Leslie Lab members Heather Leslie, Leila Sievanen, and Katherine Siegel recently traveled to La Paz, Mexico, for fieldwork and meetings with collaborators from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Centro de Biodiversidad Marina y Conservación, and The Nature Conservancy. The interdisciplinary research team, which includes experts in anthropology, ecology, economics, fisheries, and sustainability science, gathered in this vibrant fishing and tourism center in Baja California Sur to review results from their initial data collection and synthesis efforts.
Guiding questions for the research include How do ecological and institutional processes influence the adaptive capacity of small-scale fishermen in the La Paz region and other parts of the Gulf? In particular, how does climate variability influence the fisheries of the Gulf? How are these dynamics mediated by variation in the life histories of exploited species, and variation in the ways in which fishermen themselves are organized?
Dr. Leila Sievanen, postdoctoral research associate with the project, spent the last six weeks in La Paz and other parts of Baja California Sur, interviewing fishermen about how they understand and adapt to environmental change. Understanding how local people change their behavior to cope with external stresses associated with normal climate variability, and how the ability to do so varies between individuals and households, can help elucidate the existing capacity to deal with larger changes expected to occur with climate change.
Dr. Sheila Walsh has been exploring how market demand from tourism for specific sizes of fish influences fishermen’s decisions and when market demand can actually have a positive impact on fish populations and fishermen’s revenue. Sheila is now turning toward exploring another important driver in these fisheries: El Nino events. Building on the team’s previous work on how El Nino events affect single fish species and how fishermen adapt to normal environmental variability, Sheila is leading an effort to understand how the diverse multi-species fishery of the Gulf responds to El Nino events and the relative importance of biology and human decisions in influencing outcomes. The recent trip to La Paz was key for the team to synthesize existing knowledge and begin analysis on this exciting question using new data.
During this trip, Sheila also worked with The Nature Conservancy’s Baja program staff to identify the outcomes for marine ecosystems and people that they aim to achieve by launching a regional conservation and fisheries management finance initiative. To learn more about the interaction between conservation and fisheries management in the region, the team traveled to the Espiritu Santo National Park, an island off the coast of La Paz where the interacting objectives for fishermen, tourists, and nature are drawn into sharp focus.
Katherine Siegel, a rising senior at Brown University studying Environmental Science, is conducting related research for her senior thesis as part of the project. She is analyzing the relationships between fisheries regulations in the Gulf of California and the life histories and ecology of 23 commercially important species. She is interested in how scientific knowledge about the species is incorporated into national-level regulations. Her research is supported by the Voss Environmental Fellows Program.
To learn more about the project, please contact Heather_Leslie@brown.edu.
This posting was written by Heather Leslie with contributions by Sheila Walsh, Katherine Siegel, and Leila Sievanen.