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New technology helps fishermen and conservationists both win

A new tool could help fishermen increase their yields while still protecting at-risk species to the benefit of both the fishing industry and conservationists.

No-fishing zones proven successful in the protection and restoration of endangered and threatened species, but they can present a hindrance to fishermen.

Currently, protection zones are often static and don’t reflect the constant variations in ocean conditions, which means fishermen may not be able to meet their target quotas or end up catching protected species as bycatch anyway.

Conservationists and fishers have long had difficulty finding common ground between protecting and making a profit.

Now, a tool called EcoCast could be just the solution both the fishing industry and conservation scientists have been looking for.

EcoCast was developed by researchers from San Diego State University in collaboration with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and provides computer-generated maps of zones that could meet fishing quotas while avoiding areas with protected species.

“This is a really different way of approaching fisheries management,” said Rebecca Lewison, a lead scientist on the project. “EcoCast pioneers a way of evaluating both conservation objectives and economic profitability. Instead of trying to shut down U.S. fisheries, EcoCast is trying to help U.S. fishermen fish smarter, allowing them to meet their set quota of target catch and avoid unwanted bycatch.”

A new report outlining EcoCast’s development and potential was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

EcoCast collects data from the NOAA’s CoastWatch program, which monitors ocean conditions worldwide with satellites. Fishers will receive up to date reports daily noting where protected fish populations are likely to be located.  

The tool warns fishers of potential bycatch locations for leatherback sea turtles, blue sharks, and California sea lions but could be expanded to include more species and areas.

“We’re harnessing the field of big data so that information on ocean conditions can be of use to fishermen,” said Elliott Hazen, the lead author of the new paper.

After demonstrating the way EcoCast could be used by fishermen, the researchers discovered that the tool could still protect species but reduce no-fishing zones, making them two to ten times smaller and giving fishers more pace to meet their quotas.

“EcoCast represents a new approach to dynamically manage our ocean resources, which is an exciting advance in fisheries management,” said Lewison. “By working directly with fisheries, we can develop tools that can help US fleets to fish smarter.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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