A fishing tutorial for kids: Working together to sustain local fisheries

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 11:15am
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“My favorite part of my job is doing science that matters, and specifically working with the people that the science matters for. It’s knowing that my research has an impact, not just to the scientific community, but for the people who are harvesting and consuming the fish,” said Anna Mercer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Narragansett, R.I.

On a Wednesday in early June, Mercer presented a webinar of her studies on how NOAA works with local fishermen to maintain sustainable fisheries as part of the “NOAA Live! 4 Kids program.” Mercer’s webinar was one of 35 in the series, aimed at kids and families, which began in March 2020 when stay-athome orders were put into place. The series provided opportunities for children to interact with NOAA scientists and learn about careers at NOAA.

The webinar reviewed species that are harvested in the northeast, how these species are caught, and how NOAA collaborates with fishermen to develop tools and strategies for sustainable fishing methods and research projects.

“I have worked with a lot of fishermen to do research. I went out on their boats, went fishing with them, collected data, talked to them about what they know about our ocean environment, and trained them [on] how to use scientific data tools. Now I work for the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Cooperative Research Branch… to explore how to better use the resources we have to support collaborative research.” said Mercer.

Mercer went on to add “Fishermen are everywhere… a fisherman can be someone [who] harvests commercially, for fun, or for their communities. Particularly in the northeast region, fishermen are in almost all coastal towns.”

Mercer’s studies have included the various fishing industries, including commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries. A commercial fishery is “when fishermen and women go out to catch fish to sell. A recreational fishery is going out to catch fish for fun. A subsistence fishery is a fishery where individuals are harvesting fish to feed themselves and their communities,” added Mercer.

Mercer presented some facts during the webinar: “In the U.S., 9.4 billions pounds of seafood was harvested in 2018… nearly 200 species are harvested in the northeast region of the United States”, including American lobster, Atlantic cod, Atlantic sea scallop, and Atlantic surfclam.

She went on to discuss fishing gears used by fishermen: mobile and fixed gears, including how each is used, and the future in producing sustainable gears for fishermen.

Mobile gear [is pulled] behind a boat, and fixed gear is put in the ocean to “soak” before being hauled back,” explained Mercer.

One mobile gear example Mercer discussed is the bottom trawl method, which is used by boats with “a net usually deployed over the back of the boat, all the way down to the sea floor where the net drags across the sea floor. The fish in front of that net swim back into that net — the cod end, and hauled back onboard,” said Mercer.

In the past, trawling has been identified as problematic because of what Mercer called “bycatch” — marine life that gets caught up in the nets, such as sea turtles. But NOAA has been working with trawlers to “fish more sustainably: for example, an ‘eliminator trawl’ reduces bycatch of cod and non-target species, as well as reduces sea floor impact of trawling with ‘rockhoppers’, [which are] rubber disks that bounce on the sea floor as the net trails sweep. Other examples are turtle excluder devices, [and] funnel and escape panels to reduce butterfish bycatch in squid fishery,” added Mercer.

She concluded on the note that there are many ways and strategies to work together with the fishing industry “to fish better, understand, and manage our oceans and fisheries — develop hypotheses, collect data, interpret data, and develop new gear.”

The goal, Mercer said, is sustainability.

“When I say sustainable, I mean it’s a way of harvesting from the ocean, to continue to be healthy over time and to support ourselves and the health of the ocean,” said Mercer.

To watch Mercer’s recorded video, and to see the other webinars, check out https:// seagrant.whoi.edu/suggested-educational-resources-for-use-during-school-closures/webinars-noaa-live/