MAREA connects with local fishing authorities and researchers

By Kara Pellowe and Salvador Rodriguez-Van Dyck

Amy Hudson Weaver, Sustainable Fisheries
Program Coordinator, Niparaja, Mexico, welcomed and introduced our meeting.

During our last meeting as a group in Maine, we came up with the idea to share our work with the local fisheries authorities in Baja California Sur, with the intention of informing them about the research we have been doing in the state, and to express our willingness to collaborate on efforts to improve the sustainability of fisheries in Mexico. We invited federal and state government representatives from CONAPESCA, INAPESCA, SEPADA and CONANP, as well as a fisheries researcher from CICIMAR. Our invitation was met with many positive responses, and attendance at the joint meeting was higher than expected.


Associate Professor Xavier Basurto, Duke University,  presenting the broader picture of the research in the MAREA group.

Amy Hudson Weaver opened the meeting by welcoming the attendees and giving a brief overview of the significance of the meeting to the MAREA group. Dr. Xavier Basurto opened the presentation section with a large-scale view of the MAREA research group, touching on the global and interdisciplinary nature of the team, and explaining our general focus. Our research is centered around the social-ecological systems perspective, in which resource users (e.g., fishers), institutions e.g., (state management agencies, as well as small-scale institutions, like cooperatives), interact with resource units (e.g., fish) and the marine ecosystem, to influence results at the system-scale. Some of the research questions the MAREA group works to answer include:

  1. How does the organization of fishing activities affect capture?
  2. How does the organization of fishing activities affect human well-being in fishing   communities?
  3. How does environmental variation affect fisheries?

As a group, we have conducted in-depth studies in 22 fishing communities in Baja California Sur, and we have collected data from 66 fishing communities. Next, Kara and Tim each shared a deeper look at their case studies in Loreto, and Santa Rosalia, respectively.

Kara Pellowe, PhD Candidate at the University of Maine, presenting her work around the Chocolate Clam fishery in Loreto Bay.

Kara Pellowe, PhD Candidate at the University of Maine, shared with the group the research she has pursued for her doctoral work. She spoke on her approach to studying the social-ecological system associated with Loreto Bay National Park’s chocolate clam fishery, using an interdisciplinary case study approach. She combined ecological and field studies to understand how ecological and social factors interact to affect the sustainability of the chocolate clam fishery. She found that the fishery social-ecological system is characterized by diverse actors, and that fisheries management affects not only fishers, but the entire community. Kara closed her presentation with a reminder that a deep understanding of social-ecological system dynamics, which enables us to understand both the biological and social aspects of fisheries, requires an interdisciplinary approach.

Dr. Tim Frawley, Stanford University, presenting his work on fishers’ behavior when faced with the collapse of the squid fishery.

Dr. Tim Frawley, Stanford University, shared his research investigating the causes and social impacts of the collapse of the squid fishery in Santa Rosalia in 2014. Tim studied fishermen’s observations and thoughts on why the crash occurred. Biophysical trends indicate a clear correlation between the squid fishery collapse and El Niño cycles; changes in water temperature in the Gulf of California appear to have interrupted the migration route of squid across the Gulf between Guaymas and Santa Rosalía, most likely resulting in the observed collapse of the fishery. However, Tim highlighted the importance not only of investigating the biophysical causes of the crash, but also the factors fishers perceived as drivers of the crash. Fishers in Santa Rosalía did not agree on the causes of the crash, but their perspectives resulted in a typology of fishers among those Tim interviewed: pescadores, pilotos, and especialistas. Pescadores are often long-time fishers with a family tradition of fishing, engage in continuous fishing effort, and have their own permits and equipment. On the other end of the spectrum, especialistas are often contracted, have irregular fishing effort, are first generation fishers, and migrate between fishing ports seasonally for contract work. These two divergent types also respond differently to major changes like the loss of the squid fishery. Tim closed by emphasizing the importance of the interactions between fisher and fished species, and the value of research that closely examines those links.

Dr. Mateja Nenadovic, Duke University, presents the metadata of the MAREA project.

Dr. Mateja Nenadovic closed the meeting by describing the metadata of the MAREA project, including emphasizing that the deep social-ecological knowledge described in the examples given by Kara and Tim, are just two of 22 communities in which the MAREA group has undertaken in-depth studies, and two of 66 for which we have data. Mateja went on to describe the types of ecological, social, economic, and institutional data the group collected in both 2014 and 2019. In 2014 data collected focused on 13 characteristics of governance, the fishing sector, fishing resources, and ecosystem variables. In 2019, the breadth and depth of these data was expanded to include 124 variables. We also have more information about the movement of fish and fishers, via Blanca Gonzalez’ work studying fishing networks throughout BCS. Mateja closed by inviting the scientists and managers in attendance to share their thoughts on the information shared. He also expressed the group’s interest in engaging in productive conversations about what types of information would be useful to BCS-based researchers and managers, and what they would like to learn more about.


Jess Riley Moman, Heather Leslie, Kara Pellowe, Tim Frawley, and Blanca Gonzalez-Mon in post seminar discussions.

A conversation between managers, scientists, and the MAREA group followed. Managers agreed with the information shared during the presentations. The sub-secretary of fisheries in the state said, “We live sometimes in a bubble and we are interested in different views from the outside”. A researcher from INAPESCA added that having this information is important to decision-making, because it would allow them to make decisions without having to rely on “feelings”. Among the group was the president of a federation representing fishermen. He highlighted the need for formal agreements between between research groups like MAREA, and federal and state agencies, as well as others, to make the best of this kind of collaboration. In general, the attendees expressed interest in what was covered, and in particular, emphasized the value of including socioeconomic data in fisheries management.

New publication: Managing at MSY doesn’t ensure economic well-being for artisanal fishers

I would like to share with you our most recent study published in the journal Fish and Fisheries from a collaboration between the Gulf of California Marine Program and the University of British Columbia the publication “Managing at Maximum Sustainable Yield does not ensure economic well-being for artisanal fishers”

This study shows that in some regions of the Gulf of California, even if fishers used the most efficient and sustainable known practices, they wouldn’t generate enough revenue to maintain a living above poverty levels in the long-term (FIGURE 1).

Our study also found that about two-thirds of the small-scale fisheries in the region present some degree of overexploitation, and that if completely recovered and exploited sustainably, they could generate $240 million USD per year, as compared to the current $141 million USD per year. This would not be enough to provide fishers with enough money for food, education, health and clothing.

FIGURE 1 Comparison between average current Revenues Per Capita (RPC) between 2001 and 2016, potential RPC expected at MSY, and the Economic Well-being Limits (EWL) for rural and urban areas per subregion. Error bars in the current RPC were calculated as one standard error of the average RPC. Error bars in the RPC at MSY were calculated from the r and k 95th confidence intervals of all the species per subregion. Subregions are ordered from lowest to highest number of people directly employed in the Fisheries Sector (PFS)

We aren’t saying that the take-home message of the paper is that the only solution to achieve sustainable fisheries is to have fewer fishers, but we believe that definitely this message needs to be part of the conversation, along with other social problems. These other issues include marginalization of coastal communities and lax or inconsistent enforcement of sustainable practices.

With this research we aim to alert different actor across the fisheries sector about the importance of recognizing the economic ceiling of fisheries, and to develop not only other economic strategies, also social strategies that will allow for the well-being of coastal communities.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me or Alfredo Giron (jgironna @ ucsd . edu) if you have any questions, comments, or you need the the supplementary materials.

A finfish trade network in Baja California Sur

IMG_4648As part of the “Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development” master’s program at the Stockholm Resilience Center, MAREA tema member Blanca González García-Mon studied the seafood flow from  marine ecosystems through fish buyers and to different market demands. The study mapped a finfish supply chain in Baja California Sur that spans from actors such as fishers in rural fishing communities, to diverse market demands (e.g. local or international markets). An intense period working with the Datamares team followed this study, where the challenge was to design a story and an inforgram able to communicate the complexity of this trading system. As a results, a story has been featured in the Datamares webpage, summarizing some key findings of the study.

Read the dataMares story in English:

In Spanish:


Fisher’s mobility and cross-scale dynamics – Scripps and SRC continue collaborations in Stockholm

Blanca González García-Mon, Emilie Lindkvist, Andrew F. Johnson. Working hard in Uppsala for the final days of Andrew’s visit.

During a few snowy weeks in March MAREA member Andrew Johnson from Scripps came to continue the joint projects with the SRC team. Over three intense weeks we developed our two main papers building on our collective knowledge and skills. In the first paper we explore how changes in fisher’s ability to move across longer distances can potentially lead to sequential exploitation of local fish resources, and the drivers behind fishers’ mobility. In a second paper we will explore how cross-scale interactions between local and regional fish are mediated by fishers mobility and the outcomes for social and ecological indicators. Our workshop also involved Alfredo Gíron-Nava at Scripps for data crunching and SRC team leader Maja Schlüter for overall input to our ideas.

The resulting papers in progress are

  1. Increased mobility and resource heterogeneity drive patterns of fisheries collapse 
  2. Cross-scale interactions between local and regional fisheries: Implications for local fishing communities.
2018-03-20 17.05.19
Discussions on how to represent the agent-based model and the implications of regional and local fisheries for incoming labor.


During Andrew’s visit Emilie organized a 2-day workshop together with Steven Alexander (SESYNC; University of Waterloo) on untangling interactions in social-ecological systems using small-scale fisheries as a case. Together MAREA team members Emilie, Andrew and Blanca we aim to publish a paper on Illuminating interactions, relationships, and dynamics in fisheries: methodological approaches to tackle contemporary sustainability questions in fisheries, as a part of the MAREA project.

New paper by Pellowe & Leslie: Seasonal variability shapes resilience of small-scale fisheries

By : Kara Pellowe

In the recent paper “Seasonal variability shapes resilience of small-scale fisheries in Baja California Sur, Mexico” by Kara Pellowe and Heather Leslie from the University of Maine, historical landings data is used to look at how ecosystem properties, that contribute to resilience, vary both seasonally and spatially within Baja California Sur.

Their finding of significant spatial and seasonal variability in ecological resilience indicators suggests the importance of small-scale spatial and temporal dynamics in shaping the fisheries of this region, as they shape fishers’ everyday experiences (Fig 1). The paper also highlights the value of finer-scale monitoring and management, particularly for data-poor fisheries.

Fig for MAREA blog post
Fig 1. Biomass of landings (kg), an ecological indicator of resilience, varied across months within an average year. Fishing offices, represented by the different colored lines, exhibited differential seasonal trends in this and other ecological variables tested.
Image for MAREA blog post
Small-scale fishers on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur prepare for a day of fishing.

New publications on novel approaches to calculating fishing effort and studying emergent patterns of self-governance

On the same day in the same journal in the same issue (April 13th in PLoS ONE), the first two MAREA related publications became published.

Publication 1) A spatial method to calculate small-scale fisheries effort in data poor scenarios
The Predicted Fishing Effort (PFE) presented in 500 km2 grid cells (n = 565). The unit of PFE is the number of boats adjusted by the number of people in local coastal populations.

Andrew, Alfredo and Octavio from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography published their paper: A spatial method to calculate small-scale fisheries effort in data poor scenarios. Together with their colleagues they present a spatial method of calculating the effort of small-scale fisheries based on two simple measures that are available, or at least easily estimated, in even the most data-poor fisheries: the number of boats and the local coastal human population.

Comparing results of their method to commercial fishery landings throughout the Gulf indicates that the current number of small-scale fishing boats in the Gulf is approximately double what is required to land theoretical maximum fish biomass. The method is fishery-type independent and can be used to quantitatively evaluate the efficacy of growth in small-scale fisheries. This new method provides an important first step towards estimating the fishing effort of small-scale fleets globally.

Reference: Johnson AF, Moreno-Báez M, Giron-Nava A, Corominas J, Erisman B, Ezcurra E,  Aburto-Oropeza O. (2017). A spatial method to calculate small-scale fisheries effort in data poor scenarios. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0174064.

Publication 2) Micro-level explanations for emergent patterns of self-governance arrangements in small-scale fisheries—A modeling approach
The environment of the fishery model. The fishery model consists of fishers, fishbuyers, a fish population, and a fish market. Fishers can be organized in either a PC by a link to a fishbuyer, or in a fishing cooperative (co-op) by links to other fishers (members).

Emilie, Xavier and Maja from Stockholm Resilience Center and Duke University published their first paper of their agent-based model studying Micro-level explanations for emergent patterns of self-governance arrangements in small-scale fisheries—A modeling approach. In their paper they develop an agent-based model of an archetypical small-scale fishery that captures key hypotheses from in-depth fieldwork in Northwest Mexico of fishers’ day-to-day fishing and trading, and how fishers organize in either fishing cooperatives versus in patron-client relationships (PCs; where fishers work independently with a fish buyer).

Model results indicate that high diversity in fishers’ reliability, and low initial trust between members, makes it difficult for fishing cooperatives to establish. PCs cope better with this kind of diversity because, in contrast to co-ops, they have more flexibility in choosing whom to work with. The paper argues that existing levels of trust and diversity among fishers matter for different self-governance arrangements to establish and persist, and should therefore be taken into account when developing better, targeted policies for improved small-scale fisheries governance.

Lindkvist E, Basurto X, Schlüter, M (2017). Micro-level explanations for emergent patterns of self-governance arrangements in small-scale fisheries—A modeling approach. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0175532.

First Workshop–La Paz & Espiritu Santo

The first workshop meeting of the MAREA research group took place in La Paz with Bjorn, Maja, Laura, Amy Hudson, Andrew, Beni, Alfredo, Xavier, Heather, Anastasia, Emilie, Kara, Alan, Raquel, Blanca and Octavio. Three amazing days together thanks to this welcoming and warm group of people, and the impeccable organization and facilitation by Hudson and Heather. With major progress on our research plans, look out for some great publications in the near future!