Laying strong foundations for sustainable small-scale fisheries and marine conservation

Author – Dr Ana Nuno, Research Fellow and Project Coordinator for Omali Vida nón

A remote and poorly known small island located in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Central Africa, Principe (Sao Tome and Principe) and its people rely heavily on small scale fisheries. “I’m a fisherman with great pride! I am not afraid to say it anywhere in the world: I am a fisherman!” says one of the men during our project workshops. In a similar workshop organized for fish traders, an occupation mostly done by women, one of them tells us: “being a fish trader is good because we do not depend on our husbands… we can buy what we want… eat and drink what we want…support our children’s education… it’s very good for us”. It is clear than more than simply providing food (average annual fish consumption in the country is one of the highest in Africa) and income, fishing is intrinsic to these local communities’ lives and the status of marine resources affects all of them.

a fisherman’s catch (credit: Ana Nuno)

When these same communities report having to travel farther away, spend more time at sea and increase the amount of fishing gear in order to get similar amounts of fish that they used to catch near the coast some years ago, the usual suspects come to mind. Scarce alternative sources of income, lack of resources and capacity for marine conservation and fisheries management plus limited monitoring and enforcement mean that overfishing and habitat degradation are affecting the viability of Principean fishing livelihoods. For example, in 2012, the entire island of Príncipe and its surrounding waters was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its global biodiversity significance. However, in reality, there is no enforcement to support this designation (and there is no formal protection provided to any marine areas around the neighbour island of São Tomé).

Tia, one of the project focal points, conducting landing surveys (credit: Guillermo Porriños)

This project aims to improve marine biodiversity and livelihoods of coastal communities in Principe, based on collaborations among researchers (University of Exeter, UK), a local NGO (Principe Trust Foundation), the Regional Fisheries Department and the Biosphere Reserve Management Unit, and with support from Forever Principe (a collaborative conservation alliance that finances conservation through tourism activities) and the Halpin Trust. From July 2016 (when the project started) until now, much has been learnt and, more importantly, fishers and fish traders have remained central to all interventions. Due to limited governmental control, there is a strong need for participatory approaches involving local men and women in any management measures, since they will be the future enforcers of such measures. Fishers and fish traders have thus been actively involved in: identifying project priorities and target areas of intervention; landing surveys data collection (e.g. focal points from different communities record information on fishing gear, effort and catch twice a week); and mapping their own fishing areas (e.g. fishers take GPS trackers when they go out fishing and contribute to identifying important fishing grounds and potential conflicts with other uses, such as industrial fishing).

Fishing community in Principe (credit: Ana Nuno)

One of the highlights of the project so far has been the discussions and identification of “community ideas” with a positive impact on the sustainability of artisanal fisheries. Several months of project meetings and discussions at each of the six fishing communities allowed us to identify the best locally-suitable ideas to improve management of marine resources and benefit fishers and fish traders. These ideas, identified and proposed by each of the communities following specific criteria and judged by all project partners, include, for example, developing a crafts center, building a community headquarter or providing better fish storage equipment. With its implementation just beginning, we look forward to learn from each investment made possible thanks to Darwin Initiative funds and use them as catalysers for community dynamism and capacity building.

Fishers describing important and common fish species in Principe (credit: Litoney Matos)

Our emphasis on participatory approaches and local capacity building is starting to pay off. Project efforts are increasingly recognized by the wider community and discussions about potential future measures (e.g. co-managed areas) and project expansion to neighbour island are on the table. With much progress still to be made, it’s very encouraging to see that this project, only possible thanks to funds from Darwin Initiative, Forever Principe and the Halpin Trust, is creating momentum for sustainable small-scale fisheries and marine conservation on this small island nation.

#ExeterMarine is a interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Changing storminess and global capture fisheries

Author – Nigel Sainsbury, PhD researcher, Environment and Sustainability Institute

Potential changes in the frequency and intensity of storms over the world’s oceans could have a catastrophic impact on global fisheries, risking the lives, livelihoods, food security and health of billions of people around the world.

In a new commentary article published in Nature Climate Change, I argue, along with my co-authors from ExeterMarine, Cefas, Willis Towers Watson, Met Office and the University of Bristol, that a new global research effort into changing storminess and global capture fisheries is required to help fisheries adapt to this aspect of climate change. We outline a research roadmap encompassing aspects of climate modelling, fisher behaviour, marine ecosystems and fishery vulnerability and adaptation.

There is growing evidence that storminess will alter in the future with climate change. There are great uncertainties in both future predictions and reanalyses of historic storms, owing to a lack of historic data and the limitations of storm representation in climate models. Whilst the number of studies is growing in both number and coverage of the world’s ocean basins, research is required to develop projections of future storminess at local scales with significantly more confidence.

Storms have the potential to cause extensive socio-economic impacts on fisheries. It is estimated that every year, night-time thunder storms kill between 3,000 – 5,000 fishers every year on Lake Victoria. When Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in 2008, 28,000 fishers were killed or missing and over 100,000 fishing boats were destroyed. Closer to where I am based, at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus, the winter of 2013-2014, the stormiest on record, caused an estimated £7 million loss of income, £400,000 in lost fishing gear and £1.1 million in fisheries onshore infrastructure damage.

Our knowledge of how storms impact marine ecosystems is limited. There is evidence that storms damage mangrove forests, seagrass beds and corals and cause the redistribution of fish and mass fish mortality events. However, this is taken from a handful of studies. Research is required in different ecosystem contexts around the world to identify how storms will impact ecosystems and how this links to socio-economic impacts on fisheries.

Changing storminess differs from other climate stressors affecting fisheries, such as ocean warming and acidification, because it has a direct social dimension as well as causing ecological impacts on target fish species. Whilst a myriad of social and economic factors have been shown to affect fishers’ decisions about where and when to fish, the role of weather in fisher behaviour has received little attention. Exploring how fishers perceive weather risks and how the uncertainties of physical danger and financial outcomes factor in fishers’ decision making in different social and cultural contexts will be important to predict the future fishing disruption caused by changing storminess.

If the scientific community is to help fisheries adapt to changing storminess, research into the ecological, socio-economic and climate aspects of changing storminess must translate into assessments of fisheries vulnerability to this environmental change.  This will support national governments in assessing the threat their fisheries face and, if required, help them to prioritise where to focus adaptation efforts. Social scientists can also support this effort by identifying and evaluating adaption actions in different contexts. Financial mechanisms currently being used in terrestrial agriculture to improve farmers’ resilience to environmental shocks, such as drought, may offer potential. It must also be considered that fisheries in areas of projected reduced storminess may experience an increase in potential fishing days, bringing socio-economic benefits but also increasing the challenges of unsustainable natural resource use.

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Assessing and mitigating the future risks of harmful algal blooms (HABs) to wild fisheries and aquaculture

Rope grown mussels (Mytilus edulis) in St Austell Bay

Author – Dr Ross Brown, Senior Research Fellow

HABs can result in the production of harmful algal biotoxins and oxygen depletion, therefore presenting a significant risk to shellfish and finfish health. According to the UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP), HAB occurrences are anticipated to increase with climate change and the influx of warmer water planktonic algae, including more toxic species, to UK coastal waters, MCCIP Report Card 2013. The impacts of these HABs are likely to include prolonged closures of shellfish farms and increased mortality of juvenile fish on nursery grounds, and these are major future concerns for UK inshore wild fisheries and seafood farming (aquaculture).

‘Real-time’ monitoring via in situ sampling and ‘remote’ satellite sensing can readily detect high biomass and surface forming algal blooms, but these strategies provide limited forewarning and are not appropriate for detecting the onset of low biomass blooms (e.g. Dinophysis sp.) or blooms that initiate below the sea surface (e.g. Karenia mikimotoi).  Another option is to use environmental data to predict where, when and how often such blooms are likely to occur. This information could then be used to inform mitigation strategies; allowing businesses to better plan the timing of shellfish harvesting, when and where not to feed finfish stock and furthermore, guide in the placement of new farms (i.e. locating new farms in areas that have a low risk of HABs forming).

Recent research undertaken in St Austell Bay by Drs Jamie Shutler and Wiebke Schmidt, at the University of Exeter, and Dr Peter Miller and colleagues from Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), has shown that the formation of HABs and the concentration of biotoxins in shellfish is associated with changes in environmental conditions, including sea surface temperature, solar radiation, rainfall and wind speed. Incorporating these factors in a site-specific predictive model enables one-week forecasts of biotoxin accumulation within the farmed shellfish.  This work was been carried out as part of the UK Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBRSC) and UK National Environmental Research Council (NERC) funded ‘ShellEye’ project.

Research studies such as AMHABs and ShellEye are key to informing and underpinning the sustainable development and management of marine ecosystem services, including capture fisheries and aquaculture (mariculture) …….,”  – Dr Grant Stentiford, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and Co-Director of Sustainable Aquaculture Futures (Cefas and University of Exeter partnership).


Researchers including Drs Ross Brown, Chris Lowe, Jamie Shutler and Prof Charles Tyler at the University of Exeter are currently working with PML colleagues to extend the modelling approach to identify what causes the formation of HABs, and importantly where they are likely to form, around entire coast of the UK South West Peninsula. This project ‘Assessing and Mitigating risks of Harmful Algal Blooms (AMHABs)’, has been funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).



The findings of these research projects will help to inform decisions regarding Marine Spatial Planning in UK coastal waters and aid the development of strategies concerning adaptation to changing climatic and environmental conditions.

#ExeterMarine is a interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!