Fishing for Fun? It Has a Bigger Environmental Impact Than We Thought
By David Shiffman
Let's go fishin'! After all, a lone angler fishing from a dock or a few friends going out to sea can't have all that much of an effect on fish populations … right?
"When you're floating in the open ocean, it can be hard to imagine that your hobby will have an impact on the overall health of a fishery," said Sepp Haukebo, who works on recreational fisheries conservation issues for the Environmental Defense Fund. "But multiply the number of fish a single angler catches and discards in a day by millions of anglers and you have a significant harvest on your hands."
Haukebo echoes points made in two new studies, published in the journals Fish and Fisheries and Frontiers in Marine Science, that show recreational fishing has a much bigger collective effect on oceanic species than previously realized, with nearly one million tons of fish caught every year.
Far from being an insignificant drop in the proverbial ocean, this is a massive amount of fish — about 1% of total global marine fisheries catch, a much higher number than many scientists and managers used to believe.
So how is it that the actions of individuals can have such a far-reaching effect? Recreational anglers usually catch just a few ocean fish in a whole day, while industrial-scale commercial fishing often uses miles-long gear and catches tons of marine life at a time.
Part of the answer is scale: Previous research has shown that there are a lot more recreational anglers than there are commercial fishing vessels — at least 220 million people go fishing for fun every year all around the world.
The marina in Valencia, Spain. Mark Chinnick (CC BY 2.0)
That number is expected to grow as people and countries become more affluent, said Jessica Meeuwig, a professor at the University of Western Australia and a coauthor on the Frontiers in Marine Science paper.
Another part of the answer involves economics: For people and companies trying to make a profit from fishing — like with commercial fisheries — there's an incentive to stop fishing when populations get low.
But if you're fishing for fun, you're paying for the experience, and the experience of catching a relatively rare fish is often considered worth paying extra.
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Indeed there are many threatened populations of fish where commercial fisheries are banned but recreational angling continues.
Additionally, a subset of recreational anglers called trophy anglers intentionally target the biggest individuals in a population, often with the goal of getting a perceived-as-prestigious certificate that says they hold a record for catching the biggest fish of that species.
This can affect entire species populations, explained Meeuwig.
"Recreational fisheries targeting larger fish means they are taking the most fit individuals, the big breeders, out of the population," she said. Bigger fish tend to reproduce more often and have a greater number of young at a time. This culling preference is different from commercial or subsistence fishing, which aim to catch as many fish as possible, but not necessarily the largest individual member of a species.
There are other factors are play, although those aren't always as clear.
"Recreational catch of threatened species is an issue that's poorly understood," said Peter Kyne, a senior research fellow at Australia's Charles Darwin University who was not affiliated with either of the new papers. "In Australia, this is a significant issue for the grey nurse shark on the east coast," he said. "Their habitat is close to major cities where recreational fishing levels are high. Even in remote areas of northern Australia, catches of river sharks are an issue — although they are protected, they're similar in appearance to a number of common non-threatened species and anglers may not recognize them."
A Regulatory Failure?
The research also found that most nations don't do a very good job managing their recreational fisheries — especially when compared to their commercial fisheries.
"Governments fail to recognize that recreational fisheries can decimate populations" or that they can be as important to monitor as commercial fisheries, said Warren Potts, a professor of fisheries science at Rhodes University and lead author of the Fish and Fisheries paper. "This ignores or underappreciates recreational fishing's economic and ecological effects and causes governments to fail to prioritize regulating the practice."
The paper looked at the global state of management regulations for recreational fishing and found that only 86 nations define recreational fisheries in their national fisheries-management legislation.
More than half of experts surveyed for the paper raised significant concerns about their nation's recreational-fisheries management. No experts from developing nations, where the popularity of recreational fisheries has exploded as international tourists seek out "exotic" places to fish, believed that their countries effectively manage those fisheries.
But Robert Arlinghaus, a professor of fisheries management at Humboldt University in Germany who was not involved with either paper, pointed out that many countries do employ a basic fisheries-management regulation called a minimum size limit — in other words, you can't land a fish if it's below a certain size and hasn't had the chance to reproduce yet. This isn't exactly the cutting edge of adaptive science-based management, but it's a lot better than nothing.
Arlinghaus feels that characterizing the majority of the world's recreational fisheries as ineffectively managed may be taking things a little too far.
"Recreational fisheries might not be managed optimally," he said, "and I do think the governance and management systems could be improved in many areas of the world, but I'm not sure that recreational fisheries are generally managed poorly."
By the Numbers
Another major issue with recreational fisheries management boils down to numbers — or lack of them. In most places nobody knows exactly how many fish are caught.
That's another difference from commercial fisheries — it's just easier to gather data when you're dealing with a limited number of fishing vessels than with hundreds of millions of individual people.
Cod in a commercial net. Derek Keats (CC BY 2.0)
"Some countries keep detailed data on their recreational fisheries catch, but others don't," said Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of the Sea Around Us project at the University of British Columbia and a coauthor on the Frontiers in Marine Science paper. He added that some countries use different agencies to collect data from recreational and commercial fisheries, and those groups don't always speak with each other or consolidate their findings.
"If you know there are recreational fisheries in a country, but there's no data, you have to be creative," said Pauly. "You can't say 'there's no data, so we'll assume nothing has been caught.'"
To resolve this data gap and estimate the global catch of marine recreational fisheries, the paper used a method called "catch reconstruction" — a mix of computer analysis and good, old-fashioned detective work.
Catch reconstruction, he explained, assumes that fishing doesn't happen in a vacuum. Even if you don't have data on how many fish are caught or brought to shore, there's often other information showing things like how many boats used a marina, how much fuel they used, and how much seafood was for sale in local markets.
That's where Pauly and his team came in. They consolidated information from a variety of sources and built a bigger picture.
Pauly provided an example of how they accomplished this.
"In West Africa, many people thought there weren't any substantial recreational fisheries, because there's no catch data available," he told me. "But there are fishing lodges there for tourism, and those lodges post images of what people catch on social media and websites. We know how many people go to those lodges, because tourists entering the country are reported and they fill in where they're staying. If we know how many people visit, how long they stay and what's usually caught, we can estimate catch even with an absence of official statistics."
This isn't foolproof. Potts pointed out that this kind of formulation can cause complications. He noted that the paper estimated the catch from one fishing lodge and extrapolated it to two others, including one lodge that exists on paper but hasn't actually been built yet. Pauly responded to this concern by pointing out that "we were able to generate first estimates of the catch of West African recreational fisheries … but the fact these these estimates can be improved goes without saying."
Even though the results are estimates, they suggest two potentially troubling trends. First, all recreational fisheries catch is significantly increasing in developing-world nations, especially in Africa and South America. For example, the number of recreational fishing licenses in Brazil jumped from 276,500 in 2011 to more than 400,000 just two years later.
Fishing off the coast of Brazil, with dolphins swimming nearby. Felipe Vaduga (CC BY 2.0)
Second, recreational fisheries targeting sharks and rays are on the upswing worldwide. Sharks and rays represented less than 1% of total recreational catch in the 1950s, but about 6% today, and are especially increasing in South America, the Indo-Pacific and West Africa.
"This is a cause for concern given the threatened status of many species of sharks and rays," Meeuwig said. Previous research has shown that about 24% of sharks and related species are threatened or endangered. "The capture of large sharks is particularly worrisome," she adds, because of their importance as breeders.
Arlinghaus said he feels the Frontiers in Marine Science paper represents a "Herculean effort" to gather global recreational catch.
It's also an opportunity to shift our attention to a previously invisible or ignored problem. Increasingly, as scientists and environmentalists have been raising the alarm about commercial and industrial overfishing, they've implicitly or explicitly sent the message that fishing for fun has so little environmental impact that it wasn't worth considering.
And Arlinghaus cautioned that the papers' recommendations about recreational fishing have already been misinterpreted in some circles. A widely shared Nature News article about this paper claimed "hobbyists' harvest of sharks and rays have soared, and catch and release is no solution,"— despite the fact that the paper did not address catch and release. Additionally, some on social media claimed that this paper was proof that all recreational angling needed to be shut down, which was not a recommendation issued by the paper.
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Arlinghaus warned against making those leaps in logic based solely on the data from these papers. "We can't learn much about the conservation concerns associated with a fishery just by looking at landings," he pointed out.
But the Fish and Fisheries paper did contain some recommendations for improvement.
"There are some basic guidelines for improving governance that can be followed and should improve the quality of a governance of a country's recreational fisheries," Potts said. These include clearly defining recreational angling in national legislation and stressing how its management differs from commercial fisheries. The paper also calls for increased cooperation with stakeholders to gather more effective data and ensure compliance with rules, and scientific monitoring of populations of fishes targeted by recreational fisheries — all things that are currently done relatively well in the U.S. and Australia, but done relatively poorly in large parts of the developing world.
"I want to commend these authors for their recommendations," Haukebo said. "This framework is a great reference for any nation that is aspiring to improve, or even just establish, responsible management of their recreational fishery."
While Haukebo and other experts say you don't have to feel bad about "goin' fishin'" with family and friends just yet, the science presented in these papers makes it clear that in some places individual actions can collectively pose a significant threat to marine species — and that's something governments and conservationists around the world, not to mention anglers, need to start to address.
David Shiffman is a marine biologist specializing in the ecology and conservation of sharks.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Coronavirus Shines Light on Zoos as Danger Zones for Deadly Disease Transmission Between Humans and Animals
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By Kate Whiting
Bernice Dapaah calls bamboo "a miracle plant," because it grows so fast and absorbs carbon. But it can also work wonders for children's education and women's employment – as she's discovered.
These are the world's most bicycle-friendly cities. Statista<p>"The reason we use bamboo to manufacture bicycles is because it's found abundantly in Ghana and this is not a material we're going to import," says Dapaah, one of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders.</p><p>"It's a new innovation. There were no existing bamboo bike builders in our country, so we were the first people trying to see how best we could utilize the abundant bamboo in Ghana."</p>
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Supporting Students<p>Besides encouraging Ghanaians to swap vehicles for affordable bikes, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is helping students save time on walking to school so they have more time to learn.</p><p>Each time they sell a bike, they donate a bike to a schoolchild in a rural community, who might otherwise have to walk for hours to get to school.</p><p>Dapaah knows how transformative a shorter journey to school can be to academic performance. She grew up living with her <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb3joGYmx9A&feature=emb_logo" target="_blank">grandpa, a forester in a rural part of the country</a>.</p><p>"We had to walk three and a half hours every day before I could go to school. He later bought me a bike, so I finished senior high and wanted to go to university."</p><p>The experience inspired her to launch Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative with two other students at college.</p><p>"When we started this initiative, I looked back and said, when I was young, I had to walk miles before I could get to school, and sometimes if I was late, I was punished.</p><p>"Why don't we donate bikes for students to encourage them to study and so they can have enough time to be on books."</p><p>To date, they have sold more than 3,000 road, mountain and children's bikes – and Dapaah says they plan to donate <a href="https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/350343" target="_blank">10,000 bikes to schoolchildren over five years</a>.</p>
Empowering Women<p>The enterprise is also providing local jobs. It teaches young people to build bikes, particularly women and those in rural communities, where jobs can be scarce. More than 50% of people they have trained are women.</p><p>Dapaah says they want to boost the number of people they employ to 250 over the next five years and they are looking to partner with NGOs to build a childcare facility so mothers can continue to work.</p>
Reducing Emissions<p>By promoting a cycling culture in Ghana, Dapaah says they're also committed to reducing emissions in the transport sector and contributing to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.</p><p>"I love the idea of reusing bamboo to promote sustainable cycling. People want to go green, low-carbon, lean-energy efficient," she says.</p>
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By Kristen Pope
Melting and crumbling glaciers are largely responsible for rising sea levels, so learning more about how glaciers shrink is vital to those who hope to save coastal cities and preserve wildlife.
Groans, Creaks, Icebergs’ Calving Splashes<p>Oskar Glowacki already knew that melting glacial ice sounds like frying bacon. As ice bubbles burst, anyone nearby can hear crackling and popping, said Glowacki, a postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Using hydrophones, he and other scientists now can make more nuanced measurements of how a changing climate sounds underwater, from the groans, creaks and splashes of a calving iceberg to the changes in whale songs as the ocean warms.</p><p>Glowacki recently used a pair of hydrophones to study the underwater world of glaciers, publishing his findings in <a href="https://www.the-cryosphere.net/14/1025/2020/" target="_blank">The Cryosphere</a>. He and co-author Grant B. Deane measured glacier retreat by <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/07/melting-glaciers-sound-like-frying-bacon/" target="_blank">recording the sounds of ice</a> – from small chunks to enormous slabs – falling off the glacier and splashing into the water.</p><p>During the summer of 2016, Glowacki's team placed two hydrophones near Hansbreen Glacier in Hornsund Fjord, Svalbard. For a month and a half, they recorded sounds, also using three time-lapse cameras to collect images – including the "drop height" (how far the ice fell into the water) – so they could compare photos to the recordings. The team created a formula to represent the relationship between the size of a piece of ice falling from a glacier and the sound it makes underwater, also accounting for the pieces of ice falling from varying heights. (Hear an example of the sound an iceberg makes while calving <a href="https://soundcloud.com/user-248456662/iceberg-calving-hansbreen-glacier" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p>
Unlocking Information About Antarctic Ice Shelf<p>Other researchers also are using hydrophones to learn more about crumbling glaciers. Bob Dziak, research oceanographer with the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory <a href="https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/acoustics" target="_blank">acoustics research group</a>, captured a massive calving event of the Nansen Ice Shelf in Antarctica with a hydrophone. He published the results with colleagues in <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feart.2019.00183/full" target="_blank">Frontiers in Earth Science</a></p><p>On April 7, 2016, satellite images showed a massive calving event had occurred on the ice shelf. The paper described it as the "first large scale calving event in >30 years."</p><p>However, once Dziak and colleagues delved into the data from three hydrophones deployed 60 kilometers east of the ice shelf, they uncovered a series of "icequakes" from January to early March 2016. He and other researchers believe that much of the ice actually broke free in mid-January to February, but it remained in the same location until an April storm – which their paper described as the "largest low-pressure storm recorded in the previous seven months" – broke the ice free.</p><p>"We suspected that the icebergs broke apart but remained in place – kind of pinned in place – until a major storm with high winds passed through the area and, finally, it was that last push that pushed the icebergs out to sea," Dziak says.</p><p>He and his co-authors wrote that "fortuitous timing and proximity of the hydrophone deployment presented a rare opportunity to study cryogenic signals and ocean ambient sounds of a large-scale ice shelf calving and iceberg formation event."</p>
Listening to Songs of Humpback Whales<p><a href="https://www.mbari.org/" target="_blank">Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute</a> studies the ocean, including its acoustics. One of the institute's projects involves examining the soundscape of California's Monterey Bay, including sounds from animals, humans, weather, and geologic processes like earthquakes. The researchers once even recorded an under-sea landslide. They also focus on recording and analyzing the <a href="http://www.mbari.org/humpback-song/" target="_blank">songs of humpback whales</a>. Male humpback whales' songs can be over 15 minutes in length, and they can be repeated for long periods of time – even hours. Listening to these songs and analyzing them can provide unique insights into the lives of these complex animals.</p><p>"Any time we want to study marine mammals, sound gives us a window into their lives because they use sound for all of their essential life activities, really," says institute biological oceanographer John Ryan. "Communication, foraging, reproduction, navigation – depending on the species, of course."</p><p>Previously, scientists had thought singing occurred only during courtship and mating, but now they think whales may also use song while migrating and hunting. They know song has a crucial role in the whales' lives.</p><p>"There's a whole other dimension to humpback whale song," Ryan says. "It is a mode of cultural transmission in this species. They learn songs from each other. They share songs as a population, and when populations mix and mingle, they learn new ideas, they explore with their song, improvise, and it's a real essential part of their culture."</p>
By William S. Lynn, Arian Wallach and Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila
A number of conservationists claim cats are a zombie apocalypse for biodiversity that need to be removed from the outdoors by "any means necessary" – coded language for shooting, trapping and poisoning. Various media outlets have portrayed cats as murderous superpredators. Australia has even declared an official "war" against cats.
Faulty Scientific Reasoning<p>In our <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13527" target="_blank">most recent publication</a> in the journal Conservation Biology, we examine an error of reasoning that props up the moral panic over cats.</p><p>Scientists do not simply collect data and analyze the results. They also establish a logical argument to explain what they observe. Thus, the reasoning behind a factual claim is equally important to the observations used to make that claim. And it is this reasoning about cats where claims about their threat to global biodiversity founder. In our analysis, we found it happens because many scientists take specific, local studies and overgeneralize those findings to the world at large.</p><p>Even when specific studies are good overall, projecting the combined "results" onto the world at large can cause unscientific overgeneralizations, particularly when <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2015.01.003" target="_blank">ecological context is ignored</a>. It is akin to pulling a quote out of context and then assuming you understand its meaning.</p>
Ways Forward<p>So how might citizens and scientists chart a way forward to a more nuanced understanding of cat ecology and conservation?</p><p>First, those examining this issue on all sides can acknowledge that both the well-being of cats and the survival of threatened species are legitimate concerns.</p><p>Second, cats, like any other predator, affect their ecological communities. Whether that impact is good or bad is a complex value judgment, not a scientific fact.</p><p>Third, there is a need for a more rigorous approach to the study of cats. Such an approach must be mindful of the importance of ecological context and avoid the pitfalls of faulty reasoning. It also means resisting <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13126" target="_blank">the siren call of a silver (lethal) bullet</a>.</p>
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