Suspension of spawning closures could lead to collapse of Brazil’s fisheries, scientists warn

  • On October 9, Brazil’s Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture announced they were suspending seasonal fishing closures meant to protect the spawning grounds of several ecologically important species.
  • In a Science article published last week, researchers with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and Brazil’s Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro say that the government's focus on fiscal impacts alone is putting Brazil’s aquatic biodiversity at grave risk.
  • If Brazil doesn't immediately improve its fisheries management practices, the scientists say that large commercial and ecological collapses are all but inevitable.

The Brazilian government is looking to slash government spending amidst an escalating political crisis and a bleak economic forecast. Science and education were first on the chopping block, and now scientists are warning that new cuts to environmental programs could come at far too dear a cost.

On October 9, Brazil’s Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, which had just absorbed the Ministry of Fisheries a week prior, announced they were suspending seasonal fishing closures meant to protect the spawning grounds of several ecologically important species.

The decision to suspend the fishing closures was made in order to stop government funds from paying for illegal unemployment benefits that were apparently being paid out during the closure season.

In a Science article published last week, researchers with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and Brazil’s Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro say that the government’s focus on fiscal impacts alone is putting Brazil’s aquatic biodiversity at grave risk.

“Without spawning closures, fishing is now allowed during the annual spawning migration of all freshwater species from six major hydrographic basins, including the Amazon, as well as during the reproductive season of several marine fishes and invertebrates,” they write.

If Brazil doesn’t immediately improve its fisheries management practices, the scientists say that large commercial and ecological collapses are all but inevitable.

It’s not just the suspension of fishing closures that threatens Brazil’s aquatic ecosystems. A number of other recent policy changes and initiatives will cause Brazilian aquatic biodiversity to “suffer,” according to the authors of the Science article.

Hundreds of hydroelectric dams are either planned or already under construction in the Amazon Basin and other major river basins, for instance, which imperils migratory fish species and “the South American biota as a whole,” they argue.

Meanwhile, because their unemployment assistance is being cut off, Brazilians who rely on fishing for a living will have to catch even more fish to make up for the lost income. That will put further pressure on fish stocks that are already at the brink of collapse, the researchers write, but the “effect on the environment will be difficult to track, given the complete absence of fisheries statistics in Brazil.”

Policy remedies recommended by the authors include reestablishing spawning closures, collecting fisheries statistics, performing independent stock assessments and operating effective subnational fisheries management councils.

“Instead of loosening the legal fisheries management framework to ameliorate a never-ending fiscal crisis, Brazil needs to improve fisheries and environmental management effectiveness,” they write.

S_trispinosus_PEM
Greenbeak Parrotfish, currently at risk of extinction in Brazil. Photo © California Academy of Sciences.
Shark_Brazil
Galapagos sharks, seen here in Hawaii, are most likely extinct in Brazil. They are an example of a keystone species that could have benefited from fishing regulations and conservation initiatives. Photo © California Academy of Sciences.
PeixeLeao4b
Academy scientists recently discovered the first invasive lionfish in Brazilian waters. These fish are a scourge on the Caribbean (feasting on endangered reef species), and now threaten the virtually unregulated fisheries in Brazil. Photo © California Academy of Sciences.

CITATION

  • Pinheiro, H. T., Di Dario, F., Gerhardinger, L. C., de Melo, M. R., de Moura, R. L., Reis, R. E., … & Rocha, L. A. (2015). Brazilian aquatic biodiversity in peril. Science, 350(6264), 1043-1044.
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