"Toptal Blog for sustainable fisheries" by Meira Mizrahi

As a component of the application process for a Toptal Scholarship for Women, I have written a blog about my research goals, and my vision to change the world. (Let’s all wish Meira luck with her application : ).

 Photos by Meira Mizrahi

Photos by Meira Mizrahi

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My Vision to change the world

 Sustainable fisheries and thriving oceans: My vision to change the world is to support small-scale fishing communities in achieving sustainable livelihoods, and to mitigate certain anthropogenic threats to shark populations.

 

How am I going to accomplish this goal?

Background

As apex predators, sharks play a highly important role in the top-down control of marine ecosystem structure and function. Sharks also support livelihoods of small-scale and artisanal fishers throughout the world directly through shark fisheries, and by maintaining healthy ecosystems for other targeted species to thrive in. Unfortunately, shark populations are declining globally as a result of overfishing, with tens of millions of sharks are captured and sold internationally every year. In recent years, spatial management tools such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have become a popular tool used to protect sharks. However, despite the aforementioned values that sharks have to people, socioeconomic dimensions are often neglected when planning shark-focused MPAs.

 

Working towards MPAs that benefit sharks and livelihoods

Earlier this year, my colleagues and I published a systematic review of socioeconomic factors that influence how MPAs impact on ecosystems and livelihoods (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08941920.2018.1489568). This study highlighted that stakeholders (such as resource dependent fishers) who are included in the MPA planning process are more likely to accept and support conservation measures. Furthermore, an understanding of marine issues and environmental processes are key components that influence an individual’s engagement in conservation and pro-environmental behaviour. When stakeholders are not involved in the conservation planning process or don’t understand the reasoning behind it, they are more likely to be adversely impacted by restrictive fishing laws, and conservation goals are also likely to fail as a result of non-compliance. My work and research focuses in ensuring that MPAs are created in a way that takes into account the needs of local resource users, to ensure that fishers do not lose their livelihoods through MPA designation, and that shark-focused MPAs succeed in their objective to benefit shark populations.

 

Supporting sharks and fishers in Myanmar

Records suggest that Myanmar may be home to up to 58 shark species (including IUCN Red listed Critically Endangered (2), Endangered (2) and Vulnerable (18)). Despite legislation to protect these species, including two Shark Reserves and a nation-wide ban on shark fishing, a lack of resources to implement policy means that sharks are still being targeted and an active market exists today. Recent market surveys by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in partnership with Myeik University revealed that hundreds of juvenile sharks are sold at drying markets in Myeik, sourced from an active fishery in Myanmar. Prior assessments also suggest a significant decrease in shark biomass and landed catches compared to historical levels. A lack of resources within government agencies is resulting in weak enforcement of the shark fishing ban, with a direct consequence being that Myanmar’s shark fisheries are being overexploited.

In November 2017, I completed a survey and participatory mapping exercise as a part of my PhD research, aiming to better understand the perceptions and interactions that people in Myanmar’s Myeik Archipelago have towards sharks (https://www.livelihoodslab.com/news/2018/4/10/burmese-days-by-meira-mizrahi). This study, which is the first focused exploration of Myanmar’s small-scale and artisanal shark fisheries, provides a snapshot of the current status of small-scale and artisanal shark fisheries in a relatively under-researched region in Myanmar. My next steps are to use this information in spatial software QGIS (https://qgis.org/en/site/) and conservation planning tool Marxan (http://marxan.net/) to highlight areas that would provide the greatest benefits to sharks if they were protected, while minimising costs to local resource users. I hope that outputs from this study can be used by locally based conservation practitioners in Myanmar to support shark conservation efforts in the Myeik Archipelago, and to ensure that resource users are not neglected throughout the shark conservation planning process. I also plan to publish two scientific papers on the results of this study, so that this discourse of research can be modelled and repeated in other parts of the world.

Support and mentorship needed to achieve my goals

If I were to describe my personal career goal, it would be to build myself as a researcher of, and activist for sharks and their associated environments, and the people that live beside them. I strongly believe that the key to gaining support for conservation is to engage with recourse users, and find out what their needs and desires are first.

Obtaining a Toptal Scholarship will not only support me financially to pursue these goals, the mentorship program will allow me to build my capacity to develop strong, outputs based projects and communicate them to a wider audience. While I consider myself to have the technical knowledge, experience and academic support in conservation planning and stakeholder engagement, I lack the experience in marketing and communication to bring my work to public in a way that is useful and engaging. I would seek support to bridge that gap between science based conservation and communication by hopefully obtaining mentorship by someone from a marketing and communications background, who can guide me in this process.

 

About me

I am a marine social scientist with five years’ experience working in marine conservation in developing countries. I have gathered extensive experience working on a range of practical and policy marine issues in Belize, Cambodia and Myanmar. Moving from Belize to Cambodia late 2015, I joined Fauna & Flora International (FFI)’s Cambodia marine programme in March 2016 as a consultant and the Myanmar marine programme in January 2017. Key highlights of these projects were advising on seahorse and sea turtle conservation strategies, and finalising the Koh Rong Archipelago Marine Fisheries Management Area Management Plan (an LMMA-type conservation area) in Cambodia, and leading the stakeholder consultation process for the development of the Myeik Archipelago MPA (Myanmar).

I have a BA from James Cook University in Ecology and Conservation and am currently beginning my third year of my PhD at James Cook University (I’m an external student residing in Cambodia). My research involves developing an integrated socioeconomic approach to identifying areas that would provide the greatest benefits to marine ecosystems (in particular sharks) and associated livelihoods. I recently completed my field work in the Myeik Archipelago, Myanmar during which I conducted interviews with fishers to develop an understanding of people’s perceptions and interactions with sharks and rays. This research was part of a wider project titled Maximising Outcomes for Shark and Ray MPAs, funded by the Shark Conservation Fund, and led by Professor and co-chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist group, Colin Simpfendorfer, and JCU Senior Lecturer Dr Amy Diedrich.