Observing a Policy Change for Warsaw Hole

Above: Warsaw hole, identified in the multibeam echosounder (MBES) image by the green blob in the center. The photo is 3.7 square nautical miles (3nm east-west by 1.2nm north south), and the hole is about 2 square miles in area, with depths between 240 and 400 feet. Red=shallower, and blue=deeper. Photo credit to NOAA/NOS/NCCOS/CCFHR.

Continuing with the third week of my internship, I am back in the Beaufort lab culling through the MBES data and GoPro videos for analysis. While doing so, I also reviewed all of the emails and corresponding chains of responses that occurred during my time at sea, and was blown away by one of them.

After finishing up the last station, the multi-beam echosounder (MBES) SONAR mapping of Warsaw Hole (seen above) began on June 11. During the entire cruise, multibeam efforts were successful and logged hundreds of nautical miles, but this small area of the sea floor became much more important than the rest of the imagery. Between June 11 and June 12, the Warsaw Hole file was created and submitted by request to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in preparation for their final day of management discussion in Key West, Florida. On June 12, the geotiff file was presented to all present parties and committees, and along with known fish aggregation data of the Warsaw Grouper and other fish species, the council moved to consider designating the area as a Special Management Zone (SMZ). This was a complete change from the action, or lack of action, that the council was going to take on the area, which is incredible. The designation of an SMZ would essentially mean that certain types of fishing gear could be prohibited for the purposes of maintaining fishery stocks in that area (http://www.safmc.net/managed-areas/special-management-zones-smzs). Since it is known that huge populations of Warsaw Grouper annually arrive at the hole to spawn, this is especially important to maintain stocks within and around the sanctuary waters.

What is most compelling about this seemingly simple motion is that I witnessed, from start to finish, how scientific research and GIS data can be utilized to actively change policy and protect important species and areas. One of the scientists who I worked with, James, confirmed how unique this was. During his 25-year professional career with NOAA he has only witnessed policy change 3 times as a direct outcome of his work. I’ve witnessed it here, as an undergraduate student.

Policy is never simple, and this area has been debated and in the news at least since August of 2014, where fishermen were openly clashing with researchers and policy makers about the area and fishing rights. It will most likely be another full year before the SMZ designation is made, which reinforces that it takes time to cooperate with all interested parties. Of the pieces of knowledge that I’ve taken away from this internship so far, I think that being aware of the difficulties of policy change is one of the most important. I have an idea that I will eventually end up in policy, or else stay very aware of it, and it is very beneficial to be actively observing it now.

Additionally, I learned that these success stories may be more likely to occur when everyone on the mission is working in tandem. For everyone to be aware of what needs to be accomplished in the big picture and in the little picture is imperative for success. When all involved persons take it upon themselves to be personally responsible for both the success of the larger operations, e.g. produce a detailed report of the FKNMS health, and the smaller operations, e.g. taking out the trash in the lab during shift time, the work environment becomes a haven for efficient operation and creates higher rates of success. At all levels of participation, one needs to know when to step up and also to step back on duties. This advice was championed by all scientists on the cruise, with all coming from various levels of work experience and leadership roles.

For more information about the Fisheries Council meeting and Warsaw Hole, check out the links below:

1. http://keysnews.com/node/57395 (from August 2014)
2. http://www.keysnet.com/2015/06/02/502968/small-area-to-protect-spawning.html (most recent- June 2, 2015

3. http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/sac/


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