Propelling Economies and Fisheries Data Collection in Puerto Rico:
Introducing the SeasonalCatch Seafood Initiative
By Wessley Merten (Click here to get involved)
A recent report released by the World Resources Institute estimates that the global population is projected to grow to 9.8 billion in 2050 and food demand will rise by more than 50%, with demand for animal-based foods, which includes seafood, increasing by nearly 70%. The authors go on to say that wild fish stocks will decline by at least 10% by 2050. They stress the need to advance conservation measures for wild fish stocks and to create a coordinated effort to stabilize wild fish catch at 2010 levels by 2050. Dolphinfish has oftentimes been considered an inexhaustible fishery resource by many fishermen and industries for decades, but a recent scientific paper published in 2018 and anecdotal evidence from angler observations in both the western central Atlantic and eastern tropical Pacific suggest a decrease in the abundance of fish as well as changes in seasonality and size composition of catch. Yet, to this day, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has neither performed a modern stock assessment on dolphinfish targeted and incidentally caught in U.S. fisheries nor has an assessment of the status of the species been performed in the Caribbean Sea or Atlantic Ocean by any of the various management bodies. Either of such assessments would provide a starting point to begin to intelligibly evaluate and monitor the status of the species into the future. Add to this the lack of conservation measures throughout its range, the lack of catch and effort data of small-scale commercial fishing operations that target dolphinfish, the burgeoning use of moored and drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs) where dolphinfish is one of the top landed species, and the growing popularity of offshore recreational fishing, it would be naïve, and could prove disastrous, to think dolphinfish is immune to overfishing and can sustain healthy population sizes for decades to come given the aforementioned projections.
Fortunately, the Dolphinfish Research Program (DRP) was formed 16 years ago by Don Hammond to gather life history information needed to aid in protecting dolphinfish from overfishing and is now managed by its own 501(c)(3), the Beyond Our Shores Foundation (BOSF), which is working to expand its presence throughout the Americas and Caribbean Sea. The primary goal of the research associated with the DRP is to conserve wild dolphin for future generations to come. Wild is defined as fulfilling all life cycle stages in the wild from spawn, to yolk-sac larvae, to young of the year through to adult. Given the diverse stakeholders that target dolphinfish and the lack of action by fishery management agencies to monitor and ensure the long-term sustainability of the species, BOSF has created a work portfolio to provide more opportunities for fishermen across fishing sectors to engage in dolphinfish research. This allows for more data to be collected so that we can take action and begin to monitor the species in order to ensure one of the most iconic pelagic fish species is conserved for future generations to come. Research and conservation actions associated with the DRP are now complemented by a FAD research program, which aims to gather fisheries and economic data on FAD use, performance, effectiveness, and impact on pelagic fish species. A key performance metric in 2018 is the collection of 1049 vessel trip and catch reports from 24 participating vessels around the Atlantic and Caribbean. These catch statistics alone show that dolphinfish was caught 34 times more than all billfish species combined and 26 times more than wahoo. One recreational vessel monitored off south Florida caught only dolphinfish during eight outings from June through November, a statistic that is likely true for other recreational vessels, which stresses the need to support our tagging efforts to increase spawning of small fish <25” to create healthier pelagic food webs (please donate what you can here). As we continue to increase the number of participating vessels, we will be able to start to examine seasonal trends in catch and effort which is the principle data needed to monitor the status of dolphinfish. While we won’t be able to generalize seasonal trends across boats until we have a large enough sample size by region, we will be able to compare and contrast individual vessel histories to examine dolphinfish catch and effort trends which is a worthwhile endeavor for our program and this species. Email us to sign up or click here to receive our quarterly FAD newsletters to receive updates about this ongoing research.
In an effort to complete a well-rounded work portfolio to help improve our knowledge of dolphinfish, we are pleased to announce the successful completion of a third program, the SeasonalCatch Seafood Initiative. This program was created to promote market incentives and collect data on small-scale fishing operations and seafood dynamics in Puerto Rico as well as to drive environmental stewardship, sustainable fishing practices, and responsible harvest of species such as dolphinfish that occurs seasonally around Puerto Rico. We believe that by providing educational tools and incentives from our research to seafood restaurant-fishermen partnerships in Puerto Rico, tools and incentives that benefit their businesses, clientele, and ability to teach the public about local, fresh, and sustainably caught seafood harvested in-season, they become the beat of ocean conservation in their communities and will safeguard their local marine resources for generations to come. Given the predicted rise in global population size and demand for protein, humanity is facing a food crisis that will not be able to be met by aquaculture and mariculture alone. This demand must be met by sustainable fisheries management of wild fish stocks, and dolphinfish represents a potential sustainable fishery if it is managed and harvested properly. Problematically, there is a lack of accurate landings and seafood data on dolphinfish, and other seafood, in places like Puerto Rico. We feel that one way to change this is to work with local seafood restaurants on local scales to help promote their local, fresh, and sustainably caught fish by providing meaningful incentives in exchange for gathering detailed information that will improve fisheries management and advance ocean conservation. Working in partnership with BOSF for nearly two years, MenTa Cuisine was equipped with an industrial strength generator six months ago; this generator was one of a few equipment and technology upgrades MenTa Cuisine has received in exchange for participating in the SeasonalCatch Seafood Initiative. MenTa Cuisine’s owner, Cedric Taquin, said recently, “just within the last few weeks MenTa has received business from dozens of customers because we have remained open during blackouts. Not to mention the benefit of not having to run around town to gather ice and supplies to keep our local catch from spoiling when the power is out. We are so excited to be a part of this movement which helps our business and economy and provides new data to improve fisheries management and our understanding of seafood dynamics in Puerto Rico.” Click here to watch a film about the implementation of this pilot program in Puerto Rico and click here to read more about how you can support program’s expansion on the island or get involved. This pilot program was made possible through a grant from the Waitt Foundation and participation of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business Global Fellows Program.