Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood, Marine Conservation & Sustainable Management

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?”

Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood

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, Acidification, & the Oceans, Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood

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”

Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood

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”

Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood

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”

Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood

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)