Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Katelin Shugart-Schmidt ’10 shares research on fishing regulations

An alumna asked her audience at Randolph College to think of a few questions about the seafood they enjoy.

“Could you tell me where, specifically, that piece of seafood came from?” Katelin Shugart-Schmidt ’10 asked a group of students, faculty, staff, and visitors Monday night. “Can you tell me how it was caught?”

Then she addressed the question that has dominated her research as a graduate student: How can regulations effectively make the seafood and fishing industries more sustainable?

“We’re not managing fisheries because we feel like it, but we regulate fisheries because they are important to people and people depend on them,” she said.

Katelin Shugart-Schmidt ’10 shares a graph illustrating North Atlantic cod
population during a talk at Randolph College on Monday, Nov. 5. 
Shugart-Schmidt was invited to speak at Randolph to explain the research she has conducted in graduate school at Virginia Tech. She has studied the effects and uncertainty associated with fishing regulations, and her work has been well received among her peers. Earlier this year, she was named Virginia Tech’s Graduate Woman of the Year, and she will be this fall’s graduate commencement speaker there.

Effective fishing regulation is important because it ensures that the fishing industry—and the economic and cultural benefits associated with it—are sustainable and not ruined by overfishing. “It is OK for us to be fishing,” Shugart-Schmidt said. “We just have to be able to do it at the right levels.”

For a regulation to work, it needs to be based on an accurate count of fish populations, and it needs to correctly affect the number of fish that are caught. Shugart-Schmidt’s research as a graduate student has focused on the second requirement. She explained that changes in regulations set a target for how many of a species of fish should be caught. If fewer fish are caught, then regulations are too strict and are limiting the benefits of fishing. If more fish are caught, regulations are not protecting the population.

She and other researchers working on the same project pored over thousands of pages of fishing regulations to determine the number of fish that regulators expected would be caught. They compared those numbers to actual catches and created a measure for what they called “management uncertainty.”

They found that commercial fisheries usually catch significantly fewer fish than the regulations targeted, but recreational fisheries tended to see more fish caught. Shugart-Schmidt said this data needs to be considered as regulations are drafted for the different kinds of fisheries. “In the future, we're also going to have to assess the management uncertainty,” she said. “Seafood is too popular a thing right now to just let them go with no regulation altogether.”