Advancement of conservation theory
Sustainable fisheries and human health
Public attention has recently focused on environmental contaminants that have been introduced into the world’s oceans, which may be toxic to seafood consumers. In contrast, nutrients in fish have been increasingly identified as having public health benefits. Our group is studying associations between sustainability and human health-oriented seafood rankings. This work includes an analysis of the ecological and health consequences of alternative sources of protein (i.e., poultry, beef). Initial data indicate remarkable consistency in sustainability and human-health seafood rankings, such that seafood items that are relatively low in mercury are also more sustainable. We continue to build our database with information on environmental contaminants (e.g., flame retardants, microplastics) and sustainability.
Developing management models for marine mammals
Marine mammals are increasingly threatened by interactions with fishing gear, ocean noise, pollution, direct harvest, ship traffic, competition for food with fisheries, and coastal development. Managers must set limits to these sources of human-caused mortality and disturbance to marine mammals without compromising human welfare. Currently, the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act limits the allowable number of deaths caused by fisheries with a simple model called Potential Biological Removal. Although these two approaches are a vast improvement to the status quo, they do not consider the cumulative impacts of all threats, and they assume largely unrealistic population dynamics. We are developing a new framework for setting removal limits that incorporates cumulative impacts, and also allows for more realistic population dynamics, especially with respect to social complexity in marine mammals.
We are also interested in developing novel solutions to the conservation of marine megafauna. One example is the potential application of conservation markets to marine megavertebrates. Such an approach may offer a way forward in the current gridlock in International Whaling Commission (IWC) policy-making: whaling quotas that could be bought and sold. Because conservationists could bid for “whale shares”, whalers could profit from whales even without harvesting them. In this way a market would open the door to sustainable whaling and harvest reduction. In coming years we will examine the many biological and economic complexities associated with a whale conservation market.