Baja Lobster Fishing: By Geoff Shester Awards: Miller
Stanford’s groundbreaking new Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (IPER) is training graduate students to integrate techniques from wide-ranging disciplines toward a common goal of ecological sustainability. As an IPER Ph.D. candidate here at Hopkins Marine Station, I use a variety of natural and social science field methods including scuba dive surveys, onboard fishing observation, underwater experiments, fishermen interviews, bioeconomic modeling, and Geographic Information System analysis. I work with my advisor Fiorenza Micheli on the Baja Biocomplexity Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration between several U.S. and Mexican institutions studying a unique group of fishing cooperatives on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur.
The Baja spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) fishery is one of the most valuable in Mexico, and recently became the first small-scale fishery to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as a “sustainable” seafood choice. As a condition of continued certification, the cooperatives are required to conduct additional research and monitoring. In collaboration with Mexican fishermen and scientists, I trained 15 lobster fishing teams to monitor their catch with electronic logbooks in a pilot monitoring program. These fishermen also collaborated on scuba diving experiments examining the effects of traps on seafloor habitats and measuring the mortality caused by lost traps. With over 17,000 data points and over 50 detailed interviews to date, we are learning about how individual fishermen make decisions on the water, and at the same time, about the behavior of the lobster they catch. So far, we’ve found that strict cooperative rules about size limits, enforcement, closed seasons, and protecting reproductive females have kept the fishery highly productive, even when neighboring stocks have collapsed. Meanwhile, the fishermen have learned an electronic logbook technique that will help them improve their enforcement, monitor fishery production in greater detail, and maintain their eco-label.
A Baja spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) hides out in an underwater cave.
A camp of Baja lobster fishermen participate in a pilot monitoring program with researchers from Hopkins Marine Station to maintain their sustainability certification.