Monday, February 20, 2017

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the Red Snapper

Kathy Cyr is a Masters of Coastal and Ocean Policy student and will graduate from UNC Wilmington this spring. She is also a 2006 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy where she earned a BS in Operations Research and Computer Analysis. She is currently an active duty Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. She has six years of sea time on three ships conducting fisheries law enforcement, drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, search and rescue, and security escorts for the U.S. Navy.

Map of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
In 1992, the United States designated Flower Garden Banks as a National Marine Sanctuary. The designation of “marine sanctuary” legally afforded the reef protection from commercial fishing and other potentially destructive human activities. The Flower Garden Banks is located one hundred miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. It includes three reefs, two of which are 15 miles apart. The area between the reefs is not part of the marine sanctuary. 

One reason the US decided to protect Flower Garden Banks is because the reef is a habitat for highly sought reef fish such as grouper and snapper. Reef fish make up approximately 18% of the Gulf’s commercial and recreational fishing industries.  

Status of the Northern Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Stock
During the 1990s, the Gulf’s red snapper stock, a particularly valuable reef fish species, nearly collapsed due to overfishing. Fisheries managers implemented policy to save the fishery including: reduced catch limits, limited fishing permits issued, restricted the size of retainable fish, restricted the type of gear used, and designated a fishing season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) projection models from the most recent red snapper stock assessment in 2015 shows the stock improving and continuing to rebuild under the current fishing policy and environmental conditions.

However, over the past several years, especially during 2016, scientists noticed coral bleaching and sponge die off events throughout the reefs (graph below). Coral bleaching is a visual stress signal, which can cause the coral to die if sustained over a long period of time. Coral bleaching usually occurs when water temperatures are too warm, but can also be caused by other factors such as pollutants and even an influx of fresh water from the coast. 

This threatens the effectiveness of protecting the reef as a means of protecting reef fish such as the red snapper.  The Flower Garden Banks reef does not serve as a spawning ground or home to the juvenile red snapper like it does for other reef fish. Instead, the red snapper relies on the reef habitat for shelter during the day.  During the night, the red snapper forages in the nearby muddy areas and then returns to the reef. The red snapper also only uses the reefs from ages two to approximately seven years. These ages are when the female red snapper is old enough to spawn and account for most of the commercially caught red snapper.  If the reef dies the life cycle of the snapper is interrupted.   

Can the National Marine Sanctuaries Act save the Flower Garden Banks reef system from decline? 

The Act provides the reef protection from commercial fishing and pollution through enforcement by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While both agencies can monitor pollution spills and help prevent overfishing, neither have the means to adjust the water’s salinity nor prevent the water from becoming progressively warmer each summer. These issues require a much larger scale solution than the National Marine Sanctuaries Act provides. 

Can the red snapper survive without a natural reef system? 

One potential solution to help the red snapper adapt is artificial reefs. The red snapper currently inhabits several artificial reefs, in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Another solution is to include the 15-mile area located between the two reefs as part of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. This would protect some of the red snapper stock from commercial fishing as they feed at night. 

Ultimately, the United States created the National Marine Sanctuaries Act to protect critical marine habitats. These habitats are important to the survival of marine life, but may require more protection than the government can offer. In the case of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the red snapper, it’s not only a matter of protection, but also a matter of adaptation. Artificial reefs and expanding the area within the Marine Sanctuary are viable options, but neither addresses the threats to the reef itself. Scientists and policy makers must address the larger climate issue influencing the state of the Flower Garden Banks reef system in order to protect the reef, red snapper, and Gulf Coast fishing industry.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

American Aquaculture: A Failing System

Caitlin Lashbrook is completing her Masters Degree in Coastal Ocean Policy at the University of North Carolina Wilmington where she also received her Bachelors of Science in Marine Biology. Throughout her collegiate studies, she has always taken interest in issues dealing with fisheries and wildlife management. Her research focuses on the regulatory nature of aquaculture operations and find solutions for future growth in sustainable aquaculture.

Photo Credit:
In recent decades, seafood products have taken a more established role in the American diet with demand increasing yearly. Most of this seafood, however, is not produced or caught in the United States.

On the heels of the 1970s oil crises, congress passed the National Aquaculture Act of 1980. Aquaculture refers to the raising of aquatic animals or growing of aquatic plants in a controlled environment. The act’s intentions included “reducing the U.S. trade deficit in fisheries products” however has failed to do so.

The amount of seafood imported into the U.S. continues to rise and the current value is about five times higher than exported seafood products. In addition, recent years show a decline in seafood production as a result of the shrinking number and size of fish farms. One way to reduce this trading gap would be to increase aquaculture production in the United States.

United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
So why does it matter that domestic seafood production is down and imports are rising?

During the 1970s oil crises, the U.S. economy experienced a recession and a near-halt in trade as foreign relations became strained. The Yom Kippur War caused an oil embargo, or trade ban, between the U.S. and Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC). Oil prices skyrocketed, placing a heavy financial burden on consumers. The crises displayed the dynamic nature of foreign relationships.

U.S. reliance on foreign goods becomes problematic when economic, political, social and environmental factors in other countries influence and potentially jeopardize future supplies and prices. Based on the oil embargo example, it makes economic sense to increase domestic aquaculture, thereby reducing our reliance on foreign trade to ensure affordable seafood as demand continues to increase.

Data collected from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Fishery and Aquaculture Department

Why hasn’t aquaculture progressed like the act had hoped?

One of the largest hurdles aquaculture faces is regulation. 

Federal, state, and local government all play a role in permitting and regulating aquaculture facilities. Studies demonstrate that aquaculturists, government officials, and researchers all identify regulatory restrictions as the leading cause for sluggish aquaculture growth. In addition to the various levels of government involved, numerous agencies at each level playing an active role. From the Fish and Wildlife Service, which focuses on endangered species, to the Army Corps of Engineers which tackles coastal zone uses, aquaculturists are faced with specialty agencies each with their own set of rules for aquaculture operations.

In addition, special interests groups such as, homeowners, environmentalist and fishermen advocate for aquaculture restrictions. Coastal homeowners want to restrict any operation that inhibits their pristine view. Fishermen see aquaculture as a threat to their livelihood. Environmentalists worry pollution and genetic degradation of wild fish stocks. All of these groups have potential to influence permitting regulations when mobilized and vocal.

So how do we improve outcomes towards the legislative goals set out by the National Aquaculture Act?

Keeping with the status quo would result in increasing reliance on foreign sources for seafood products. American demand has been rising for decades and is likely to continue that trend. With that being said, alternative options could result in aquaculture expansion which in turn would reduce the trade deficit. 

One option for aquaculture is to increase the abundance of land-based facilities. Since much of the opposition and regulation imposed on aquaculture deal with issues of coastal zone usage, increasing the abundance land-based facilities would negate the issues surrounding land use in coastal areas. 

Another option is offshore aquaculture, an alternative that is in the beginning stages of development. Offshore aquaculture could be beneficial as it is removed from most human viewpoints and interactions. Offshore aquaculture also reduces the concern of pollution since greater water depths would reduce the concentration of waste compounds. 

In addition to any of the proposed alternatives, increasing collaboration in governance is needed. Between interest groups, aquaculturists, federal, local and state officials, a cooperative form of regulation would serve in the best interests of all groups. 

Through cooperation and collaboration of regulatory agencies and interests groups, the United States could make great strides towards the goals of the National Aquaculture Act.

It's that time of year!!

It's that time of year where MCOP capstone students will post short essays about their research projects.

As a basic backgrounds, in the Fall students are taught the fundamentals of problem orientation as practiced by the policy sciences.  During the spring semester, students continue the works they began during their Spring semester but are encouraged to broaden their scope to include context, perspectives and the messy interface of science, politics and policy.

Every week for the rest of the semester will showcase a different student and their research.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Science, Policy & Politics: Class Project!!

This past Fall 2016, graduate students in my (i.e. Dr. Weinkle) Science, Policy & Politics (MCOP 592) turned out an impressive looking website on Beach Nourishment.

The course sought to map a knowledge controversy or looked at another way, a controversy that makes use of difference knowledges.  So... people fight over facts in order to fight over values.

It was my pleasure to guide the class through their inquiry and help them grapple with conflicting information and perspectives.

The project began with a controversy of interest: Recreational fishermen and beach nourishment projects.  The class focused hard on fishermen, prodded the peer reviewed literature and information available from other sources: businesses groups, online forums, and NGO's.  At this point, they came to an "Aha!" moment:  There are lots of facts, ways of knowing about these projects, and interests demonstrate preferences for each.  Fishermen are but one interest involved in a far larger social, political and scientific controversy surrounding beach nourishment.    

***In more recent years, the US Army Corps of Engineers has changed their vernacular from "Beach nourishment"to storm risk reduction projects- It's spin either way.  But then, strategic planning is now called self- study =).

And so, they branched out... Who else is involved here?  What do they say? Where do they get their information?  How does everyone fit together?

Check out the site here:

While informative, keep in mind that the site is a class project and a learning tool.  All error is due the clumsiness of the learning experience (including, my own).

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

UNCW Student Debt Low Compared to Other Colleges and Universities

Just in time for Black Friday shoppers!  

Word on the town is that students of UNCW graduate with lower student loan debt than those from other institutions.  The beach and a bargain =) 

UNCW news reports: 
On average, students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington graduate with lower debt than their peers at other institutions, a study of 1,200 colleges and universities has found. The university ranked 55th among public institutions with the lowest debt load and 124th on a combined list of public and private institutions. 
Within North Carolina, the university ranked 5th in minimizing student debt.

Read more here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Center for Marine Science Open House and Science Carnival

The UNCW Center for Marine Science (CMS) on Crest Campus is hosting an Open House and Science Carnival, October 1 11-3:30.  Students of the Master of Coastal and Ocean Policy program will man a booth passing out flyers and answering questions.  

Come visit!  Crest Campus is Beautiful and there is sure to be some fun stuff to see, touch and learn =)

You can find more information about the event on the CMS website

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Op-Ed about Science, Policy and Politics

I (Jessica Weinkle) have an op-ed in the Wilmington Star News Today.  

The title is a bit harsher than I would have preferred.  But the work is meant to respectfully approach the touchy subject of scientists and subtle issue advocacy work. 

The work served as a good case study to kick off the start of the new semester today!  My class didn't read the op-ed.  Instead, we used some of the materials I referenced in the op-ed to stir a good discussion about facts and values and different expectations one holds for scientists and policymakers.

You can read about it here.  An excerpt is below...
Politics is the essence of community deliberation. Inclusive political discourse is well served by a healthy democracy. Today, a resounding swath of America feel left out of the political conversation and in turn, many are skeptical America’s claims to democratic governance. 
Resolving political conflict often has more to do with addressing differences in the public’s moral consciousness than it does with advancing science. Yet, in recent decades the language of science and technology - often wrongly mistaken as free from personal values - has replaced a user-friendly moral discourse. 
North Carolina is a heated battleground for political debate played out through a haze of science. The state garnered national comedic reputation and the science community became enraged when the N.C. legislature regulated the assumptions used in producing sea level rise estimates.
The estimate is a key number in calculating erosion rates used to regulate coastal development. Those opposed to development tend to favor higher estimates of sea level rise. 
However, when estimates of risk threaten the state economy and political stability, it is common for policymakers to control the conception of risk imposed upon the public. 
Most recently, Dr. Stanley Riggs, of East Carolina University, left his long-term, respected position with the Coastal Resources Commission Science Panel due to concerns that the panel’s work has become politicized by pressure to produce information supporting a rigorous policy of growth and development.