A presentation by Dr. Daniel Pauly and Dr. Dyhia Belhabib on catch reconstructions

Last October Dr. Daniel Pauly and Dr. Dyhia Belhabib gave a presentation in Seattle to a group of Sea Around Us website users, describing new data tools and reiterating past and current research.

Dr. Pauly described why catch reconstructions are important and how they are conducted, and Dr. Belhabib  narrowed in on a specific case study in Gabon.

The case study in Gabon — as Dr. Pauly described — “could be replicated over 200 times” as numerous other case studies have been completed globally.

The video presentation was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, available here.

Fish alter migration patterns as global waters warm

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 10.22.34 AMWater spills from the edge of a giant, melting iceberg on the cover of the November 2015 issue of Science.

The special issue focused on the effects of climate change on our ocean systems, and highlighted research by Dr. William Cheung, an Associate Professor with the Changing Ocean Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, and Director (Science) of the Nereus Program. The journal used a map Dr. Cheung and his team created that describes the effects of changing water temperatures on fish species migration.

“This is the first global map that projects changes in species distribution and its impacts on marine biodiversity under climate change,” said Dr. Cheung in an email.

The map depicts the projected increase of fish species found in waters in higher latitudes as global waters warm. But while the number of species increases near the poles, many would disappear from equatorial waters.

Image - William Cheung Map

The Arctic and Southern oceans (red areas) could see up to two new species per half-degree of latitude by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.

The map was used in an article about boarfish – a bright orange, small and spiny fish that is exploding in numbers in the north Atlantic. As author Marianne Lavelle writes in Science:

“The boarfish has become one symbol of an emerging global issue: the often surprising disruptions that climate change can create in the world’s fisheries, as marine populations move, flourish, and wither as a result of warming seas.”

But the boarfish is only one among many species that are changing migration patterns due to climate change.

A study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University, who analyzed more than 40 years of census data on 350 species off North America, found that some 70% of species were shifting their ranges or moving to shallower or deeper waters because of changing water temperatures.

A previous study by Dr. Cheung – which was co-authored by Dr. Daniel Pauly from the Sea Around Us, and published as a letter in Nature – found that as water temperatures in high latitudes warm, an increase of tropical fish should be found in fishermen’s nets.

With the Paris climate change conference starting on November 30th, Dr. Cheung wants to see ocean warming on the agenda.

As scientists, politicians, and media from around the world descend on the capital city to try and forge a consensus on how to battle climate change, he believes warming of the oceans should be a priority in the discussions.

“Any solution without considering the ocean is incomplete,” he said.

New Mapping Tool video tutorial

The Sea Around Us Catch Allocation Map is an interactive tool that allows users to view global catch using different parameters, like country, year, functional or commercial group, and taxa, from 1950 until 2010. Two or more countries can also be viewed at the same time.

The embedded video is a short and concise guide on how to use the tool.

Click here to try the tool out yourself.

And if you have further questions as to how it works, click here for more information. You will find diagrams like the one below that are complimentary to the video.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.05.39 AM



Users weigh in on Sea Around Us website

SAU Home Page Image

The Sea Around Us is gaining feedback from its scientific and research users to create more robust tools and stronger web content.

On Tuesday October 26, several researchers met in Seattle, Washington to discuss improved methods for disseminating and displaying data on the Sea Around Us website.

Scientists from the Ocean Health Index, the University of Washington, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among several other organizations, provided practical feedback about improvements that could enhance the utility of the web services provided by the Sea Around Us.

“Everyone was interested in the process by which the Sea Around Us reconstructs catch data, and how they can optimize the extraction of data for their research needs from the website,” said Dr. Deng Palomares, senior scientist with the Sea Around Us.

The researchers provided feedback for potential additions to the tools and data – like a user’s guide for maps; an easier system for providing feedback on data or potential corrections; and even an area for policy suggestions for non-scientific users.

Many of the researchers were impressed with the mapping tool. The tool creates visual impressions of where fish are caught and what countries are catching them – throughout time from 1950 to 2010.

“They were very impressed by the mapping tool and its potentials and said it was the most powerful tool we have ,” said Palomares.

“It was important to receive feedback today from user groups, and how they appreciate and utilize the Sea Around Us website,” she added.


Only four per cent of the ocean is protected: Sea Around Us research

Small Island

Photo by: Azrul Aziz

Despite global efforts to increase the area of the ocean that is protected, only four per cent of it lies within marine protected areas (MPAs), according to new research.

Sea Around Us scientists Lisa Boonzaier and Daniel Pauly found that major swaths of the ocean must still be protected to reach even the most basic global targets.

In 2010, representatives from nearly 200 countries met in Nagoya, Japan, and adopted the United Nations’ Aichi Targets, in a bid to stem the rapid loss of biodiversity. The countries committed to protecting at least 10 per cent of the ocean by 2020.

“The targets call for much more than just 10 per cent protection,” said lead author Ms. Boonzaier. “They require that protected areas be effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected, all of which will help to ensure that MPAs contribute to more than percentage targets and meet the goal of conserving biodiversity.”

In the past decade, however, some improvement has been made. In 2006, only an estimated 0.65 percent of the ocean was protected.

“Given the creation of very large marine protected areas in recent years, notably though the Global Ocean Legacy Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, there is a chance that the Aichi Targets can be reached, which would be a major achievement,” said co-author Daniel Pauly, a professor at the Institute for Ocean and Fisheries.

The research is published in the journal Oryx.

For more information, see http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/global-ocean-legacy

Dr. Daniel Pauly participates in White House science forum

Dr. Daniel Pauly at a White House event on citizen science.

Dr. Daniel Pauly at a White House event on citizen science.

Last week Dr. Daniel Pauly was invited to the White House to participate in a forum on citizen science and crowdsourcing.

The event, held on September 30, 2015, and hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the Domestic Policy Council, aimed to “celebrate the successes of citizen science and crowdsourcing,” and “raise awareness of the benefits these innovative approaches can deliver,” according to the White House website.

Dr. Pauly was there to discuss FishBase, the global database of fish he co-founded in the 1990s that is now the largest and most accessed online database for fish in the world. Each month it receives 50 million “hits” from over half a million unique viewers.

While experts initiated the database, it functions, in large part, from the input of thousands of citizen users.

“Much of the data sets in FishBase were initiated by communities from the bottom up, and then later, were picked up by academics,” said Dr. Pauly in an interview.

FishBase includes descriptions of over 33,000 species, and over 300,000 common names in almost 300 languages, 55,300 pictures, and references to 51,600 works in the scientific literature.

“FishBase has gathered a lot of data from its users—from photos, common names, forums and blogs. There is a huge openness of the database, and it is going to increase” said Dr. Pauly.

The forum, which was titled “Open Science and Innovation: Of the people, by the people, for the people,” highlighted the work of several other innovative citizen science endeavours.

For instance, 28,000 astronomy enthusiasts have made 1.4 million classifications of potential interstellar debris using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer; and 5,500 active participants have helped record over 1.5 million observations related to plants and animals for the USA National Phenology Network, leading to contributions in 17 peer-reviewed publications.

“Citizen science and crowdsourcing projects can enhance scientific research and address societal needs, while drawing on previously underutilized resources,” said the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, John P. Holdren, in a memorandum.

Drawing on his experience with FishBase, Dr. Pauly agrees. “Governments are realizing they cannot progress in many areas without citizen participation. The idea of citizen science is not only compatible with democracy and the environmental sciences; it is essential for them,” he said.

A complete video of the event can be found here.

Links to Facebook pages for FishBase, and its partner organization SeaLifeBase.

New app to simplify fisheries data collection

Dr. Box presents the Fish Landing app to a workshop at the FishBase symposium in the Philippines. The workshop was co-sponsored by Oceana Philippines, the Philippine (), and Sea Around Us.

Dr. Box from the Smithsonian Institution presents the Fish Landing app during a workshop at the FishBase symposium in the Philippines associated with the 25th and 10th year anniversaries of FishBase and SeaLifeBase (Sea Around Us partners). The workshop was co-sponsored by the FishBase Information and Research Group (FIN), Oceana-Philippines, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Philippine Department of Agriculture, and the Sea Around Us.

On the northern coast of Honduras local fishers noticed the amount of fish they caught was decreasing year after year. What’s more, it was becoming increasingly difficult to catch the amount of fish they needed to make a living.

Compounding their plight was the fact that because their catch went to local buyers and then on to domestic markets—no real catch data were available. Without these data, it is incredibly difficult to manage a sustainable fishery.

A new app could help change this. The Fish Landing app helps local buyers track the species and size of fish caught, fishing spots frequently used, and the profiles of local fishers.

The app was developed by a team of researchers from the Center of Marine Studies (CEM), and the Smithsonian Institution, led by Dr. Stephen Box from the Smithsonian.

“The wealth of data which will be collected using these tools will greatly contribute to data analysis, and can be a primary basis for any plans related to fisheries management and sustainability,” said Dr. Box at the workshop, which was organized and moderated by Dr. Deng Palomares.

The researchers initially used a paper-based system to try and track catch data, where fishers, upon returning from the ocean, would fill out forms detailing the number and species of fish they caught. At the end of each month these papers were given to researches who then laboriously digitized and analyzed the data. While relatively effective for some small communities, on a larger scale it was highly inefficient.

The Fish Landing app helps to streamline this process. Local buyers—who receive the majority of fish from the fishers—use an Android phone or iPad to keep track of the data. Through its picture-based operation system the app is easy to use.

But why would buyers want to participate? The app is a one-stop shop for business purposes, where buyers can track fish caught, money earned and paid, and who their clients are. Fishers also get more precise information about what and how much they catch and earn, and governments are given data that can be used for fisheries statistics. Data packages to be shared with governments or management agencies can be customized and adjusted to local needs and sensitivities.

Furthermore, governments will finally be able to understand the large role that small-scale fishers play in contributing to the economy and food security.

At the workshop where Dr. Box presented the Fish Landing app, two other closely-associated tools were also presented. These included a decentralized registration system that easily and rapidly creates “fisher identity cards.” Often, these are the only pieces of ID that the fishers possess.

The other tool is an onboard, cheap, self-contained, and solar powered GPS system that will help in understanding the amount of time fishers spend in certain waters, the competition for fishing grounds among fishers, and the seasonal patterns in seascape use, among a suite of other factors.

Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us, believes these tools together could transform the accumulation of fisheries data.

“These three items could revolutionize data acquisition for and by artisanal fishers in developing countries, including the Philippines where the presentation by Dr. Stephen Box generated considerable interest,” he said.

Dirk Zeller, Senior Scientist of the Sea Around Us, thinks these tools are a state of the art approach that not only improve data collection but also the management of small-scale fisheries, which recently received clear recognition through an endorsement by the Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (COFI), of the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.

“These tools and their associated direct and easy access to the data generated, will also empower local communities in their engagement in small-scale fisheries management,” he said.

The app and related tools are also being tested in Myanmar. Interest from the Philippine government and some NGOs expressed at the workshop may lead to the use of the fisheries app package, at least in some pilot areas. Dr. Mary Ann Bimbao (Executive Director of FIN) and Dr. Deng Palomares (Senior Scientist of the Sea Around Us) are in follow-up discussions with some members of the BFAR and Oceana-Philippines for future work.

Daniel Pauly participates in international fishing documentary


Daniel Pauly on set in Newfoundland, Canada. Photo credit: Rick Stanley

Daniel Pauly recently returned from Newfoundland, Canada, where he was working on an international fishing documentary.

The film, produced by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Ocean Foundation near Washington D.C., will be filmed in five locations including Honduras, South America, the U.S., Bahamas, Senegal, Africa,  — and, of course, Newfoundland, Canada.

As Pauly explains, the film explores the role of small-boat fishermen and how they contribute to the economy.

“There is a lack of awareness from the government,” he says. “They don’t understand how these fisherman fit into the economy, and so they tend to favour bigger fishing companies.”

Pauly is the film’s on-camera investigator who also serves as link between the countries.

The film is currently in production and is aiming for release in spring 2016.


Sea Around Us attends meeting to support conservation assessment for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean

A senior researcher with the Sea Around Us recently attended a three-day meeting earlier this month to discuss conservation of biodiversity with Antarctic experts in Monaco.

Deng Palomares, who recently worked on an Antarctic report for the Sea Around Us, said the meeting was an important step in identifying and assuring that Antarctic research focuses on the gaps in current data.


“It was a very successful endeavour seeing that the experts who participated in the assessment came from a multidisciplinary background,” Palomares said. “One of the most significant contributions of those three days is the engagement promised by these experts to continue their work in the Antarctic.”

Co-organized by the Government of the Principality of Monaco, the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, SCAR, and Monash University, the meeting was meant to assess whether the conservation of the biodiversity of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean is meeting the targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

The meeting also aimed to provide guidance for action that can effectively help deliver further conservation successes for the regions. Another goal was to identify key areas for work and indicators to help guide that work, which resulted in the Antarctica and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020: The Monaco Assessment.

“The initial expert assessment indicates a biodiversity outlook for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean which is no better than that for the rest of the globe,” said professor Steven Chown of Monash University, who co-organized the meeting.

HSH Prince Albert II of Manaco, who closed the meeting June 10, emphasized that activity in the Antarctic region — including not only fishing and tourism, but also some scientific activities — has drastically increased.

“I am convinced that common action from all countries and parties, can improve the situation for the better,” HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco noted. “I can assure you that my Government and my Foundation will make every effort possible to ensure that science continues to prevail in this land with international cooperation”

Organizers and attendees left feeling hopeful that there will be effective action over the next five years to dramatically improve the state of biodiversity in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

You can read more on The Monaco Assessment here


13th Annual FishBase Symposium in Philippines to take place this fall


A group shot from the 2014 FishBase Symposium that took place at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The 13th annual FishBase Symposium will take place September 1, 2015, hosted by the FishBase Information and Research Group, Inc. (FIN) in Los Baños, Philippines to mark the 25th and 10th year anniversaries of FishBase and SealifeBase, respectively.

Convened by Drs Mary Ann Bimbao (FIN) and Deng Palomares, Sea Around Us Senior Scientist, the theme for the Symposium is FishBase and SeaLifeBase for Teaching and Research in Aquatic Science. It aims to promote a deeper understanding of why and how FishBase and SeaLifeBase can be used for teaching and research in the Philippines.

Invited speakers come from local universities and research institutions, FishBase Consortium members who themselves use FishBase in teaching ichthyology courses and offer FishBase workshops regularly, and students from universities and secondary schools in the Philippines.

Dr Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us and co-maker of FishBase will give the keynote address. Dr Dirk Zeller, Sea Around Us Project Manager, will also attend the Symposium.

Other anniversary celebration activities include a poster exhibit of FishBase and SeaLifeBase, a book-giving activity to local libraries, students’ hands-on orientation on FishBase and SeaLifeBase and an art competition expressing underwater relationships and connections.

Schedule of Events:

1 Sept. 2015 (Tuesday): 13th Annual FishBase Symposium
1-4 Sept. 2015 (Tuesday-Friday):  Poster exhibit, Book-giving to libraries, Art competition, Students’ hands-on orientation on FishBase and SeaLifeBase, Media splash
2-4 Sept. 2015 (Wednesday-Friday): FishBase Consortium Annual Meeting

Events Coordinators:

  • Dr. Maria Lourdes D. Palomares, FIN Associate Scientific Director and Chair of the FishBase Consortium
  • Dr. Mary Ann P. Bimbao, FIN Executive Director

New research reveals population trends for world seabirds

RHAU Donnecke(1)

A Rhinoceros Auklet (seabird) eating sandlance (Photo: Daniel Donnecke)

New Sea Around Us research has found drastic decline in the monitored portion of the global seabird population.

The paper, published in PLoS ONE, reports that the monitored portion of the global seabird population decreased overall by 69.7 per cent between 1950 and 2010.

According to Michelle Paleczny, a lead author of the paper, and recent graduate of the zoology program at UBC, these findings likely reflect a global trend because of the large and representative sample. A decline this drastic can cause changes in island and marine ecosystems in which seabirds play a variety of vital roles.

“Decline in seabird abundance stands to disrupt natural processes in island and marine ecosystems in which seabirds play an important role — by acting as predators, scavengers, cross-ecosystem nutrient subsidizers, and ecosystem engineers,” Paleczny says.

In order to investigate global patterns of seabird population data, the researchers assembled a global database of seabird population size records and applied multivariate autoregressive state-space (MARSS) modeling to estimate the global path of all seabird populations with sufficient data. They obtained data from primary sources including journal articles, books, and unpublished reports.

Several human activities are known to threaten seabird populations, including entanglement in fishing gear, overfishing of food sources, climate change, pollution, disturbance, direct exploitation, development, energy production, and introduced species. Seabird populations are strongly affected by threats to marine and coastal ecosystems, and can indicate  the status of marine ecosystem health.

“Knowing this information helps us to measure and assess the overall effect that human activities and threats have had on seabirds and marine ecosystems over time,” Paleczny explains.

You can read the full report here

Recreational fishing accounts for half of all fish caught in The Bahamas

By: The PEW Charitable Trusts

Tourist fishing is big business in The Bahamas, but exactly how big was not known until now.

Scientists with the Sea Around Us— a scientific initiative at the University of British Columbia supported by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts—conducted a catch reconstruction, reviewing a range of data sources to estimate unreported catch. They found that recreational anglers landed about 8,000 metric tons a year over the past 60 years—approximately half of all fish caught in the country. This more accurate estimate may allow the government to better protect the local food supply.

“We depend heavily on tourism, but it can be a double-edged sword,” says Nicola Smith, a marine ecologist from Nassau and a doctoral candidate at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “You could get into serious ethical issues if the majority of the natural resource needed for sustenance is diverted for tourism and not being closely monitored.”

In The Bahamas, no one is keeping regular count of all the fish that tourists catch at sea or eat in restaurants. The government tracks only large-scale commercial catch, a common practice in many countries because commercial fishing is often considered more important to the local and national economies and because small-scale operations can be difficult to monitor. This limitation largely excludes categories such as artisanal, recreational, subsistence, and illegal fishing, as well as discards—fish that are caught and thrown away—and masks the true extent of fishing worldwide.

“The government is not systematically counting any of it, despite its importance for tourism,” Smith says. “The legislation to monitor and regulate recreational fishing has lagged behind the advertising.”

As the lead author of the Sea Around Us study, co-authored by Dirk Zeller of UBC, Smith is looking at the bigger picture. Her analysis worked to “reconstruct” the catch by all fisheries sectors in The Bahamas from 1950 through 2010 as part of a global project focused on identifying total fish catch, including previously uncounted data from many countries and spanning several decades.

Catch reconstruction is based on the idea that some catch information exists outside official fishery statistics and that it can be pulled together to produce a more complete picture of the catch. In the case of The Bahamas, Smith estimated catch by subsistence fishers using population data and a conservative assumption of per-capita consumption. She estimated how much fish the tourists were landing by combining catch limits with data from government tourism surveys.

Another category of catch proved especially difficult to estimate: small-scale commercial fishing. Fishermen in this sector sell much of their catch directly to restaurants rather than to processing plants, which are monitored by the government. Smith interviewed fishers and hotel purchasing managers and found that it was common for artisanal fishers to moor at a dock to sell fish directly to a hotel restaurant. It remains unclear what proportion of the country’s entire catch can be attributed to this practice. For this study, the researchers conducted a survey to estimate per-visitor fish consumption, then calculated total catch using hotel room occupancy data.

What’s the catch?

The reconstruction showed that the total catch in the past six decades was about 885,000 metric tons, more than double the official estimate of 321,000 metric tons. The research also produced more detailed estimates of catch for artisanal, recreational, and subsistence fishing (see details in this PDF) .


This information could be useful for managers as they monitor the country’s fisheries and try to ensure that tourists and residents have fish to eat. More results from catch reconstruction, including global catch estimates, will be available later in 2015.

New data on reported and unreported marine catches now available online

Researchers with UBC’s Sea Around Us project have launched a new web platform at www.seaaroundus.org that provides the first comprehensive coverage of both reported and unreported fish caught by every country in the world.

It reveals that official catch reports considerably underestimate actual catches around the world. For example, researchers found there was considerable unreported foreign fishing between 1950 and the early 1970s on Canada’s East coast. In fact, more than half of fish caught were unreported at one point. Much of this ‘catch’ consisted of so-called discards.

UBC professor Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller plan to publish a global estimate of fisheries catch in a peer-reviewed paper.

“The new Sea Around Us data have significant global scope and are long awaited by many groups worldwide,” said Zeller, senior researcher and project manager for Sea Around Us. “Accurate estimates are important for policy makers and fisheries managers to make economical and sustainable decisions about our fishing policies and fisheries management.”

The new data combine estimates of unreported catches — determined through extensive literature searches, consultation with local experts, and calculation of discarded fish — with officially reported data for small and large-scale fisheries for every country. The data emerged from a decade-long catch reconstruction project.

“We know these data will have major global impacts and now they are accessible in a visual, simplified and comprehensive way,” Pauly said.

Accurate catch data provide important insights into fisheries, fish populations and underlying ecosystems, and such data can have economic impacts.

The Sea Around Us is currently funded by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. This is the first time the project has released new data in over five years. It can be accessed at www.seaaroundus.org


About UBC’S Sea Around Us
The Sea Around Us was initiated in 1999, and aims to provide integrated analyses of the impacts of fisheries on marine ecosystems, and to devise policies that can mitigate and reverse harmful trends while ensuring the social and economic benefits of sustainable fisheries. Sea Around Us has assembled global databases of catches, distributions of fished marine species, countries’ fishing access agreements, ex-vessel prices, marine protected areas and other data – all available online.

Sea Around Us is a long-standing collaboration between the University of British
Columbia and The Pew Charitable Trusts, and since 2014 is supported by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

About The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation
Founded in 1988, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is dedicated to transforming lives and strengthening communities by fostering innovation, creating knowledge and promoting social progress. The Sea Around Us program is another example of how the Foundation supports the use data and technology to inform conservation priorities and actions.

View this press release on UBC News here

Daniel Pauly wins prestigious Peter Benchley Ocean Award


The Sea Around Us’ principal investigator Daniel Pauly is a winner of the prestigious Peter Benchley Ocean Award for “Excellence in Science.”

Pauly accepted the award on May 14 at the eighth annual awards ceremony at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington D.C.

The awards team noted Pauly has become a world leader in identifying overfishing as a threat to marine ecosystems and global food security — and that he’s an outspoken advocate for taking corrective action.

“Since I am a marine biologist and fisheries scientist, this means that throughout my career, I have tried to create concepts, models, software and databases that enable colleagues to do their work more effectively,” Pauly said in his acceptance speech.

The Peter Benchley Ocean Awards acknowledge outstanding achievement, and the only major awards program dedicated to recognizing excellence in marine conservation solutions across a wide range of sectors.

Other winners this year included The Economist, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Sea Around Us collaborates with West Africa on catch reconstructions

Senegal-Mbour picture2

Sea Around Us recently announced its collaboration with West African countries on catch reconstructions through the West African Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Partnership (PRCM).

Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of the Sea Around Us, said his team is keen to work with stakeholders in the coastal zone in the order to ensure catch reconstruction data is accurate.

“We want to ensure our data reflects reality,” Pauly said. “In order for this to be successful, there needs to be a joint effort with all stakeholders.”

Other reasons behind the collaboration are to help formulate policies, to assist in the design of fisheries data acquisition schemes that can be implemented locally, and to facilitate research partnerships.

For more information click here


Daniel Pauly talks to Juliet Eilperin about the future of oceans and fisheries

Daniel Pauly talking to Juliet Eilperin in Washington, D.C.

Daniel Pauly and Juliet Eilperin in Washington, D.C.

On December 15, in Washington D.C., The Pew Charitable Trusts hosted a conversation between Sea Around Us’ Daniel Pauly and Juliet Eilperin, a White House correspondent for The Washington Post. The event marked a 15-year partnership between Pew and Sea Around Us.

Before her role as White House correspondent, Eilperin spent eight years as the national reporter for environmental science, policy and politics. At the event, she talked to Pauly about his research, and his contributions to science, and his critical approach to the exploitation of fisheries across the globe.

After his conversation with Eilperin, Pauly took questions from audience members about academic fisheries research, aquaculture and warming oceans.

If you missed the event, you can watch a the full video here

Sea Around Us, Oceana organize workshop for the National Symposium of Fisheries

Sea Around Us and Oceana have organized a workshop on Philippine fisheries as part of the National Symposium of Fisheries. The workshop will be held at the Luxent Hotel, Quezon City, Philippines on November 4-5.

The workshop will acquaint Philippine fisheries practitioners with the catch reconstruction work (Palomares and Pauly 2014) recently published as a Fisheries Centre Research Report at the University of British Columbia.

One of the primary objectives of the workshop is to provide practitioners with alternative terminology — including industrial fisheries, artisanal fisheries, subsistence fisheries and recreational fisheries — to help clarify current issues within the Philippine’s marine fisheries.

This session will also involve brainstorming exercises to inspire a re-thinking of data collection methods and create a preliminary work plan to implement these methods.

“We would like to be able to inspire a re-thinking of the Philippine fisheries catch statistics collection system, which has not been improved on since it was put in place in the 1960s,” said Maria Palomares, a senior research fellow at Sea Around Us. “We hope that the workshop will provide enough evidence that such a re-thinking is necessary to establish a solid and implementable catch statistics collection system.”

The workshop will also help introduce Philippine fisheries practitioners with Oceana, who have recently set up an office in the Philippines.

For more information on the symposium, visit http://bit.ly/1pbfm4M.


Sea Around Us heads to Philippines for National Symposium of Fisheries

On November 3, experts from the Philippines, Oceana and the Sea Around Us will gather in Quezon City, Philippines to attend the National Symposium on Fisheries organized by Oceana-Philippines.

Sea Around Us Professor Daniel Pauly will give the keynote address on the global reconstruction work the Sea Around Us has conducted, with particular emphasis on how this was done for the Phillippines. The Sea Around Us team will then present the challenges posed and the opportunities created as a result of this reconstruction study on Philippine marine capture fisheries.

The symposium aims to gather the perspectives from select stakeholders in the fisheries sector, the justice system, academics, non-governmental organizations and members of the business community. This is an inaugural activity for the organizer, Oceana-Philippines, which was established by Oceana early this year.

Over the course of two days, there will be panel discussions and open forums.  Topics discussed will include the state of fisheries, challenges, impacts, reform proposals and discussions on best practices in sustainable fisheries governance and law enforcement.

For more information on the symposium, visit http://bit.ly/1pbfm4M.


Sea Around US receives $2.6 million grant from The Paul G. Allen Foundation to improve data on world fisheries


The University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project has received $2.6 million (U.S.) from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to provide African and Asian countries with more accurate and comprehensive fisheries data to help them better analyze and support their ocean resources and local economies.

“This generous support will help UBC fisheries researchers work with countries to better understand the industry’s impact on marine ecosystems and its social and economic benefits,” UBC President Arvind Gupta said. “The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is giving our researchers an exceptional opportunity to work with global communities.”

The project, led by UBC Fisheries Centre Professors Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller, will provide comprehensive catch data and data collection methods to policy-makers and nongovernmental organizations working with countries in West Africa, East Africa, the Arab world and South Asia.

Researchers will help countries use this data to address national policies related to four main problem areas:

  • Increased public transparency of access agreements for foreign vessels to fish in a country’s waters;
  • Improving inadequate methods for recording or estimating fish catches;
  • Improving poor policy and management environments for local small-scale fisheries; and
  • Illegal fishing by foreign fleets.

“This project is significant for the global fisheries community,” Pauly said. “The data collected will help governments make informed national policy decisions by balancing economic growth with resource preservation.”

Sea Around Us started this project June 1, 2014, and it will run to June 1, 2016. The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s funding will also support FishBase, the Philippines-based research partner of Sea Around Us, which aims to create the largest and most extensively accessed online database about fishes on the web. 

You can read the full press release here

Study finds fish catches in Panama vastly under-reported

New Sea Around Us research estimates Panama’s total fish catches were vastly under-reported — by almost 40 per cent — between 1950 and 2010.

The recent study, led by Sea Around Us’ Sarah Harper and co-authored by Kyrstn Zylich, Dirk Zeller and  Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Héctor Guzmán, was published in Marine Fisheries Review’s most recent issue.


Panamanian artisanal fisher cleaning his daily catch

The research not only found a high number of fish — including tuna, shellfish and shark — taken from Panama’s waters was unaccounted for, but it also revealed data deficiencies.

“Fisheries catch data collection, as is the case in many countries, focus mainly on large-scale operations and the commercial sector under the assumption that small-scale fisheries are insignificant,” Harper said. “This catch reconstruction highlights the substantial under-reporting of small-scale catches.”

Other major components missing from official Panamanian data include discarded bycatch, which is often overlooked but can be considerable, according to Harper. Poor fisheries monitoring, data collection and lack of human resources to spot errors also contribute to data deficiencies.

Accurate catch accounts are important to the national economy, especially in Panama, where fish like lobster and shrimp are major exports.

“Given the important economic and food security contributions of Panama’s fisheries, efforts must be made by fisheries governing bodies to improve catch data collection and reporting,” Harper said.


12th annual FishBase symposium comes to UBC


The 12th annual FishBase symposium, organized by the FishBase Consortium’s Vice Chair, will be held in Vancouver at the Beaty Auditorium at the University of British Columbia September 8, 2014.

The symposium is a joint event between the Sea Around Us, the Beaty Museum and the Fishbase Information and Research Group based in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. It’s being held in tandem with the FishBase Consortium Annual Meeting with support from the French Consulate in Vancouver.

This year’s symposium is titled: Big Old Data and Shiny New Insights: Using FishBase for Research, which reflects the theme of the event.

“The symposium is really about putting the value where its worth and telling people that hey, FishBase is used in research, and therefore merits continued support,” said Dr. Maria Lourdes D. Palomares, the Consortium’s vice-chair and Sea Around Us senior researcher.

Invited speakers, who consist of FishBase users, collaborators or educators, will talk about the importance of FishBase in big data research meta-analyses.

“We are extracting new knowledge, some of which were instrumental in shifting paradigms in the fish biology and fisheries world, out of this huge accumulation of data,” Palomares said.

FishBase is an online information system on all fishes in the world that has been active for 25 years.  For more information on the symposium, its schedule and speakers, visit the Facebook page, the event page or the eventbrite page

Discussing catch reconstructions in Senegal

Senegalese prime minister opening the Forum

The Prime Minister of Senegal opening the Forum of the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa (©PRCM)

By Dyhia Belhabib 

If I had to summarize my previous journeys in Senegal in one word, I would certainly use ‘denial’ for the first trip, ‘hope’ for the second, but many words for my last visit to Dakar last November when Dr. Daniel Pauly and I represented the Sea Around Us Project at the Forum of the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa (Programme Régional de Conservation de la zone côtière et Marine; PRCM). The description of the Forum that can be found on the PRCM website underlines the importance of this event (www.forumprcm.org).

The theme of the Forum was ‘Investing in coastal and marine conservation for the wellbeing of populations’, and as suggested, its goal was to put forward ideas about the use of nature with a view to improve the wellbeing of people relying on it. Many different stakeholders were present (e.g., NGOs, professional fishers, scientists, decision-makers) and were eager to discuss sustainability and conservation.

I was delighted to meet again our collaborators and colleagues from Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, as well as from the Fishery Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC) countries, notably Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. On a lighter note, a young man from Tanzania presented his journey as he biked from Chile to Tanzania, raising awareness about the environment and funds for Tanzanian students along the way. He also reminded me that I am not the only person in this world who needs a visa to go to conferences and talk about issues and potential solutions for a sustainable use of the ocean. After all, if fish needed a visa, the issue of illegal fishing would not be that bad. Illegal fishing was actually one of the topics of the Forum, and our colleague Duncan Copeland talked about how to implement efficient, non-expensive solutions to tackle illegal fishing. While some Mauritanian representatives claimed that illegal fishing was no longer as significant as it was in the past, a representative from Guinea-Bissau stated that the coastal waters of “Bissau looked like Hong Kong at night”, referring to the lights of the industrial fishing boats illegally venturing into artisanal fishing grounds at night. Afterwards, I was not able to make up my mind between ‘content’ — as ‘admitting’ is the first step towards ‘healing’ — or ‘sadness’ — as the issue of illegal fishing is now so important, that being politically correct is no longer an option.

The presence of journalists made for a great opportunity for the Sea Around Us Project to share our knowledge of West African fisheries with the public, and to emphasize the implications of our catch reconstruction work. For example, I had the opportunity to clarify some points such as “women’s catches are not substantial, therefore, it is not an important activity”. Indeed, one can argue that if this activity allows women to be financially independent and provide their households with food, then, it is of paramount importance, regardless of the volume of the catch (especially if vulnerable species are targeted).

At the end of the day, the Forum was a very productive experience for the Sea Around Us Project, as NGOs, research institutes, and regional organizations were eager to use and work with the catch reconstruction results. Indeed, they all agreed that looking at the impact of local small-scale fisheries, filling data gaps, and contributing to capacity building in the region is an important process. For example, we discussed catch reconstructions with representatives from Morocco (who were keen to work with us) and from the FCWC region (with whom we recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding), as well as with traditional community representatives such as the Imraguen, who constantly remind us of the reasons why we are fighting to save our oceans.

After the Forum, Daniel and I had the honour of having an informal lunch with his Excellency the Minister of Fisheries of Senegal, Haïdar El Ali, who informed us of his decision to invite the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to act in Senegal. It was pleasant to have a conversation with him as he seemed to be a person who is deeply driven by conservation. As we came back from Dakar, we also learned that Senegal had just arrested illegal Russian fishers despite diplomatic pressure from Russia. This action was backed by numbers the Sea Around Us Project estimated with colleagues from USAID and many other Senegalese organizations.


Breaking ground on illegal fishing in Senegal


Photo credit: Dyhia Belhabib


One of our PhD students Dyhia Belhabib headed a study that revealed catch numbers in Senegal have been misreported largely due to high levels of illegal fishing.

Belhabib’s research —a joint project with Sea Around Us and US Agency for International Development— found that the number of industrial catches is vastly underestimated.  She worked with the DPM, World Wildlife Fund and data from the U.S. Navy, in the study that began in March 2012. It was published earlier this month.

In effect, the study has increased Senegal’s awareness of illegal fishing vessels. Earlier this month, they arrested members of an illegal Russian vessel for fishing in Senegalese waters.

Belhabib’s report stated that official reports and fishers’ accounts document the presence of illegal vessels—which are thought to be a major cause of problems for Senegalese artisanal fisheries.

Belhabib noted that artisanal fisheries have increased in both time and space.

“They go out more often and travel further away,” she said.  “It’s been undetected for years.”

Senegalese artisanal fishing numbers have been reported at 80 per cent, but Belhabib’s research discovered the numbers are closer to half artisanal fishing and half industrial.

She stressed the importance of the findings, as they’ll help fishery decision-makers make more informed policy choices.

“These findings can help solve the problems of over-capacity in Senegalese waters,” she said.


You can read more about the study here:


See press on illegal fishing in Senegal here: 



Ensuring better fisheries management in West Africa

This week, the Sea Around Us Project’s Principal Investigator, Daniel Pauly, and one of our PhD students, Dyhia Belhabib, attended the Regional Marine and Coastal Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, where representatives from eight West African countries gathered to discuss the status of fisheries in the region and their future. Their goal was to engage the countries in tackling unreported fishing.

By working with researchers at the Sea Around Us Project to assess their fisheries from 1950 to 2010, these countries have identified the extent of unreported fishing in their waters – which is often as much as double what is officially reported.

“Fishing operations in West Africa have been catching much more than anyone previously realised and reported,” says Dyhia Belhabib. “The research we are conducting in partnership with West African countries gives them the first complete historical picture of their fisheries.”

In response, some countries in the region have started to take steps to address the gaps and improve fisheries management. In Senegal, the government has developed a fisheries commission and signed an agreement to improve the current reporting and management of its fisheries.

“This joint research is shedding new light on the true extent of past fishing in West Africa,” says Daniel Pauly. “Our hope is that these countries will now adopt the results and use them to contribute to better fisheries management in the future.”

You can read the complete press release in English and French here.

Eating Bluefin

Tuna keychains are prizes in Tokyo’s version of the claw crane game; fresh or flash-frozen varieties available (© Laurenne Schiller )

Tuna keychains are prizes in Tokyo’s version of the claw crane game; fresh or flash-frozen varieties available (© Laurenne Schiller )

by Laurenne Schiller

Typically, when I start writing about the situation regarding the decline of bluefin tuna [1] — which has been primarily driven by demand from the Japanese sashimi market since the late 1970s — my go-to introductory sentences include the words “luxury”, “expensive”, and “wealthy consumer”.  The use of this terminology stemmed from a personal belief that bluefin was part of the upper echelon of gastronomic extravagance: the marine equivalent to a Kobe steak or Périgord truffles. Thus, you can imagine my complete surprise when I was in Tokyo this past month and saw it on the menu of every seafood restaurant in which I ate, or passed on the street. Literally, every single one — from 49th floor fine dining establishments, to curbside take-out lunch stands. I honestly could not believe that this fish was still so ubiquitous and, in many cases, inexpensive, when there is so much international pressure to reduce catches and allow for populations to recover.

Bluefin intrinsically holds a special place in my heart; it was the fish that made me decide to go into the field of fisheries science. And so, for me, the thought of eating it would be akin to how some people would feel about eating dog, or horse, or koala. Still, in going to Japan, I promised my travel companion that I would try everything. This decision was also based on one of my fundamental beliefs that in order to have an opinion (good or bad) on anything, it is important to have experienced it first-hand, and not simply judge based on hearsay or emotion. Still, I know that some may say that a fisheries scientist eating one of the most overfished species in the world could be considered hypocritical, so I will address that thought in a minute.

At any rate, we were less than two days into our travels in Japan when I had to live up to my word. Midway through a ten-course culinary extravaganza at a ryokan [2]  in Hakone, I found myself staring at a small plate of beautifully arranged sashimi. I knew right away that two of the three pieces were bluefin. Although it might sound silly to some, it actually took me a while to get the nerve up to even poke at it with my chopsticks. All I could think about was when I had visited the world-class aquarium in Monterey Bay and seen these pelagic fish up close and personal for the first time. People sometimes wonder if fish can feel and perceive their surroundings; I guarantee that anyone who has ever looked a bluefin in the eye will know the answer to that question. However, I did my best to put sentimentality aside and kept true to my promise. And honestly, it was the most delicious fish I have ever eaten.

Tuna are everywhere in Japan. And I don’t just mean fresh tuna, but tuna culture. There are tuna mascots, tuna murals, tuna t-shirts, and keychains, and stickers, the list goes on.  They even have those rip-off mechanical claw vending machines with tuna toys for prizes. It quickly became obvious that tuna is so much more than just a fish — it is a key component of modern Japan’s cultural identity. And bluefin is the most iconic of all. However, as mentioned above, populations of this species continue to be rapidly overexploited with no serious conservation or fishing targets in place. So, in addition to attending a joint symposium on current ocean issues, the other purpose of my trip to Japan was to serve as a rapporteur among a small group of fisheries scientists. Although the agenda was quite unstructured, the overall aim of our gathering was to discuss current and potential management strategies for Pacific bluefin tuna.

Alas, my revolutionized view of Japanese tuna culture combined with a trip to the morning bluefin auction at Tsukiji Market, and four days of intense discussion on all matters scientific, economic, and political, has made me realize that this is a far more complicated issue than simply setting quotas or raising consumer awareness. Perhaps unlike any other wild biological field, fisheries science is unique in that the wellbeing of the studied organisms has a direct connection to the wellbeing of humanity at large. While my friends have asked me why I want to save the fish, this is not a complete representation of why I do what I do. I don’t just want to “save the fish”. Personally, yes, I do think that bluefin are much more beautiful in the wild than on a plate, but I understand that I am in the minority on this matter. So, ultimately, my goal as a fisheries scientist is to ensure they can survive sustainably into the future as both a vital component of their natural marine ecosystem and also as food for those who enjoy them in that manner.

Which brings me back to my aforementioned point on hypocrisy. In addition to the overarching goal of finding a sustainable fishing solution for bluefin, I study these fish with the hope of being able to provide accurate information to the public so that they may make informed decisions about what they choose to eat. I do not think it is about telling others what to do, but rather about making sure people are aware that there is an ecological cost to everything we do in life; I understand that in going to Japan to (hopefully) do some good for tuna and tuna fishers, I substantially increased my carbon footprint as a result of the flights it took to get there. Ultimately, however, it is important to decide how to act based on all available information. With regard to eating bluefin, I was completely aware of the ecological impact of my decision. And, for me, the cost to long-term sustainability outweighs however much I enjoyed its taste. So, while I can now understand why people love to eat it, I will refrain from doing so again.


[1]  There are three species of bluefin tuna, each residing in a separate part of the world. However, all of these species have undergone dramatic stock depletions since commercial fishing began.

[2]  Traditional Japanese inn.


Daniel Pauly recognised for his scientific contributions

Daniel PaulyThe Sea Around Us Project’s Principal Investigator, Daniel Pauly, has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is among three UBC researchers to be named this year.

New fellows will be recognized on 15 February 2014 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago.

For a complete list of this year’s fellows, see the AAAS news archives.

A press release is available here.

ELEFAN in (Daka)R


During June, Deng Palomares and Daniel Pauly spent a week teaching a newly updated version of the ELEFAN software at the Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the University Cheick Anta Diop of Dakar, Senegal. (Photo: Najih Lazar)

by M.L. ‘Deng’ Palomares and Daniel Pauly

The ELEFAN software and approach for the estimation of von Bertalanffy growth parameters from length-frequency data was developed at the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), in Manila, Philippines, in the early 1980s by Daniel Pauly and two programmers (Noel David and Felimon Gayanilo). It was disseminated in various versions throughout the world, especially in tropical countries, through a series of training courses during the 1980s and 1990s. It also formed the core of a comprehensive software package called FAO-ICLARM Stock Assessment Tools (FiSAT; [1], [2]), still available from the FAO.

Overall, about 5,500 papers based on the ELEFAN approach, as incorporated in FiSAT and its predecessors have been published in the past 30+ years (as identified by Google Scholar records with “ELEFAN” in the title or the body of the text). However, since its release, FiSAT has been updated only once (FiSAT II; [3]), and it has become outdated in content and form. Thus, the offer was accepted to collaborate with USAID’s COMFISH Project in Senegal to produce an updated version of ELEFAN and to test it in a training course in Dakar before releasing it for wider use as open-source software.

The bulk of the R coding was completed by Aaron Greenberg (with Mathieu Colléter also contributing a routine) just in time for a team consisting of Ted Hart (of UBC’s Biodiversity Research Centre), Danielle Knip and Deng Palomares (of the Sea Around Us Project) to create a stand-alone package copied on 25 USB sticks at the end of May.

Daniel Pauly and Deng Palomares then spent a week in an ELEFAN training course, held at the Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the University Cheick Anta Diop of Dakar, teaching the routines behind and the functioning of the ELEFAN package. The group of 25 Senegalese participants consisted of about one-half fisheries scientists and graduate students, and the other half of fisheries inspectors.

While the fisheries inspectors struggled somewhat with the relevance of growth and mortality estimations and clearly preferred Daniel’s lectures on fisheries and climate change issues, the students and scientists benefitted greatly from this training workshop and generated – with Deng’s help – results for sardinella (Sardinella aurita, S. maderensi), white grouper or thiof (Epinephelus aeneus), bonga (Ethmalosa fimbriata) and other species. The results – to our relief – were comparable to those obtained by a group of colleagues (also working for the COMFISH Project) through tedious reading of annual rings on bony structures. Indeed, in the case of octopus (where the cubic root of the weight was used instead of length), results were obtained which could not have been obtained though ageing of bony structures – octopi
have no bones…

Thus, overall, the personnel who had arranged the workshop, notably COMFISH Project Leader Chris Mathews and Najih Lazar, Technical Advisor, both of The University of Rhode Island, were as pleased as we were about both the knowledge that was passed on during the workshop and the performance of the trial version of ELEFAN in R. Obviously, a number of items were noted which require improvement, as well as a swarm of bugs, both of which are due to be fixed in the next two to three months. The high hopes that we have for this new release of ELEFAN in R appear justified.

Daniel used the opportunity of being in Senegal to visit the Département des Pêches Maritimes, where he briefed its Director, Mr. J.-P. Manel, and members of his senior staff on the results of the reconstruction of Senegalese marine catches led by Dyhia Belhabib, with support from the MAVA Foundation and co-authors from the COMFISH project (Ms. Vivianne Koutob), the DPM (Mr. Lamine Mbaye) and WWF-Senegal (Mr. Nassirou Gueye). It was very gratifying that our Senegalese partners acknowledged that they have catch-reporting problems, both with regards to substantial illegal fishing in Senegalese waters and unregulated fishing by Senegalese fishers in the waters of neighbouring countries. This acceptance of reality signifies a level of political maturity that is lacking in many other countries where officialdom prefers to stick its head in the sand.

Daniel also used the opportunity, shortly before leaving Dakar, to hold a press conference with a dozen Senegalese journalists to inform them of a recent study authored by Drs William Cheung, Reg Watson and himself, on global warming and fisheries, which implies a dire future for tropical fisheries. One of the workshop participants suggested to Daniel that the public should be “alerted, but not alarmed” by the trend that this paper describes and the implication for Senegalese fisheries. This point to alert people and not alarm them is an excellent formulation of our job as scientists, and luckily, the Senegalese journalists followed up on it. For those who speak French, you can verify that the Senegalese journalists got the point by reading this article published in Le Soleil Online (www.lesoleil.sn), as an example.

Daniel can also attest that Deng was a big success with the national dress that she was given by the participants (see picture, right)!

[1] Gayanilo FC, Sparre P and Pauly D (1996) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools (FiSAT). User’s guide. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. 126 p.
[2] Gayanilo FC and Pauly D (1997) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools: reference manual. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. x+262 p.
[3] Gayanilo FC, Sparre P and Pauly D (2005) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools II (FiSAT II). Revised version. User’s guide. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. vii+168 p.


Correction: This is an updated version of the original article, correcting erroneous affiliations.

Ambassador to West Africa

DSC03963by Dyhia Belhabib

“Our driftnets don’t produce discards.”
“We don’t have illegal fishing – it’s illegal.”
“Your methods are correct, but your results don’t make sense.”
“Don’t tell them we fish in their waters, they will deny us access.”

These were some of the amazing comments I heard during my short visit to seven West African countries earlier this year as part of the “Sea Around Us Project and PRCM: Marine Conservation Research, Collaboration and Support in West Africa.” (PRCM is the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa). During my trip, I met with fisheries experts, researchers, decision-makers, NGOs and industry representatives to ground-truth the catch reconstruction results for the different countries.

I landed in Dakar on 4 April and met with the USAID Collaborative Management of Sustainable Fisheries in Senegal (COMFISH) team early the next day. Going through the presentation of Christopher Mathews (director of USAID/COMFISH in Senegal) for the upcoming meetings, made me realize how sensitive the subject of catch reconstructions was, and how diplomatic I would need to be. I would have to choose my words wisely.

The morning of April 6th, the Senegal workshop began. Around 85 people showed up, notably, the Department of Fisheries (DPM), the Fisheries Research Institute (CRODT), WWF, industrial and artisanal fisheries representatives, the Department of Fisheries Monitoring and Surveillance (DPSP), the US Navy, the local university and women from the fish processing industry, as well as the media. The main goal of the workshop was to validate catch reconstruction results and identify potential collaborators under the project in West Africa. I remembered that in 2012, Senegal denied the existence of any illegal activities in its waters and under-reporting as well, so we had to show some examples to demonstrate that Senegal was not an exception. With Duncan Copeland, our coordinator in West Africa, we prepared a “why bother?” presentation where we brainstormed with the audience on illegal fishing and under-reporting.

The following day, I presented technical details and major results of the catch reconstruction, along with the first estimates of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Dougoutigui Koulibaly, the executive secretary of the Industrial Fisheries Association had a comment, and I was preparing myself to be really diplomatic and nice. He said: I couldn’t eat lunch; if your estimations are remotely correct – and according to the audience, they seem to make sense – we are in trouble and we need to act now. I thought that we had come a long way from last year’s sentiment of, “We don’t have illegal fishing – it’s illegal.” One of the recommendations resulting from the workshop that had to be sent to the minister of fisheries was to create a working group to validate the results by 15 May. Senegal was ready to move ahead, and the people from the administration showed a strong will to participate.

Our next stop: Nouadhibou, Mauritania. We landed in Nouakchott, the capital city, and drove across the stunning, sandy desert to Nouadhibou to meet with staff of IMROP, the Mauritanian Institute of Fisheries Research. The meeting, although very casual, took around four hours and we discussed every single point of the methods. The organiser had us meet with the Association of Artisanal Cephalopod Fishermen with whom I used some mixed academic-Algerian Arabic to make myself understood. I implanted keywords such as “domestic,” “industrial“ and “China” in their minds, waiting for them to blow up. It didn’t work that well, as the fishers told me they didn’t believe the fishing access agreement with China would be of any benefit or harm to them. The fact that China is building infrastructure in the ports probably helped them forget the negative impacts of overfishing. But they said they had noticed shrinking fish sizes, shrinking catches and shrinking prices. We met with the subsistence fishing community and asked about their fishing traditions so that we could consider this community in our reconstruction of fisheries history. While the representative of the national federation told us that they don’t have under-reporting anymore, and illegal fishing is rare, his colleague said they don’t know what is happening in their waters, and there is probably discarding and illegal fishing. Two very different versions; the most realistic one
was obvious.

On our way back to Nouakchott, we stopped for around 15 minutes at the beautiful National Park of the Banc D’arguin (PNBA). I couldn’t possibly go to West Africa without stopping at its most famous national park, where overfishing in the adjacent waters has severely depleted fisheries resources.

I managed to get to Monrovia by traveling from Mauritania through Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), then Accra (Ghana) before heading back towards Liberia. It was a ridiculous, 48 hour-long trip. I arrived in Monrovia, hardly looking like a human being, and about one hour later, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Bureau of National Fisheries (BNF). One-on-one meetings, it turned out, were the best choice for confirming or contradicting the information others could have given me. The SeaMen Workers Union, a group representing the benefits of workers in the fishing industry, talked about industrial discards and illegal Chinese pair trawling in Liberia. Coordinators and project managers talked about non-commercial fisheries, and the statistics division provided data on discards, transshipping and the real ownership of vessels. Liberia was one of the most challenging countries to reconstruct catches for, as information was scarce. Now it has been enriched by solid, if anecdotal, knowledge. Recently I also learned that after months of battling and collaboration with East African countries, Liberia has won a $2-million case against a Korean operator fishing illegally in its waters!

Crossing the border is always a pain in West Africa; however, the Liberia-Leonean border guards were surprisingly nice and welcoming. The beauty of the villages and the smiles of the children waving at us made the trip less painful and reduced the stress caused by our car breaking down in the middle of the bush. We finally made it to Freetown. The next day, we went to the Ministry of Fisheries, where I had the pleasure of meeting the deputy minister, and a while later, the minister himself. Thereafter we headed up to Guinea – the black hole of illegal fishing in Africa. Before even crossing the border, the friendly Sierra Leone immigration agents warned us: “They are hostiles.”

Indeed, I would add that the country is not only the black hole of illegal fishing, but of corruption, as it was present even in the lowest levels of society. Alkaly Dooumbouya, our collaborator from the fisheries research institute of Conakry (Centre National des Sciences halieutiques de Boussoura; CNSHB) organized a workshop inviting the department of surveillance, university representatives, the ministry of fisheries and the CNSHB. However, it was more appropriate to meet Mr Kaba, the representative of artisanal fisheries, before the workshop, to grasp a realistic picture of fisheries in Guinea. From Mr Kaba, we learned about the politics of fisheries in Guinea, and that the minister of fisheries himself had a fishing company whose vessels were often spotted off Sierra Leone! To tackle this conflict of interest, a new department of surveillance was created under the supervision of the Préfet maritime, an important figure who made himself available for a meeting after the workshop. I also had the pleasure of meeting with some of the legends of fisheries in West Africa, like Ibrahima Diallo, a Guinean fisheries scientist who worked on establishing time series for Guinean fisheries despite many technical and financial challenges. We discussed our research, and in general, people agreed with the methods and partial results, were shocked by the cumulative graphs, but finally accepted the overall outcomes.

After seven nights in Conakry, I was more than relieved to leave Guinea, just because of the perpetual harassment by police officers and immigration agents, some of whom were former mercenaries for Kaddafi.

I was happy finally to see the Bissau-Guinean flag. The immigration checkpoint was in a little village with a friendly imam checking passports. (It occurred to me that this might be an easy way in for drug dealers, as Guinea Bissau is coming to be known as the new Columbia of the world.) Once at the hotel, there was barely enough power for internet access, but we could contact our collaborators from the Bissau-Guinean ministry of fisheries and organise a meeting over Easter – a four-day holiday for 13% of the population that makes the entire nation happy. Meanwhile, we met with local experts from IUCN and discussed possible collaborations, especially on the topic of marine protected areas. We presented our results to Dr Victorino Nahada, the head of the fisheries department. He understood the basic concept and the rationale, as well as the data we used. He didn’t have any negative nor positive comments, but said politely that Guinea-Bissau doesn’t have an industrial fleet, they don’t land here and transhipping is illegal. Then we showed him our satellite pictures of a reefer (refrigerated container ship) operating consistently in Guinea-Bissau waters…

After a stop in The Gambia, I was getting ready to return to Vancouver where a lot of follow-up work was waiting for me. My journey in West Africa could be summarized as productive, intense, emotional and sometimes frustrating, but with a happy ending. I grew up during this intense one-month trip of workshop organisation, presentations and interviews, questioning and interrogations in seven countries of West Africa – amongst them some of the poorest countries in the world. I also learned how difficult it is to be a woman in the manly world of fisheries. I learned to be patient and diplomatic – an aspect of my character that I hadn’t known of myself before. I learned to interview people on very controversial topics and to gain their trust. I was particularly proud to get some of these countries out of their denial concerning illegal fisheries. By the end, I was deemed to be the Ambassador of the Sea Around Us Project in West Africa.

EU Common Fisheries Policy reform, from the inside

by Frédéric Le Manach

In 2009, the European Commission initiated the third reform of its Common Fisheries Policy. Although the basic principles of this new framework – which will stay in place for the next 10 years – were adopted in early February by the Parliament, the Commission is still regularly hearing experts on various topics. This process aims to propose specific amendments to this basic framework, before the final decision around June, once the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers reach a consensus (yes, this is a rather complex system). One of these hearings was held in Brussels on 19 February, and it focused on deep-sea fishing. Claire Nouvian invited me to attend, and although I was expecting a vivid debate, I was not expecting such vividness.

Claire Nouvian – a Pew Fellow, journalist, director/producer, director of BLOOM (www.bloomassociation.org), but principally woman of action – was one of eight experts heard by European Union (EU) members of parliament (MPs) during a special session on deep-sea fisheries. Other names in this group of experts included Tom Blasdale, chair of the ICES Working Group on the Biology and Assessment of Deep-Sea Fisheries Resources (WGDEEP); Phil Weaver from the UK’s National Oceanography Centre; Pascal Lorance from the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer); and Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. I will not go into much detail about these seven talks. To put it in a clamshell, everybody sort of agreed that deep-sea trawling is harmful to many long-lived species (such as fish, sponges and corals) and fragile ecosystems, and that we know very little about them (there are analytical assessments for only three species, and footage is very rarely available).

Claire introduced the French deep-sea fishery, and the bottom-line of her talk was that despite rather important subsidies, the three companies involved in French deep-sea fishing are all in deficit! The example of Scapêche, which takes between 60 and 86% of the total French deep-sea catch, is staggering: between 2002 and 2011 it received €9.34 million from the state, plus an additional €16.9 million cash-injection from Intermarché, the supermarket chain to which it belongs [1]. (If you are looking for a definition of vertically integrated systems, here you go.) Yet during this 2002-2011 exercise, it had €0.1 million of cumulated net losses after tax. A French MP, co-chair of the fisheries committee, then said something along these lines: “Are you saying that such companies are philanthropic? That they give away money to something that is not worth it? I don’t buy it!”

That was it. At this point the extremely politically correct way of telling white lies or saying nothing too controversial was abandoned for a much spicier and polarized argument. A couple of MPs started to shout, accusing each other of being blind or deaf. Others tried to be more constructive, as one British MP and another French MP said that we should start inquiring upon the use of EU citizens’ money, and further refuted the co-chair’s argument that because some fishers were relying on this fishery, we should maintain it despite a high risk of collapse for most stocks.

Then, we ran out of time. Big surprise. My personal feeling is that this hearing was designed to restrict the debate. Controversial topics were kept for the end, whereas they should have been at the forefront. As a result, I am actually quite confused about the outcome of this meeting. Of course, its aim was not to make decisions, but rather to propose amendments to the Common Fisheries Policy proposal that is currently being reformed. However, I cannot guess what these amendments will be. Some MPs are definitely pro deep-sea fishing, others are firmly against it, but a number of them remain undecided and they will likely base their vote on who shouts the loudest. (Please remember that empty vessels make the most noise.)

Isabella Lövin, Swedish MP and author of the must-read book Silent Seas, managed to get the deadline for these amendments postponed to mid-March. I will follow-up with a report on the progress.

You can listen to the entire meeting at:

[1] http://www.bloomassociation.org/download/Accounts_Scapeche_Eng.pdf

A journey to South America

A fishing boat at Taganga, a village in Colombia. (Photo: Robin Ramdeen)

by Robin Ramdeen

In the first week of November 2012, the 65th Annual Conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) took place in Santa Marta, Colombia. GCFI facilitates the exchange of experiences and ideas in fisheries science, management, governance, conservation and education. The conference was a testament to the region’s commitment to the stewardship of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and the marine resources therein. The Caribbean Sea is a special place for me, because I grew up in Trinidad and because I discovered my niche in Caribbean fisheries while doing my Master’s thesis on the fishing of queen conch in Tobago. The theme of this year’s conference was “Artisanal fisheries: importance, implications and challenges for management,” a topic which is familiar to many of us. Artisanal fishing is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as fishing carried out by individuals or households requiring low investment in technology and gear. By this measure, the majority of Caribbean fisheries operations are artisanal or small-scale.

The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr Ratana Chuenpagdee, who is no stranger to the Sea Around Us Project. Dr Chuenpagdee completed her PhD under Dr Daniel Pauly’s supervision in 1998 and is now the Canada Research Chair in Natural Resource Sustainability and Community Development at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s. She urged the GCFI conference participants to consider ways to elevate the profile of small-scale fisheries, which – in terms of providing employment for fishers and catches for human consumption – are simply “too big to ignore” [1]. Dr Chuenpagdee is a powerhouse, and I was eager to chat with her at a socio-economic café where I got the opportunity to ask whether we erroneously mislabel our fisheries as small.

In terms of technological capacity, small-scale fisheries are certainly “small” compared to industrial ventures, but they are rather large in terms of the employment they provide for fishers as well as the quantity of catch they supply for human consumption [2]. Undoubtedly, the dearth of quantitative catch data associated with small-scale fishing sectors perpetuates this false notion of their size. As Dr Pauly plainly states in his foreword to the book “World small-scale fisheries: contemporary visions” (edited by Dr. Chuenpagdee), “countries cannot be bothered with the logistical and administrative nightmare that monitoring and reporting on small-scale fisheries often represents” [3]. As a native of the Caribbean and a research assistant with the Sea Around Us Project, I feel it to be my duty to reconstruct this historical fisheries information.

During my presentation at the conference, I explained how using information on catch, effort and seafood demand (i.e., consumption, as per household surveys) allowed me and my colleagues to reconstruct total marine fisheries catches for 10 Caribbean island countries from 1950 to 2010. Unsurprisingly, these catch reconstructions illustrated a substantial level of under-reporting in the Caribbean. For example, the reconstructed catches of Haiti and Jamaica were 3 and 4.3 times higher, respectively, than catches reported by these countries to the FAO, where the data become part of the world “catch” database. Overall, approximately 5 million tonnes of unreported catches were estimated for these 10 Caribbean countries during the 60-year period that we examined, with an average of 54,000 tonnes of unreported catches each year. The main discrepancy was due to unreported and under-reported catches from the artisanal, subsistence and recreational sectors. However, reporting seems to be improving as unreported catches in the early time period accounted for 80% of reconstructed catches, as opposed to 50% in the present time period.

The presentation was well-received and I had a number of scientists and fishers as well as an anthropologist interested in learning more about the Sea Around Us Project. Despite the English-Spanish language barrier, the GCFI spirit demonstrated that we are just one planet, working together for our precious oceans – questioning, sharing and improving things.

[1] “Too big to ignore” is a research network and knowledge mobilization partnership which aims to address the issues and challenges facing small-scale fisheries; http://toobigtoignore.net/
[2] Jacquet J and Pauly D (2008) Funding priorities: big barriers to small-scale fisheries. Conservation Biology 22(4): 832-835.
[3] Chuenpagdee R, editor (2011) World small-scale fisheries: contemporary visions. Eburon, Delft. 400 p.

Down at the World Ocean’s Summit

by Daniel Pauly

The British magazine The Economist hosted a huge “World Ocean Summit” in Singapore earlier this year, designed to find solutions to the ills that beset our oceans. And more precisely, to identify remedies that entrepreneurs could find ways to invest and profit from. It sounded like a reasonable goal, because we tend to live in democratic countries with market economies shaped by private enterprise, so I accepted their invitation. The head of the World Bank attended, as well as ministers from various countries, CEOs of big fishing companies, heads of international environmental NGOs, hedge fund managers, scientists…

It should have worked, but it didn’t really, despite the beautiful resort where the event took place and the flawless organization. I think it was because – mostly subtly, sometimes not so subtly – our very determined hosts, from the Editor-in-Chief to the lowliest of The Economist staffers, were pushing for “market solutions,” insisting that the remedies we identified had to make money for hedge fund managers and other investors.

It sounded all right at first – but how would this work if a health care system, for example, wasdesigned this way? Wouldn’t it leave too many people untreated, because no money can be made off them? Also, are fisheries not a gigantic example of a “market failure,” as economists call the mess we are in? (Although it is a small mess compared with that of our banking system.) But there was no space at the summit to discuss any of these things, and the complementary roles of governments and civil society. Everything that moves had to be turned into a commodity, and even some things that don’t move, like marine protected areas, which were identified as one of the places for profitable investments.

Thus my disappointment and perhaps that of Fisheries Centre Director Dr Rashid Sumaila too, who also attended. I did have the opportunity to address one of the summit’s working groups where I mentioned that the invitation of The Economist, besides being a compliment, also was a challenge, because I am often accused of spreading gloom and doom, in spite of being neither gloomy nor doomy.

The point is that a doctor – and I am one, if not of medicine – must correctly diagnose the disease at hand before being able to propose solutions leading back to health. The disease of industrial fisheries, I suggested, is “expansionitis” and it is caused largely by demand for fish in rich countries. Indeed, industrial fisheries have gone so far that we’re expanding into the world’s oceans at a rate of 1 million km2 and southward by 0.8° of latitude per year. Expansionitis is feeding essentially insatiable markets in Europe, North America and Northeast Asia, from finite fishing grounds in Africa, Latin America and Tropical Asia. Japan and the US import 60% to 70% of their food, the EU 70% to 80%. Industrial fishing is not about feeding the world’s poor.

Then, because we we re supposed to emphasize remedies, I listed those remedies for expansionitis about which there is
widespread agreement:
• Reduce and eventually abolish subsidies to fisheries – they are what feeds expansionitis;
• Rebuild fish stocks in developed countries, so that they need not grab so much of the developing countries’ fish, and export the lessons learned to the developing world;
• Allow developing countries to catch and process their own fish, and export a part of the value-added products to the developed world;
• Create arrangements providing exclusive access (to coastal resources in both developing and developed countries) to small-scale fisheries, which catch far more than industrial fisheries and could catch even more if not exposed to competition from industrial vessels;
• Reduce and eventually ban discards (Norway does it) and consume small fish directly, rather than turning them into fishmeal.
There is a huge reserve there.

But let’s face it: these remedies (all “market solutions,” incidentally) if implemented, would be the result of mostly public policy, which then would benefit the fishing industry in the long-term. In the short term, however, these remedies will be fought against tooth and nail by our friends from the private sector, that is those The Economist wants us not only to work with (which is a good thing), but to put in the driver’s seat. These are the reasons why I felt down at the Ocean Summit.

From the Front Lines of the 2012 AAAS Meeting

This post was written by by Claire Hornby, Sarah Harper, Robin Ramdeen, Dyhia Belhabib, Frédéric Le Manach and Aylin Ulman and appeared in the newsletter.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held its 178th Annual Meeting in Vancouver from February 16-20, 2012. The theme of this year’s conference was “Flattening the world: building a global knowledge society”. Sea Around Us Project members were among the 8,000 attendees, participating and presenting in numerous symposium sessions and volunteering at the Project’s booth in the exhibition hall. Additional notable sessions were presented by other members of the Fisheries Centre.

Highlights from the conference included a symposium titled “Underreported yet overoptimistic: fisheries catch reconstructions and food security”, organized by Sea Around Us Project members Dr Dirk Zeller and Sarah Harper. Dirk gave an informative presentation outlining the methods used in reconstructing countries’ fisheries catches, while Frédéric Le Manach expanded on the importance of this task for tackling issues of human rights and ethics. Frédéric explained that fishing access agreements between the European Union and host countries, citing the example of Madagascar, are perpetuating socio-economic inequalities between most and least-developed countries. The catch reconstruction work for Madagascar made the first step toward revealing some of these inequalities, which suggest that fishing access agreements need to be revised to be more ethical.

In the final part of the session, Nicola Smith, a graduate of the University of British Columbia now working in the Caribbean, described her reconstruction of the catches of the Bahamas. She found that recreational fisheries catches, which account for a large
proportion of the country’s total catches, are entirely missing from official statistics. As is the case for much of the Caribbean, the economy of the Bahamas is dominated by tourism – visitors want to fish and eat seafood as part of their holiday experience. This places intense demand on the local marine environment. The take-home message of this symposium was that proper accounting of all fisheries sectors is a key component of managing fisheries resources in both a sustainable and ethical manner. The examples that Dirk, Frédéric and Nicola presented are just a handful of the 150 or so countries that will be reconstructed by the end of this year. There will definitely be many more interesting stories to tell once the reconstruction of catches for all fishing countries is complete!

Another successful symposium was “Whole-ocean economics” organized by Dr Rashid Sumaila. He revealed the newly developed Eco2 Index, which measures the economic and environmental health of developed and developing countries. Dr William Cheung also presented a conservation risk index that combines economic figures and fisheries population growth rates to reveal the economics/conservation trade-offs of fishing. It was clear from the model that not all developed countries are doing well in terms of conservation. The audience showed a particular interest in the “Whole-ocean economics” session and there was plenty of participation by professors, researchers, non-governmental organization representatives and students. A roundtable session followed the presentations and questions relating to fisheries, marine protected areas and governance generated stimulating discussions. This session succeeded in highlighting the commitment of the Fisheries Centre members to global research and collaboration.

Another symposium organized by the Sea Around Us Project was titled “Leveling the global playing field: global inferences from reliable global samples”. Dr Kristin Kleisner, a postdoctoral fellow with the Sea Around Us Project and organizer of the session, explained how to design sampling methods and why it is important to infer scientifically sound global trends. Dr Thomas Lovejoy, from the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment in Washington DC, then discussed the use of technology to monitor biodiversity trends and species extinction. Closing the symposium, Dr Molly Jahn, from the University of Wisconsin, stressed the need to build a global information system to meet our future needs.

The Sea Around Us Project booth was also a major success. It allowed Project members to share their work with a diverse audience. For Claire Hornby, the AAAS was her first major science conference, and she was excited and nervous to have a chance to interact with scientists of various disciplines from all over the world. It was amazing to see the wide range of people that approached the booth, eager to hear about the Project’s work. Surprisingly, it seemed everyone – no matter if they were a budding scientist of five years old or an established professor – wanted to learn something about fisheries. The majority of attendees that approached the booth knew about the current state of the world’s oceans and the decline of many commercial fisheries. Family day at the AAAS brought many up-andcoming scientists to the booth. Robin Ramdeen, who volunteered that day, described how wonderful it was to see so many primary school children intrigued by the Sea Around Us Project’s display of ocean primary productivity. Their level of understanding of the importance of plankton for producing the energy upon which marine food webs are based was astounding. These inquisitive junior scientists answered their own questions about where energy comes from, both on land and at sea, and about how phytoplankton and zooplankton are essential to the diet of fish via the food web. Importantly, they were able to connect how changes in primary production could affect one of the ocean’s top predators: humans.

These were just a some of the highlights of Sea Around Us Project’s and the Fisheries Center’s contributions to the 2012 AAAS meeting. The conference was yet another example of how committed the Sea Around Us Project is not only to doing good research, but also to communicating its work to the world.

TED Talk: Daniel Pauly on Shifting Baselines

Daniel Pauly’s TED talk on Shifting Baselines is finally up! Watch the video, or read the transcript below:

I’m going to speak about a tiny, little idea. And this is about shifting baseline. And because the idea can be explained in one minute, I will tell you three stories before to fill in the time. And the first story is about Charles Darwin, one of my heroes. And he was here, as you well know, in ’35. And you’d think he was chasing finches, but he wasn’t. He was actually collecting fish. And he described one of them as very “common.” This was the sailfin grouper. A big fishery was run on it until the ’80s. Now the fish is on the IUCN Red List. Now this story, we have heard it lots of times on Galapagos and other places, so there is nothing particular about it. But the point is, we still come to Galapagos. We still think it is pristine. The brochures still say it is untouched. So what happens here?

The second story, also to illustrate another concept, is called shifting waistline. (Laughter) Because I was there in ’71, studying a lagoon in West Africa. I was there because I grew up in Europe and I wanted later to work in Africa. And I thought I could blend in. And I got a big sunburn, and I was convinced that I was really not from there. This was my first sunburn.

And the lagoon was surrounded by palm trees, as you can see, and a few mangrove. And it had tilapia about 20 centimeters, a species of tilapia called blackchin tilapia. And the fisheries for this tilapia sustained lots of fish and they had a good time and they earned more than average in Ghana. When I went there 27 years later, the fish had shrunk to half of their size. They were maturing at five centimeters. They had been pushed genetically. There were still fishes. They were still kind of happy. And the fish also were happy to be there. So nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

My third little story is that I was an accomplice in the introduction of trawling in Southeast Asia. In the ’70s — well, beginning in the ’60s — Europe did lots of development projects. Fish development meant imposing on countries that had already 100,000 fishers to impose on them industrial fishing. And this boat, quite ugly, is called the Mutiara 4. And I went sailing on it, and we did surveys throughout the southern South China sea and especially the Java Sea. And what we caught, we didn’t have words for it. What we caught, I know now, is the bottom of the sea. And 90 percent of our catch were sponges, other animals that are fixed on the bottom. And actually most of the fish, they are a little spot on the debris, the piles of debris, were coral reef fish. Essentially the bottom of the sea came onto the deck and then was thrown down.

And these pictures are extraordinary because this transition is very rapid. Within a year, you do a survey and then commercial fishing begins. The bottom is transformed from, in this case, a hard bottom or soft coral into a muddy mess. This is a dead turtle. They were not eaten, they were thrown away because they were dead. And one time we caught a live one. It was not drowned yet. And then they wanted to kill it because it was good to eat. This mountain of debris is actually collected by fishers every time they go into an area that’s never been fished. But it’s not documented.

We transform the world, but we don’t remember it. We adjust our baseline to the new level, and we don’t recall what was there. If you generalize this, something like this happens. You have on the y axis some good thing: biodiversity, numbers of orca, the greenness of your country, the water supply. And over time it changes — it changes because people do things, or naturally. Every generation will use the images that they got at the beginning of their conscious lives as a standard and will extrapolate forward. And the difference then, they perceive as a loss. But they don’t perceive what happened before as a loss. You can have a succession of changes. At the end you want to sustain miserable leftovers. And that, to a large extent, is what we want to do now. We want to sustain things that are gone or things that are not the way they were.

Now one should think this problem affected people certainly when in predatory societies, they killed animals and they didn’t know they had done so after a few generations. Because, obviously, an animal that is very abundant, before it gets extinct, it becomes rare. So you don’t lose abundant animals. You always lose rare animals. And therefore they’re not perceived as a big loss. Over time, we concentrate on large animals, and in a sea that means the big fish. They become rarer because we fish them. Over time we have a few fish left and we think this is the baseline.

And the question is, why do people accept this? Well because they don’t know that it was different. And in fact, lots of people, scientists, will contest that it was really different. And they will contest this because the evidence presented in an earlier mode is not in the way they would like the evidence presented. For example, the anecdote that some present, as Captain so-and-so observed lots of fish in this area cannot be used or is usually not utilized by fishery scientists, because it’s not “scientific.” So you have a situation where people don’t know the past, even though we live in literate societies, because they don’t trust the sources of the past.

And hence, the enormous role that a marine protected area can play. Because with marine protected areas, we actually recreate the past. We recreate the past that people cannot conceive because the baseline has shifted and is extremely low. That is for people who can see a marine protected area and who can benefit from the insight that it provides, which enables them to reset their baseline.

How about the people who can’t do that because they have no access — the people in the Midwest for example? There I think that the arts and film can perhaps fill the gap, and simulation. This is a simulation of Chesapeake Bay. There were gray whales in Chesapeake Bay a long time ago — 500 years ago. And you will have noticed that the hues and tones are like “Avatar.” (Laughter) And if you think about “Avatar,” if you think of why people were so touched by it — never mind the Pocahontas story — why so touched by the imagery? Because it evokes something that in a sense has been lost. And so my recommendation, it’s the only one I will provide, is for Cameron to do “Avatar II” underwater.

Thank you very much.

Belize: Too Precious To Drill

More than 20 top marine ecologists gathered last week in Belize City to review the status of the country’s marine biodiversity and the potential impacts an oil spill could have on local marine ecology. After the meeting, the participants unanimously agreed that the Belize government should prohibit offshore oil drillings in Belize’s waters, a referendum that will be voted on in late 2011.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia, Boston University, the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, and Belize itself discussed Belize’s marine assets in a symposium titled: Too Precious for Oil: the Marine Biodiversity of Belize.

Among the scientists’ chief concerns were how an oil spill would affect the region’s biodiversity and economic gains from marine resources and tourism. Belize boasts bottlenose dolphins, the largest number of Antillean manatees in the world, a breeding ground for at least 7 different species of sharks and rays, hundreds of different types of sponges, and fisheries for groupers, snappers, grunts, and other reef fishes. In 1996, UNESCO declared the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System a World Heritage Site.

Scientists are also worried that seismic activity makes drilling especially risky. An earthquake in Belize in 2009 had severe impacts on coral reefs. A spill could result in lost revenues to Belize’s fishing and marine tourism industries.

The event was organized by Oceana Belize and the Sea Around Us project, with funding from the Oak Foundation.
ended with the signing of a letter from all the scientists involved urging the government to consider the incredibly rich and diverse marine environment that exists in Belize, the many benefits (tourism and fisheries) this provides and the risk that oil drilling posses to this incredible natural asset.

The conference drew in around 100 people, but there was a media blitz each day and appearances on national radio, television, news and talk shows. Daniel Pauly made daily media appearances and met with the opposition party and other government officials. He and Sarah Harper appeared on two local talk shows. Andres Cisneros aired on Estereo Amour, Belize’s Spanish radio station.

Check back soon for more progress on this initiative.

Daniel Pauly’s Surprise Sail on the Eloquent

Deng Palomares reports on the surprise birthday celebration in the newsletter and below:

Our birthday celebrant, Dr Pauly, was born in post-war Paris in May 1946 and to this day carries a French passport (though he wishes to be Canadian sometime in the future). But, he never really lived in Paris, because Daniel’s roller coaster life seems to always involve traveling. In his younger years, these travels were undertaken as a quest for meaning (which at certain points in his life included religion), purpose and education leading to a doctorate from the Institute für Meereskunde in Kiel, Germany. This degree started Daniel’s journey to far and distant lands, e.g., Indonesia (GTZ project), the Philippines (ICLARM, Manila), Peru and Tanzania (FAO/DANIDA training courses), New Caledonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya and Namibia (FishBase training courses), to name a few. And finally, to Vancouver, where he had the permanent task of being an advisor to graduate students and leader of Sea Around Us team members since the mid-1990s. Still cranking out a long list of publications like a paper mill and still going places as an invited speaker, (the ‘guru’) Daniel, mentor to some of us and professor to many, had an aversion to celebrating his own birthday for some reason he never really identified. This earned him the name ‘KJ’ (for ‘Kill Joy’) among staff at ICLARM in the early days (because Filipinos like parties and especially the food!). We at the Fisheries Centre are lucky that Daniel now seems to enjoy these celebrations (remember his 60th with that big event?). And this year’s birthday (total surprise) bash for our bashful celebrant is unique, his first birthday party onboard a cruise! Daniel had no clue that preparations were under way for his party, thanks to the deft planning committee (Grace, Aylin), those who avidly put their art and cooking skills to work (Leah, Sarah, Kristin, Fred, Veronica) with special mention to Sandra Pauly who provided us with lunch, those who provided the materials for the artwork, the poems and baking paraphernalia, him who told Daniel lies to get him out of the office (Dirk), the photographers and film makers (Dawit, Dalal, Ling Huang) and to all of you who came to the party! It was well worth a sunny afternoon out on a boat, wasn’t it!

Sea Around Us Heads to IMCC2

Join the Sea Around Us and many of our collaborators at the International Marine Conservation Congress, May 14-18, 2011 in Victoria, BC. Find a few of our specific presentations below.

Sunday, May 15
10:15am (15 minutes)
Sarah Harper The fisheries of small island countries

11:05am (5 minutes)
Leah Biery Estimating the Global Distribution and Species Composition of the Shark Fin Supply from the Bottom Up

11:10am (5 minutes)
Rhona Govender Small but Mighty: the Real Contribution of Small-scale Fisheries to Global Catch

2:30pm (15 minutes)
Ashley Strub Global financial investment in marine protected areas

2:45pm (15 minutes)
Daniel Pauly Big reserves are better

4:50 (5 minutes)
Mark Hemmings Changes in Maldivian Fisheries

4:45pm (15 minutes)
Colette Wabnitz The ecological role of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in Hawaiian and Caribbean marine ecosystems and implications for conservation

6pm (5 minutes)
Megan Bailey Do Europe’s Reduction Fisheries Contribute to Sustainability?

Monday, May 16
10:30am (15 minutes)
Vicky Lam Climate change and the economics of global fisheries

10:45am (15 minutes)
William Cheung Global changes in body size, distribution and productivity of marine fishes under climate change: implications for conservation

6:15pm (15 minutes)
Daniel Pauly (on behalf of Wilf Swartz) The spatial expansion of the world’s marine fisheries: 1950 to present

Tuesday, May 17
10:45am (15 minutes)
Michelle Paleczny Are global marine fisheries starving seabirds?

11am (15 minutes)
Marta Coll Spatial overlap between marine biodiversity, cumulative threats and marine reserves in the Mediterranean Sea

2:15pm (15 minutes)
Jennifer Jacquet Public vs. Personal Impressions of the Gulf Oil Spill

2:45pm (15 minutes)
Ashley McCrae-Strub Oil and fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico: potential impacts on catch

3pm (15 minutes)
Kristin Kleisner (on behalf of Rashid Sumaila) Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the economics of U.S. Gulf fisheries

5pm (15 minutes)
Dirk Zeller Arctic fisheries catches in Russia, USA and Canada: Baselines for neglected ecosystems

5pm (15 minutes)
Frederic LeManach Magnitude of missing catches in official fisheries statistics and implications for the local population – the example of Madagascar

Wednesday, May 18
10:15 (15 minutes)
Jennifer Jacquet Intimacy through the Internet: Why Conservation Needs the Web

10:15 (15 minutes)
Sarika Cullis-Suzuki Regional fisheries management organizations: effectiveness and accountability on the high seas

10:45 (15 minutes)
Pablo Trujillo See-Food from Space

11:30 (15 minutes)
Kristin Kleisner Exploring indicators of fishing pressures in the context of the OHI with a focus on correcting the Marine Trophic Index for geographic expansion

3:30pm (15 minutes)
Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak Gaining Perspective on What We’ve Lost

Legislators Meet to Strategize on Global Fisheries Decline

rightOn June 8, World Ocean’s Day, 40 senior Members of Parliament from 15 key fishing nations agreed on a new plan to reverse the decline of global fisheries. The meeting was organised by the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, (GLOBE) to challenge the current international political failure to address the rapid decline of global fisheries stocks. Among the politicians were scientific and policy advisors, including the Sea Around Us Project’s Rashid Sumaila (photographed here with GLOBE Fisheries Commission Chairman and former UK Biodiversity Minister, Barry Gardiner MP).

The group agreed to the following Priority Actions:
Parliamentary Legislation
• Ratify and adopt robust implementing legislation for all existing UN and FAO international fishery agreements.
• Redirect inappropriate fishing subsidies into programmes that improve fisheries management.
• Implement flexible rights-based management schemes for both coastal and high seas fisheries.
• Prevent fisheries authorities from setting catch limits above scientific recommendations.
• Involve the fishing industry in data collection and co-management of fisheries.
• Mandate environmental impact and stock assessments for all commercially fished species.
• Integrate fisheries and environment policy within government.
• Provide economic incentives for industry initiatives to source legal and sustainable fish.
• Introduce legislation to ban the import and domestic trade of illegally-caught fish (e.g. US Lacey Act).
• Implement a ‘Cap and Restore’ approach for all severely depleted fisheries.
• Adopt modern MPA network targets to propel domestic implementation of MPAs that link in to national and regional networks, alongside comprehensive fisheries management outside of protected areas.

RFMO Members
• Review and reform of RFMO conventions to promote sustainable, ecosystem-based management of marine biotic resources.
• Construct new RFMOs or expand existing RFMOs to manage species and areas currently unmanaged.
• Implement UNFSA requirements for a precautionary, ecosystem-based approach.
• Agree new RFMO rules that prevent decision-making bodies from setting catch limits above scientific recommendations.
• Incentivise RFMO membership by linking it to capacity-building assistance, and agree economic sanctions against non-compliant states.
• Establish RFMO mandates for all flag states to ensure their vessels carry tamper proof monitoring and surveillance equipment.

Coastal and Port States
• Increase and harmonise sanctions against illegal fishing and transhipment vessels across coastal and port states in key regions.
• Establish regional agreements for sharing data on fishing activities and resources for monitoring and enforcement, especially in developing country coastal and port states.
International Actions

New Agreements
• Mandate the UN to review and monitor RFMO performance based on existing benchmark standards for RFMOs in the UNFSA.
• Support the development of a multilateral and enforceable agreement on fishing subsidy reform within the World Trade Organisation.
• Require all fishing and reefer vessels to carry unique identification, such as IMO numbers.
• Hold non-compliant states accountable using the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
• Adopt modern MPA network targets to propel the creation of marine reserves and networks globally.
• Investigate a new Global Framework Agreement for Marine Spatial Planning in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
New Multilateral Institutions
• Continue and increase support for the International Monitoring Control and Surveillance Network, expanding its mandate to conduct and coordinate global high seas fisheries intelligence-gathering.

Sea Around Us Speaks at the United Nations

This week the Sea Around Us is present for the weeklong UN meeting to review high seas fisheries . Rashid Sumaila’s work is being used to frame fisheries because the $27 billion his team has estimated in yearly subsidies keep unprofitable boats afloat. Former Sea Around Us M.Sc. student Sarika Cullis-Suzuki also joins in the meeting to discuss her work on the effectiveness of RFMOs. As noted in the Pew press release, her study evaluated the 18 regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), the intergovernmental bodies tasked with managing fishing on the high seas, and found they have failed to halt dramatic declines of fish stocks. The study by Cullis-Suzuki and Daniel Pauly, Failing the high seas: A global evaluation of regional fisheries management organizations, appeared in print this week at Marine Policy. Update May 28, 2010: Read coverage from Cullis-Suzuki’s presentation the UN meeting in The Guardian.

Mission Blue a Success

Individuals onboard Mission Blue, a week long TED-sponsored journey around the Galapagos to raise awareness and money for the oceans, have donated more than $15 million to ocean conservation groups to sponsor education, protection of the Galapagos, eliminate fisheries subsidies, and more. The Sea Around Us Project’s Daniel Pauly was one of the many qualified speakers onboard the boat. Watch for an online version of Dr. Pauly’s talk on shifting baselines coming soon…

Daniel Pauly and Others Embark on Mission Blue

This week The Sea Around Us Project’s Daniel Pauly is in the Galapagos Island along with many other notable guests of Mission Blue to fulfill Sylvia Earle’s 2009 TEDPrize wish. TED talks, which is normally hosted in Monterey, California, gathers together remarkable speakers and then makes their talks available online.  This time the meeting is taking place in the Galapagos on the National Geographic boat The Endeavor and  over the four days, attendees of Mission Blue will experience seven fully programmed TED sessions, which include fellow marine scientists Jeremy Jackson, Callum Roberts, Enric Sala, as well as the host Sylvia Earle.  Read about the full line-up and  follow the Mission Blue blog.

Sea Around Us Bridges Science and Society

The theme at the 2010 AAAS annual meeting held in San Diego, CA in mid-February was Bridging Science and Society. Sea Around Us members delivered on this theme in three different sessions. Daniel Pauly presented on a panel that showed the growing consensus among fisheries scientists. Although global overfishing is becoming an accepted premise, questions inevitably arose on the future of aquaculture. Pauly explained that it would be wrong to look at gladiator tournaments and vilify sports, when there is curling; similarly, it would be wrong to look at salmon farming and vilify aquaculture, when there are oyster farms.

Metaphors are powerful communication tools. So are 3-D visualizations, especially in a world that is already too big and too fast-paced to keep track of information. Can we help manage the future by allowing people to see it? To address this question, Villy Christensen co-organized a panel on the use of visualizations to bridge science and society for sustainability.

The Sea Around Us Project’s Sherman Lai showed the game-like tool he and Christensen developed to allow users to visualize the real-time effects of their fishing decisions (see photo). Multiple players can watch how their choices would play out on the underwater world using a video game interface that can also display the embedded EcoSim models. These tools, currently used in immersion labs like our own in the Fisheries Centre, are designed to allow managers to experience the results of potential policies. The panel also discussed the potential for these tools online.

Jennifer Jacquet and her other panel members discussed non-regulatory means of enhancing cooperation – namely through reputation and shame. Ralf Sommerfeld, a recent graduate who worked with the Max Planck Institute, presented several of his new game theoretical studies showing that gossip and reputation can lead to increases in overall cooperation. Jacquet proposed we migrate away from guilt-based efforts in conservation (e.g. eco-labels) and toward shame-based strategies, which we can use to motivate large-scale resource users. To show evidence of this in the real world, John Hocevar, head of oceans campaigns for Greenpeace USA, presented Greenpeace work to affect retailer reputation to encourage greater cooperation.

The Sea Around Us members also participated in the COMPASS marine mixer with scientists and journalists and talks on designing and implementing large-scale marine reserves. AAAS was truly a meeting to bridge science and society.

Daniel Pauly Delivers Keynote at Seafood Summit

Daniel Pauly recently gave the keynote address at the 2010 Seafood Summit in Paris. His talk compared industrial fishing to a Ponzi scheme, where instead of extracting a sustainable interest from invested capital, we use up the capital itself, and hope for other ‘investors’. He discussed the three-way expansion of fishing through the 20th century: geographically, by fishing in distant waters and getting access to African, Caribbean and Pacific waters; by fishing in deeper and deeper waters; and a taxonomic expansion. Pauly then addressed aquaculture and its limitations, particularly the double accounting of carnivorous farmed fish. He finished by talking about conservation efforts and the need to include the small-scale fisheries in the developing world in conservation efforts. His full talk is available through the Seafood Summit website.

Sumaila Asked to WTO and British House of Commons

SWITZERLAND WTO GENERAL COUNCILAt the end of October, the Sea Around Us Project’s economist and director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit Rashid Sumaila teamed up with Oceana spokesperson Ted Danson to meet with WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy to discuss the most recent estimates of global fisheries subsidies and the current state of WTO negotiations on this issue.  The Economist reported on the fisheries subsidies discussion, particularly fuel subsidies here.

Global fisheries subsidies are estimated to be $25-$30 billion a year and encourage overfishing as well as undermine free market philosophy.  The current Doha Round of the WTO is an apt forum for discussing and disciplining harmful subsidies, estimated at $16 billion per year.

From the WTO meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, Sumaila traveled to London to the British House of Commons for another meeting between legislators and scientists.  The Marine Advisory  Group of GLOBE International, a group that supports political leadership on issues of environmental sustainability, gathered to discuss overfishing.

Sumaila found the legislators involved, a multipartisan group primarily from the UK, to be enthusiastic, particularly the MP from the same region as author/journalist Charles Clover.  According to Sumaila, the legislators were very keen on receiving scientific information and data and urged the scientific advisors involved to share their findings candidly.

The Marine Advisory Group will continue to work with Globe International to produce a policy document, which should be completed early 2010, to be taken back to member countries, and presented at a number of UN meetings next year.

HoL GroupSumaila, far left, at a meeting of the Marine Advisory Group of GLOBE International in the UK House of Commons.