May 25, 2022 | Plumbing the Depths

The Fishermen’s Alliance is taking a closer look at Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management.

By Doreen Leggett

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Rachel Barrales was in middle school when she first saw the Keeling Curve at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, which shows carbon dioxide levels in the environment increasing to nosebleed heights.

“They have that huge graph on the wall. It stuck with me,” she said.

Years later, when she was in graduate school hearing that she was more concerned with flora and fauna than people, she pointed to how climate change is displacing communities, leading to gentrification, destroying cottage industries.

“That’s what matters to me,” Barrales said.

Those interests come together at the Fishermen’s Alliance where Barrales, candidate for a Masters in Environmental Management at Duke University, will spend this summer.

“I want to work on climate change issues with coastal communities, and fisheries are such a big part of healthy coastal communities,” she said. “EBFM captures all of that, as large a task as it is.”

EBFM is ecosystem-based fisheries management, a new initiative at the New England Fishery Management Council, where Fishermen’s Alliance CEO John Pappalardo serves. Pappalardo chairs the council’s EBFM committee.

The council is starting with a pilot project for the Georges Bank ecosystem and has begun pulling stakeholders together. EBFM seeks to explode the single-species way fisheries have been managed for decades. Instead, fisheries would be managed as a whole: how they interact within the ecosystem, other managed species, other species (such as seals), and a changing environment.

“EBFM involves all species and fisheries in a specific area, recognizes the energetic limits of the system, takes into account relationships among species, allows for greater adaptability, and addresses multifaceted goals and objectives,” said Pappalardo. “It doesn’t just look at the maximum sustainable yield of cod. It looks at the maximum sustainable yield of cod if there is also the maximum sustainable yield of dogfish, because the species compete. Or the maximum sustainable yield of cod if there are wind farms, or a greater amount of squid because of warming waters.”

Fishermen have been talking about this long before the term was coined, he noted:

“For years fishermen have signaled our marine environment is changing. Marine scientists have been monitoring and measuring these changes and now public policy must digest and interpret this new information.

“EBFM could create a new framework for fisheries management to achieve sustainability. As part of our team, Rachel will collaborate with me, developing outreach and education.”

Barrales has already experienced interconnections that can support (or upend) ecosystems and communities.

She graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in Ecosystem Science and Policy, drawn to using policy as a tool to craft holistic approaches to solving problems. When she graduated she entered AmeriCorps and went back to California to work on climate change planning for a municipality, dealing with threats to water supplies, flood risks. She interviewed staff and brainstormed what climate change would look like. As her year-and-a-half stint came to a close she found staff coming to her with examples of climate impacts and ways to address it.

Working with fishermen and community members across the Cape, Barrales will have similar conversations.

After AmeriCorps, Barrales joined the Peace Corps and was sent to a town in the mountains east of Mexico City to work on climate change issues. She saw first-hand how changes in the climate set off a cascade of effects in the ecosystem and the communities that depend on them.

One community leader asked for help setting up an ecotourism business focused on big-eared bats that live in nearby caves. Barrales said she heard that in the past there were so many bats they would fill the air.

But the number had been greatly diminished for a variety reasons, including climate change and the related decline of the Maguey plant (related to the Agave) that bats rely on.

Before Barrales was able to help develop a game plan, COVID struck. She found herself back in Washington, D.C., where her parents had moved back to from San Diego.

She thought she would be returning to her Peace Corps stint, but as time stretched on she got a job for a non-profit that manages carbon credit programs and applied to Duke.

Most internship and job opportunities that the Duke Career Center advertises sound rather dry, but not a recent one about Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management at the Fishermen’s Alliance.

Barrales said the notice they sent made warm mention of Melissa Sanderson, a Duke graduate who interned at the Fishermen’s Alliance before coming to stay, now chief operating officer.

“It sounded like a wonderful opportunity with a powerhouse organization,” Barrales said.

The Fishermen’s Alliance has a history of working with Duke. Its first executive director, Lori Steele, was a Duke graduate as was the second executive director, Paul Parker. Other Duke graduates have interned and gone on to work in fisheries.

“There are big shoes to fill here,” she said, or better put, big boots: “I’m really excited about the summer and getting out on fishing boats.”


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