…for making our study a success!

In 2012-2013, with the help of many fishermen associations along eastern Canada, several key fishermen advisors, social scientists and biologists, we surveyed 195 active and retired fishermen regarding their interactions with and observations of grey seals. Upon completing our analyses, we determined:

1) There are four interactions (other than grey seal predation) that impact fishermen financially: stealing “fish off the line,” bait raiding, gear damage and seal worm infestation of catch.

2) Bait raiding, gear damage and seal worm infestation severely impact the southern Gulf and the Scotian Shelf.

3) These interactions were directly related to reported grey seal sightings in respective Lobster Fishing Areas.

4) When we plotted these interactions on a map of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, they were consistent with grey seal, groundfish, and fishing fleet behaviors.

5) Lobster Fishing Area 24 (northern PEI) is the hardest hit by all three interactions types (see map). LFA 24 also overlaps a known summer groundfish feeding area.

6) Unless seal worm infestation declines, the cost of labour for food processors will continue to climb. We predict these higher costs will necessarily be passed to fishermen to maintain financial viability.Image

This map shows how Lobster Fishing Areas are related to one another in regards to bait raiding, gear damage, parasite infestation and the presence of grey seals. Similar shades of blue match regions that are alike. LFA 24 did not group with any other region due to overwhelming reports of gear damage, bait raiding, seal worm infestation and grey seal sightings.

Next Steps:

1) We would like to assign dollar values to these interactions to evaluate the realized cost of grey seal interactions with fisheries.

2) We have a manuscript in draft to document these findings in the peer reviewed literature.

Thank you to all the fishermen who completed this survey, FA reps that helped us successfully recruit and distribute to fishermen and numerous individuals that helped create the final questionnaire through a collaborative consultation process. Your participation was crucial!

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact the researcher.

Warmest Regards,

Rachel Neuenhoff

PhD Candidate



Canadian Fisheries Research Network 2014 AGM

Fresh from a presentation in Truro Nova Scotia, I stepped off the plane in Montreal with a momentous energy and my first assignment was no less the challenge. I had until the next morning at 8AM to develop a pitch for the student led initiative, “Predator Pit.” Based on the concept of “Dragon’s Den,” this game similarly pitted future fisheries scientists against each other through bids on contracts that addressed problems faced by commercial fisheries and fishery communities. The day proved to be an invaluable exercise in bridging natural and social scientists with ideas such as feasibility, budgets and targeted grant writing; skills completely overlooked in formal education settings. Feeding on the success of the “Predator Pit” exercise, many groups capitalized on presence of key industry, government and academics to weave their ideas into reality, myself and “Predator Pit” teammate included.

The AGM opened with a review of updates, key successes and avenues that deserved greater exploration. I really feel that this is a critical time for the network. Not only are partners delivering on their promises, they are also looking into the foreseeable future for longstanding relationships, products and potential projects. The AGM has become so much more than a required perfunctory gathering of conservation minded individuals. There is a richer, more tangible value in the relationships developed now, particularly with industry (from my personal perspective) and I can feel an engine turn over as a number of smaller projects simultaneously gain momentum. At times, the synergy can feel intoxicating.

This was the first year that our group, Project 3.2 participated with all members present. Ben Nelson is continuing his project on interactions between pinnipeds and key salmon stocks on the west coast of Canada. I gave results of the fishery survey questionnaire for grey seals and fisheries interactions on the east coast.  Sarah Fortune contributed her expertise of bioenergetics to provide a model that could account for uncertainty in activity factors for pinnipeds on the east and west coast. Together we presented a great story that is not yet complete but the plot is well seeded. For more about the meeting, navigate to:

ALSO! If you represent a fishermen association that is interested in receiving the results of the fishery questionnaire, please send me a message or comment!

Next up: Laura Ramsay of the PEI Fishermen Association has graciously invited me to participate in the upcoming Small Pelagics Advisory Meeting on the 6th.  My hope is that I will be able to circulate the results of the questionnaire analyses in an upcoming post! Stay tuned!

Fishermen and Scientists Research Society 21st Annual Conference

Okay, I’m ditching what I had originally written–a jargon-laced, self-contained capsule of my research prowess and general scientific spewings–in favor of a different kind of blog post…of the human interest variety. So, if you’re not prepared to commit twenty minutes of “connect the dots of Rachel’s humanity” I recommend that you forgo this post and go watch a Netflix original series. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk. 

I had the great privilege of speaking at the annual FSRS meeting in Truro, Nova Scotia this week. Truro, affectionately known as “hubtown” owing to the fact that all major highways in Nova Scotia intersect there, is just south of Halifax. Truro has been bitterly cold on both occasions I have had to visit it. In fact, if it weren’t for the few blocks that I jog each time I come here, Truro proper would remain a nebulous idea of a town that existed only between my hotel and the highway back to Halifax. Yet, Truro still gives me the warm fuzzies simply as the humble host to the annual FSRS meeting.

I enjoy this meeting a great deal more than other meetings for a number of reasons: First, most if not all the science presented here has immediate practical applications. There is concerted and established effort to use a common language between fishermen and scientists; A subject that is commonly brought up a meetings but rarely addressed so openly. This is also one of the few meetings where I have seen overviews of successful, ongoing fishery management plans: paid for, implemented and maintained solely by fishermen relying on the resource. “Taking ownership of a resource” is a phrase that sounds very nice in presentations, but these folks live it, with tremendous success I might add. Gone is the era of fishermen waiting around for government and academia to throw them the occasional nugget of management ingenuity. They are surpassing outdated regimes of “contract-based” science that fizzles and wanes on a political whim or ever-capricious agendas, where success is measured by voter turnout rather than voter well-being. There is a sense of safety and security at this meeting. Fishermen can be a vociferous bunch but tend to button their lips around scientists who many have grown to distrust over time due to, among other things, the tendency of managers to eat away at the ever precious and expensive quota in response to fishermen input on key issues such as bycatch or marine mammal interactions. This is a fact that I am reminded of again and again, but I oblige the annual ribbing because at the end of the day, I’m still impressed with a community that I do not come from and am only beginning to understand. The meeting is sort of a safe venue to express frustrations, concerns, propose new projects and really pick and probe the working parts of science; An opportunity that is often lost in the mire of lofty scientific and statistical jargon that really only journal editors or reviewers care about. In short, it is one of the few places where the intersections of policy, culture and biology are discussed in earnest.  

…I should also mention that the FSRS has never failed to put me up in a hotel room with a TV that is wider than my bed. Watch Blue Planet on that baby and you will realize that it was never meant to be viewed any other way. 


West Coast Node Meeting at UBC

Hello loyal followers! UBC recently hosted the Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN) West Coast Node meeting where all of the west coast study component investigators updated CFRN project partners on project progress and any results. On the menu were several projects ranging from socioeconomic aspects of fisheries, management strategy evaluation and constructing policy parameters (fmsy, bmsy, etc.) for commercially important species. I was in the unique position of presenting my preliminary results for the survey distributed on the east coast of Canada. I’m part of project 3.2 which focuses on pinniped interactions with commercially important fisheries on both coasts. My counterpart is conducting a similar study on the west coast. There are several key differences that characterize how east and west coast fisheries are managed, and many folks were interested to know how these differences played out in reality. I was also able to present the survey as a CFRN supported and packaged product, that included a consultation process that I hope should be the basis for any study where fishermen and scientists collaborate. 

Here were the key outcomes:

Partners were please with the outcome of the collaborative consultation process.

We received 300 completed surveys. 

We achieved almost 100% coverage of the Gulf and the Scotian Shelf.

We would like to see more participation by fishers in the Gaspe.

We were able to evaluate significant differences that occurred between fishing zones with respect to fisher interactions with grey seals.

We showed that fisher concerns extend beyond simply grey seal consumption of catch species and are ready to evaluate how other interactions may fit within the same evaluation framework.

We need more input from food processors willing to speak with us about parasite infestation, and how to address infestation in practice within reasonable time frames.

Within a larger context, project partners identified key issues and discussions that did not or were not occurring at other meetings, either due to communications barriers, scope of experience or (un)common perspectives. 

That being said, our hope is that we are more aware of communication barriers so that we can work toward a more holistic perspective through discussion and cross student collaboration exchanges (e.g. student experiences on fishing boats, fishermen meetings). 

I will be presenting an in depth report of preliminary results from my fishermen survey at the CFRN AGM in Montreal as well as the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society Meeting in February in Truro, NS. Because these are two of many groups that were instrumental in making the survey a resounding success, I would like to present the results to these groups as soon as possible. It is also my hope that I can speak to fishers in PEI as they providing overwhelming support in terms of response and representation. 

You can find a review of the CFRN West Coast Node meeting either on the CFRN Facebook page or the CFRN wesbite:

I hope my readers will take a look around, and if you have any questions or comments on how we could improve our coverage, scope or project framework, please feel free to comment here or message me directly.

Best wishes and happy responsible fishing! 


My sincerest apologies for flying a bit below the radar lately. I have been diligently studying for my comprehensive exam and coding fishermen surveys. My goal is to complete the survey analysis by September and present preliminary results to the PEI Fisherman Association in late September. I have some interesting trends emerging from my very early analyses, and it has been tough to keep these exciting developments under wraps! Recently, I have had a few discussions with a seafood processor that is very concerned about future fishing and processing prospects. He has been keeping internal records that have proved invaluable for fleshing out my Bayesian belief network, a model that quantifies socioeconomic and ecological variables based on ever-changing states of nature and management decision processes. These data are giving us unprecedented insights into several challenges faced by east coast communities aside from falling total landed catch.

I am currently scheduled to complete my comprehensive examination on September 9. My committee includes renowned experts on grey seal foraging ecology, life history, physiology, as well as fisheries experts that are versed in both social and biological implications of management decision. It is, to say the least, a tough crowd, but I am confident that there is no better handful of folks to guide me in accurately representing biological and social spheres of a very serious crisis.  I am excited for the opportunity and it is my dearest hope that I can do this topic justice.

I will be joining the crew of the southern Gulf Bottom Trawl Survey in mid-September to gain first hand experience collecting fish data that are used in east coast stock assessments. This survey is crucial. Given the uncertainty in grey seal diet data, the bottom trawl survey offers an alternative approach: fish abundance estimates can be used to assess the compatibility of what is observed in grey seal stomachs versus what the survey indices are telling us about recruitment, population production, and stock status of countless species.

My last task is to find a fishing boat to work on in order to document obstacles that fishermen face, particularly marine mammal interactions. This has been the most challenging project to tackle. Although east coast fishermen are by and large, quite supportive of a student shadow, travel funds are always tight with the notable exception of CFRN funding for students. However, travel is prohibitively expensive for coast to coast flights. While I could easily approach west coast fishermen that would be willing to allow me to tag along during the season, east and west coast fishery structures are vastly dissimilar. The west coast operates mainly on ITQ’s (Individual Transferable Quota) where quota owners may not even be fishermen or involved with any part of landing catch or selling to dealers. The east coast system is primarily owner/operator so that a majority of owners are also captains of their boats. ITQ holders have an interest in maximizing a single individual’s return on investment, whereas owner/operators have broader interests that are focused on bringing profit to small fishing communities. In short, there are vastly different objectives that characterize each type of quota allocation system that have a direct impact on how fishery conflicts are managed.

Thank you for following, and I will be providing future updates as my plate clears in the very near future. I am open to any suggestions and especially east coast fishery connections that are willing to flesh out the financial logistics with me. I am particularly interested in participating in fisheries where grey seal interactions are commonplace.