A photo used in this study showing a hammerhead shark taken completely out of the water. As with all photos used in this study, the angler’s privacy has been protecting by blurring out his face.
I have a new paper out on the conservation impacts of recreational shark fishing. The paper is called “fishing practices and representations of shark conservation issues among users of a land-based shark angling online forum,” and it is published in the journal Fisheries Research. If you don’t have institutional library access, you can read a copy of the paper here. The goal of this blog post is to provide background information on the study.
Journalists are free to quote or paraphrase information from this blog post. Additionally, I provide some suggested quotes below, and I am available for interviews about this paper (please contact me at WhySharksMatter at gmail).
The fam attending my dissertation defense
After a little more than 5 years of hard work, I’ve officially completed my Ph.D.! You can read my dissertation (“An Integrative and Interdisciplinary Approach to Shark Conservation: Policy Solutions, Ecosystem Role, and Stakeholder Attitudes”) online here in its entirety.
In case there are some among you who don’t really want to read a 281 page dissertation but are curious about what I found, I’ve prepared this blog post to summarize my key conclusions. (Note: this does not include every conclusion. Some are aggregated together, and some more technical conclusions are omitted for this summary).
Last week I had the good fortune of attending the NC Oyster Summit, hosted by the NC Coastal Federation in the Museum of Natural Sciences. We talked about the wonders that oyster restoration and aquaculture development can do for water quality, economic development, and taste buds. We enjoyed the demonstration of ‘merriore’, or the taste of the sea that lends a particular flavor to each oyster that captures the ecosystem it grew in. Yet, the fact that stuck with me most is that despite all of these wonderful celebrations of the oyster for the health and well-being of NC’s coastal communities, funding cuts of around 40% to the Department of Marine Fisheries mean that a large portion of the Albemarle Sound remains closed to harvest or aquaculture because there are no staff to check those oysters for public health risks.
The “Administrative Closure” of the most northern stretches of the state’s prized Albemarle-Pamlico estuary system is a worrying precedent in many ways that highlight how leadership withdrawal of support for science can trickle down to real economic, environmental, and cultural harm.
Economic flight Read More
Every year, on the first Saturday of January, crowds gather at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo to watch the auction of the first Bluefin Tuna of the year. For the last three years, the legendary first tuna broke the record for most expensive fish ever purchased — $396,000 in 2011, $736,000 in 2012, and a staggering $1,800,000 in 2013. Often highlighted as a symbol of the extent people are willing to go to eat that last bluefin tuna, the annual sale of this fish sets the tone for tuna conservation. With the relocation of the Tsukiji fish market to Toyosu in 2014, next week’s auction promises to be the biggest one yet.
Southern Bluefin Tuna are critically endangered, yet political maneuvering has kept tuna fisheries open and several Pacific nations have been caught falsifying their catch reports. Even still, the massive sale of the first tuna of the year is not indicative of the real demand for Bluefin Tuna.
Back in the day, I worked as an intern at Rhode Island Marine Fisheries, where my job was basically to provide general field work help with whatever survey needed an extra pair of hands (yes, it was an awesome job). One of these was a beach seining survey looking at juvenile fishes using Rhode Island’s coastal salt ponds as nursery habitat. Among the usual silversides, mummichogs, and juvenile flounder, two of the ponds were also home to entire schools of something that I was only familiar with due to having relatives in Virginia: spot. These little Scianids, a member of the same family as Atlantic croaker and red drum, are caught in droves in the waters of Virginia and the Carolinas but traditionally have been rare north of the Chesapeake Bay. They were one of the more common species we caught in these two Rhode Island salt ponds, and occurred so consistently that we could actually observe them growing over the course of the summer. It isn’t unheard of for stray tropical fishes to get swept into Narragansett Bay on Gulf Stream eddies, where they’re either collected by aquarists or die during their first winter. However, these were populations of spot that we were seeing. I don’t know if these fish survived their first winter or have come back since I moved down to North Carolina, but even at the very beginning of my interest in fisheries ecology I knew this was odd.
Herring and other fish hung out to dry on a trawler in Klaksvík. Photo by ADT.
A small collection of islands in the North Sea, a few hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, is preparing for war. The European Union, under the auspices of an international fisheries management agreement, is ready to levy heavy trade sanctions against the Faroe Islands, an independent protectorate of Denmark. The Faroes, with a population of less than 50,000, intends to fight these sanctions, defy EU authority, and defend their economic independence. The object of contention is the right to fish Atlanto-Scandian Herring; the driving force behind this dispute–dramatic shifts in fish distribution brought on by warming seas and altered currents. This may be the first international conflict directly attributable to climate change. It will not be the last. Regardless of the outcome, this confrontation will set a precedent for future climate conflicts. Welcome to the Herring War.
Despite their uninspiring name, herring are a rather handsome fish. Atlantic herring, Clupea harengus, are relatively small with a classically “fishy” (fusiform) body shape. They are among the most abundant fish in the ocean, forming schools that can number in the billions. Along with other planktivorous fishes, such as menhaden, that convert phyto- and zooplankton into higher trophic-level biomass, herring are critical to ocean food-webs. They are considered to be among the most important fish in the sea. Herring are the dominant prey species for many large, pelagic predators like tuna, sharks, marine mammals, salmon, and sea birds, among others. Their dominant predator, unsurprisingly, is us.
A lot of debate among conservationists centers on the conflict between the desire to see a species totally protected from human exploitation and the reality that market forces will continue to exist (see the latest on shark fin bans for a very good example). Ideally, a conservation plan should strike a balance, ensuring the continued existence of the species while still allowing people to profit from it in some way. This also requires a clear idea of the limitations of conservation policies. For example, US policies (even the mighty Endangered Species Act) only directly affect populations within the territorial waters of the United States, while international agreements like CITES restrict trade of the species without telling any particular country what to do domestically. However, there are ways to track the interaction between conservation policies and the market, making it possible to make some predictions on how things like fishery management plans and CITES listings might affect trade. Then it gets interesting. Armed with this knowledge, can the market be pushed towards species conservation?
If interested citizens want to get involved in conservation and management policy, it’s absolutely vital to use proper terminology. The policy world can be full of confusing jargon, but there are few ways to discredit yourself in the eyes of decision makers as quickly as using a critical term incorrectly. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for a decision maker’s response to a petition or public comment to consist entirely of correcting inaccurate terminology, if a response is issued at all. There are well over 100 acronyms and terms that I’ve seen regularly used, but in the interest of brevity, I’ve selected what I believe to be the 15 most important terms that I’ve seen people repeatedly use incorrectly.
For each term, I’ve provided a definition from a scientific paper or technical report whenever possible. I have also provided some additional explanation in my own words, and some assistance from familiar memes. Whenever possible, I’ve linked to blog posts, articles, or websites that provide even more information. Most of these terms are broadly applicable to fisheries management policy, but some are specific to shark fisheries. It is not my intention with this post to strongly advocate for or against any specific policy (I do plenty of that with other posts), but to make sure everyone is speaking the same language.
Members of Walking Fish in NC pick up their share, photo by author
Fisheries had their ups and downs in the US in 2012. We’ve all heard the stories of overfishing, but there were also a few glimmers of hope as the New England cod fishery proposed to open previously closed areas, the Chesapeake oysters showed slight recovery, and MSC certification expanded and became more popular. News on the social side of the fishery – the fishermen and their families – is not as prevalent outside the small towns where they live. However, some of the most exciting developments happened on this front, starting with official community supported fisheries declaring themselves here to stay. They held a successful summit in New Hampshire this past July, placing them more in the public eye than ever before.
As part of the GCOE-INeT Summer School at Hokkaido University this year I have had the opportunity to use Samani Town as a case study of “the sustainability of coupled human and natural systems”. The small coastal town of roughly 5,500 people is dependent on farming, fishing, forestry, mining, and increasingly tourism. Samani town is one of the oldest towns in Hokkaido Island and kelp fishing just offshore traces its roots back to the Ainu people who first populated the area. While other industries are important to life and economy in Samani, fishing deserves special note both because of the history and the successful local management.