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Better science for better fisheries management


Cod fishing in New Eng­land has steadily declined over the past three decades. It’s esti­mated that hun­dreds of people have lost their jobs as a result and that con­tinued failure to rebuild the fishery could cost the region’s economy a total of $200 mil­lion, according to the New Eng­land Fishery Man­age­ment Council.

But the big con­cern is really one of cul­ture, according to Northeastern’s Jon Grabowski. “You’re talking about an iconic fishery. Cod has been fished in these waters going back hun­dreds and hun­dreds of years,” said Grabowski, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of marine and envi­ron­mental sci­ence at the university’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant, Mass­a­chu­setts. “You can go back a thou­sand years to the Basques coming over to fish these his­tor­i­cally really pro­duc­tive grounds,” he said.

Marine science researcher Jon Grabowski works across and disciplines to come up with the best habitat management strategies for fisheries and the communities that depend on them. Photo by Mariah Tauger.

Grabowski,  has been working with other fish­eries sci­en­tists as well as econ­o­mists, social sci­en­tists, and policy makers to deter­mine the best strate­gies for dealing with the all of the North­east region’s fish­eries that impact habitat, which includes cod, had­dock, cusk, scal­lops, clams and other fish that live near the sea floor and are of sig­nif­i­cant socioe­co­nomic value to the region.

In the first of a series of research arti­cles pro­duced by the PDT, Grabowski and his col­leagues examine the vul­ner­a­bility of ground­fish habi­tats to var­ious types of fishing gear. “We reviewed how all the dif­ferent geo­log­ical and bio­log­ical com­po­nents of habitat are affected by these dif­ferent types of gear,” Grabowski said. The com­mittee exam­ined how easily these habi­tats can be dam­aged and how long it takes for them to recover.

They found that mobile fishing gear such as trawls and dredges that drag along the bottom cause more damage to areas inhab­ited by ground­fish than sta­tionary gear like traps and gill­nets. They also found that larger geo­log­ical fea­tures, such as cobble and boul­ders, are more sus­cep­tible to damage and take longer to recover than sand and mud—after all, some of these geo­log­ical fea­tures have taken mil­lennia to form.

The research, pub­lished online last month in the journal Reviews in Fish­eries Sci­ence & Aqua­cul­ture, uses these results to develop a frame­work that will pro­vide fish­eries man­agers a stan­dard­ized method for iden­ti­fying the most vul­ner­able habi­tats. Their work is being used as part of the Second Habitat Omnibus to inform redesigning the fishing clo­sures on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine.

We worry most about the com­po­nents of habi­tats that are highly sus­cep­tible to any of these gears and that have very long recovery times. Those are the kinds of per­sis­tent and severe impacts that we’d want to manage against,” Grabowski said. His research focuses on the many inter­con­necting arms of fish­eries sci­ence and management.

Grabowski said there are many stake­holders involved when dealing with com­plex chal­lenges like New England’s fishery prob­lems. His approach focuses on inter­dis­ci­pli­nary solu­tions to these chal­lenges by exam­ining not just the basic ecology of these species and their habi­tats, but also the ways in which the coastal com­mu­ni­ties are reacting to how fish­eries are managed.

Grabowski com­pared him­self to a cod—a gen­er­alist in the marine world—since he works across tra­di­tional insti­tu­tional and sec­to­rial bound­aries to iden­tify the best strate­gies and find ways to effec­tively imple­ment them.

At the end of the day,” Grabowski said, “if we really want to do some­thing about sus­tain­ability, we must be doing the kinds of things that involve policy and help shape the way society self regulates.”

Casey Bayer | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Marine PDT damage ground­fish Habitats habitat species

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