Nutrition Brazil São Paulo, São Paulo, Friday, March 02 of 2018, 08:02

Lack of fish conservation policy threatens several species

Survey of artisanal fishing communities finds that one-third of main species caught are endangered, and food security is at risk.

AGÊNCIA FAPESP/DICYT - A study that has been under way for the past 20 years with communities of artisanal fishers in the Southeast coast of Brazil suggests that conservation policies regarding fish populations can yield pernicious effects which undermine its initial goals.


The prohibition over fishing species that exist in lesser numbers – although aiming at preserving endangered species and avoiding the depletion of fish population for the benefit of fishing/aquaculture industries – can be harmful if implemented without sustainable fishing practices. By itself, the ban can be a threat for the future of artisanal fishers, as well as the major cause for a reduction of fish diversity which puts food security at risk – and even more so for fishing communities.


The study, led by Alpina Begossi, a researcher at the University of Campinas’s Food Research Center (NEPA-UNICAMP) in São Paulo State, found that many of the species caught by artisanal fishers are endangered. Begossi is also a professor at Santa Cecília University (Unisanta) in Santos, São Paulo State, and director of its Fisheries & Food Institute (FIFO), of which she is a co-founder.


Begossi and colleagues recently completed the first survey of the status of artisanal fishers dwelling on the northern coast of São Paulo State and on the southern coast of Rio de Janeiro State, as well as the artisanal fisheries on which they rely on. The article was published in the journal Ambio. The study was part of a Thematic Project funded by FAPESP, with Begossi as principal investigator.


The researcher works since the 1980s in the field of human ecology. “We surveyed the consumption of artisanally caught fish. We analyzed the species consumed in the whole period and detected their worsening scarcity over time. This finding matches the evidence that some species are overfished, while others have been put on the red list of endangered species,” Begossi said.


The article concerns a huge amount of data and analysis over hundreds of interviews conducted between 1986 and 2009 with artisanal fishers in seven communities on the islands of Búzios (RJ), Vitória (SP), Jaguanum (RJ) and Itacuruçá (RJ), as well as three coastal communities (Puruba-SP, Picinguaba-SP, and Praia Grande-RJ).


The questionnaire used in the interviews with fishers consisted of open-ended questions such as “Did you have fish for lunch or supper yesterday?” and “What fish?”.


Artisanal and commercial fishers in the areas surveyed in the Southeast region caught between 70 and 110 species. Eight species were most frequently mentioned by interviewees: Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), Weakfish (Cynoscion spp.), Whitemouth croaker (Micropogonias furnieri), Dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), Largehead hairtail (Trichiurus lepturus), Jack (Caranx spp.), White mullet (Mugil curema), and Southern kingcroaker (Menticirrhus americanus).


Altogether, the fishers mentioned 65 species in 347 interviews and more than 1,500 diet recalls. The researchers found that 33% had decreased in population terms since the studies began in 1986, while the conservation status of 54% was unknown according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


According to the authors, the growing scarcity of these species undermines the food security and livelihood of the artisanal fishers who depend on the catch for both consumption and income.


Most of the species cited are spared by commercial fishing fleets because the catch is too small. For this very reason, the fish are worth more individually and are sold to restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and along the coast between the two cities.


“As a response to overfishing, the Brazilian government has introduced a ban on the capture of several endangered species but without including fishery management measures or prioritizing the study of these species,” Begossi said.


“While this policy is designed to protect and rehabilitate fish populations, on the other hand, it represents a threat to small-scale fishing and to the livelihoods of artisanal fishers and their families. The solution is not a pure and simple fishing ban but sustainable management of the species concerned.”


There is also the question of food diversity. “The species caught by artisanal fishers are those that guarantee our food diversity. The most popular fish among consumers, such as Grouper or Common snook (Centropomus undecimalis), come from artisanal fishing. None of them comes from industrial fishing,” Begossi said.


“Some species, such as Dusky grouper, were plentiful in the 1980s but are now scarce. Dusky groupers can still be caught, but they’re smaller. There are species in the same genus that have disappeared, such as Snowy grouper (Epinephelus niveatus). This species wasn’t cited by our interviewees. It’s a critical case.”


Recommendations of the study


The research conducted by Begossi and colleagues highlights the need to garner more and better biological and ecological data on the marine species that live near Atlantic rainforest fragments along the Brazilian coast. Collecting such data is “urgently needed”, Begossi said, to help promote the conservation and management of these species.


“Do we choose to let these species disappear? Is it our choice from now on to eat just three or four species supplied by fish farms, such as tilapia and salmon? Is that the future we want?” she asked.




The article “Threatened fish and fishers along the Brazilian Atlantic Forest coast” (doi:10.1007/s13280-017-0931-9) can be retrieved from Alpina Begossi is first author, featuring as coauthors are Natalia Hanazaki of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Priscila Lopes of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Renato Silvano of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Gustavo Hallwass of the Federal University of Pará, and Svetlana Salivonchyk of Belarus National Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Nature Management in Minsk.