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2008 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation awarded to Dr. Marie-Joëlle Rochet from IFREMER

NEW YORK CITY - Dr. Marie-Jolle Rochet, a research scientist at IFREMER (The French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea) has been awarded the prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation to determine which of two commercial fishing approaches is least harmful to the delicately balanced marine ecosystem. She will use her findings to urge international officials to encourage widespread use of that technique, and to further improve its effectiveness.

Dr. Rochet, the first Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation from France, will compare the impact of selective fishing, in which commercial fishermen strategically target one or more species, and non-selective fishing, where fish are broadly captured and unwanted fish are then discarded. The global goal of reducing wasteful bycatch fish has increasingly encouraged management agencies and commercial fishermen to fish selectively and thereby minimize discards. But this approach may be causing significant ecosystem damage because it removes a target species playing an important role in the ecosystem in disproportionate numbers, Dr. Rochet said.

Fishing for a single species may be traumatic to the larger ecosystem because a member of the food web is being removed on such a massive scale, said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Executive Director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science. Dr. Pikitch is an expert in the progressive approach to fisheries known as ecosystem-based management, and co-authored a 2004 Science article on the topic.

The Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation will support Dr. Rochets important effort to compare the impact of both fishing techniques on aquatic communities, and pinpoint the least harmful method. We need concrete plans for how to best safeguard marine ecosystems that are exploited.

Dr. Rochet is among five of the worlds most innovative thinkers in ocean science to receive this highly competitive three-year, $150,000 Fellowship in support of critical marine environment conservation initiatives. The Pew Institute for Ocean Science administers the awards and today announced the 2008 Fellows, whose projects will be based in France, Australia, China, Canada, and Florida. (Learn more about the other new Fellows at

Bycatch and discards are recognized as a major problem in worldwide fisheries, generating huge amounts of waste and potentially disrupting food webs and degrading the marine ecosystem. Selective fishing methods that harvest only the desired usable fish have been widely viewed as effective to reduce bycatch, but this type of surgical species removal might disrupt the many feeding relationships underwater, known as the trophic structure.

Dr. Rochet is intrigued by the idea of even commercial fishing--across species and sizes--to maintain an optimal trophic structure, and said it could also be economically beneficial to fishermen. Whether todays bycatch could become tomorrows profit-maker while better preserving the ecosystem, remains to be determined. The question is, should we be encouraging research and policies that support more selective fishing methods, or, advocating for non-selective fishing with a better use of unwanted by-catch" Dr. Rochet said. Through this Fellowship, I will be able to explore this important question and provide guidance to fishery managers that is in the best interest of both commercial fisheries and ecosystem conservation.

Throughout 2008 and 2009, Dr. Rochet and her team will thoroughly examine fishing activities in three active commercial fisheries in France: the Southern Bay of Biscay in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, and the Seine and Somme bays in the English Channel. They will sample total catch onboard commercial vessels that use either fishing technique, and perform detailed analyses that will allow them to compare catch and community composition in the trawled, versus non-trawled, ocean areas. She will also investigate case studies of diverse exploited communities that have been fished using either method.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rochet, who earned her Ph.D. in Biometrics from the Universit Claude Bernard in 1991, will develop and use state-of-the-art community modeling tools to predict the effects of both fishing techniques on the composition of marine communities. Dr. Rochet intends to use her findings both to raise awareness among fishermen and the public about the impacts of fishing on biodiversity, and to help shape fishery management policy. Based on her research, she will advise international fisheries officials whether to support development of selective fishing gears and methods, or to concentrate on identifying improved uses for bycatch that is now treated as trash.

It is critical that fishery management plans take into account the many stakeholders in a marine ecosystem and make every effort to avoid far-reaching negative impacts, said Dr. Pikitch, a conservation biologist and a 2000 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation herself.

The ocean cant speak for itself, and the Fellows are people who give it voice.

Since the early 1990s, the Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation has been awarded to more than 100 leading marine scientists, economists, attorneys, and other ocean conservationists from 29 countries. The fellowship program supports innovative projects led by mid-career, emerging leaders in ocean conservation and designed to develop and implement solutions to critical challenges in the marine realm. The four other 2008 Fellows will pursue projects that aim to: safeguard Antarctic krill fisheries that serve as critical food sources for whales; protect Chinas threatened marine environment by creating an unprecedented network of Marine Protected Areas; document the government subsidies leading to unsustainable ocean fishing globally; and, create thermal enhancement techniques that can help some reef corals endure dangerously warming oceans around the world.


Contact: Kathryn Cervino
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

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