Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fishtival 2011

A few scenes from this year's Fishtival:

Fish printing in the style of Gyotaku, a fun activity for the kids. They chose some great colors for the flounder!

The final product from the UNH Marine Docents' Build a Sailboat in a Weekend workshop--a 12' Oyster River Cat.

Boat tours were offered to show the inner workings of real commercial fishing boats.

Aside from tasty food, the Fishtival provided plenty of opportunities for folks to really see the fish found in New England waters, many of which we eat. A Fishtival volunteer shows kids the tail end of a bluefin tuna and other fish they could touch.

Some crabs and sea stars were on display.

Monkfish/goosefish are a type of anglerfish that use their pectoral fins to "walk" along the bottom of the ocean. They also have a long filament they can dangle from the top of their heads to lure prey into their large mouths.

Thanks to everyone who made the Fishtival a success once again this year!

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 8, 2011, AFS Seattle. Electronic frontiers in fisheries.

The final session that I attended this week profiled what Gil Sylvia, an economist from Oregon State University, refers to as the third of a three-part revolution in fisheries. The first part is the movement toward sustainable fishing practices and fully rebuilt fish stocks. The second is the shift toward catch share or property rights in fisheries. The final part is the movement toward a completely electronic form of reporting in real-time of fishing activity from fishermen to managers. This is what Gil and a long list of other scientists, programmers and members of the fishing industry gathered to talk about during the "Electronic Frontieres in Fisheries" Symposium.

The third revolution will enable a centralized data-management system with access nodes that can be used by fishermen, managers, fish marketers, fisheries scientists, and consumers. Amazingly, this type of system is already up and running off the coast of Washington and Oregon. The system can be used by fishermen to understand, in real-time, when and where threatened stocks of salmon are being caught; information that allows fishermen to avoid those areas thus conserving endangered stocks and allowing them to continue to fish populations that are doing well. Fisheries scientists are using the system to access data that they will analyze to improve their understand fish biology and ecology. The fish caught in the fishery are even given an ID tag so consumers can see where, when and who caught the fish they buy at the market......pretty amazing and powerful stuff, and a huge improvement on a system where redundant reporting on hand-written forms can drive fishermen (and managers) crazy.

The old system is confusing, labor intensive and lends itself to mistakes and errors. Plus, the information under the old system takes one-way path to managers, and the opportunity to USE that information for the benefit of the fishermen and the local community is lost. For more information on the project that Gil Sylvia has been working on with lots of other people, visit: http://pacificfishtrax.org/
Although much of the day was spent discussing the technological and practical challenges of implementing such a system (not the least of which are transmitting the data from the boats and the interest and technological capacity of fishermen), a number of different groups, including The Nature Conservancy, and private fishing industry members, are developing the software and hardware to begin implementing these types of systems on all coasts of the U.S.

One of the most interesting talks, however was presented by Catherine O'Keefe, a PhD student at the University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth (student of Dr. Steve Cadrin) who has used low-tech methods to provide real-time information on the distribution of yellow-tail flounder (rare species) to scallop fishermen. The scientists on the project did this by making a gridded map and having the fishermen provide information on where they caught yellow-tail flounder through email from the boats. The scientists compiled this information and provided fast-response warning about the location of "hot spots" where yellow-tail flounder were caught. Fishermen used this information to avoid these areas and have substantially reduced their catch of yellow-tail flounder. This is important for the conservation of the species AND the fishermen because the flounder remain in the water and because the fishermen must stop fishing for scallops once they catch their allotted quota of yellow-tail flounder.

-Erik Chapman

Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 8, 2011 - AFS Seattle. Cognitive ecology, fish behavior and fisheries....

This morning, I went to a series of presentations in the field of fish cognitive ecology. These scientists are engaged in questions relating to how fish behavior determines the distribution and abundance of fish populations. This is extremely important for understanding how fish populations interact with their environment which is critical information for successful fisheries management. Dr. Victoria Braithwaite from Pennsylvania State University began the discussions, outlining ideas and research around how fish make decisions based on their orientation to physical features in their environment. Dr. James Anderson from the Univeristy of Washington followed with a presentation on how fish learn and why they decide to move between foraging areas. Other presenters began to discuss how fish communicate information about the location of food by observing the behavior and the changing condition of their neighbors.  Later talks discussed the exchange of information within and between schools of fish. 

Another interesting session at a great meeting!
-Erik Chapman

September 7, 2011 - AFS Seattle. Dr. Brian Rothchild outlines recommendations for fisheries management and catch shares

Dr. Brian Rothchild of the University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth made some interesting points and suggestions during his talk yesterday during the Catch Shares Symposium. First, he suggested that for catch share systems to be effective, they need an efficient support institution that provides a cost effective information system. The information systems available today in many fisheries are not capable of keeping up with the rigorous reporting demands of catch share system. This creates alot of problems for fishermen, dealers, and fish managers. He also suggests that catch share systems should incorporate structures that limit the number of "slipper skippers" or fishermen who lease their quota each year, making money without ever taking their boats out on the water. He also emphasized that implementing a catch share system requires a great deal of time and patience, something that was not afforded to the Northeast groundfish sector management system that was implemented after a brief, one-year planning period despite the protests of fishermen and the Northeast Fisheries Management Council. Dr. Rothchild also emphasized the importance of communicating the philosophy behind the catch share system to industry representatives and listening to the groups that will be most effected by the system.

He also floated the idea of developing a dedicated National Institute that we develop new strategies for using ocean weather and climate information to forecast stock variability. He feels that this type of institute would be able to capitalize on our improving understanding of the role that climate plays in fish population dynamics to improve management. An interesting idea to say the least!

-Erik Chapman

September 7, 2011, Seattle AFS. Hilborn urges fishermen to embrace catch shares.

Yesterday, Ray Hilborn, a controversial and high profile fisheries scientists at the University of Washington, wrapped up the Catch Shares Symposium at the AFS Meeting by urging people to embrace the catch shares system. He lived up to his reputation and stirred the pot by saying that anthropologists and sociologists should stop "whining" about some of the challenges presented by catch shares to fishing communities. He also emphasized that catch shares is a very broad term that can mean many things and is a system that is flexible enough to adapt to a particular fishery. He said that it is not a perfect system, but "pretty good" and that it is the best alternative for the majority of today's fisheries. Dr. Hilborn made an interesting point - that catch shares, because they essentially enforce "who can fish and who cannot", were similar to the enforcement of the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone which forced foreign fishermen out of US Coastal waters and was universally applauded by the US fishing industry. Hilborn also claimed that we must accept that fishing jobs and vessels are going to be lost - regardless of how fisheries are managed - simply because the US fishing fleet is too big as a result of the recent regulatory history of the industry.
Dr. Hilborn responded to critics of catch shares who claim that they destroy fishing communities by emphasizing that there are opportunities to combine community development with catch share programs. He also made the point that it is difficult to disentangle the effects of catch share systems with other outside forces that were going to affect fisheries and fishing communities.
Unfortunately, this talk came at the end of the day. I got the feeling that the group in the room could have discussed his comments into the night. It would have been very interesting to hear that discussion - one that those involved in sustainable marine fisheries will be a part of as we move forward.
-Erik Chapman

September 7, 2011- Seattle, AFS. Beware of media coverage of fisheries!

Have you ever been confused by the media's coverage of fisheries and their impact on marine ecosystems? Chances are, you've been drawn to headlines with shocking statements about the global state of the world's oceans. Sometimes, the headlines are contradictory. Are the oceans dieing, or are fish stocks recovering? Jennifer Jacquet, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, gave a really interesting talk yesterday that took a close look at how media covers fisheries science.  Often media articles reflect information presented in a press release by a University communications office, a private organization, or the scientist his or herself - and this is the important part - before they have been peer-reviewed. Dr. Jacquet gave several examples where media reported science that had not been peer-reviewed and where the same media outlet alternately presented scientific results that indicated opposite trends in global fisheries stocks. She suggested that journalistic standards should emphasize careful reading of peer-reviewed science and that some standards should be used to present scientific research as having "global" implications (often global implications are indicated by media based on research in a small area). Obviously, these standards are difficult to enforce in the highly competetive 24hr news cycle.

Nevertheless, these are all extremely important points that highlight our need to be more demanding of media coverage of science.   Dr. Jacquet highlights the need for careful reading of science presented in the media, and for objective and careful communication of science through objective sources. There is growing interest in fisheries in the general public, but also a growing level of confusion about marine ecosystems and fishing. The need for high-quality sources of information are more important than ever. But where will these trusted sources of information come from?

-Erik Chapman

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

AFS - Wednesday, September 7 - Permit Banks and New England Fishermen

"Catch shares" fisheries management includes Limited Access Priviledge Programs (LAPP) and individual quota programs that allocate a secure amount of fish to individuals, cooperatives, or communities. Catch shares allow fishermen to fish, sell, or trade their quota whenever they want in a given year. This theoretically allows fishermen more flexibility in their operations, reduces a "race" to catch fish (often dangerous), and allows them to time their catch according to market fluctuations in order to maximize their profits. Catch share management is expanding to new fisheries every year as it has become a popular choice among managers for achieving more efficient, safe, and productive sustainable fisheries. However, these programs are extremely controversial and the strengths and weaknesses of catch shares are hotly contested. At the very least, catch share management represents a dramatic change in fisheries management that challenges fishermen to adapt. Today, at the AFS meeting, 28 talks were given on catch share programs, outlining their sucesses and failures.

Among the problems associated with catch share programs is that it tends to promote consolidation of the fishing fleet into the larger boats, as smaller day boats have a more difficult time turning a profit in the new system. The reasons for this are many and they are complex. One approach to addressing this problem is through establishing permit banks, which are a collection of fishing permits that can be held by a private or governement entity. Today, Michael Pentony from NOAA presented the current permit bank program that allows Northeastern states to hold a permit bank. Six million dollars were given to these states to establish permit banks; 3 million to Maine, and 1 million each to Massachussetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. This money is intended to be used to purchase fishing permits that will provide quota that can then be leased out to fishermen at a reduced cost. Theoretically, this will prevent consolidation by providing more fish quota to smaller boats. Maine has already bought permits and sold quota to fishermen, while NH, MA, and RI are still organizing their programs. But will this help smaller boats compete with larger boats that can have higher fish allocations and more resources for purchasing quota? Only time will tell.

For more information on Catch shares, visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/catchshares

-Erik Chapman

AFS - Seattle, September 6 - Connecting Climate Science to Fisheries Management

Well, that's an interesting challenge! Climate scientists, ecosystem modelers, and fisheries biologists and managers came together here at the AFS meeting in Seattle yesterday to discuss the challenges facing managers as they try to incorporate climate science in management. It became clear through the course of the presentations that there is broad consensus that climate influences fisheries, and that we would like to get to a place where we can understand these linkages well enough to predict the future. However, it also became clear that we have a long way to go to get there!
Anne Hollowed, from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska, discussed how climate can influence the phenology of ecosystem events, the distribution of species, species interactions, and species vital rates. Ultimately, all of the complex physical, biological, ecological, and physiological interactions must be considered in predicting the influence of climate on ecosystems.
A more specific example was given by Jeff Napp (Univ. Washington) who explained that in the Bering Sea, scientists understand that physical processes, in particular sea ice, structure the marine ecosystem. He described a system where climate variability drives changes in marine communities that oscillates between two very different states (for more information, go to www.bsierp.nprb.org). This information has been used alongside traditional stock indices to inform management for Alaskan Pollock. This is one of the only examples I'm aware of where ecosystem indices inform management.
Michael Alexander, from NOAAs Earth Systems Laboratory, brought things to a larger, and longer scale and explained that climate predictions come with a great deal of uncertainty, that is compounded by our incomplete knowledge of climate systems, marine ecology, and the connections between the two. He emphasized that the same climate models run over a longer time period, predict very different outcomes for the same location. Charlie Stock, from NOAA's Princeton, GeoFluid Dynamics Lab, emphasized how difficult it is to predict climate 10+ years down the road.
So, where do we go from here? The group discussed where "low" and "high" hanging fruit might be found. It was suggested that scientists may want to focus on short-term predictions rather than a longer-term response to climate change although it is unclear which is more challenging! In the mean time, it seems that the use of climate and ecosystem indices described by Jeff Napp in the Bering Sea gives us a good model of how climate science can inform management today - I wonder if there are other examples where our knowledge of climate and marine ecosystems is good enough to inform management as well?
-Erik Chapman

AFS Meeting is Underway!

I arrived in Seattle yesterday morning and after a brief light-rail transit to downtown from the airport, I was finally able to take a seat at this year's American Fisheries Society meeting.  The weather has been sunny and unseasonably warm (almost 90F!).  On days like these, Mt. Rainier towers over this beautiful city inspiring thoughts of hiking and camping, or at least a trip to REI!   I did my best to sort of ignore all of that, take a deep breath of the ocean-air, and head into the Washington State Convention Center which was buzzing with over 4,000 attendees.  People have come from all over the world to be here to take in the latest contributions and discussions around emerging and continuing hot-topics in sustainable marine fisheries.  I love this meeting because is touches on my many of my broad interests in this field.  There are sessions dedicated to fish biology, ecology and oceanography and sessions focusing on management.  

Yesterday, I attended a session titled, "Connecting Climate Science to Fisheries Management and Ecology in a Changing World."  Today, I'll split time between "Catch Share Programs in the U.S. Commercial Fisheries" and "Adaptability of Fish Life Histories."  Tomorrow, I may split time between "Cognitive, Sensory, and Behavioral Frontiers Exploring Fish Movement and Habitat Use" and "Electronic Frontiers in Fisheries Management - Log Books and Real Time Fishery Information Systems - Case Studies."  For more information on the program, go to:  http://afs2011.org/

I will do my best to provide updates here.  Gotta run to the 8:00am start!

-Erik Chapman