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Why early career scientists should go to international conferences

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Text and photos by Madeline Cashion.

This summer/fall I spoke at three marine research conferences hosted in three very different cities. I was presenting the first chapter of my thesis, for which I analyzed the quality of official fisheries catch statistics for sharks, skates, and rays in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Over half of the species in this group of fishes are at risk of extinction in the region, with overfishing being their greatest threat.

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Cautious fish evolve out of marine reserves

Photo by Matana_and_Jes, Flickr

Photo by Matana_and_Jes, Flickr

New research supports the creation of more marine reserves in the world’s oceans because, the authors say, fish can evolve to be more cautious and stay away from fishing nets.

The research suggests that by creating additional “no-take” areas, some fish will stay within marine reserves where they are protected from fishing. While other fish will move around the ocean, these less mobile fish will continue to live in the protected areas, pass this behaviour on to their offspring, and contribute to future generations, increasing the overall stock.

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Making fisheries science accessible

Photo by Kyle Gillespie

Photo by Kyle Gillespie

Text by Madeline Cashion


Public speaking is an intimidating feat for pretty much everyone.

I am an extrovert who actively strives to listen more than talk (usually unsuccessfully…) while in conversation with any number of people, and yet I have a strong physical aversion to speaking in front of an audience in a professional setting. In part, this is because describing your science in a way that is accessible not only to other researchers but to a generalist, non-scientific audience is surprisingly tough. For example, terms that I use every day like gear, landings, discards, and exclusive economic zone are considered jargon to people who do not work with or study fisheries.

To a scientist, using common words in place of jargon seems imprecise and sensationalist. Science communication is difficult in any forum but can be almost impossible when you are in front of an audience and the immobilizing effects of the “fight or flight” response begin to eclipse your confidence.

Here’s a quick anecdote from a recent such experience of my own:

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The Women in the Sea Around Us

It is no secret that the proportion of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is much lower than that of men. According to the global non-profit organization Catalyst, women accounted for less than a third (28.4 per cent) of those employed in scientific research and development across the world in 2013.

In Canada specifically, the percentage of women working in the STEM fields has increased only by 2 per cent in the past three decades to 22 per cent in 2015 from 20 per cent in 1987.

Things are slowly improving, but there is still a long way to go. This is why at the Sea Around Us we thought it was important to introduce you, our readers, to the female scientists whose work is key to the success of our project.

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Law That Regulates Shark Fishery Is Too Liberal

Shark fins are worth more than other parts of the shark and are often removed from the body, which gets thrown back into the sea. To curtail this wasteful practice, many countries allow the fins to be landed detached from shark bodies, as long as their weight does not exceed five per cent of the total shark catch. New University of British Columbia research shows that this kind of legislation is too liberal.

study published this week in the journal Fish Biology analyzes the fin to body weight ratios for 50 different shark species.  The authors find the average fin to body mass is three per cent  – considerably lower than the five per cent ratio currently legislated by the EU and other countries.

“The five percent ratio provides an opportunity to harvest extra fins from more sharks without retaining 100 per cent of the corresponding shark carcasses,” says Sea Around Us Project researcher Leah Biery, lead author of the study. “It does not prevent waste or overfishing, as the law intended.”

Currently, the EU and eight other countries use at least a five per cent shark fin to body weight ratio for landed catch. Only 59 countries in the world have any legislation related to sharks.

“Sharks are sensitive to overfishing and it’s embarrassing how little we have done to protect them,” says Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of UBC’s Sea Around UsProject and co-author of the study. “We would like to see more science in the management and protection of sharks in the coming years.”

Researchers estimate about 26 to 73 million sharks are killed each year to feed the growing demand for shark fin.  Sharks are sensitive to overfishing because they often grow slowly, mature later, and have very few offspring.

Canada MP Fin Donnelly introduced a bill last December that would ban the import of shark fin into Canada, but it has not been voted on. The Canadian municipalities of Brantford, Mississauga, Oakville, Pickering, London and Toronto have all banned the sale and possession of shark fin.