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A Race against Extinction of the Globally Endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna; a Cross-Sectoral Collaboration towards Peace in the Middle East

A holistic strategy of dealing with environmental degradation, social displacement, and ethnic segregation of artisanal Arab-Israeli fishers

Photo of Eyal Bigal

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Starting a capture-mark-release tagging programme for Bluefin tunas, using the expertise of socially displaced Arab-Israeli fishers. A new approach towards social and environmental-sustainability.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

The Morris Kahn Marine Research Centre develops novel, long-term ecological monitoring programmes.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

Yes, but we've already managed to engage commercial and recreational Bluefin tuna-fishers, and sample over 40 specimens. Additionally, we've organised an expedition of the foremost Bluefin scientists to come to Israel and teach us tagging protocols that are tailored for our settings.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

The three problems below are, arguably, of utmost urgency: Rapid stock decline of the most commercially important fish in the ocean. Social displacement of now unemployed fishers due to newly introduced prohibitions. Lack of inspiration for small scale solutions to the Middle East conflict.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

The following timeline will be assessed and improved at the end / start of each year. May-June: Annual tuna-tagging event. July-November: Exposure of generated data to decision makers and the wider public. December-January: Capacity building and training of fishers for tagging methods on other marine predators (e.g., sharks) encountered in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. February-April: Outreach and extensive publicity, registration, and preparation for the next migration season.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

This project will be led by the Marine Top Predator division of the MKMRC. The team includes experts on the biology of sharks, tunas, and marine mammals, with extensive experience in mark-release protocols. The MKMRC will also involve its team of professional scientific-documentation photographers.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Other: Please Say in Final Question of this Submission Form

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Collaborate with others in the sector

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

Myriads of indicators to success can be distinguished for each of the project objectives. With regard to conservation, it will be questioned whether or not critical knowledge-gaps concerning the ecology of Bluefin tuna in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea were addressed, and whether or not generated data were integrated into decision making processes. Socio-economic indicators would refer, for instance, to the decrease of unemployment rate within the Israeli-Arab sector of the fishing community.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

Our feedback phase included discussions and practical simulations with prospective users. An important issue that was brought to the fore is the ability of this idea to support our beneficiaries beyond the prohibition period. Together, we've come up with more ideas to encourage full recovery and independence of displaced communities. These were added as a short, new section in our proposal below.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

Muslim fishers in Israel have suffered not only from ethnic segregation, unemployment, and social displacement, but also from devastating disappointment in previous collaboration with scientists; in the recent past, generated data promoted management-oriented prohibitions that are now the source of reluctance and fear of collaboration among fishers. Regaining the trust of these communities seems a challenge in itself and may call for new ideas and support of the OpenIDEO community.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

The past two weeks have been very intense in terms of the progress we have made. It included three major achievements: 1. We got more expert feedback from marine managers and representatives of 'big' international organisations (e.g., UN, IUCN), as well as fishery scientists in Israel, who are working with our target beneficiaries on a regular basis. Such brainstorming sessions and discussions provided for further development of our idea in terms of its financial scope; 2. We sent one of our team to Spain, to participate in the annual bluefin tuna tagging event, and and see our vision realised in terms of collaborative work between scientists and fishers. We got plenty of new ideas as per how to approach this community and how to sustain collaboration; 3. We hosted an expedition of the foremost Bluefin tagging scientists and, together with local fisheries, carried out a pilot. This included a week of three sailings as far as 20 NM off the coast of Israel with a commercial longliner and a recreational rod-and-reel fisher. For the first time in the history of Israel, it also included successful satellite-tagging of two east-Med Bluefin tunas. The fishers received full payment for their service and the tagged fish were let back into the water; 4. During this week we also hosted a successful tuna tagging-seminar. It included lectures of researchers from the MKMRC's Top Predator project, as well as our guest experts. This seminar was attended by government officials from the National Ministry of Fisheries, the Nature and Parks Authority of Israel, the scientific community, associated NGOs and, finally, the wider public. A s a result of this seminar, we managed to schedule meetings with selected representatives who are interested in reaching out and support our work.

The Problem

Conflict in the Middle East has been making devastating headlines for several decades. External bodies have been employing a multiplicity of solutions to direct the religious narrative of this region into one of peace and prosperity, for future generations. Needless to say, the area is starved for some exemplary collaboration between Arab and Israeli partners. With strategic groundwork, the protection of natural-resources and common ecosystem services could comprise the ultimate motivator to engage in cross-cultural action. Perhaps the most pressing issue on the agenda of environmentalists throughout the world is the global loss of biodiversity and subsequent collapse of food webs; an emphasis on commercially important species, such as the cosmopolitan Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, could not only have a worldwide impact across vast spatio-temporal scales, but also serve as an applicable model to other nations in the world.

In Israel, several programmes are now being implemented to provide for sustainability in ocean management. However, the mere protection of natural resources may contradict socially valuable practices, promoting environmental conservation but not sustainability per se. For example, government restrictions on bottom trawling have triggered a vigorous debate on the livelihood of minority groups such as local fishery communities from the Israeli-Arab sector; despite financial compensation by the government, it is reasonable to assume a negative impact of such action on the prosperity of fishers who are facing unemployment. Ironically, it is the knowledge and technical expertise of these very individuals that could serve to underpin a successful shift in conservation practices. 

The Immediate Solution

Capture-mark-release is a scientific method for long-term ecological monitoring of highly migratory species. Caught animals are fixed with satellite archival tags (aka SPOT tags) providing for the establishment of distribution patterns and environmental data. Additionally, tissue samples and physiological measurements that are taken during capture allow for biological research at both the individual and population levels. Such procedures are conducted according to species-specific protocols that meet ethical and veterinary standards. It relies upon the knowledge and experience of professional fishers to ensure maximum rates of survival.

The launching of a tagging programme for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in Israel could provide an alternative source of income for socially displaced fishers; an emphasis on the participation of Arab-Israeli individuals would foster cross-sectoral collaboration as a regional source of inspiration. Moreover, it would promote pure conservation, as the ecological importance of apex predators is through their function as sentinels of ocean health, through top-down regulation of environmental perturbations. In the past sixty years, most pelagic observed species stocks have been suffering a drastic decline due to over-fishing, amongst other pressures, but the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna remains the most coveted commercial fish in the ocean.

The Future

In order to encourage the relief of fishing pressure all year round, and not only during the Bluefin migration, it is important to provide for more sustainable solutions that can be independently pursued by the target beneficiaries. For example, trained fishers could learn how to tag other by-catch species that, despite their equally important ecological role as apex predators, are of lesser economic value. In turn, this could provide for blue growth through spontaneous emergence of new businesses in the Israeli-Arab sector. For example, a whole industry of eco-tourism could develop, fostering higher livability than the initial status-quo. Another example would be to provide a fishing platform for amateur fishers. 

The Marine Top Predator division of the  Morris Kahn Marine Research Centre is now halfway through the second year of its shark-tagging programme. Having already recruited and trained a team of volunteers from all walks of life, we are enthusiastic to establish a new platform through which our citizen scientists could be rewarded for their efforts. We aspire to scale up in our impact and while saving the most critically endangered species in our oceans, reach out to socially displaced communities and spread inspiration for cross-sectoral collaboration, by bridging between peace, prosperity, and planet.

Scientists and volunteers of the MKMRC during tagging of a female dusky shark (C. obscurus). Photo credit: Hagai Nativ

Explain your idea

Our overarching idea is to launch a long-term monitoring programme for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, employing socially displaced fishers from the Israeli-Arab sector. These professionals will be trained to catch, tag, and safely return the captured fish into the water. Monetary bounties will provide incentives for the fishers to engage in marine conservation, and to give up their potential revenue from unsustainable commerce. This programme would address several urgent problems: on the local scale, it would decrease the threat of unemployment that is posed to local fishers, providing an alternative source of income as well as an opportunity to use their knowledge for fishing up, rather than fishing down the food web. On the regional scale, the emphasis on the involvement of Arab-Israeli fishers would help deal with the Muslim-Jewish divide not only in this sector, but in society overall; other projects could derive inspiration from this programme as a vehicle for resolution of ethnic segregation. On the global scale, the proposed approach of tagging and monitoring tunas on large spatiotemporal scales provides for ecological research and science-based management of this highly endangered species. For example, the identification of remote Bluefin tuna hotspots or breeding grounds could give rise new policies around the world. Considering the data deficiency on this species at the eastern Mediterranean, the piloting of this programme in Israel is of utmost relevance and value.

Who Benefits?

This programme seeks the future availability of marine ecosystem services as a common good, while also ensuring the well-being of those who may indirectly suffer from their conservation effort. The most immediate beneficiaries would be the fishers gaining an alternative source of income, as well as an opportunity to continue using their fishing expertise. Moreover, the ethnic divide in Israel would be relieved because of their involvement and collaboration with Jewish Israeli partners and exposure to media coverage. Finally, due to its cosmopolitan distribution, the conservation of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna may well benefit people all throughout the world - not only through its sustained consumption, but as an indirect outcome of its ecological function as an apex predatory species.

How is your idea unique?

Other organisations, throughout the world, are already engaged in the conservation of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in tagging programmes such as this. However, these are solely oriented towards environmental conservation, paying little or no attention to other aspects of sustainability. Furthermore, groundbreaking ideas to shape our future planet are likely more anthro-focused and ideal with issues of socio-economic inequality, with terrestrial themes. This is a prescient idea which tackles both the lesser-known marine ecosystem issues, and human socio-economic troubles. Here, a triple emphasis is put on the stated goals of this programme. 1. Planet: this project fights the rapid decline of the most commercially valuable species; 2. Peace: it promotes co-existence of socially divided cultures in a highly sensitive region; 3. Prosperity: turning government restrictions into opportunities for growth as well as social and environmental sustainability.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

The Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, based in Israel's University of Haifa, recently inaugurated two new long-term marine research centres (MRC) which focus on coastal and offshore waters of the Levantine Sea. The first facility, named the Morris Kahn Marine Research Centre, is situated in Kibbutz Sdot Yam, approximately 44 kilometers south of Haifa and adjacent to King Herod's ancient port of Caesarea. The second lab opened in late 2016 and is named the 'Top Predator Laboratory' - this centre focuses on apex predator distribution (including dolphins, sharks, rays, and tunas) and located in Ashdod, Israel. The laboratories focus on coastal water research and monitoring of the ecology and species in shallow seas, as well as anthropogenic impact on the marine environment. The Israeli coastal region is continually witnessing accelerated development projects along the coastline, and a massive exploitation of marine resources never experienced in our region. We are interested in establishing connections that complement our top-quality research, innovation, and initiatives, whilst always looking for new, applied fields of research, and working with relevant stakeholders. Our aim is to achieve international status in biotechnology and biogeochemical research in the eastern Mediterranean, with our portfolio of leading experts and equipment. Our research projects to date include: deep exploration technology (soft arm robotics for efficient collection in deep sea); marine pathogens (discovery and tackling antibiotic-resistant pathogens); natural sunscreen compounds in macroalga; heterologous expression of symbiont-DNA is used to reveal novel compounds (utilising natural products).

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Eyal Bigal

Dear experts,
Thank you so very much for your complements and for pointing out some relevant issues. Below are our replies to all your comments in a corresponding order.

1. Thanks! We were surprised to discover that the fishers thought so too, and were rather keen to engage in the conservation of Bluefins! However, such programmes have already been launched in other countries and the way we see it is that the novelty here is mostly in the opportunity that we provide for dealing with seasonal unemployment and social displacement, as well as inspiration to start year-round businesses that revolve around continuous yet environmentally-friendly fishing practices.

2. Desirable - The current income of our beneficiaries is, in average, the minimum wage; during the fishing prohibition period, they're making no money at all. Our project will reward participants per tagged fish, by weight. Notably, the programme is not designed to provide financial security to everyone in the community. Instead, it encourages collaboration between muslim and jewish partners (e.g., boat owners and skilful fishers) as a source of inspiration, and provides monetary incentives to take part in conservation. The rationale here is that the more fish are tagged, the better their income. The skill that our target beneficiaries will have acquired can later be used to start sustainable businesses as well but, once again, that will eventually come down to the motivation of the fishers.

• Feasible - This project wouldn't have to provide an alternative source of income all year round. Instead, it would offer the target beneficiaries revenue throughout the fishing prohibition period, which is 2-4 months long. In the rest of the year, these fishers are able to carry on in their fishing or, with the support of the project, start up new businesses that revolve around tagging. The emphasis here is to provide new opportunities and encourage growth and support, rather than to compensate the fishers for government restrictions.
The capture-mark-release method, which is the science behind the tagging programme, is able to inform about important areas (e.g., spawning / feeding-grounds) for these highly migratory species, as the animals are fixed with archival tags that collect data and transmit it back to shore. Samples that are collected teach about the genetics of the east-Med Bluefin population and the ecological role that they are playing in this region. Such data is the very foundation of marine management and planning, and is essential for the long-term protection of animals at risk of extinction.
• Viability - The need for new tagging depends on the ecological question that is being asked. Any number of tagged bluefins is already enough for informative findings. It is hoped that this project, in due time, will be picked up by the government to be implemented in the longterm.

3. This is the overarching objective of this project. We believe that environmental conservation is a great vehicle for sustaining social values and that the way in which its done can inspire other projects. This is our own radical way of promoting peace, prosperity and planet and of taking on this challenge.

4. Additional thoughts:
• “I would definitely like to...":
Thanks!!! We chose this approach because we realised that in order to conduct intensive field science we are totally dependent on the expertise of fishers. We then found out that such individuals may be willing to engage but unable due to those newly-introduced fishing prohibitions. We were dumbfounded that what stood in our way towards collaboration with those fishers was nothing but the government itself; the irony here is that it is the government's job to look after social values as much as the environment. We then realised the opportunity we had in our close interaction with both the government and fishers. Our longterm sustainability vision is of stable fisheries that do not sacrifice the integrity of the marine environment, and to provide for conservation and consumption to go alongside. Our overarching goal is to demonstrate the power of peace rather than war, providing inspiration for scientists, managers or fishers, all throughout the world.

• "How does the program..."
Answer: As mentioned above, the tagging programme is, in essence, conservation-oriented. It provides for biological and ecological knowledge of threatened species in the sea, as well as the development of monitoring indicators which are imperative for environmental strategic assessments and large-scale, spatial planning programmes. Just like we did in our tuna-tagging seminar (see the 'progress during current phase' section) we will convey our findings further through integration forums of government officials, fishers, scientists, and the wider public. Additionally, we will publish our reports and, finally, continue our work on documentation and media / internet-exposure.

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