Recently I attended the 5th Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium (SASRS). SASRS is concerned with elasmobranchs: sharks, skates, rays, and chimera. This year SASRS focused on the “blue economy” or the sustainable utilization of oceanic resources. Emphasis was made on the necessity to not only conserve marine ecosystems, but to improve alternative livelihoods that depend on the “blue economy”.
One of the keynote speakers, Dr. Alison Kock, initiated the conference with a powerful presentation on the importance of collaboration in conservation. Research efforts greatly improve when backed by various collaborators such as NGO’s, independent researchers, governments, and locals. Scientific collaboration allows for an increase in impact and a maximization of funding, time, and resources. Dr. Kock provided an example of a study published in Nature that drew from more than 150 individuals on the movements of nearly 2,000 pelagic sharks. This study emphasized the necessity of monitoring and improvement of longline fisheries that interact with these pelagic species. Without the help of several individuals in academia, industry, government, and NGO’s this study would be lacking vital factors that ultimately contributed to the CITES Cop 18 Summit.
The presentation by Dr. Kock set the tone for the rest of the symposium. Several talks thereafter mentioned the pivotal role of collaboration in their successes. A personal favorite of mine was a presentation by Dr. Ruth Leeney that utilized local knowledge to determine the distribution and current status of sawfishes (Pristidae) in Madagascar. To do so Dr. Leeney conversed with fisherman and those with knowledge of the local fisheries totaling 173 interviews. From these discussions she determined that sawfish abundance is declining rapidly. A decline in biodiversity is always of concern, but for the inhabitants of Madagascar dwindling sawfish populations meant a decline in the fin and meat trade economy and consumables. At this point of the presentation Dr. Leeney mentioned that her research was successful and relevant but begged the question as to what could be done for the artisanal fisheries that rely on sawfish landings to survive. In this case, where “small scale” fisheries are the prominent source of income, conservation is the last factor in consideration. Dr. Leeney declared that a compensation scheme or supplemented alternative livelihoods need to be established to save the sawfish populations while granting coastal communities the ability to thrive.
Overall, the Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium left me open minded to alternative livelihoods and the complications that come with fisheries management on a global scale. I’ve learned the importance of collaboration and the vital role it plays in successful research and management. I look forward to applying what I’ve absorbed from the symposium to future tasks, decisions, and perceptions.