A team of Brazilian scientists is raising awareness about impending conservation setbacks for Brazil’s marine life, calling for immediate fisheries management collaboration between the nation’s public and private sectors. The scientists say Brazil can transform this moment of political turmoil into positive action, and become a leader among developing countries facing widespread extinction of aquatic animals. The call to protect the future of Brazil’s productive fisheries is published this month in Science.

In December 2014, the Brazilian Minister of the Environment released new national “red lists” identifying 3,286 species of plants and animals threatened with extinction. Eighty-three of these are aquatic animals which are commercially exploited by fisheries. Many of the lists’ water-dwelling animals, like the possibly-extinct Galapagos shark (Carcharhinus galapagensis), have historically ended up as by-catch during routine fishing operations. The updated red lists seek to strengthen fisheries by naming and protecting species at risk of going the way of the dodo.

One month after the Brazilian government published updated red lists, around 200 fishing boats launched an overnight protest of federal fishing restrictions by blocking Brazil’s second-largest container port. The protest ended when labor union representatives reported an agreement to create a committee of public and private stakeholders to evaluate new catch restrictions. The researchers say the time for increased collaboration on fisheries management overdue.

Greenbeak Parrotfish appear on Brazil's recently released threatened species lists
Greenbeak Parrotfish appear on Brazil’s recently released threatened species lists, which contain 3,286 plants and animals at risk of extinction. 83 of the species listed are aquatic animals commercially exploited by fisheries. Photo credit: California Academy of Sciences

“In Brazil – a country with some of the most unique aquatic environments on Earth – fisheries data don’t really exist,” says Luiz Rocha, PhD, Associate Curator of Ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences. “There are no bag or size limits for any species of fish, and for the past few years, even the most basic fisheries statistics – such as the numbers and weights of fish being caught – are a blank space. Maintaining current red lists is crucial to making sure management plans start as soon as possible.”

While the industrial fisheries sector has acted swiftly to derail protections for all threatened aquatic species, the scientific collaborative offers management solutions that protect Brazil’s treasured wildlife as well as the financial future of commercial fishing interests. This week’s Science article calls the impact of red lists on industrial fisheries “less disruptive” than previously reported, and highlights the opportunity for fishing interests to work with government agencies to implement inclusive management plans for a “better way forward.”

The Galapagos shark is an example of a keystone species thought to have been fished to regional extinction due to decades of nonexistent fisheries regulations. This species is one of many that could have greatly benefited from management plans that help reduce by-catch and prevent the overexploitation of fishing stocks.

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