, and today it is largely absent from many of the waters it once inhabited.  The numbers of angelshark is now so low that the species is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

There seems to be a somewhat predictable pattern to fisheries exploitation.  First, as catches declined and technology improved, we responded by moving further out to sea, into deeper grounds, and targeting new species.  Second, we tend to target predators first then, as the catch of those guys decline, move our focus onto different species lower down the food web.  The concept of “fishing down marine food webs” was first introduced by Daniel Pauly back in 1998.  Daniel used global catch data to infer that a decline in the mean trophic level of the species (an average of how far up the food chain a species is) being caught directly related to what was actually in the oceans.  In other words we are catching fewer predators because there are fewer in the oceans.  Of course the situation is much more complex than that, and there may be other reasons for changes in trophic catch levels such as regulation changes, as highlighted in a later paper by Trevor A Branch of the University of Washington and a team of collaborators.  Whatever the reasons for the declines, Pauly’s findings have been mirrored by many other papers that focus on commercial fishery catches at regional scales. Most recently, Carlotta Molfese and Janson Hall-Spence of Plymouth University, and Doug Beare of WorldFish  have cast an eye over commercial fisheries data from the English Channel, and  assessed how catches from the area have declined since the early 20th century. Continue reading The changing face of fisheries in the English Channel

Whose eating all the Menhaden?  Probably not spiny dogfish…

Life’s tough if you’re a menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) .  As a forage fish, you are one tasty morsel for somebody, be it a striped bass, tuna, gannet, shark, or human (who as well as eat you and use you for other purposes).  But here’s the thing – menhaden has declined, increasing the competition among its predators.

We don’t like dwindling fish resources.  We also don’t like competition for those resources.  It didn’t take too long before some fingers of blame were pointing towards non-humans, particularly dogfish – an order of shark that consists of some 126 known species.

In this recent piece of research, Charles Bangley and Roger Rulifson from East Carolina University, took at look at the feeding habits of spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) – a species that overwinters in North Carolina – through a series of controlled trials.  Their main conclusion on the impact of these critters on the menhaden….

“Spiny Dogfish potentially consumed an equivalent of 1.55–3.33% of the Atlantic Menhaden stock while overwintering in North Carolina waters”

As Charles summaries, “it may be time to find a new scapegoat for issues rebuilding fish stocks”.

Their paper, which was published in the  _North American Journal of Fisheries Management_ is sitting behind a paywall.  But fear not! Charles has written a fantastic summary of the paper over on his blog.  I highly recommend taking a peak.

Image:  A spiny dogfish  photographed in 2011 using NOAA’s ‘Arc’ remotely operated vehicle in waters off the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State  Credit: NOAA’s National Ocean Services Image Gallery (CC BY 2.0)

Not all fisheries are created equal

 And not all fisheries are as poorly managed as others.  But does fishery management mean that a fishery can achieve that hallowed if rather vague ‘sustainability’ goal?  Ray Hilborn from the University of Washington has written numerous papers saying – yes it can.  In his latest paper, written with Daniel Ovando from the University of California, Santa Barbara, he argues that many scientifically assessed stocks – particularly large stocks – are not only in better shape than we perceive, but in many cases actually rebuilding.  Ray is no stranger to controversy when it comes to his stance on fishery management, and the state of the world’s fisheries.  Just take a look at this summary of a debate with another eminent fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly that took place in Nature News & Comment last year  and if you have access to Nature have a read of this response too.  Let’s take a look at the argument Ray and Daniel has presented in this latest open access paper.

It doesn’t matter which country you look at, many fisheries have historically been heavily overexploited.  However, as to the state of fisheries now remains controversial.  Some argue that in many cases fisheries management is not only rebuilding overfished stocks but preventing others heading into a downward spiral.  Others argue that the same fisheries management is failing, particularly from the point of view of ecosystem protection.  This sort of debate is all well and good Ray and Daniel say, but something is being missed here – the “opportunity to objectively assess the successes and failures of fisheries management and identify successful strategies for achieving sustainable fisheries”.  There are a few issues here – like the issue of scale.  Take a too big a view to get an overall picture and you lose sight of the variability – including the successes.  On the opposite end of the scale, keep your focus too small then you miss what is happening around you.  As an example of how this issue of scale can have impacts on fisheries, we’ll just take a brief foray to my home Island.  Through the strange quirks of constitutional agreements, ownership and management rights, even though we are not part of the EU or the UK our fishers can be subject to EU legislation.  The undulate ray (Raja undulata) is considered Endangered, and consequently through EU legislation can no longer be fished.  In my local waters, fishers tell us that the ray is so abundant that they cannot help but catch these critters.  The undulate ray fishery, they claim, is sustainable here.  Before I digress too much as to whether the Island’s fishers should be subject to this fishery closure I’ll move back to the paper. Continue reading Not all fisheries are created equal

Even the smallest fisher plays a part

Not all fishing is done on a commercial scale, and not all fishing is done for the purpose of catching food.  Sometimes people just love to go fishing.  Some find it relaxing, some gain a connection with the natural world, some enjoy challenge of the hunt.  Whatever the reason recreational fishing is big business.  For example, the DEFRA ‘Sea Angling’ 2012 report estimated sea anglers resident in England  spent around £1.23 billion (~U$2 billion) on the sport in 2012 alone.  Recreational fishing can result in fatality to caught individuals.  Sometimes these are eaten, sometimes they are kept as trophies, and sometimes they are just dumped.  Many recreational fishers also participate in ‘catch and release’ fishing.  Here, the fish are released back into the ocean/lake/stream etc to (hopefully) live another day.  Sometimes recreational fishers target populations of fish at are endangered.  It seems rarely are recreational fishers stopped from fishing such populations.

Stephen Cooke from Carleton University and fellow researchers across Canada and America have put together a paper asking a simple question.  Is recreational fishing a problem for the conservation of endangered populations, or does it have a role in helping conserve dwindling populations?  This might sound like an odd question – how can an activity that involves the extraction of individuals from endangered populations possibly help save them?  To answer this, Stephen and his fellow researchers focused on a number of recreational catch-and-release case studies.  These include fishing for Mahseers (Tor species) in Asia, White sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) in America, Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) in Canada, and various coastal sharks on the Western Atlantic.  The exact conservation status and threats to the species and fisheries considered varies but something promising did come through.  Not only were many recreational fishers actively engaged in conservation initiatives through things like monitoring programs or paying licence fees that support management, some of these initiatives were born out of concerns raised by the angling communities themselves.  Recreational fishers are a major stakeholder in terms of aquatic conservation.  The economic value they bring to the rebuilding and effective stewardship over endangered populations cannot be underestimated.  Fishing is not a matter of life and death for these guys, but they still want to continue fishing, and supporting conservation initiatives is a way in which they can continue to do so. Continue reading Even the smallest fisher plays a part

Can balanced harvesting produce more sustainable fisheries?

Ensuring our fisheries are sustainable is no easy task.  We have a growing human population that needs food, we have different legislative and management systems operating around the world, we still have a lot to learn about fish populations and marine ecosystems, and of course there is a certain vagueness about terms like ‘sustainability’.  Never the less fisheries managers, fishers, and researchers around the globe are working towards minimizing our impact on the ocean environment and the very populations on which we depend on.  Generally, it is felt that we need to protect juvenile fish from extraction, allowing them to reach maturity and breed before being caught.  Makes sense right?  You may have heard of the minimum landing size, which tries to do exactly that (the age of a fish is proportional to its size).  Recently however, there have been calls for something different – ‘balanced harvesting’ – an unselective type fishery that catches predominantly small, immature fish.  Controversial?  Yes.  Which is why Nis Jacobsen, Henrik Gislason, and Ken Andersen from the Technical University of Denmark set out to figure which type of fishery would produce the greatest conservation and fishery objectives. Continue reading Can balanced harvesting produce more sustainable fisheries?

Citizen Science for Fisheries Management

Citizen science isn’t just something for people in developed nations.  It’s also a useful tool for less wealthy nations – and particularly for communities dependent on marine resources.  In fact involving local people in research might be one of the few ways in which both communities and researchers in developing nations can obtain datasets spanning long periods of time.  These datasets not only important for understanding our marine world, but also for ensuring we manage our interactions with as small an impact as possible.  Two articles have appeared over the past week that take a look at Island fishing communities and their involvement in science. Continue reading Citizen Science for Fisheries Management