UMaine scientists highlight value of local-scale knowledge of fish, fishermen

From the top of a lighthouse or the stern of a boat, stretches of big, blue ocean may all look quite similar.

A closer look, however, reveals that marine ecosystems and people’s connections to them are quite varied. People on the Maine coast know this from their experiences; recreational clamming and beach access opportunities in the midcoast are different from those Down East.

University of Maine scientists Kara Pellowe and Heather Leslie recently published a peer-reviewed paper in the scientific journal PLOS ONE that highlights the importance of geographic and seasonal variation in fisheries in another place known for its coastal fisheries — Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

Pellowe, a Ph.D. student in the Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program, will present their findings Aug. 9 at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Portland, Oregon.

As an invited speaker at the 102nd annual ESA meeting, Pellowe will describe how she and Leslie, her graduate adviser, used Mexican government data to investigate seasonal and spatial variability of small-scale fisheries of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur.

They used the information to explore how the resilience of ecosystems on which Baja coastal fishing communities depends varies in time and space.

“Spatial and seasonal variation in [fisheries] may provide unique opportunities for fishers to adapt to the increasing variability predicted with climate change,” Pellowe and Leslie wrote.

“Fishers may adapt to variability by migrating seasonally to areas with greater fishing opportunity, by diversifying their catch at certain times of the year, or by adopting additional livelihood strategies.”

Fishermen in Baja, like those in New England, regularly use these strategies.

“While we’d usually expect environmental variability to stress fishing communities, we see signs that environmental variability may enhance resilience,” says Leslie.

“Seasonal variation creates a broader set of opportunities for fishermen and can facilitate adaptation to changing conditions. We need to understand seasonal and spatial variation in fisheries and people’s responses to them to design proactive and sustainable management, both in Maine and in other parts of the world.”

Leslie is director of the UMaine Darling Marine Center and Libra Associate Professor in the School of Marine Sciences. Since 2005, with support from the National Science Foundation and private foundations, she has led an international, multi-institutional research program focused on the ecological and human dimensions of fisheries.

During her invited talk, Leslie will place the results from her research in Mexico in a broader context.

She’ll highlight how the approach they took — linking knowledge of human behavior and ecosystems — can be further leveraged to support sustainable fisheries and ecosystem-based management efforts in the U.S., Mexico and other places where people’s well-being is closely linked with coastal and marine ecosystems.

The complete, free text of the paper, “Seasonal variability shapes resilience of small-scale fisheries in Baja California Sur, Mexico” can be read on PLOS ONE’s website. More information on Leslie’s research program is available on the Leslie Lab webpage.