Steps toward an ecosystem-based fishery

The difference between the difficult and the impossible is that the impossible takes a little longer time. -Lady Aberdeen

Diamond Rocks, Kilkee. County Clare. Ireland

As consumer demand for sustainably produced food grows, industry, too, will need to be directly involved in the hands-on adaptation of techniques that ensure profitability as well as workforce compliance with policy.

During my recent study abroad in Ireland, I was witness to the pride and commitment the fishing industry had toward sustainable practices, as well as in maintaining their strong cultural identities. Understanding how that balance is achieved is critical to formulating a best-practices approach to implementation of new technologies in the United States, which has been struggling in its efforts to adopt new methods. With multilevel-multi-agency policies now being implemented that limit fisheries acceptable biological catch, innovative approaches to harvesting fish from the sea has become a necessity. Policy adaptation supporting advanced fishing technologies which are designed to reduce bycatch and entanglements can cripple industry if too restrictive and must be adopted in ways that are manageable and fair for success to be realized. Lobbyists, scientists, and industry in the US are now resorting to a variety of litigious measures to protect their stated interests, therefore, understanding how the EU cooperatively manages their fishing industry could prove highly beneficial. Policy measures that ensure solicitation from all stakeholders will be examined, and future suggestions for a novel framework for the US managed fisheries will be proposed. My study will focus on those policies and directives in the EU identified to have had the most positive impact on fishermen and their communities. This research is instrumental in assisting with efforts in the US when interacting with community fisheries to encourage a more fruitful and engaged cooperative attitude toward marine conservation.

-Kim Sawicki October 2018

Fishing without Rope?

Southern Right Whales. © Brian Skerry

Past research has indicated an undeniable benefit to the use of innovative ropeless gear within pot and trap fisheries with a removal of end lines and buoy lines. (Baumgartner et al., 2018.; Werner et al., 2015; Lent, 2017; FAO, 2018) These innovative approaches to end line management allow for the lowered risk of bycatch and entanglements of critically endangered species, most particularly that of the North Atlantic Right Whale.

It is imperative that a better understanding of the benefits and potential gains be attained if technology such as this is to be affordable and accepted for widespread use for pot/trap fisheries.  Due the innate differences of individual fisheries, it is well accepted that there will likely not exist one perfect ropeless technology that will address all of the individual needs of all fisheries. Many of the current designs have several decades of successful use in other applications, serving to catalyze and invigorate new manufacturers of gear, as well as thoughtful adaptations of existing devices.

As with any proposed change to fishing technique or technology, there has historically been a period of resistance, research, and adjustment. This period has been unusually long for ropeless gear, and thus far, much of the discourse between management and industry partners has been laden with untested hypothetical concerns regarding functionality and implementation.


Valid concerns provided by fishers with decades of harvesting experience have not been reasonably resolved with the limited testing that has been completed by manufacturers, environmental non-government organizations, or fisheries partners. To ensure the continued success of a co-management approach to fisheries practices, priority needs to be given to further this testing.

-Kim Sawicki January 2019

Spend some time with people, before you change their way of life.


“Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.” – Carl Gustav Jung

Civic engagement and communication are the most vital link to understanding those factors that drive successful policy change. Immersing oneself in local cultural activities can work to promote the position of all scientists working in marine conservation. Cerebral comprehension of issues that concern fishing communities when faced with change is not enough to inform decision makers, instead, having a “finger on the pulse” of that which makes a community strong is. Often, understanding comes from rapport that develops through identifying shared interests and commonalities.

Spending quality time with those lives you will affect through suggested policy changes ensures that you have the opportunity to not only study the economic impacts these policies can and do have on these communities, but also the cultural implications and experiences that are realized.

-Kim Sawicki December 2018

Answers to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team Ropeless Subgroup Feasibility Matrix

Six ropeless fishing systems: Ashored’s MOBI, Desert Star Systems ARC-1, SMELTS Lobster Raft, Fiomarine’s Fiobuoy®, LobsterLift, and EdgeTech’s 5112 ©Annika Toth, 2019

Answers to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team

Ropeless Subgroup Feasibility Matrix

Author: Kim Sawicki Correspondence to: Kim.Sawicki@uconn.edu +4407840 489378

Contributing authors and collaborators: James A.R. McFarlane, Michael Shegog, John Fiotakis, Rich Riels, Jacob Wolf, Maxwell Poole, Aaron Stevenson, Marco Flagg, Robert Morris, Michael Stocker, Hannah Myers, Edward Wyman, Cormac Hondros-MacCarthy, Ted Zhu, Russ Mullins.

Author’s Note: In the interest of hastening the continued progress of ropeless fishing, in November of 2018, eight companies that have either a mature product or are actively developing ropeless technologies formed an informal working group after the Ropeless Consortium meeting trough which they collaborate and share data through a central researcher.  The author and Fulbright student, affiliated with the University of Connecticut, the University of St. Andrews, and the Marine Institute, has functioned as a liaison for information gathering to answer many of the questions posed by the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction team. That data can be viewed in the full version of this document, available below.

The opinions, calculations, and summary points are those of the author, only, but were the result of conversations, data sharing, and collaboration with many of the above listed parties.  Several of the above mentioned parties were directly quoted in this report and are being listed as coauthors or collaborators.

My Ask: My request to the ALWTRT would be to ensure that the continued development and support of ropeless technologies be included in the rule-making process.

Kim Sawicki-September 2019

We have a chance to fix things.

No. 3329 Credit: Peter Flood

“If I seem like a radical, it may be because I see things that others do not. I think if others had the opportunity to witness what I’ve seen in my lifetime…I would not seem like a radical at all. We have a chance to fix things.”

-Her Deepness, Sylvia Earle. Mission Blue

It has taken several days for me to sit down and write this post.  This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because writing the words will make it real.

A year ago, I didn’t even know what a North Atlantic Right Whale was. Since that time, I have spent countless hours researching these animals, their families, their food, their habitats, their mating and migratory behaviors. I have also studied their necropsy reports, lab results, and a multitude of photos that exist of these animals and their babies. Too often, the images I see show them sliced apart or strangled by various fishing lines and lost gear, washed ashore as nothing more than deflated sacks of bone. The images of gaping wounds from propellers or a pathologist’s knife are becoming so common that now I feel each birth, and each loss, as intimately as if they were my own family.

We have lost 6 of a critically endangered species so far this season. Four of them were female.  We know that there are less than 100 breeding females in this tiny population that now numbers only 412. And this number only stands if all 7 of the calves born in Georgia and Florida survive their first year of life.

I will add more to this post as information becomes available, but please take a moment to pay tribute to these six individual animals whose lives enriched our coastal waters for too short of a time.

We still have a chance to fix things.

-Kim Sawicki, 1 July 2019


Please consider a donation to the Center for Coastal Studies, an organization that does incredible work for our North Atlantic Right Whales, as well as our ecosystem-at-large.


What do we know about these animals that died?


Punctuation Credit: DFO

We know that Punctuation, a 38-year-old grandmother, had been previously entangled in fishing gear before and survived. We also know that she was struck twice by boat propellers and lived. We know that she had at least 8 calves that also had successful births. We also know that she traveled to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence this summer, was struck by a third boat, and was killed.


Comet Credit: Dr. Moira Brown

We know that Comet, 34, was a grandfather as well. It has been determined by his autopsy, completed June 28th, 2019 by by the Marine Animal Response Society, DFO, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, the Atlantic Veterinary College, the province and the Canadian Coast Guard that his death was also, likely due to ship strike.


Wolverine Credit: Sheila McKenney/Associated Scientists of Woods Hole/Marineland Right Whale Project
Wolverine Credit: Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC
Wolverine’s Necropsy Credit: Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC

We know that Wolverine, whose cause of death has yet to be determined, was only 9 years old. This is the equivalent of a 9 year-old human child dying of “unknown” causes. Wolverine was named for the propeller gashes visible along his spine. He also had been the victim of a series of entanglements.


Clipper and Calf 2016 Credit-Marineland RW Project

We know that Clipper, who was necropsied today on the Gaspe Penisula, was the victim many years ago of a previous ship strike that left her with a clipped tail fluke. She was first seen in 2004, and had likely been a mother twice. Clipper was reported as of July 5th, 2019 to have also been killed by a ship strike.


No. 3815 Credit: Center for Coastal Studies

No. 3815 was first seen as a calf off New Jersey in May 2008. She is the daughter of Harmony, No. 3115, who was the daughter of No. 1815. She was only 12 years old, and was just entering the age of sexual maturity.


No. 3329 Credit: Jolinne Surette

No. 3329 was likely born in December 2002 off Georgia. She is the daughter of Viola No. 2029 who was the daughter of Ipanema, No. 1629. She was also quite photogenic.


We still have a chance to fix things. Right Whale Credit: Brian Skerry
sustainable seas 2019

Ropeless Consortium Informal Industry Working Group Ropeless Gear Testing Matrix 2019

Below please find a gear testing matrix that is offered open source to anyone wishing to perform ropeless gear testing. It is the result of the collaborative efforts of all of the gear designers and manufacturers listed on this blog. Through their willingness to work together to solve the problem of entanglements, they are proving that their hearts, as well as their technology are in the Right place. I would personally like to thank them for their participation in this seemingly small but important contribution.

-Kim Sawicki March 2019

Confirmed North Atlantic Right Whale Entanglement Deaths as of 2019


Above data appears in map form as published by
NOAA’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team.

Statistical data available to date indicates that these numbers reflect possibly less than 6% of all North Atlantic Right Whales killed as a result (either direct or indirect) of entanglement in man-made gear. This is a staggering number considering the current known population of the North Atlantic Right Whale numbers a mere 418 individuals.

View all pertinent data on the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team’s April Meeting on their Website Here

-Kim Sawicki March 2019

Why disentanglement teams are a crutch and not an adequate defense against entanglements.

Humpback whale entangled in fishing gear. © 2019 Captain Steve’s Rafting Adventures

“Disentanglement is a crutch that’s been leant on for too long, it should not be viewed as a long-term solution to the entanglement crisis”
– large whale disentanglement team member, Massachusetts.
Quote from Ellie MacLennan’s 2017 paper “Disentangling a Whale of a Problem”

From the 2017 National Report on Large Whale Entanglements:

“Seventy-six confirmed cases of large whale entanglements were documented along the coasts of the United States in 2017. Seventy of these entanglement cases involved live animals and six involved dead animals. All were independently confirmed by the Large Whale Entanglement Response Network.”

The five most frequently entangled large whale species in 2017 included humpback whale, gray whale, minke whale, blue whale, and North Atlantic right whale. Large whale entanglements were reported and confirmed in the waters of 13 states, along all U.S. coasts except within the Gulf of Mexico.

Approximately 70 percent of confirmed cases in 2017 were entangled in fishing gear (line and buoys, traps, monofilament line, and nets)”

2017 National Report on Large Whale Entanglements, NOAA.

Sadly, this is an all-too-common occurrence these days.

This whale was unable to be completely disentangled, despite the best efforts of the whale watching company (who reported it and stood by the animal) and NOAA’s authorized and highly-trained team. Even when people do everything right, many of these entangled animals can not be freed.

No fisher ever wants or intends to be the cause of these entanglements as they are costly to the fisher as well as the environment. Fishers are not the cause of these entanglements, outdated technology is. We owe it to them to work toward a solution that keeps this in mind.

Deceased Atlantic Humpback, cause of death unknown. ©2019 Betty Burks

-Kim Sawicki March 2019

An amazing and enlightening video on the life of Scottish fishers…

Why is this issue of sustainably-caught seafood such a controversial one? Take an hour to watch the fascinating BBC video above to find out! Featuring Dougie Vipond, this documentary is not only riveting, but speaks volumes about how far we have still to go to make sure that we are good stewards of the seas.

Kim Sawicki February 2019

Ocean Soul-Brian Skerry


© 2017 Brian Skerry

Brian Skerry is one of my favorite underwater photographers. I find his approach when capturing images of nature to be passionate, reverent, and humble. I am always delighted to introduce people to his work because his actions once out of the water center around conserving what he sees when beneath the waves. I love seeing the world through his camera lens, and I am sure you will, too. Enjoy!

-Kim Sawicki February 2019


Brian discusses the work behind his 2011 book, Ocean Soul, which can be purchased below.
© Brian Skerry and National Geographic


Brian Skerry is a photojournalist specializing in marine wildlife and underwater environments. Since 1998 he has been a contract photographer for National Geographic Magazine. In 2014 he was named a National Geographic Photography Fellow. In 2015 he was named a Nikon Ambassador and in 2017 he was named the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year.

http://www.brianskerry.com

2010 TED talk featuring Skerry discussing his ocean concerns.

Unique within the field of underwater photography is Brian’s ability to pursue subjects of great diversity. He typically spends eight months each year in the field and frequently finds himself in environments of extreme contrast from tropical coral reefs to diving beneath polar ice. While on assignment he has lived on the bottom of the sea, spent months aboard fishing boats and traveled in everything from snowmobiles to canoes to the Goodyear Blimp to get the picture. He has spent more than 10,000 hours underwater over the last thirty years.


http://www.brianskerry.com

His latest book, SHARK, was released in June 2017. You can order an autographed copy here:

In February 2017, National Geographic Magazine’s cover story focused on the protection and preservation of several of our country’s precious underwater ecosystems. Not only did Brian get to snorkel with the president, but he became the first photographer to ever catch an image of an “underwater Commander-in-chief”!


Brian can be followed on Instagram (@BrianSkerry), Twitter (Brian_Skerry) and on Facebook. His website is http://www.BrianSkerry.com.

You can purchase Ocean Soul by clicking the button below, or check out any of his other stunning work.

Disclaimer: All materials shared on this page are the artistic and intellectual property of Brian Skerry and National Geographic. If you link or share, please make certain to cite and credit both appropriately, as I have tried to do here. They work hard to support saving vital ecosystems, so ensuring they are credited both financially and artistically is important. Thanks!