How Analytics are Making Peace Between Fishermen, Turtles

by  Andrew Van Dam,  The Washington Post

The ocean is complicated. Our tools to manage it are blunt.We often approach the ever-changing ocean as if it were a stationary valley in a national park. We close entire coastlines and restrict fisheries to protect single species. We’re flummoxed by wide-ranging mobile marine life and unprepared for climate change.

The effort allows regulators to close smaller areas of economically vital fisheries for shorter times. To protect threatened leatherback sea turtles as they range far and wide in pursuit of jellyfish swarms under the current system, you’d have to close huge swaths of the Pacific Ocean.

“The whole structure is antiquated. It assumes a level of stability that is definitely not happening,” said dynamic-management pioneer Sara Maxwell, who leads an ocean sustainability lab at University of Washington at Bothell. “The climate is changing. Fisheries are not prepared.”

New predictive analytics technologies used for dynamic ocean management are helping researchers protect turtles, albatrosses, whales, and other endangered species from fishermen.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Elliott Hazen, innovations in ocean data availability and processing power allow scientists to “run…models on our computer in minutes to maybe an hour that would have taken us months 10 years ago.”

Dunn said the most important piece of technology for dynamic management isn’t the advanced analytic tools; it’s the satellite phones and other devices regulators can use to communicate with fishermen out on the water.

Regulators closed New England’s Atlantic-scallop fishery to enforce the limit of flounder bycatch so often that fishermen lost between $11 million and $19 million in revenue each year between 2006 and 2009, fisheries scientist Catherine O’Keefe calculated.

In 2010, O’Keefe (now with the Massachusetts fishery division) and University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth researchers began collecting fishermen’s reports of where they caught the forbidden flounder. She simply processed the data and emailed it out to fishermen. The flounder never closed the scallop fishery again. The flounder-limit system changed in 2014.

Hazen and colleagues devised tools like EcoCast, which compares observed locations of marine species to satellite measurements of ocean conditions to create daily maps that localize where fishermen are most likely to find swordfish, and least likely to encounter protected species. Hawaii Pacific University’s Eric Gilman said EcoCast “holds tremendous promise of mitigating bycatch of species of conservation concern while maintaining economic viability.”  Report

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