The Ecology of Island Fisheries • Dr. Karlisa Callwood

(Director, Community Conservation Action Program, The Perry Institute for Marine Science || Bahamas)

“I grew up in the Virgin Islands and spent my early childhood on the beach and in the water, developing a love for it very early on. So when it was time to decide what was next after high school, I knew it should be something with water and marine science!

Fisheries are my speciality. I am trained as an ecologist, but I’m also taking an interdisciplinary look at what’s happening at fisheries from the social side of things! A lot of my work involves having conversations with different folks involved with fisheries — fishers, consumers, policy makers — and making sure we have a holistic understanding of the system as opposed to just a biological and ecological understanding. I talk to everyone — people who bring in a million dollars worth of catch, and those who bring in a couple of hundred dollars. I want to make sure all voices get heard because oftentimes, when decisions are made, only the people who bring in the big money are listened to, and not the people who fish day-to-day to feed their families.

In one recent project, we were trying to find out why there has been a decline in parrotfish. Parrotfish are really important because they slow down the algae takeover of reefs, fulfilling the function of a lawn mower on corals. That makes for one less thing coral reefs need to deal with in the face of climate change. So why are the numbers of large parrotfish declining? In The Bahamas, people are not really eating parrotfish — culturally, people love grouper and snapper fish more. My work included interviewing fishers to find out if they are actively targeting parrotfish, or catching them as bycatch, or if there is another reason for their decline. During the course of my work we determined that parrotfish are being caught as bycatch and because they’re requested by immigrants from other countries like Haiti and Jamaica who love eating them. I think this example really highlights that we need to pay attention to what’s happening socially to understand what’s driving ecological effects.”