“Ocean connectivity” is a dynamic and rapidly evolving field of research in marine science, partly because there is an increasing demand for information on connectivity that informs effective assessment and management of marine resources. Achieving this will require a better alignment between ocean connectivity tools and developments and the needs and challenges of assessments and conservation. For these reasons, the ICES Journal of Marine Science solicited contributions to the article theme set (TS), “Beyond ocean connectivity.” We briefly summarize the nine articles that appear herein, grouping them into four general topics: methodological advances, population dynamics and assessment implications of connectivity, spatial and management implications, and connectivity in ecosystem processes. We also discuss the challenges facing ocean connectivity research if it is to effectively support advancing fisheries assessment frameworks and integrated ecosystem approaches. We hope that the contributions included in this TS serve to convince managers and fisheries scientists of the need to incorporate results from research on connectivity.
Recent advances in the application of stock identification methods have revealed inconsistencies between the spatial structure of biological populations and the definition of stock units used in assessment and management. From a fisheries management perspective, stocks are typically assumed to be discrete units with homogeneous vital rates that can be exploited independently of each other. However, the unit stock assumption is often violated leading to spatial mismatches that can bias stock assessment and impede sustainable fisheries management. The primary ecological concern is the potential for overexploitation of unique spawning components, which can lead to loss of productivity and reduced biodiversity along with destabilization of local and regional stock dynamics. Furthermore, ignoring complex population structure and stock connectivity can lead to misperception of the magnitude of fish productivity, which can translate to suboptimal utilization of the resource. We describe approaches that are currently being applied to improve the assessment and management process for marine fish in situations where complex spatial structure has led to an observed mismatch between the scale of biological populations and spatially-defined stock units. The approaches include: (i) status quo management, (ii) “weakest link” management, (iii) spatial and temporal closures, (iv) stock composition analysis, and (v) alteration of stock boundaries. We highlight case studies in the North Atlantic that illustrate each approach and synthesize the lessons learned from these real-world applications. Alignment of biological and management units requires continual monitoring through the application of stock identification methods in conjunction with responsive management to preserve biocomplexity and the natural stability and resilience of fish species.
Despite major advances in our capacity to measure marine larval connectivity (i.e. the pattern of transport of marine larvae from spawning to settlement sites) and the importance of these measurements for ecological and management questions, uncertainty in experimental estimates of marine larval connectivity has been given little attention. We review potential uncertainty sources in empirical larval connectivity studies and develop Bayesian statistical methods for estimating these uncertainties based on standard techniques in the mark-recapture and genetics literature. These methods are implemented in an existing R package for working with connectivity data, ConnMatTools, and applied to a number of published connectivity estimates. We find that the small sample size of collected settlers at destination sites is a dominant source of uncertainty in connectivity estimates in many published results. For example, widths of 95% CIs for relative connectivity, the value of which is necessarily between 0 and 1, exceeded 0.5 for many published connectivity results, complicating using individual results to conclude that marine populations are relatively closed or open. This “small sample size” uncertainty is significant even for studies with near-exhaustive sampling of spawners and settlers. Though largely ignored in the literature, the magnitude of this uncertainty is straightforward to assess. Better accountability of this and other uncertainties is needed in the future so that marine larval connectivity studies can fulfill their promises of providing important ecological insights and informing management questions (e.g. related to marine protected area network design, and stock structure of exploited organisms). In addition to using the statistical methods developed here, future studies should consistently evaluate and report a small number of critical factors, such as the exhaustivity of spawner and settler sampling, and the mating structure of target species in genetic studies.
Underwater stereo–video systems are widely used for counting and measuring fish in aquaculture, fisheries, and conservation management. Length measurements are generated from stereo–video recordings by a software operator using a mouse to locate the head and tail of a fish in synchronized pairs of images. This data can be used to compare spatial and temporal changes in the mean length and biomass or frequency distributions of populations of fishes. Since the early 1990s stereo–video has also been used for measuring the lengths of fish in aquaculture for quota and farm management. However, the costs of the equipment, software, the time, and salary costs involved in post processing imagery manually and the subsequent delays in the availability of length information inhibit the adoption of this technology.
We present a semi-automatic method for capturing stereo–video measurements to estimate the lengths of fish. We compare the time taken to make measurements of the same fish measured manually from stereo–video imagery to that measured semi-automatically. Using imagery recorded during transfers of Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) from tow cages to grow out cages, we demonstrate that the semi-automatic algorithm developed can obtain fork length measurements with an error of less than 1% of the true length and with at least a sixfold reduction in operator time in comparison to manual measurements. Of the 22 138 SBT recorded we were able to measure 52.6% (11 647) manually and 11.8% (2614) semi-automatically. For seven of the eight cage transfers recorded, there were no statistical differences in the mean length, weight, or length frequency between manual and semi-automatic measurements. When the data were pooled across the eight cage transfers, there was no statistical difference in mean length or weight between the stereo–video-based manual and semi-automated measurements. Hence, the presented semi-automatic system can be deployed to significantly reduce the cost involved in adoption of stereo–video technology.
Fuel consumption is a leading cost to fishers and the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions from the global fishing industry. Fuel performance varies substantially between and within fisheries, but the drivers behind this variation are unclear and inconsistent across studies. We surveyed rock lobster fishers in Australia and New Zealand to measure rates of fuel use and assess the influence of technological (e.g. vessel size, engine power), behavioural (e.g. distance travelled, speed), and managerial (e.g. catch per unit effort, fishery capacity) factors. Weighted fuel use intensity across the region was 1,890 l/t. Managerial factors were the most influential drivers of fuel use in single day trips while technological factors heavily influenced multi-day trips. Catch per unit effort was the only significant driver present across both types of fishing trips. The vast majority of surveyed fishers identified fuel use as an important aspect of fishing operations, and nearly half had already implemented changes to try to reduce consumption. Our results suggest that efforts to reduce fuel consumption, costs, and emissions in fisheries need to be tailored to the nature of individual fisheries, as the relative roles of technology, behaviour, and management vary.
The spawning dynamics of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) on Georges Bank and Nantucket Shoals are not well understood. To address this uncertainty, we combined Fishermen’s Ecological Knowledge (FEK) with traditional scientific data to develop a more holistic understanding of cod spawning on Georges Bank. Data from historical reports, trawl surveys, fisheries observers, and ichthyoplankton surveys were used to describe the spatial and temporal distribution of cod spawning activity. We also collected FEK regarding cod spawning dynamics through semi-structured interviews (n = 40). The fishermen had detailed knowledge of the spatial and temporal distribution of cod spawning, and identified persistent fine-scale (i.e. <50 km2) spawning grounds that were often associated with specific habitat features, including spawning grounds that were previously unreported in the scientific literature. The spawning seasons and locations identified by fishermen generally agreed with information from traditional scientific data, but it was evident that seasonal scientific surveys lack the spatial and temporal resolution needed to fully characterize the distribution of cod spawning activity. Our results will help inform management measures designed to promote the rebuilding of Georges Bank cod, and also provide a basis for further investigations of cod spawning dynamics and stock structure.
Warming temperatures caused by climate change have the potential to impact spawning phenology of temperate marine fish as some species have temperature-dependent gonadal development. Inter-annual variation in the timing of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) spawning in the northern North Sea, central North Sea and Irish Sea was estimated by calculating an annual peak roe month (PRM) from records of roe landings spanning the last three decades. A trend towards earlier PRM was found in all three regions, with estimates of shifts in PRM ranging from 0.9 to 2.4 weeks per decade. Temperatures experienced by cod during early vitellogenesis correlated negatively with PRM, suggesting that rising sea temperatures have contributed to a shift in spawning phenology. A concurrent reduction in the mean size of spawning females excluded the possibility that earlier spawning was due to a shift in size structure towards larger individuals, as large cod spawn earlier than smaller-sized individuals in the North Sea. Further research into the effects of climate change on the phenology of different trophic levels within the North Sea ecosystem should be undertaken to determine whether climate change-induced shifts in spawning phenology will result in a temporal mismatch between cod larvae and their planktonic prey.
This work focuses on the selection of new areas for shellfish farming along the coast of the Northern Adriatic Sea (Italy). Shellfish site suitability was assessed by means of a methodology based on Spatial Multi-Criteria Evaluation (SMCE), which provided the framework to combine mathematical models and operational oceanography products. Intermediate level criteria considered in the analysis included optimal growth conditions, environmental interactions, and socio-economic evaluation (e.g. organic carbon deposition; distance to harbour). Results showed that the whole coastal area comprised within 0 and 3 nm is highly suitable for farming of mussel, while the area comprised between 3 and 12 nm is divided between a highly suitable northern part, and a less suitable southern one. Seven different scenarios of development of shellfish aquaculture industry were explored. The introduction of a new species, and the assessment of the exposure to storm events are specific aspects taken into account in development scenarios. Results show that the degree of suitability for shellfish aquaculture in this area would not change dramatically with the introduction of oyster farming. Furthermore, results highlight that: (i) the growth potential in this area is high; (ii) the space with suitability index >0.5 increases when prioritizing the optimal growth condition criteria, and (iii) the socio-economic is the most restrictive Intermediate Level Criteria. Results were discussed by deriving general lessons concerning the use of SMCE in aquaculture space allocation, from the specific application in the Northern Adriatic Sea. Challenges and opportunities related to the proposed methodological framework, with particular reference to the use of resources provided by remote sensing and operational oceanography by means of mathematical models, were also discussed. Results can support a science-based identification of allocated zones for aquaculture in order to avoid conflicts, and promote sustainable aquaculture in the Mediterranean Sea, where the space for these activities is becoming increasingly limited.
Local, regional, and global policies to manage protect and restore our oceans and coasts call for the inclusion of ecosystem services (ES) in policy-relevant research. Marine and coastal ES and the associated benefits to humans are usually assessed, quantified, and mapped at the ecosystem level to inform policy and decision-making. Yet those benefits may reach humans beyond the provisioning ecosystem, at the regional or even global level. Current efforts to map ES generated by a single ecosystem rarely consider the distribution of benefits beyond the ecosystem itself, especially at the regional or global level. In this article, we elaborate on the concept of “extra-local” ES to refer to those ES generating benefits that are enjoyed far from the providing ecosystem, focusing on the marine environment. We emphasize the spatial dimension of the different components of the ES provision framework and apply the proposed conceptual framework to food provision and climate regulation ES provided by marine and coastal ecosystems. We present the different extents of the mapping outputs generated by the ecosystem-based vs. the extra-local mapping approach and discuss practical and conceptual challenges of the approach. Lack of relevant ES mapping methodologies and lack of data appeared to be the most crucial bottlenecks in applying the extra-local approach for marine and coastal ES. We urge for more applications of the proposed framework that can improve marine and coastal ES assessments help fill in data gaps and generate more robust data. Such assessments could better inform marine and coastal policies, especially those linked to equal attribution of benefits, compensation schemes and poverty alleviation.
Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is an economically and culturally important species. Norway has more than 400 watercourses with Atlantic salmon and supports a large proportion of the world’s wild Atlantic salmon. Atlantic salmon are structured into numerous genetically differentiated populations, and are therefore managed at the population level. Long-distance migrations between freshwater and ocean habitats expose Atlantic salmon to multiple threats, and a number of anthropogenic factors have contributed to the decline of Atlantic salmon during the last decades. Knowledge on the relative importance of the different anthropogenic factors is vital for prioritizing management measures. We developed a semi-quantitative 2D classification system to rank the different anthropogenic factors and used this to assess the major threats to Norwegian Atlantic salmon. Escaped farmed salmon and salmon lice from fish farms were identified as expanding population threats, with escaped farmed salmon being the largest current threat. These two factors affect populations to the extent that they may be critically endangered or lost, with a large likelihood of causing further reductions and losses in the future. The introduced parasite Gyrodactylus salaris, freshwater acidification, hydropower regulation and other habitat alterations were identified as stabilized population threats, which have contributed to populations becoming critically endangered or lost, but with a low likelihood of causing further loss. Other impacts were identified as less influential, either as stabilized or expanding factors that cause loss in terms of number of returning adults, but not to the extent that populations become threatened. Management based on population specific reference points (conservation limits) has reduced exploitation in Norway, and overexploitation was therefore no longer regarded an important impact factor. The classification system may be used as a template for ranking of anthropogenic impact factors in other countries and as a support for national and international conservation efforts.