Lack of fish conservation policy threatens several species
February 28, 2018
By Peter Moon | Agência FAPESP – Depletion of fish populations, falling catch diversity and the dwindling size of captured fish are major challenges for fisheries around the world. Addressing them requires the development of policies to manage fishery conservation and sustainable fishing.
These issues are not associated merely with the macroeconomics of the fishing and aquaculture industries, which are responsible for supplying world markets with marine animal protein. They also have economic and ecological aspects linked to small-scale fishing. The statistics produced by government oversight bodies fail to reflect these factors.
These issues are especially challenging for artisanal fishing in small traditional communities, many of them located in fragments of Atlantic rainforest remaining along Brazil’s Atlantic seaboard, as shown by a study that has been under way for the past 20 years in seven such communities on the southern coast of Rio de Janeiro (RJ) State and the northern coast of São Paulo (SP) State.
The study, led by Alpina Begossi, a researcher at the University of Campinas’s Food Research Center (NEPA-UNICAMP) in São Paulo State, found that many of the species caught by artisanal fishers are endangered. Begossi is also a professor at Santa Cecília University (Unisanta) in Santos, São Paulo State, and director of its Fisheries & Food Institute (FIFO), of which she is a co-founder.
Since the 1980s, Begossi has studied the human ecology of artisanal fishing communities in coastal Atlantic rainforest areas and riverine communities in the Amazon. Her methodology combines concepts and models in biology, ecology and anthropology to understand the relations between the community and natural resource use.
Begossi and colleagues recently completed the first survey of the status of artisanal fisheries on the coast of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The article was published in the journal Ambio. The study was part of a Thematic Project funded by FAPESP, with Begossi as principal investigator.
“The study encompasses a series of projects beginning in the 1990s, conducted by researchers from Brazil and currently including scientists from other countries who have been working with me for a long time,” Begossi said.
The group included Natalia Hanazaki at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Priscila Lopes at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Renato Silvano at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Gustavo Hallwass at the Federal University of Pará, and Svetlana Salivonchyk at the Belarus National Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Nature Management in Minsk, all co-authors of the article.
“We surveyed 20 years of data on the consumption of artisanally caught fish. We analyzed the species consumed in the period and detected their worsening scarcity over time. This finding matches the evidence that some species are overfished, while others have been put on the red list of endangered species,” Begossi said.
Given the huge amount of data collected, the group decided to analyze it in the recently published study. Hundreds of interviews were conducted between 1986 and 2009 with artisanal fishers in seven communities on the islands of Búzios (RJ), Vitória (SP), Jaguanum (RJ) and Itacuruçá (RJ), as well as three coastal communities (Puruba-SP, Picinguaba-SP, and Praia Grande-RJ).
The questionnaire used in the interviews with fishers consisted of open-ended questions such as “Did you have fish for lunch or supper yesterday?” and “What fish?”.
Artisanal and commercial fishers in the areas surveyed in the Southeast region caught between 70 and 110 species. Eight species were most frequently mentioned by interviewees: Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), Weakfish (Cynoscion spp.), Whitemouth croaker (Micropogonias furnieri), Dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), Largehead hairtail (Trichiurus lepturus), Jack (Caranx spp.), White mullet (Mugil curema), and Southern kingcroaker (Menticirrhus americanus).
Altogether, the fishers mentioned 65 species in 347 interviews and more than 1,500 diet recalls. The researchers found that 33% had decreased in population terms since the studies began in 1986, while the conservation status of 54% was unknown according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
According to the authors, the growing scarcity of these species undermines the food security and livelihood of the artisanal fishers who depend on the catch for both consumption and income.
Most of the species cited are spared by commercial fishing fleets because the catch is too small. For this very reason, the fish are worth more individually and are sold to restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and along the coast between the two cities.
“As a response to overfishing, the Brazilian government has introduced a ban on the capture of several endangered species but without including fishery management measures or prioritizing the study of these species,” Begossi said.
“While this policy is designed to protect and rehabilitate fish populations, on the other hand, it represents a threat to small-scale fishing and to the livelihoods of artisanal fishers and their families. The solution is not a pure and simple fishing ban but sustainable management of the species concerned.”
There is also the question of food diversity. “The species caught by artisanal fishers are those that guarantee our food diversity. The most popular fish among consumers, such as Grouper or Common snook (Centropomus undecimalis), come from artisanal fishing. None of them comes from industrial fishing,” Begossi said.
“Some species, such as Dusky grouper, were plentiful in the 1980s but are now scarce. Dusky groupers can still be caught, but they’re smaller. There are species in the same genus that have disappeared, such as Snowy grouper (Epinephelus niveatus). This species wasn’t cited by our interviewees. It’s a critical case.”
The research conducted by Begossi and colleagues highlights the need to garner more and better biological and ecological data on the marine species that live near Atlantic rainforest fragments along the Brazilian coast. Collecting such data is “urgently needed”, Begossi said, to help promote the conservation and management of these species.
“Do we choose to let these species disappear? Is it our choice from now on to eat just three or four species supplied by fish farms, such as tilapia and salmon? Is that the future we want?” she asked.
The article “Threatened fish and fishers along the Brazilian Atlantic Forest coast” (doi:10.1007/s13280-017-0931-9) by Alpina Begossi, Svetlana Salivonchyk, Gustavo Hallwass, Natalia Hanazaki, Priscila F. M. Lopes and Renato A. M. Silvano can be retrieved from: link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13280-017-0931-9.
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