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danielandrewclem

Link between decline of sharks and scallops?

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Here's a Yahoo synopsis of an interesting paper in Science about the possible link between the decline of coastal sharks and the decline of bay scallops in northeastern US waters. Basically the hypothesis is that cownose rays, skates, and some other shellfish eaters are booming because there aren't enough sharks to eat them, and now the native bay scallop populations are getting gobbled up.

 

One of the paper's authors was Ransom Myers of Dalhousie U in N.S.. Myers just died a few days ago of brain cancer. Some of you may remember him as the author of some of the papers in recent years that generated major headlines about 90% of the big fish being gone. Here's the WaPo obit.

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That is incredibily interesting. What is sad is what the response will likely be...kill the rays. Take Canada for example. Wiped out the Cod populations. Needed a scape goat and blamed the harp seal. To keep fishermen in business, now trying to wipe out the harp seal. What about cutting back further on the Cod fishing!

 

In this case, heavy protection for sharks would be in order. But that doesn't add jobs or retain fishermen jobs. So they will likely do what they usually do...target the next species down the chain and wipe it out.

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There is, of course, some debate as to whether the decline in great sharks (those that feed on other elasmobranchs) is what's triggered the boom in cownose rays and the associated decline of bay scallops, but the data are pretty compelling, and they were looking at this for an impressive 35 years. (I just read the Science article.) Here's a Washington Post article from 3 years ago about what the cownose rays did to an Army Corps of Engineers oyster project in Chesapeake Bay.

 

Maybe we could get China to eat cownose ray wing soup for a while? ;) Otherwise, I'm not sure fishermen will target this species, no matter what the motivation may be. You'd have to use gillnets, I think, and it would be a real nightmare handling these spine-bearing, slippery rays. But who knows. Gillnetters on the Cape fish for winter skate ($0.35/lb) for much of the summer because their cod quota is so low. They get about 35 cents per pound for skate wing.

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Isn't the point that we shouldn't just turn around a decimate another species. Rather, we should let the predator species recover and restore balance.

 

And there is already a huge appetite for rays in Asia. No need to encourage that or any other sea food demand over there.

 

Truckloads of rays go through fishing ports like this every day:(

post-2224-1175273223_thumb.jpg

post-2224-1175273265_thumb.jpg

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Isn't the point that we shouldn't just turn around a decimate another species. Rather, we should let the predator species recover and restore balance.

 

I tend to agree, Shawn. Hence the ;) The rays will presumably decline once they've hammered their prey items hard enough. No need to invent a new fishery to take care of a problem we initiated by hammering their predators.

 

But I wouldn't be surprised if fishermen were allowed to target cownose rays (assuming they'd want to and have a market for them) in light of the fact that their population has grown by an order of magnitude (and by our own making). Some would even argue that doing so might be a good idea, and might hasten the return of a more balanced system. Not decimation, but some increase in harvest so that the scallops and other bivalves will not be wiped out.

 

The idea of downsizing or ceasing all fishing industries (in the hope that nature will heal itself) may feel right, but it isn't necessarily wiser than trying to manage things by increasing and decreasing fishing activity according to a broad, scientific, ecosystem-based management approach. It is conceivable that if the rays thoroughly decimate their prey species, the eventual recovery of sharks could be impeded because the rays and other bivalve-eating species will not have any food. If we mess up one trophic level it may be better in the long run if we don't simply walk away from the cascade effect we've induced.

 

Do you have any more pics of that truck and its contents? What species are those?

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I do have more pics of the truck. I have not researched what kind of rays however.

 

Regarding management of fisheries...i have a very little trust in an industry policing itself...that is what the Cod fisheries did...;) Too many jobs on the line not to push for unsustainable limits. There is a reason most fisheries in the world have crashed or are on the verge of collapse.

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My fiancée just told me that she heard at the recent New England Fisheries Managament Council meeting that some fishermen in the Chesapeake Bay area are, at the encouragement of fisheries scientists, starting up some commercial fishing for cownose rays. I guess they're shipping them to South Korea. I guess at first VA wanted to offer fishermen a bounty for killing the rays, but that plan was nixed in favor of encouraging commercial fishing. Here's an article from last year.

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This ran in today's San Diego paper (from MCI new service):

 

Disappearance of sharks cuts through food chain

 

Excerpt:

 

Although many researchers have documented sharp declines in recent decades, this report concludes that the 11 largest sharks along the Atlantic Coast have all but vanished from overfishing – down from 87 percent to 99 percent for bull, dusky and smooth hammerhead sharks.

 

Equally important, researchers directly connect their disappearance to a boom-and-bust cycle for other sea life, resulting in the near wipeout of a valuable scallop fishery.

 

“I am not using the word 'extinction' at this point. The ecological term we would use is 'functionally eliminated,' †said co-author Julia Baum of Dalhousie University in Canada. “In layman's terms, it means there aren't enough of these top predators around anymore to do their role.â€

 

Researchers and conservationists say the study, funded by the Pew Institute for Ocean Science at the University of Miami, bolsters arguments to shut down the shark fishery – a move with major implications in Florida, which leads the nation in commercial landings."

I didn't realize Florida had that distinction, and perhaps those of us in the U.S. should consider ramping up opposition to the overfishing of sharks off our own coasts.

 

Mary Lynn

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Yup. Lotta shark landings in Florida, compared to other states. For example, 2005 saw 770 metric tons of sandbar shark (the most commonly landed large commercial shark species) and Florida had 423 of those tons. California takes most of the threshers (178 of 193 tons) and is third to North Carolina and Hawaii in the mako catch.

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Fisheries is the biggest problem faced in the marine environment today. In the UK we still have legislation (the Public Right to Fisheries) dating back to the Magna Carta (~800 years old) which still influences our fishery laws. Given the state of declining fish stocks and damaging fishing techniques, this is (or should be) unbelievable. You simply cannot apply 800 year old laws to the 21st century. But for some bizarre reason fishing is still seen as a 'heroic' fight against the elements rather than a highly technical and extrememly efficient mopping up of every available edible marine wild resource. It takes immense effort to force politicians to take action to curb fisheries despite ever increasing evidence that we are reducing fish stocks and even damaging our ability to research into 'global warming' in certain circumstances. Sadly, little surprises me with regard to fisheries these days.

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The full-text of the 30 March Science article by Ransom Myers et al, although not available on the Science website (at least not to non-subscribers), can be downloaded from the Pew Charitable Trusts - Census of Marine Life pages at....

 

http://www.globalshark.ca/pressmaterial/ca...b=-1&pmid=7

 

http://as01.ucis.dal.ca/ramweb/papers-tota...007_Science.pdf

 

It's very sad about Ransom Myers passing away.

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Not sure where to being on this one.

 

Yes shark numbers have declined, I am not refuting that, but this paper is so full of invalid assumptions and holes that it is absolutely pathetic that it graced the pages of science.

 

The drive for a commercial fishery for cownose in Chesapeake Bay was/is driven by commercial interests. In the bay the commercial guys think they eat oysters, thus the bounty or fishery, this is virtually impossible given their mouth morphology. In short the reproductive biology/ecology of the animal will not allow for a sustainably profitable fishery.

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Yes shark numbers have declined, I am not refuting that, but this paper is so full of invalid assumptions and holes that it is absolutely pathetic that it graced the pages of science.

 

The drive for a commercial fishery for cownose in Chesapeake Bay was/is driven by commercial interests. In the bay the commercial guys think they eat oysters, thus the bounty or fishery, this is virtually impossible given their mouth morphology. In short the reproductive biology/ecology of the animal will not allow for a sustainably profitable fishery.

 

Actually, Patarero, you haven't refuted anything. All you've done is mouth absurd allegations that the Ransom paper was "full of invalid assumptions and holes" without providing any specifics or relevant argument.

 

Not only have shark numbers declined, the paper notes multiple surveys showing increase in population of cownose rays by an order of magnitude since the mid-1970s, as well as growing numbers of other "mesopredatory elasmobranch prey" of great sharks. The trophic cascade argument developed in this paper attributes depletion of bay scallops in the Chesapeake to increased predation by cownose rays.

 

Whether the "commercial guys" in Chesapeake Bay think rays eat oysters or not isn't relevant to the claims of this paper. The paper states that cownose rays diet "consists largely of bay scallops (Argopecten irradians), soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria), hard clams (Mercenaria mercenaria), oysters (Crassostrea virginica) and other noncommercial bivalves, citing an article by Robert Blaylock (at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of William and Mary College) in Estuaries, "Distribution and Abundance of the Cownose Ray Rhinoptera bonasus in the Lower Chesapeake, and also citing a thesis by Donna Grusha. Even if your opinion (since you cite no evidence) that the cownose ray mouth morphology makes it "virtually impossible" for the ray to eat oysters happened to have any validity, the arguments made in this paper relate to the precipitous decline in bay scallops (A. irradians), not oysters.

 

The Myers paper doesn't just infer a linkage between ballooning cownose ray populations and the collapse of bay scallops. "Analogous recent sampling, confirmed by controlled ray-exclusion experiments using stockades, demonstrates that since 1996 migrating cownose rays have caused almost complete scallop mortality by early fall ... at every site with initial adult scallop densities above a threshold for intensive ray foraging (~2 m-2)." The authors further note that, having essentially depleted the bay scallop population, "increased predation by cownose rays ... may now inhibit recovery of hard clams, soft shell clams, and oysters, compounding the effects of overexploitation, disease, habitat destruction and pollution, which have depressed these species," but at no point in their paper whatsoever do they ever state that cownose ray predation has been a major factor in the decline of oyster and other bivalve populations to date.

 

Your views and opinions are welcome, Patarero, but if you seriously want to challenge some of the best marine fisheries science that has ever been done by anyone anywhere, you'll have to do better than just mouth unsupported, ridiculous attacks. For a start, you might try reading the paper next time before you post your own insightful comments.

 

Robert Delfs

Edited by frogfish

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Robert. Fisheries science is often interesting and scientists who work in the marine environment certainly operate under great difficulties and produce some sterling work. However.....

 

Certainly in the UK my experience is that much research seems to be about obtaining actual proof of what is often obvious and worse, this proof rarely impinges on fisheries policy (well it does sometimes when the EU force the issue with a member state for example!). Whilst I have been to some excellent lectures on fisheries science (and some which really do show some amazing things going on) I remain too cynical to think that much ever gets past the interesting stage and actually helps to formulate policy.

 

I haven't done more than skim the articles mentioned in this topic, however it seems to me that the imbalance will probably result in a short term and inappropriate response driven (it usually is) by commercial interests.

 

Cynicism by posters (such as myself) is often driven by experience which in fisheries is not good, so go easy on us!

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Certainly in the UK my experience is that much research seems to be about obtaining actual proof of what is often obvious and worse, this proof rarely impinges on fisheries policy (well it does sometimes when the EU force the issue with a member state for example!). Whilst I have been to some excellent lectures on fisheries science (and some which really do show some amazing things going on) I remain too cynical to think that much ever gets past the interesting stage and actually helps to formulate policy.

 

I haven't done more than skim the articles mentioned in this topic, however it seems to me that the imbalance will probably result in a short term and inappropriate response driven (it usually is) by commercial interests.

 

Cynicism by posters (such as myself) is often driven by experience which in fisheries is not good, so go easy on us!

I have no problem with cynicism, Paul. I'm cynical about a lot of things too, but it has never led to me want to excuse blatant distortion (or in the very least, stupendous lack of comprehension) of the content and arguments in a scientific paper. That's what Paterero did.

 

But what I really can't stomach is blaming fisheries scientists for the failures of fisheries or sins of the commercial fishing industry, and of all people Ransom Myers (who only died a week ago, ok?), perhaps the one person who has done more than anyone (certainly anyone here on wetpixel) to build the hard science, facts and arguments needed if we are to save the great fish.

 

Please try to be serious about this. We all know that the idea that removing an apex predators (like great sharks) would have serious cascading affects down the trophic chain (from rays to scallops) is hardly new, and Ransom Myers would have been the last person to say so. But hard evidence that this has actually happened in a major commercial fishery, delineations of the scale, evidence that can't be easily controverted, buried or denied by the government agencies, industry and their lackies - that is very different, not just another persuasive theories about the ecological role of apex predators.

 

That work is what Ransom Myers and his colleagues gave us, just before his untimely death. That work is something that will make much more of a difference in future political battles over fisheries policy than your easy cynicism, or mine.

 

Perhaps you and Paterero feel that because these things are "obvious" that we shouldn't actually need hard science or facts to move forward, that it should be enough that everyone just listen to you and your friends, stop being bad people, stop killing fish, refrain from crossing against the light and everyone give to charity, ok. This is the point where I find myself become cynical, mostly about people who find it fashionable to pose as conservationists and pratt on about wildlife.

 

I've seen your webpage, Paul, and you have some nice images there. But I'm sure that neither you nor I (nor any other adult participating in this site) is deluded enough to believe that selling images of marine wildlife is some kind of sure-fire way to save it. If you are truly serious about marine conservation, why would you want to blow off some of the best science that is has been done, science that might make help stop some of the worst abuses and reverse or slow down the degradation of marine environments and loss of marine biodiversity and environments?

 

Apologies if I've been harsh. Perhaps if Ransom Myers hadn't died last week I'd be less angry about the people who find it so easy to piss all over his life's work.

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Robert

 

A friend of mine has just run a campaign against scallop dredging in marine Special Areas of Conservation and WON! When he first started and provided the authorities with 'proof' including large amounts of scientific, photographic, and videographic evidence (photography DOES have a part to play) and sworn evidence from witnesses as to the damaging effects of scallop dredging, the first suggestion by the authorities was that they commission yet another scientific project to assess whether damaging effects were actually taking place (it has of course been established many times that scallop dredging is a destructive fishery by numerous scientific studies) in the specific areas to which he was referring. This was of course a delaying tactic probably designed to wear down the campaign. The problem is that scientists also need to stop, think and say NO we have enough evidence, but of course this is often not what science is about (sadly). As it happens, the evidence he provided has (for various reasons which I won't go into) prevailed and a ban has been put into law.

 

The point I am making is that in this case science had already established that scallop dredging is damaging and should not be carried out if you genuinely want to protect a special marine area. The losers in carrying out MORE scientific studies into the 'obvious' include scientists if they are seen to be constantly double checking the 'obvious'. And we all become more cynical.....

 

And I'm not suggesting that there are not some very good fisheries scientists out there - there are and I know some personally (but not everyone does). The REAL problem is that time is running out and action often needs to be taken well before incontravertable scientific proof is available.

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Paul,

 

We seem to live in different conceptual worlds. You have cited a case in which the 'authorities' allegedly attempted unsuccessfully to use a call for more scientific studies as a way to delay action against scallop dredging. I don't doubt for a minute your claim that this happened - it has certainly happened many times before in many places. But what relevance does this case have in this discussion? How can this effort by the 'authorities' be used to indict legitimate and necessary science work?

 

Are you seriously alleging that the Ransom Myers et al study was actually an attempt to whitewash scallop dredging in the Chesapeake, or that it was intended by anyone (Ransom, his colleagues, the authorities, whoever ) to provide an excuse to postpone actions to save scallops, sharks, or other marine life in the Chesapeake or anywhere else? However absurd, that does seems to be what you're implying. Alternatively, if you're not saying that, then what is it about the Myers et al study that you are trying to say?

 

In this case, incontrovertible evidence that removing apex predators can cause havoc further down the trophic chain on a huge scale actually was made available. Nobody ever has to wait for that evidence again. No 'authorities' can ever again claim that there is no evidence this happens. (And scientists will come up with more evidence that it does, and that evidence will be important and useful as well. Clearly, you don't find that work particularly important, but it has real implications far beyond Chesapeake Bay and its scallops- for people all over the world who are working to save great sharks as apex predators before they are all gone.

 

Robert Delfs

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Here you go Bob,

 

“Actually, Patarero, you haven't refuted anything. All you've done is mouth absurd allegations that the Ransom paper was "full of invalid assumptions and holes" without providing any specifics or relevant argument. “

 

The list is so long I didn’t have time to go through it all last night

 

“Not only have shark numbers declined, the paper notes multiple surveys showing increase in population of cownose rays by an order of magnitude since the mid-1970s, as well as growing numbers of other "mesopredatory elasmobranch prey" of great sharks. The trophic cascade argument developed in this paper attributes depletion of bay scallops in the Chesapeake to increased predation by cownose rays.â€

 

Bay scallops in the Chesapeake were wiped out by the loss of eelgrass and hurricane Agnes (1933).

 

“Whether the "commercial guys" in Chesapeake Bay think rays eat oysters or not isn't relevant to the claims of this paper. The paper states that cownose rays diet "consists largely of bay scallops (Argopecten irradians), soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria), hard clams (Mercenaria mercenaria), oysters (Crassostrea virginica) and other noncommercial bivalves, citing an article by Robert Blaylock (at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of William and Mary College) in Estuaries, "Distribution and Abundance of the Cownose Ray Rhinoptera bonasus in the Lower Chesapeake, and also citing a thesis by Donna Grusha. Even if your opinion (since you cite no evidence) that the cownose ray mouth morphology makes it "virtually impossible" for the ray to eat oysters happened to have any validity, the arguments made in this paper relate to the precipitous decline in bay scallops (A. irradians), not oysters. “

 

This was in response to the proposed fishery to market cownose rays in Asia, not related to the paper. Have you ever seen a cownose ray eat? The mouth morphology is not like many of the other stingrays. Have you read Blaylocks paper? It is on abundance of the cownose ray in the Chesapeake through aerial surveys. Not 1, not a single cownose was caught and examined to see what they were eating. In the paper it states Mya arenaria is the preferred prey citing other documents. It further states

 

" Although Merriner and Smith (1979), Smith (1980), and Smith and Merriner (1985) reported Mya arenaria to be its perferred prey, oyster planters in Virginia have reported larger losses of planted seed oysters to foraging cownose rays during the summer (personal comm. commercial seafood wholesaler). ....Meriner and Smith(1979) speculated that an increase in cownose ray predation on privately leased oyster beds in Virginia was attributable to "the destruction of Mya stocks in the Rappahannock River due to tropical storm Agnes 1972 and the catastrophic decline of oyster production in the Chesapeake Bay over the past 25 years."

 

“The Myers paper doesn't just infer a linkage between ballooning cownose ray populations and the collapse of bay scallops. "Analogous recent sampling, confirmed by controlled ray-exclusion experiments using stockades, demonstrates that since 1996 migrating cownose rays have caused almost complete scallop mortality by early fall ... at every site with initial adult scallop densities above a threshold for intensive ray foraging (~2 m-2)." The authors further note that, having essentially depleted the bay scallop population, "increased predation by cownose rays ... may now inhibit recovery of hard clams, soft shell clams, and oysters, compounding the effects of overexploitation, disease, habitat destruction and pollution, which have depressed these species," but at no point in their paper whatsoever do they ever state that cownose ray predation has been a major factor in the decline of oyster and other bivalve populations to date.â€

 

This is in the first papragraph:

 

“Effects of this community restructuring have cascaded downward from the

cownose ray, whose enhanced predation on its bay scallop prey was sufficient to terminate a

century-long scallop fishery. Analogous top-down effects may be a predictable consequence of

eliminating entire functional groups of predators.â€

 

 

“Your views and opinions are welcome, Patarero, but if you seriously want to challenge some of the best marine fisheries science that has ever been done by anyone anywhere, you'll have to do better than just mouth unsupported, ridiculous attacks. For a start, you might try reading the paper next time before you post your own insightful comments.â€

 

I find the statement “best marine fisheries science that has ever been done by anyone anywhere†particularly offensive and unsubstantiated. What happens when the cownose ray population dives and shellfish landings continue to decline? Was it lack of shellfish, decreased demand, health issues involved with eating possibly contaminated shellfish? This paper will be used to support a fishery for cownose rays, an animal that has the life history characteristics similar to cetaceans.

 

The data used in the analyses for bivalves are commercial landings. The numbers presented are driven by economics. Besides the fact that these data are driven by market value and demand, bivalves on the east coast of North America have been subjected to disease (msx and dermo) and environmental conditions that have wiped out various markets, especially in the case of oysters.

 

Furthermore some of the “great sharks†and “mesopredators†ranges do not overlap. For example, they include chain catshark. This species is off the shelf of North America (155-545m depth, 8.5-11Celcius) and is rarely if ever encountered by the “great sharksâ€. Why did they include it, because a different species of the same family comprised a minute percentage of food items of sharks caught in the gill-nets off of Natal, South Africa. The species that the “great sharks†off of South Africa encounter is Halaelurus lineatus (lined catshark). This species occupies depths from 0-290meters. The occuranceThis is a completely different animal, occupying a completely different region of the ocean. Why was it included? Because it shows the trend they want to show.

 

Look at the little skate, the only evidence for a “great shark†consuming little skates is for the sandbar. Why is this, because it is the only demersal shark species that encounters little skates, the dusky may encounter it on occasion. The great white and mako overlap with the little skate, but they are pelagic predators. Oddly the sandbar shows the smallest decrease in abundance of the “great sharksâ€, yet the little skate shows disproportionate increases.

 

I’m sure the folks that did the last rebuttal to this group’s work will present another one. If you want to give me a call and discuss it further I’ll shoot you my number.

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Patatero,

 

Thanks for doing me (and this forum) the courtesy responding with serious arguments instead of just empty charges or more allegations that the Myers paper was "pathetic." If you're right that "the guys that did the last rebuttal to this group's work [will] present another" to rebut this one, and if their rebuttal holds water, then that will be fine with me. That's science.

 

Until then, however, the points you've made here still have not persuaded me that the Myers paper is fundamentally unsound. I'll just note again that the Myers paper does not claim anywhere that cownose ray predation has been a major cause of the collapse of populations of oysters and other bivalves except scallops, as you keep implying. The paper simply states that "increased predation by cownose rays also may now inhibit recovery of hard clams, soft-shell clams and oysters, compounding the effects of overexploitation, disease, habitat destruction and pollution which have depressed these species." In any case this, and the possible problem with the range of catsharks that you riase, don't strike me as central enough to refute the Myers article.

 

Your prediction that "This paper will be used to support a fishery for cownose rays, an animal that has the life history characteristics similar to cetaceans" may or may not be true. But I can't help wondering how much your ostensible objections to the science in the Myers paper may really be motivated by your concern that it will be used to support policies you don't like.

 

In any case, the Myers paper nowhere calls for establishing or supporting a commercial cownose ray fishery. The paper does, of course, present some very clear fisheries policy messages, but the idea that that cownose rays should be fished isn't one of them. I think they stated their policy message very clearly in the conclusion to the paper, that "like the classic killer whale - sea otter - urchin - kelp cascade, eliminating great sharks carries risks of broader ecosystem degration." The irconclusion continues:

 

"Prevailing theory suggests that community-level trophic cascades arise only in simple food webs lacking functional redundancy, but we propose that top-down effects must be widely expected wherever entire functional groups of predators are depressed, as can occur with industrial fisheries. Illuminating the operation of indirect species interactions within marine and other environments brightens the future for development of what is now so wildly sought, ecosystem-based management to achieve sustainability of natural living resources."

 

(I live in Indonesia, so phone discussions of this may not be very impractical. And it's not "Bob", please.)

 

Robert Delfs

Edited by frogfish

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"We seem to live in different conceptual worlds."

 

So it would appear - my experience is that political and commercial pressures almost invariably dictate outcomes when fisheries are concerned - very rarely is science truly heeded. And having seen some excellent fisheries science carried out by people who have extensive expertise and show precise data correlations with damage and specific fisheries, I can confirm that their data is often taken with a large pinch of salt by the politicians - certainly in Europe where political trade-offs modify fisheries policy so as to make it almost ludicrous.

 

"Alternatively, if you're not saying that, then what is it about the Myers et al study that you are trying to say?"

 

I was not saying that this study was not well carried out simply that (other) scientists are not always as thorough as they could be and often that they too have funding pressures, etc. Science has to be cleaner than clean to ensure its public and political acceptability.

 

"Nobody ever has to wait for that evidence again. No 'authorities' can ever again claim that there is no evidence this happens."

 

No, no, no!!! Sorry but this is absolutely wrong. Take scallop dredging - innumerable studies confirm that it is damaging - the response to banning it in 'sensitive' areas - how can we know that it will damage this specific habitat in this specific area - better have another study undertaken! Believe me I've see this happen.

 

Scientific studies, even when absolutely incontravertible, are only ONE of MANY tools in the attempts to ensure that the marine environment is appropriately protected. And if you think that I am anti-fishing, I'm not, but the currently poorly regulated utilisation of a wild resource is unsustainable and scientific study alone will not change this. We also have to apply some degree of 'common sense (not a particularly PC thing to do these days) as well as utilise scientific conclusions appropriately.

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