Sustaining small-scale fisheries: ecological, social, and policy challenges and solutions

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Small-scale fisheries are globally ubiquitous, employing more than 99% of the world’s fishers and providing over half of the world’s seafood. However, small-scale fisheries face many management challenges including declining

Small-scale fisheries are globally ubiquitous, employing more than 99% of the world’s fishers and providing over half of the world’s seafood. However, small-scale fisheries face many management challenges including declining catches, inadequate resources and infrastructure, and overcapacity. Baja California Sur, Mexico (BCS) is a region with diverse small-scale fisheries; these fisheries are intense, poorly regulated, and overlap with foraging hot spots of endangered sea turtles. In partnership with researchers, fishers, managers, and practitioners from Mexico and the United States, I documented bycatch rates of loggerhead turtles at BCS that represent the highest known megafauna bycatch rates worldwide. Concurrently, I conducted a literature review that determined gear modifications were generally more successful than other commonly used fisheries management strategies for mitigating bycatch of vulnerable megafauna including seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. I then applied these results by partnering with researchers, local fishers, and Mexico’s federal fisheries science agency to develop and test two gear modifications (i.e. buoyless and illuminated nets) in operating net fisheries at BCS as potential solutions to reduce bycatch of endangered sea turtles, improve fisheries sustainability, and maintain fisher livelihoods. I found that buoyless nets significantly reduced mean turtle bycatch rates by 68% while maintaining target catch rates and composition. By contrast, illuminated nets did not significantly reduce turtle bycatch rates across day-night periods, although they reduced mean turtle bycatch rates by 50% at night. Illuminated nets, however, significantly reduced mean rates of total bycatch biomass by 34% across day-night periods while maintaining target fish catch and market value. I conclude with a policy analysis of the unilateral identification of Mexico by the U.S. State Department under section 610 of the Magnusson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act for failure to manage bycatch of loggerhead turtles at BCS. Taken together, the gear modifications developed and tested here represent promising bycatch mitigation solutions with strong potential for commercial adoption, but fleet-wide conversion to more selective and turtle-friendly gear (e.g. hook and line and/or traps) at BCS, coupled with coordinated international conservation action, is ultimately needed to eliminate sea turtle bycatch and further improve fisheries sustainability.