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UCSB Marine Ecologist Steve Gaines Takes on Overfishing as Part of Vibrant Oceans Initiative

Steve Gaines, marine ecologist and dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara, dedicates a large chunk of his time to researching marine ecology and conservation, and establishing sustainable fisheries.

Steve Gaines
Steve Gaines

In fact, he is the principal investigator for the Sustainable Fisheries Group, which promotes sustainable management for the world’s fisheries through a variety of partnerships. Among the group’s partners are UCSB researchers, nongovernmental organizations and, now, Bloomberg Philanthropies, which recently announced a $53 million initiative to restore the oceans’ fish population over five years.

The Sustainable Fisheries Group was founded in 2006 by Gaines and economist Chris Costello, and is a collaboration between UCSB’s Marine Science Institute and the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.

“We combine economics and ecology,” Gaines said during a brief interview. “We want to find ways to sustainably manage fisheries.”

SFG seeks to find a balance between the immediate economic incentive to overfish and the long-term security of the world’s fish population. Gaines argues that fisheries will actually benefit economically in the long run if ocean fish populations are restored.

“Today you catch fewer fish and then you pay back that money in the future when you are catching a lot more fish,” he said.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative will focus on the fish populations in Brazil, Chile and the Philippines. The three locations were chosen based on analysis from Gaines and SFG.

“(We can) estimate how long it will take and the economic upside to fixing the fisheries,” Gaines said.

Bloomberg Philanthropies then selected three countries using this information and a variety of other factors.

Gaines explained that their analyses are based on a variety of factors, including the reproduction rates of the fish.

“Sharks and rays, for example, take a long time to recover,” he said. “The fastest way to recover is to close the fishery entirely, but that’s the most (economically) painful.

“The goal of this is not to stop at those three countries. It’s actually to expand pretty dramatically beyond that.”

He posed the question, “How do we take solutions that we know work and replicate them in many locations?”

Bloomberg Philanthropies also selected three best-in-class partners: Oceana, Rare and Eko Asset Management, all of which have dedicated time, money and energy to solving the world’s overfishing problem.

Gaines has worked with all three organizations, but currently is more involved with Rare. 

“Rare is a conservation NGO that focuses on ... convincing communities that these are good things to do and getting them to value their conservation efforts,” he said.

Gaines has been actively involved with ocean fishery initiatives since college. He received his B.S. in biology from UC Irvine before getting his Ph.D. in ecology from Oregon State University.

“I was very interested in just how oceans work,” he said. “They are very mysterious.”

Noozhawk intern Allyson Werner can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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