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Conservation-scapes: An interdisciplinary approach to assessing cetacean bycatch in small-scale fisheries

  • Author(s): Whitty, Tara S.
  • Advisor(s): Ballance, Lisa T
  • Dayton, Paul
  • et al.

In conservation research, the call for more holistic research that considers the human dimension of conservation problems has existed for decades. However, such approaches have not yet been widely operationalized and integrated in conservation studies. To promote improved operationalization of multidisciplinary, human-inclusive conservation research, I developed the conservation-scape framework. This social-ecological framework outlines the sets of attributes that inform practical conservation approaches: (1) proximate attributes, which quantify and characterize the magnitude and risk of a given conservation problem, (2) underlying social context attributes, or the economic, social, and cultural factors that might influence human use of resources, and (3) underlying governance context attributes.

Mitigating bycatch of cetaceans in small-scale fisheries is an urgent conservation priority, inextricably linked to the pressing need for improved small-scale fisheries management. Currently, our knowledge of the extent and underlying context of this issue is limited by substantial data gaps for both the ecological and social aspects. To more holistically understand this conservation problem, I applied the conservation-scapes framework to investigate proximate and underlying attributes of Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) bycatch at one focal site and three comparative sites in Southeast Asia.

For three of the four sites, bycatch was demonstrated to be unsustainable, based on annual bycatch mortality rates from interviews and dolphin population estimates. Overlap between bycatch-related fishing gear use and dolphin habitat exists year-round at all sites. To present information on proximate, social, and governance conservation-scape attributes in a concise and useful manner , I developed exploratory and comparative conservation-scape assessment scorecard that summarize the need and mitigation outlook for effectively reducing fishing gear-dolphin overlap at each site. These indicate that the urgency of the bycatch problem is high, particularly for the three aforementioned sites, but that the mitigation outlook varies across sites, with cross-site differences in ties to fishing, general perceptions regarding environmental resources and dolphin conservation, general social attributes, and governance engagement and effectiveness.

To further develop the conservation-scapes approach as a practical part of the conservation research toolkit, I link it to the Snapshot Assessment Protocol (SnAP) for assessing small-scale fisheries, developed by myself and colleagues. Together, the conservation-scapes framework and SnAP hold great potential for contributing to the rising tide of collaborative, interdisciplinary research.

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