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Heading north

Improving fisheries monitoring, bycatch policies for emerging Arctic fisheries


By Moira Baird

Dr. Brynn Devine is starting the next chapter in her fisheries science career.

As a Liber Ero Fellow, Dr. Brynn Devine will assess Arctic fisheries bycatch and develop a standard monitoring framework.
Photo: Angie Bishop

Armed with a Memorial University doctorate in biology and a 2019 Liber Ero post-doctoral fellowship, she’ll build upon some of the research she did at the Marine Institute’s (MI) Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER), where she completed her PhD work.

The fellowship will support her project to assess fisheries bycatch of species such as Greenland shark, Arctic skate and other deepwater fish to develop a modern, standardized monitoring framework for existing and emerging fisheries in the Eastern Canadian Arctic.

Dr. Devine was one of five recipients of this year’s Liber Ero Fellowship that supports early-career scientists pursuing research on pressing conservation issues in Canada.

Her fellowship was a first for a Memorial doctoral student.

Greenland shark video

Originally from Texas, Dr. Devine completed her undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University in Galveston and completed a master’s at James Cook University in Australia. In 2012 she arrived at the Marine Institute, where her primary supervisor was CFER research scientist Dr. Jonathan Fisher.

From left are MI researchers Dr. Brynn Devine and Laura Wheeland in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, in 2014.
Photo: Submitted

“I am really interested in deep-sea fishes and thought it might be exciting to explore new environments such as the cold North Atlantic – slightly regretted the first winter here,” she said with a laugh.

Dr. Devine was part of a CFER research team that used baited cameras to collect high-resolution, underwater video of the elusive, long-lived Greenland shark over two summer field seasons starting in 2015.

The footage provided insight into the shark’s abundance, size, behaviour and distribution in the Eastern Canadian Arctic.

Fisheries bycatch

Dr. Devine says incidental bycatch is a global issue for ocean conservation and fisheries management.

“Canada does not have a national, standardized monitoring policy for fisheries, and because of that we don’t know much about cumulative bycatch impacts on non-targeted species,” she said.

“A standardized system will allow us to have a better grasp on the impacts the fisheries are having on these species and allow us to understand what species might be at most risk.”

She says Greenland shark are a “frequent” bycatch species in many Arctic fisheries, but there’s little data available to quantify the occurrence.

“For a long time, Greenland shark were just recorded as an estimate of the total weight of bycatch, but that doesn’t give you an idea of the number or the sizes of the sharks that are being encountered.”

“A standardized system will allow us to . . . understand what species might be at most risk.” — Dr. Brynn Devine

Increasingly, communities in Nunavut are looking to economic opportunities in commercial fisheries. Successful fisheries for turbot, also known as Greenland halibut, have developed in Pond Inlet and Cumberland Sound.

“Other communities that have similar depths and turbot concentrations are exploring their own waters for potential resources,” said Dr. Devine.

Many deep-sea species – such as Greenland shark, Arctic skate and grenadiers – have traits that make them particularly susceptible to potential over-fishing and environmental changes. They are slow growing, long-lived and reproductively mature late in their life cycle.

Greenland shark expert

Dr. Devine will be working with Dr. Nigel Hussey, a leading world expert on Greenland shark at the University of Windsor. He has been tagging and tracking the sharks to learn more about their behaviours and numbers. Dr. Devine will start working with Dr. Hussey this month.

“We’ll do some tagging studies to see how their distribution overlaps with fishing grounds. We’ll also do some assessments on the vessels to look at post-capture mortality and survival.”

Dr. Devine’s mentorship team for her Liber Ero project also includes Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Oceana Canada, World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Government of Nunavut and Baffin Fisheries.

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