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posted in: TRCP Marine

August 12, 2014

Spearheading shark conservation

Guy Harvey with mako shark
Guy Harvey swims with a mako shark. Photo courtesy of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.

As an artist, scientist and fisherman, Guy Harvey is combining his three loves these days to help sharks.

One of the country’s most popular wildlife artists, Harvey’s work appears on everything from murals and posters to T-shirts and towels. With a doctorate in marine zoology, Harvey and his Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation have taken on the challenge of protecting sharks by tagging them with transmitters so scientists can track their travels.

“It’s about being responsible and taking the lead and trying to make a difference,” Harvey said. “[Sharks] have been so extensively killed, mainly through commercial long-lining, that their populations have been significantly reduced. They’re slow-growing, long-lived animals.”

Harvey said some states, like Florida, and some countries, such as the Bahamas, have protected sharks by reducing or prohibiting commercial fishing for them. He hopes the data provided by the tags will lead to restrictions on the slaughter of sharks in other parts of the world.

“You’ve got to get the research,” said Harvey during a daytime swordfishing trip out of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. (He and three other anglers each caught and released a swordfish on Catch 22 with Capt. Scott Stanczyk.) “You have to approach management not on a country-by-country basis but on a regional basis.”

Harvey, who lives in the Cayman Islands and who grew up offshore fishing in Jamaica, has helped catch and then tag sharks such as makos and tigers. He was part of a tagging effort for oceanic whitetip sharks in conjunction with a dolphin tournament in Grand Cayman. A $1,500 reward was offered to the first couple of tournament anglers who caught a shark and held it for tagging. Six sharks were held and tagged, and Harvey and his crew caught and tagged four others.

“What was cool was the guys who caught the first two sharks gave the money back so we could buy more tags,” Harvey said. “All of a sudden, we turned around the Caymanians’ attitude toward sharks. Usually they kill sharks and use them for bait.”

The shark tags cost $1,800 each, plus the cost of satellite time to retrieve the data from them. The tags are bolted to a shark’s dorsal fin, then the shark is released. Harvey jumps in the water to swim with the shark until it takes off. The experiences often result in new paintings of sharks.

Guy Harvey swordfishing
Guy Harvey fights a swordfish. Photo by Steve Waters.

“He loves it. It’s a combination of fishing, diving and his science background,” said Dr. Mahmood Shivji, the director of Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute and Save Our Seas Shark Research Center in Hollywood, Fla. The university has a website –nova.edu/ocean/ghri/tracking – that displays the sharks’ travels. Some of the findings have been enlightening.

“Some are staying around and some are moving,” Harvey said, adding that one shark, a mako nicknamed Bad Guy, traveled from Mexico to Grand Cayman to Jamaica, through the Windward Passage and up the eastern coast of the United States to Maryland, where he joined other makos that were tagged in that area.

Shivji said that Harvey’s efforts have had an impact on shark research. Most scientists are funded through government grants, which have greatly declined. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which receives private donations as well as proceeds from sales of Harvey goods and lottery tickets bearing his artwork, has helped keep the shark research going.

Shivji added that the importance of the research gets extra attention because of Harvey’s “celebrity status.” And as Harvey said, once you have the research, it becomes easier to make the case for conservation-minded countries to persuade countries that “plunder” shark populations to change their ways.

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posted in: TRCP Marine

July 29, 2014

More bad news about lionfish

Image courtesy of NOAA.

Lionfish populations continue to expand in coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, stretching from New England to Mexico.

The exotic invader from the South Pacific and Indian Ocean was first documented off South Florida in 1985 after someone dumped his or her aquarium in the ocean rather than disposing of the lionfish.

Nothing was done about those fish by state or federal agencies. By the 1990s, lionfish had spread along Florida’s Atlantic coast. In 2000, they showed up off North Carolina. In 2009, lionfish had expanded throughout the Florida Keys. From there they stretched along the Gulf coast to Mexico.

In addition to the United States, the fish, which gobble up native reef species, have spread throughout the Caribbean to Central and South America. The Keys-based Reef Environmental Education Foundation has excellent information about lionfish on its website at www.reef.org/lionfish.

Now, thanks to a science fair project conducted by a 12-year-old girl from Jupiter, Fla., there is new information. It’s not good.

Scientists say that lionfish can also spread into estuaries with extremely low salinity rates. That means lionfish, which have no predators in their new range, could establish a stronghold in bays, lagoons and rivers with just a hint of saltwater.

In Florida, the fish already have been documented in the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter and the Indian River in Sebastian. The thinking was that the fish couldn’t stray too far from the inlets connected to those rivers, but Lauren Arrington discovered otherwise.

Arrington’s sixth-grade project demonstrated that lionfish can survive in water that is almost fresh. Scientists who heard about her project replicated her work and confirmed just how tolerant of low salinity levels lionfish can be.

“Her project was the impetus for us to follow up on the finding and do a more in-depth study,” said Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, who was researching lionfish in the Loxahatchee River with graduate students from Florida International University.

“We were the first paper that published the salinity of the lionfish, and it was all because of what she had done with her science project.”

For her project, Arrington gradually lowered the salinity in five aquariums with lionfish that she and her father caught in the Indian River. They kept another aquarium at normal ocean salinity level of 35 parts per thousand as a control. Arrington brought down the salinity levels to 6 parts per thousand and the lionfish were fine. She didn’t go any lower for fear of killing the fish, which would have disqualified her project from the science fair.

Layman and his graduate students found that lionfish can tolerate a salinity of 5 parts per thousand, as well as pulses of fresh water. Their findings were published in “Environmental Biology of Fishes.” Arrington received a mention in the research paper’s acknowledgments section.

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posted in: TRCP Marine

June 24, 2014

Anglers, it’s time to show up

Photo courtesy of NOAA.gov.

OK, OK, I did this before, but it bears repeating: Those of us who like sportfishing have been given an opportunity. So let’s not waste it. Not too long ago, I wrote about the new NOAA administrator, Eileen Sobeck, committing the agency to crafting a national saltwater recreational fishing policy. Will this policy instantly fix all the problems that many see with management of recreational fisheries at the federal or state level? Not likely, but this effort should get into writing those things that anglers think will improve sportfishing in the long run. This will take time, but it should not be the result of a small number of stakeholders influencing the system. It needs to have broad input if it is going to be a real national policy.

As this is being written, NOAA Fisheries is holding the third of its town halls to gather input from the recreational community and industry. This is being held in conjunction with the New England Fishery Management Council meeting in Portland, Maine. The turnout at the council venue is likely to be fairly weak. Recreational interests are not accustomed to coming to NEFMC meetings to input their thoughts on management. The first town hall was held in Florida at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting, where an overwhelming three recreational participants showed up to give input. C’mon, man! We gotta do better than that. At the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the turnout was a little stronger but still pathetic with 15 participants at the meeting. At the NEFMC meeting there were five participants.

While this poor showing makes NOAA Fisheries’ efforts to fulfill this mandate look like a waste of their time, another commercial fishing organization showed up in force in Washington, D.C., during Capitol Hill Ocean Week. Called the Seafood Harvesters of America, one of its main efforts is accountability where fish are landed and where policies are made. I’m all in, but I suspect that accountability will cut across all users. Not a bad thing. Soooo, how is it that the recreational stakeholders and industry have that vast majority of users but cannot even muster more than a few participants at regional meetings, while the commercial industry creates another association to try to influence fishing policies? Answer me that question.

Photo courtesy of NOAA.gov.

All is not lost yet. NOAA Fisheries, the folks we love to hate, are trying hard to make input into this effort easy. But if you are reading this, you will have to make some effort. Don’t just think the other guy will do it, because he will think the same. Then a small group of Washington insiders will be left to influence the process. Just yesterday at the NEFMC meeting another recreational representative agreed with my thinking that council meetings are not the best place to get recreational input. Recs are just not focused at the council level. So, he indicated that he was not happy that the same old D.C. players would get what they wanted in the policy effort. I couldn’t agree more, so get up off the couch and get into the conversation!

NOAA Fisheries is turning handstands to push this effort along, and by mid summer, you’ll be running out of opportunities to comment. There will be a couple of national webinars to inform folks about the policy and straw man ideas that have been put out there to get the discussion going. There is also the opportunity to comment online at any time that is convenient for you. They want your thoughts and have made it relatively easy for you. But in the end they cannot force you to comment, and that is why I am going to be a nudge on this. It is important. If you belong to a saltwater fishing club, make sure that it is aware of this and that its members are informed.

NOAA Fisheries has put up a website with all the information on how to respond to this request for information. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/management/recreational/policy/index.html

So, what’s the excuse? Go to the site, check out the discussion guide and the documents to inform the policy development, and make a comment. Once again, let me state that we have been given an opportunity to shape our future. If we fail to take the opportunity, someone else will shape it for us, and we may not like what we get.

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posted in: TRCP Marine

June 10, 2014

Little Fish, Big Impact

River herring. Photo courtesy of Jerry Prezioso/NOAA.gov.

There has been a lot of news on the fishing-related websites and blogs recently about forage fish, primarily herring and menhaden. Truthfully, a complete discussion on forage would encompass a much wider range of species, but I think that I’ll at least narrow it down to the major ones.

Herring, specifically river herring, should be a hot topic. It is that time of year when town Herring Wardens get to see what has come back to rivers in towns all along the New England coast. Word has it that a bunch of rivers are looking good. They’re not where they should be but a heck of a lot better than they have been in the last few years. Some of this is due to in-stream restoration projects that now are paying off, and some is due to efforts to minimize the high seas interaction with sea herring caught by so-called mid-water trawling, both single vessel and pair trawling.

The in-stream work is fairly easy to measure. Restore the habitat in the watershed or rebuild or create fish ladder access to spawning grounds, wait a couple of years, and count the increase. These are very prolific spawners that grow relatively quickly, so gratification, while not instant, is pretty darn quick.

The at-sea interaction is a lot harder to measure for a number of reasons, but the main one is the sheer volume of fish caught in the sea herring fishery. It is fairly normal to have 200,000 pounds of herring and whatever else in a net. The volume is so great as to require that the contents are vacuumed out into the boat’s fish hold. An onboard observer may pull samples of a tote at certain points in the transfer process. If they pull a total of 100 pounds, there is a one in 2,000 chance that they will see any bycatch such as river herring. Those are not good odds. In some cases, even if they do get some in the sample, only a trained eye can distinguish the difference in herring species. In sum: it is likely that managers still do not have a good handle on the actual catch of river herring on the high seas. If the truth be told, there probably is not a good handle on bycatch in general in the northeast sea herring fishery. The New England Fishery Management Council has been working on it, but it has been a hard slog.

A lot of in-stream work still needs to be accomplished, but that will be a function of funding and some hardworking local folks to pull it all together. As mentioned above, that work can be very satisfying as the results are relatively quick and easily visible. In the spring, herring runs usually attract a lot of excited visitors, so positive feedback and PR help the process.

River herring
Image courtesy of NOAA.gov.

Sea herring seem to be managed fairly well, and their spawning success is predicated upon the environmental conditions at spawning time and the ability of managers to control access to spawning aggregations of sea herring. No matter how well managers do, there will always be fluctuations in the population. The major consideration of scientists that advise the managers on setting catch levels should be leaving enough resource for predators such as tuna, striped bass, whales, cod fish, etc. to feed on.

When I was on the NEFMC, there was an effort to put in place a measure to weigh all sea herring so that managers could get a realistic handle on what amount was being caught. Managers were using guesstimations, and in my opinion that is not good enough. NOAA’s regional office rejected that effort as being too onerous. Funny that 125 million pounds of lobster all get weighed in the state of Maine, and that is not considered onerous. It is considered smart business. In any case, a recent action may put in place at least a volumetric measure requirement.

As for menhaden, most of the catch of this forage species is in the Mid Atlantic. There have not been any major migrations of menhaden, like we used to see in the 1980s, north of Cape Cod for a number of years. I keep hoping that there will be, as they bring a whole host of predators that like to feed on them.

Some steps have been implemented by the ASMFC to control the harvest of menhaden. For 2013 there was a 20-percent reduction over the average catch for 2009-2011. The biggest issue has been how this has been enforced, or not enforced, by different states. Rhode Island was 7 percent over. New York was 421 percent over. Delaware was 234 percent over. Maryland 34 percent over. The Potomac River Fisheries Commission was 41 percent over. Florida was 152 percent over. Because some states with decent sized quotas were under, the total quota was just about on target at 2 percent under. A long list of folks will be pushing for a fair and equitable enforcement policy to be put in place. There also should be measures that do not allow states like Maryland to have a bycatch fishery after the quota is taken.

What I am not aware of is whether the catch is weighed or volumetric conversion to weight. That may vary state to state. We will have to see what the reduction does for overall populations in the next couple of years. It would certainly be great to get back to the 80s when massive schools moved all the way up into mid coast Maine. There were a lot of happy predators and a lot of happy anglers.

It should be obvious, but sustainably managing forage species has implications far beyond the fish themselves. If managers allow forage stocks to collapse, many other species will follow. Luckily, folks are paying attention, and it seems like things are moving in a positive direction.

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posted in: TRCP Marine

May 21, 2014

Attention all anglers

NOAA Rec Fisheries Summit
Image courtesy of NOAA.gov.

That’s what we are getting: more attention. That’s a good thing. More fisheries managers, bureaucrats and pols are hearing about recreational issues. That’s a great thing. Maybe the sleeping giant is waking up.

I have written about it in a past blog, but last fall the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, also known as the Morris-Deal Commission, began work on a report, “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.”  That vision document was released during the Miami Boat Show and received a great deal of attention. And, yes, I realize that it did not universally make everyone in the recreational industry warm and fuzzy. The two biggest concerns I heard were that it did not represent the “average angler.” There was also a lot of angst about the apparent support for “flexibility” in effort to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is the main federal legislation that manages fish. From my standpoint this is a valid concern and one that I personally share. However, I don’t think having the discussion is a bad thing. From my standpoint interested and engaged members of the recreational community need to have these kinds of hard discussions. I also feel that the vision should be a work in progress. The good news is it has already made some important folks in D.C. take notice.

Participants at NOAA Rec Fish Summit 2014
Participants at the 2014 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit. Image Courtesy of NOAA.gov.

The introduction of the report by the Morris-Deal Commission was followed by the second national Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit held in Washington, D.C. This was described by one of the organizers at NOAA Fisheries “as taking down the walls, bringing in the community and working on solutions together.” It was an open forum, and folks came from all over the lower 48 and Alaska as well. Like the first summit, the second one was designed to have the stakeholders create and prioritize a list of projects and tasks for NOAA Fisheries to complete to help enhance the working relationship with and engagement of the recreational fishing industry and community. The first summit created an extensive action list, and NOAA Fisheries has completed about 90 percent of that list. It is currently digesting the output from the second summit. One item that was committed to at the summit itself was the creation of a national marine recreational fisheries policy. The plan on how this will be done is almost complete and is scheduled to be release this coming winter. There will be a series of outreach meetings to get recreational stakeholder input. There also will be an online survey available soon. I urge interested parties to make their thoughts known through one of the venues. As John Brownlee, editor in chief at Salt Water Sportsman, said in his keynote speech, “The work will begin when NOAA says yes.” So, get to work folks.

As this is written, I am finishing up the spring session of the Fisheries Forum, which is a collaborative effort of Duke University and Stanford. This forum was on recreational fishing issues. It has a lot of Regional Fisheries Management Council members and staff in attendance. It addressed some of the most problematic issues facing recreational management, not from a policy standpoint but from a process standpoint. Some of the output from this event can be found at FisheriesForum.org. Once again, this kind of effort keeps the recreational fishing industry and community front of mind with many of those making the important decision.

This is all good stuff. The worst thing that could happen would be to have this community ignored. The best is to have the management makers talking about you. I am reminded of James Michael Curley, infamous mayor of Boston, who said time and again, “I don’t care what they write about me. Just make sure they spell my name correctly.” Right on, Mr. Mayor.

Watch video coverage of the 2014 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit:

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