Projects

A SFG Past Projects

West Coast Groundfish

In January 2011 the West Coast Groundfish fishery transitioned to a multispecies Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system, a form of catch-shares in which fishermen own shares of the total allowable catch for all target species and threatened bycatch species. This fishery presents an interesting example of the weak stock hurdle facing many fisheries around the world: species such as yelloweye and canary rockfish have been historically overfished, and since they grow and reproduce very slowly, they have extremely low annual catch limits which can be exceeded in a single accidental haul. This leaves many individual fishermen at a disadvantage compared to larger companies, as they are unable to risk the potential downside of having to purchase more expensive quota or being forced to stop fishing for the season.

Risk pools are emerging as a potential solution to this problem, in which individuals pay to join (and/or contribute their weak stock quota), and then the association pays from the aggregate quota to cover members that accidentally catch weak stock species. Usually membership within a risk pool requires fishermen to agree to actions which would decrease their chance of catching weak stock species, including restrictions to more selective gear and avoiding areas known to have higher densities of weak stock species.

With funding from Sea Grant, we are collaborating with partners at the University of Washington to document behavioral changes in fishermen, and the resulting social, environmental and economic impacts as risk pools emerge in this new ITQ system. We are developing a spatial bioeconomic model in order to project fishermen responses in terms of changes in gear selectivity, spatial distribution of fishing (e.g., to avoid weak stocks), and the adoption of risk pools. We will then empirically validate our model and specifically investigate whether: 1) Risk pools successfully reduce the economic and/or ecological problems associated with weak stock bycatch; 2) The new ITQ system creates de-facto MPAs through voluntary closures; 3) ITQs cause shifts in fishery landings and quota holdings among communities; and 4) Fishermen switch to more selective gears.

This project provides a unique opportunity not only to learn what changes arise from the transition to ITQs in the West Coast Groundfish fishery; but also evaluate benefits to fishermen resulting from cooperative mechanisms such as risk pools.

Maximizing the Value of Offshore Aquaculture Development in the Context of Multiple Ocean Uses

Locating aquaculture in the open  ocean—often referred to as offshore aquaculture—can mitigate many of the spatial and environmental impacts associated with more traditional land based and nearshore aquaculture practices.  Nonetheless, implementation of offshore aquaculture can be a complex and contentious process due to the wide range of uses and values in the oceans.  For example, a range of economic uses, such as fisheries and shipping, interact with aquaculture both in terms of space and resources, while potential impacts on recreation, conservation, and ocean viewsheds are also important to consider.

Since offshore aquaculture is still relatively undeveloped in most of the United States, there is an opportunity to proactively manage its development. Scientifically-informed spatial planning can reduce conflicts among competing uses, minimize environmental impacts, and maximize the collective benefits provided by the ocean. SFG and collaborators are generating the practical analytical tools that managers and stakeholders need to address these issues. Specifically, the goal of this Sea Grant funded project is to develop a framework to inform marine spatial planning for offshore aquaculture to optimize the value and success of aquaculture development in the context of multiple ocean uses.

Using southern California as a case region, this project will assess the potential conflicts and environmental impacts associated with open ocean aquaculture development.  We are considering the development of three types of aquaculture - finfish, shellfish, and algal culture- and are using bioeconomic modeling and tradeoff analysis to identify spatial siting options for aquaculture that maximize benefits and minimize conflicts and negative impacts. The framework we develop will hopefully inform aquaculture planning and regulation development in California in order to maximize sustainable production. This framework can then be adapted to inform aquaculture siting across the US and globally.  We aim to move the dialogue about offshore aquaculture development from a place of uncertainty regarding impacts and conflicts to a point where regulatory decisions can be made in a way that enhances compatibility with environmental regulations and a multitude of ocean uses.
 

Tonle Sap Inland Fishery: Evaluating the Biological and Economic Effects of No-Take Zones

The Tonle Sap hydrologic system in Cambodia consists of Tonle Sap Lake (one of the largest lakes in Asia), the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River. Many local residents rely on the complex ecosystem of this watershed for sustenance, as it accounts for roughly 60% of the total inland catch in the country. The hydrology of the Tonle Sap region is unique in that Tonle Sap Lake increases more than five times in size from the dry season to the wet season. The large fluctuation is driven by an unusual phenomenon; when heavy rainfall and ice-melt raise the water level of the Mekong River, it causes the Tonle Sap River to reverse direction and flow into the lake. This dynamic system is able to support several distinct fish life histories, including species that: (1) stay primarily in the rivers, (2) migrate between the lake and the rivers, and (3) stay in the lake year-round. Although there is a lack of consistent catch data for the system, it is widely accepted among fishers and Fisheries Department officials that fishing effort has increased over the past few decades, followed by a decline in the quantity and average size of fish caught in recent years.

One of SFG’s roles in the project is to determine the ecological and economic effects of implementing no-take zones (NTZ)— areas where fishing is prohibited— on the Tonle Sap watershed. To evaluate these effects, we are developing a multi-species, spatially-explicit bio-economic model to simulate different levels of fishing pressure under several distinct NTZ management plans. The model will include two hypothetical species: (1) migrating fish that move between the lake and rivers and (2) sedentary fish that stay in the lake year-round. Accounting for multiple species will allow us to assess the distribution of harvest between the species under different NTZ scenarios. Through this modeling effort, we will elucidate the costs and benefits of implementing NTZs in the Tonle Sap system, and measure how changes in management regimes will influence the catch of each species.

SFG will also investigate the impact NTZs would have on the Tonle Sap region if property rights were reinstated as part of the fisheries management plan. Historically, villages were entitled to property rights for sections of the lake, which they managed and monitored carefully. In recent years, fisheries management has moved away from property rights towards an open access system, where there is a greater incentive to overexploit rather than sustainably manage the shared food resources. Our team aims to determine if overfishing problems could potentially be resolved by transitioning back to property rights in the Tonle Sap watershed, and if implementing NTZs would even be necessary.

Modeling Optimal Harvest Strategies for Indiscriminate Fisheries 

The Tonle Sap ecosystem contains a diverse food web which includes fish species of varying trophic levels. A secondary component of the project aims to link the human side of fishery management with the ecological dynamics of “indiscriminate” fisheries, or fisheries that target fish of all sizes and trophic levels. Since large fish— generally predators—are more sensitive to fishing, their numbers are often reduced early in the harvest, causing predator release (when prey species experience a population boom in the absence of pressure from consumers). The increase in prey species can negate or even surpass the loss in predator biomass, resulting in higher total biomass.

SFG is working closely with researchers from the University of Guelph to determine what harvest levels and management strategies would maximize biomass and profit. We will model the effects of harvest methods and intensity at each trophic level in order to maximize harvested biomass or profits. Since large fish are usually more valuable than small fish even when total biomass is equivalent, we hypothesize that optimizing for different goals will drive divergent harvest strategies. Through this effort, we intend to illuminate the effects of indiscriminate fishing on the Tonle Sap ecosystem, and define ways to use it to maximize harvest or profit.

California Marine Life Protection Act

Passed in 1999, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) mandated the creation of a science-based network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in California state waters. The goals of the California network of MPAs under the MPLA are:
1. To protect the natural diversity and function of marine ecosystems.
2. To help sustain and restore marine life populations.
3. To improve recreational, educational, and study opportunities in areas with minimal human disturbance.
4. To protect representative and unique marine life habitats.
 
To help ensure that these goals are met, a Science Advisory Team, including SFG Principals Chris Costello and Steve Gaines, was established to develop guidelines for MPA design and to evaluate proposed networks of MPAs.

SFG Postdoctoral Researcher Andrew Rassweiler and Chris Costello developed a cutting-edge spatial bioeconomic model to evaluate alternative MPA networks proposed by stakeholder groups. The model coupled information about fish populations and fish habitat, larval dispersal based on complex ocean circulation patterns, and fishing fleet behavior in order to predict consequences of a given MPA network for conservation and fishery profits.  In an iterative process, stakeholders created network proposals and the Science Advisory Team recommended changes based on the modeling results and other scientific criteria.
As of 2010, 51 MPAs, including 26 no-take marine reserves, have been implemented along the central California coast (see subset of the MPA network at left). An additional 36 MPAs will go into effect on January 1, 2012 along the southern California coast, and the approval process is still underway along the northern coast. The MLPA process is unprecedented in terms of both scientific rigor and public participation. For more information, please visit California's Department of Fish and Game website.

Channel Islands Finfish: Collaborative Research and Co-Management Strategies for Data-Poor Fisheries

SFG Postdoctoral Researcher Jono Wilson has been working with the near-shore finfish fishery in the Santa Barbara Channel to collect essential fishery information and evaluate different management strategies for data-poor fisheries.  Over a three year period, Jono and several commercial fishermen tagged and released over 5000 near-shore fish dominated by grass rockfish (Sebastes rastrelliger) and cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus).  Sampling sites were located inside and outside of a network of marine reserves at the Channel Islands (marine reserve network shown below in red).

Data from this study indicated that grass rockfish populations exhibit variability in life history traits (e.g., growth rate) and demographic rates (e.g., mortality rate) across the network of reserves according to productivity of the region. Management actions that match the scale of population variability and incorporate information from within reserves can improve fisheries yields while meeting strict conservation requirements.  The simple models developed in this work use data that are easily collected by fishermen or local community members and have application to data-poor fisheries throughout the world.

 

Massachusetts Spatial Tradeoffs: Assessing Tradeoffs Between Multiple Ocean Uses for Optimal Wind Energy Placement

Coastal marine ecosystems are becoming increasingly crowded with multiple and often conflicting uses. Marine spatial planning (MSP) is an approach to allocate uses across the seascape in order to reduce conflicts and enhance benefits across multiple sectors. SFG Postdoctoral Researcher Crow White, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership, Boston University, University of Vermont, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, developed a bioeconomic model for guiding the optimal siting of offshore wind farms in Massachusetts Bay. The model assessed the tradeoffs between wave energy, fisheries and recreational activities for different wave energy siting options in order to minimize spatial conflicts and maximize the value of a range of uses.

This project first estimated the spatial distribution and value of commercial fishing and whale watching tourism in Massachusetts Bay in response to wind farm development. White and his collaborators then measured the gains in values achieved from coordinated planning compared to managing one sector at a time. Marine spatial planning increased the values of different ocean uses from a few percent to nearly 50%, with the greatest benefit for the energy sector.

This project is the first to demonstrate the real-world value of strategic Marine Spatial Planning for reducing sector conflicts and increasing ecosystem value in a region that is likely to host the first commercial scale offshore renewable energy facilities in the US.

 

Bahamas MPA Valuation

As a regional leader in marine conservation, The Bahamas are a key participant in the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI). CCI countries have made the commitment to conserve at least 20% of their nearshore marine environment in national marine protected area systems by 2020.

In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy’s Northern Caribbean Program, SFG interns Tyler Clavelle and Zach Jylkka performed an assessment of the economic value of the natural resources contained in two proposed national marine protected areas in Abaco, The Bahamas: East Abaco Creeks and Cross Harbour. If protected, East Abaco Creeks and Cross Harbour would increase the amount of protected area in Abaco by 47% and 48% respectively.

Through interviews with government officials, local non-profits, and community members, this study examined the contribution of the environmental goods and services generated by the proposed protected areas to the Bahamian people. The study employed benefit transfer in an ecosystem service-based approach focused mainly on the indirect values of key habitat functions. The results estimate the annual value of the ecosystem goods and services to range from $5.28 – 5.91 million for Cross Harbour and $6.27 – 6.60 million for East Abaco Creeks. With the threat of real estate development always a reality, the economic valuations included in this study provide policymakers with a more realistic appraisal of previously unvalued (or undervalued) habitat.

The findings of this project were detailed in a final report for The Nature Conservancy, with the aim of supporting and advancing existing national marine protected area proposals.

For more information, see the report and executive summary of the project.

 

Financing Fisheries Reform

Why do so many overexploited fisheries fail to tap into proven fishery management reforms that can benefit both fish and fishermen? We believe that one of the main reasons for this lack of action is the perceived financial risk of making a management change. However, such risk aversion can be overcome with innovative financing mechanisms, such as insurance and loans, which can motivate fisheries reform.

To demonstrate how these innovative financing mechanisms could work, SFG has developed mathematical models that simulate their effects in four fisheries that exemplify problems common to many parts of the world.

Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery: Although recent catch levels of shrimp have been sustainable, a primary concern in this fishery is the prevalence of by-catch, or species that are incidentally caught and killed by the shrimp trawling gear. The fishery has the potential attain a sustainability certification (such as the Marine Stewardship Council label) if it reduces by-catch and increases fuel efficiency – changes that would lead to both economic and environmental benefits. However, these modifications can be very costly. Loans to support the transition could provide enough incentive for fishers to switch to new equipment, leading to higher profits and reduced ecological impacts.

Galapagos Islands lobster fishery: As with many fisheries, the primary gear used to capture lobster in the Galapagos is harmful to the long-term sustainability of the fishery: spear fishing leads to high mortality of juveniles and reproductive females, and doesn’t allow for fishers to sell the product live for higher prices. Alternative gears (including harvesting by hand) exist that could mitigate these problems, but have not been widely adopted due to the financial risk of gear transition. An investment by a business or NGO may be able to alleviate this financial hurdle, for example by providing tanks where live lobster can be held and subsequently sold for a greater profit. This new infrastructure can provide three-way benefits: fishers gain from higher prices, the lobster population is relieved of destructive spear fishing practices, and the investor reaps a profit.

Peru-Chile anchoveta fishery: Transboundary fisheries, like the anchoveta that travel between the territorial waters of Peru and Chile, are often overharvested due to the tendency of both countries to catch as much as they can while the fish are in their territory. In cases where fishing nations have difficulty cooperating over shared stocks, an alternative method for reducing fishing pressure is to establish a no-take marine protected area (MPA) along the border of their territorial seas. To overcome possible short-tem losses due to decreased fishing, a third-party investor could compensate fishers for losses and levy taxes on any gains.

Indonesia blue swimming crab fishery: The Indonesia blue swimming crab fishery suffers from overexploitation, a common symptom of open access management. In the absence of effective management mechanisms, industry-led reform provides an alternative approach to achieve economic and ecological sustainability. Under this approach, fishery stakeholders (like retailers, wholesalers, processors, and fishers) come together to exercise market power, such as a processor-mandated minimum size limit. Fishermen receive higher prices for adhering to these standards, and processors are paid back in the future via higher yields due to rebuilding. An association of processors and exporters has already begun to implement this approach by setting a minimum size limit and a ban on egg-bearing females for the blue swimming crab that they handle.