New tool improves fishing efficiency and sustainability

May 31, 2018
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Worldwide, fishing fleets discard as many as two of every five sea creatures they catch. Now, a new tool can help fishers locate the most productive fishing spots while avoiding unwanted or protected species such as blue sharks, sea turtles and dolphins.

Called EcoCast, the experimental tool developed by California Sea Grant-funded researchers at NOAA, Stanford, Old Dominion University, and other universities combines satellite data of ocean conditions, records from fisheries observers and species tracking data to pinpoint ideal fishing areas on a daily basis. Resource managers can adjust the weighting of each species as risks change and the fishing season progresses. This helps fishers optimize their harvest of target fish, while reducing the risk of inadvertently catching and killing sensitive species.

The findings, published this week in Science Advances, show that this type of dynamic management tool and approach can be up to 10 times more efficient for protecting species than previous management styles.

“EcoCast is leading the way toward more dynamic management of marine resources,” said co-author and Stanford Hopkins Marine Station professor Larry Crowder. “We’re putting the information directly in the hands of the fishers and managers.”

Fisheries managers currently protect species by creating static areas that fishers must avoid. However, these protected areas don’t reflect the dynamic nature of life in the ocean, where protected fish and other creatures regularly migrate out of the no-fishing zones and into fishers’ nets.

“Fishers will be willing to try this because they’re always looking for ways to do things differently, and better,” said Gary Burke, a drift gillnet fisherman in Southern California who collaborated on the research. “It’s not going to be perfect, because it’s a prediction, but it is giving us access to information we haven’t had before.”

EcoCast doesn’t just provide fishers with better information. It also informs scientists, resource managers and researchers working with big data to advance more sustainable fisheries practices.

“By pioneering a way of evaluating both conservation objectives and economic profitability for sustainable U.S. fisheries, we’re simultaneously advancing both conservation and economic objectives,” said study lead author Elliott Hazen, co-principal investigator on the project.

“We’ve had to settle for static management in the past,” Crowder said. “Now, we can consider this novel approach to address one of the most significant barriers to global fisheries sustainability.”

This research was funded by NASA, California Sea Grant, and NOAA.

A version of this article first appeared on Stanford News Service.

About California Sea Grant

NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Our headquarters is at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; we are one of 33 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.