State of the Field: Is catch-and-release fishing harmful to sharks?

In the wake of the new Marianas Islands shark conservation law, a debate has been raging on the shark  listservs. The law wouldn’t have been possible without support from several local recreational fishermen- people who often take tourists catch-and-release fishing for sharks.

“When I heard of your effort in Hawaii to ban the sale,trade and possession of shark fins I knew if the CNMI was to follow someone with inside connections to the fishing world there had to espouse it and grow it.  They do not like being told what to do from outsiders.  I was not an outsider, and I fished alongside two of the very top level fishermen who happened to be upper level politicians whom I respected.  Rep. Diego Benevente was one of them.  I spoke with him and asked him to introduce a bill which replicated Hawaii’s law, and he did so. I kept constant contact with him and his staff in the effort to see this bill become law.”- Captain William McCue

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Many shark conservationists support catch-and-release fishing, claiming that it allows fishermen the thrill of catching a large animal without killing it. Captain McCue reports that in the last 20 years:

“I’ve caught over 300 sharks in the that time a killed four- and if you include spiny dogfish it’s caught well over 2000 sharks and still killed only four- two of which were promptly eaten.”

However, some (such as “My Sunset Rendezvous” author Ila France Porcher) claim that even when a shark is released, the stress from being caught often still causes long-term damage or even death.

“As a shark ethologist, I have personally witnessed sharks who were hooked and fought, and who broke the line, emerge from the ordeal with a jaw so damaged that they lost weight and died over the following weeks or months. A high fraction of sharks caught suffered this fate, and they suffered greatly as a result of this enjoyable passtime pursued by sports fishermen. It would be great news to hear that you switched from a blood sport to a sport that celebrates the life that still remains in our seas, such as diving and photography.” – Ila France Porcher

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State of the Field: Policy is not just for policymakers anymore

Even the Governator believes in public participation, thanks

Continuing this series’ recent theme of ways to make policy work, let’s consider a broader view of what policy is and therefore who gets to create policy. It’s not just the elected officials with legislation in their job description. For one, those people are accountable to the people who elected them. Second, formal written policy is not the only kind that is effective – informal rules, community traditions, and other forms of policy are often best. Plus, these types of policy offer the general public a change to be involved in creation and implementation.

There is a large literature on the value of participation in policymaking, especially in fisheries (Silver and Campbell 2005). Here I will focus on three particularly important aspects of participation to management at the scale of an estuary, where I work: a) additional knowledge creation, b) community buy-in, and c) tighter feedback loops. These are important for relatively large-scale systems with several communities and many variables that could affect management. Read More

State of the Field: Too big, too small, just right – the Goldilocks Conundrum of Conservation

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

scale can really change perspective... take this fruit fly eye, for example, at scanning electron microscope scale - it looks like an army of hairs

Scale seems like a simple term with a simple definition, a concept certainly not up for debate. Well, digging just a little deeper we find that the nuances of a term that is used in almost every discipline make it important to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Furthermore, it’s important to make sure that the concept gets some attention, some time on the agenda, and some problem-solving energy.

In the world of conservation, scale mismatches are often a visible failure of policies, leading to recent calls for ecosystem-based management that trace scales of governance according to ecosystem boundaries instead of political boundaries. This has led to the existence of “peace parks” protecting wildlands that cross national borders, watershed management plans, and attention to habitat protection in environmental species conservation, to name a few examples. However, matching governance to ecosystem scale is only one type of scale adjustment that needs to occur.

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State of the Field: Modergasm – The flaccid finality of modern erections

FDR, sometimes credited as a benevolent dictator, brought the US out of the Great Depression through his New Deal

Effective management of any landscape or seascape must attend to context such as unique attributes of the ecosystem, local cultural values and norms, and broader governance constructs. Conservation managers often joke that the best way to incorporate this context is to install a benevolent dictator at the helm. His or her role would be to see the big picture and make decisions based on expected community benefits. Others would call the term benevolent dictator an oxymoron – but there have been some documented cases of such idealistic planning. Sadly, it seems such “high modernism” is not the answer. In his book Seeing Like A State, James Scott documents cases of agricultural land, cityscapes, and whole communities that ended up having unexpected consequences to high modernist rule due to incomplete foresight and incorrect prediction of people’s reactions. He cites these examples as warnings for the modern conservation movement as they choose between philosophies to move forward.

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State of the Field: Hybridity

Hybridity refers to any object that crosses a conceptual divide. The term is remarkably general and used to investigate the nature of the divide as well as the form of linkages that make the cross. One of the most famous (and relevant to me) is the separation between nature and culture. While there are many scholars that argue that no such divide exists, modern society still likes to separate the human from the habitat. Examples of important hybrid objects to nature-society relations are elk, water, forests, particular mountains, and really anything natural that has importance to society.

Perhaps the most important reason to know about hybrid objects is to be able to recognize them. Some scholars say that investigation of hybrids is the only way to understand the complicated relation between binaries such as nature and society – an understanding necessary for goals such as conservation. Another distinct benefit is that recognizing the hybrid nature of and object provides the ability to also recognize the many aspects of said object. Reversing this logic, understanding how hybrid objects are constructed and function may allow creation of new, interesting and important objects, often from the deepest parts of the imagination.

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State of the Field: The Reality of Earth

This post is the first of a new series here at Southern Fried Science called “State of the Field”. The series is meant to introduce key ideas, methods, and theories to support later research posts and to spread these concepts across disciplines. For the first month, I’ll be covering what’s known as “big T” theory to my lab group – that is, grand social theory about how the world works and also the theory that guides research question and method development. Please discuss!

Is there an ultimate reality of earth?

Somewhere in the introduction of most social science papers is a short statement about the author’s philosophy. Scholars in physics have long recognized that you cannot observe something without perturbing the something. In a research world where that something is a person, the subject can tell you how much a researcher is perturbing the observed system. This realization then begs the question – since we can’t observe a pristine system, is there a single reality out there to describe? Or will each researcher have a slightly different, though correct, description of reality based on their interactions with that reality? Or, taking the idea farther, is there no reality at all but instead a world completely constructed by those who describe it? These philosophies are called positivist, critical realist, and social constructionist, respectively.

Depending on the philosophy chosen, there are lots of things at stake such as objective methodology, legitimacy of certain types of knowledge, and the authority of science. Stay tuned for further discussion of these – first let’s get into more detail about the philosophies themselves.

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