Potential impacts of finfish aquaculture on eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds and possible monitoring metrics for management: a case study in Atlantic Canada

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) has been designated an Ecologically Significant Species in Atlantic Canada. The development and rapid expansion of netpen finfish aquaculture into sensitive coastal habitats has raised concerns about the impacts of finfish aquaculture on eelgrass habitats. To date, no studies have been done in Atlantic Canada to examine these impacts or to identify potential monitoring variables that would aid in the development of specific conservation and management objectives. As a first step in addressing this gap, we examined differences in environmental variables, eelgrass bed structure and macroinfauna communities at increasing distances from a finfish farm in Port Mouton Bay, a reference site in adjacent Port Joli Bay, and published survey results from other sites without finfish farms along the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia. Drawing on research done elsewhere and our results, we then identified possible metrics for assessing and monitoring local impacts of finfish aquaculture on eelgrass habitats. Our results suggest some nutrient and organic enrichment, higher epiphyte loads, lower eelgrass cover and biomass, and lower macroinfauna biomass closer to the farm. Moreover, community structure significantly differed between sites with some species increasing and others decreasing closer to the farm. Changes in the macroinfauna community could be linked to observed differences in environmental and eelgrass bed variables. These results provide new insights into the potential impacts of finfish aquaculture on eelgrass habitats in Atlantic Canada. We recommend a suite of measures for assessment and monitoring that take into account response time to disturbance and account for different levels of eelgrass organizational response (from physiological to community).

Searching for a compromise between biological and economic demands to protect vulnerable habitats.

Identifying vulnerable habitats is necessary to designing and prioritizing efficient marine protected areas (MPAs) to sustain the renewal of living marine resources. However, vulnerable habitats rarely become MPAs due to conflicting interests such as fishing. We propose a spatial framework to help researchers and managers determine optimal conservation areas in a multi-species fishery, while also considering the economic relevance these species may have in a given society, even in data poor situations. We first set different ecological criteria (i.e. species resilience, vulnerability and trophic level) to identify optimal areas for conservation and restoration efforts, which was based on a traditional conservationist approach. We then identified the most economically relevant sites, where the bulk of fishery profits come from. We overlapped the ecologically and economically relevant areas using different thresholds. By ranking the level of overlap between the sites, representing different levels of conflicts between traditional conservation and fishing interests, we suggest alternatives that could increase fishers’ acceptance of protected areas. The introduction of some flexibility in the way conservation targets are established could contribute to reaching a middle ground where biological concerns are integrated with economic demands from the fishing sector.

Climate change impacts on marine biodiversity, fisheries and society in the Arabian Gulf.

Climate change–reflected in significant environmental changes such as warming, sea level rise, shifts in salinity, oxygen and other ocean conditions–is expected to impact marine organisms and associated fisheries. This study provides an assessment of the potential impacts on, and the vulnerability of, marine biodiversity and fisheries catches in the Arabian Gulf under climate change. To this end, using three separate niche modelling approaches under a ‘business-as-usual’ climate change scenario, we projected the future habitat suitability of the Arabian Gulf (also known as the Persian Gulf) for 55 expert-identified priority species, including charismatic and non-fish species. Second, we conducted a vulnerability assessment of national economies to climate change impacts on fisheries. The modelling outputs suggested a high rate of local extinction (up to 35% of initial species richness) by 2090 relative to 2010. Spatially, projected local extinctions are highest in the southwestern part of the Gulf, off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the projected patterns provided useful indicators of potential climate change impacts on the region’s diversity, the magnitude of changes in habitat suitability are more uncertain. Fisheries-specific results suggested reduced future catch potential for several countries on the western side of the Gulf, with projections differing only slightly among models. Qatar and the UAE were particularly affected, with more than a 26% drop in future fish catch potential. Integrating changes in catch potential with socio-economic indicators suggested the fisheries of Bahrain and Iran may be most vulnerable to climate change. We discuss limitations of the indicators and the methods used, as well as the implications of our overall findings for conservation and fisheries management policies in the region.

Envisioning the future of aquatic animal tracking: Technology, science, and application

Electronic tags are significantly improving our understanding of aquatic animal behavior and are emerging as key sources of information for conservation and management practices. Future aquatic integrative biology and ecology studies will increasingly rely on data from electronic tagging. Continued advances in tracking hardware and software are needed to provide the knowledge required by managers and policymakers to address the challenges posed by the world’s changing aquatic ecosystems. We foresee multiplatform tracking systems for simultaneously monitoring the position, activity, and physiology of animals and the environment through which they are moving. Improved data collection will be accompanied by greater data accessibility and analytical tools for processing data, enabled by new infrastructure and cyberinfrastructure. To operationalize advances and facilitate integration into policy, there must be parallel developments in the accessibility of education and training, as well as solutions to key governance and legal issues.

Global mismatch between fishing dependency and larval supply from marine reserves.

Marine reserves are viewed as flagship tools to protect exploited species and to contribute to the effective management of coastal fisheries. Yet, the extent to which marine reserves are globally interconnected and able to effectively seed areas, where fisheries are most critical for food and livelihood security is largely unknown. Using a hydrodynamic model of larval dispersal, we predict that most marine reserves are not interconnected by currents and that their potential benefits to fishing areas are presently limited, since countries with high dependency on coastal fisheries receive very little larval supply from marine reserves. This global mismatch could be reversed, however, by placing new marine reserves in areas sufficiently remote to minimize social and economic costs but sufficiently connected through sea currents to seed the most exploited fisheries and endangered ecosystems.