Category Archives: Colleen Beye (San Francisco)

Shark Fins

I blogged earlier in the summer about California’s shark fin ban. Here are a few photos to illustrate: juvenile sharks, finless and a couple of really small fins to be dried and sold for soup…

I know these aren’t pretty pictures, but I think they’re important to share with the world.
A quick update on the bill: the bill is still in the Senate Appropriations committee, awaiting approval so it can move forward. Write to your state senators!

Sustainable Fishing


This is the second in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had in Baja California, Mexico this summer. 

I sometimes struggle to define the work that interests me. I know what it is, but I have to spin it differently depending on my audience:

“Conserve marine ecosystems and habitat.”

“Assist local artisanal fishermen in maintaining their livelihood.”

“Help communities secure exclusive rights to specific marine resources.”

“Find ways to incentivize fishermen to protect the coast and ocean.”

“Live in interesting coastal communities in developing countries.”

I’m learning though, that quite simply, I want to promote sustainable fishing. The phrase “sustainable fishing” involves that loaded and sometimes misused word, “sustainable”. My favorite definitions of sustainability specify the importance of a triple bottom line: people, profit and planet or a focus of the social, economic and environmental outcomes. I recently learned that the two Spanish words for sustainability—“sustentable” and “sostenible” initially had different definitions. One pointed towards the gentle use of a resource with an understanding that the resource would be used up. The other meant finding ways for people to thrive while utilizing their natural resources, but ensuring that the resource would be available for future generations. I prefer the second definition. I think our grandchildren should be able to know pristine coastal areas, healthy fish and thriving coral reefs.

Basically, my work is about finding ways to promote the social, economic and environmental well being of fishing communities.

Grupo Tortuguero has a project in Lopez Mateos that does just that. It was a treat to tag along with their team over almost two weeks to experience their work and offer some recommendations. The project, “PROMAR: Productos Marinos Sustentables SPR de RL” is a partnership between Grupo Tortuguero, the fishermen of five local fishing cooperatives and their wives. PROMAR is developing a program that promotes changes that should benefit the environment, the local economy and the community. The environment benefits because the fishermen will transfer their gear from gill nets to hook and line. This change will essentially eliminate bycatch and should increase the quality of the catch because only certain species will be targeted. The local economy profits because fishermen will immediately place their catch into coolers of ice (currently, catch sits on the boat, sometimes going bad due to the hot sun), then bring the catch to a collectively-owned air conditioned and sanitized processing center to be cleaned (currently, fish are cleaned on the beach). The sustainably caught, responsibly processed fish will be sold to gourmet seafood buyers in Cabo san Lucas via a coordinated transportation system that guarantees that the fish stays on ice the entire time. These buyers offer a much higher price that what is currently paid to fishermen for the fish caught my gill nets and cleaned on the beach. Finally, the community benefits because it involves women in the production. The fishermen’s wives are currently taking computer classes to learn basic skills on Microsoft Word and Excel. They are the managing partners of the program and also responsible for the processing of the fish. This partnership is unique and one of few in the world that so equally involves and benefits women in a traditionally male dominated sector. The distilled and lovely end goal of the PROMAR project is empowered families, protected ecosystems, conserved turtles, financial security.

PROMAR, as expected, is in the process of defining itself. I hosted a small workshop on building a successful cooperative. During the workshop, I described a cooperative organization as a living organism. Although a coop is comprised of individual members, it has its own identity and its own way of being in the world. I encouraged PROMAR’s members to consider their organization as a baby. A baby needs quality food, attention and care to grow to be a successful adult. As a child, it needs monitoring and guidance. My message to PROMAR was that as members, they are the parents of this baby. If they invest the proper time, energy and effort into organizing themselves well now, their “baby” will grow to be a very successful adult.

I am so excited to see how PROMAR grows!

Turtle Rodeo

This is the third in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had in Baja California, Mexico this summer

When Grupo Tortuguero’s director invited me to spend a couple of weeks in their field station, he mentioned that it would be a good time to come because they would be doing turtle rodeos and I could ride along. Sure, I’m always up for an adventure and I love being on the water. I packed a few Dramamine and some extra sunscreen, unsure of what to expect. A turtle rodeo involves exactly that—rodeoing turtles. Two boats scan the water in search of sea turtles that have come to hang out on the surface. Once a turtle is spotted, the boat carefully approaches from behind while the um, turtle cowboy, prepares himself. As soon as we were close to a turtle, the “cowboy” (frequently Grupo Tortuguero’s Science and Fisheries Director, Hoyt Peckham) leaps into the water, grabs hold of the turtle’s shell and wrangles it to the boat. A few people help lift it onto the boat for measurements and assessment. The wrangling part is the most exciting, but what comes next is most important.

A small damp rag is placed over the turtle’s face to help keep it calm. Hoyt and his team measure, weigh and tag the turtle. Then they remove barnacles from the turtle’s shell that, although natural, can harm the turtle by changing its hydrodynamics and causing harm to the shell. A small sample of skin and shell is taken so that the scientists can analyze isotopes to better understand the turtle’s diet. The turtle is then gently released and continues its day unharmed. The actual “rodeoing” part is quite challenging because the turtle is strong and frequently dives under the water. For that reason, my chance to “rodeo” came during the release of a turtle. I jumped into the water so that Hoyt and his team could pass me the turtle. I held onto it for a moment, then gently released it so that it could glide under the water. Yes, it was as fun and magical as you’d imagine.

Data from the turtle rodeos are used to help us better understand the turtle’s habitat needs and informs conservation efforts. A big thank you to Grupo Tortuguero for letting me come along on the rodeo!


Bycatch: The Real Deal

This is the first in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had with a local NGO, Grupo Tortuguero, in Baja California, Mexico this summer.


It stinks in the field station this morning. I stepped outside onto the street and it smells like dead fish out there too. Someone explained that the smell is from the tuna cannery down the street. Some days, too many fish are brought to the cannery than they can process. The solution: burn them down into fishmeal, which can be sold as an organic fertilizer.

A definition of bycatch: the unintentional catch of living organisms by fishing gear.

The work I do frequently includes considerations to deal with bycatch. I’ve read a lot of reports and seen numerous upsetting pictures of fish, birds and turtles entangled in nets. I brainstorm ways to assign fishing rights that encourage responsible fishing and methods to utilize fishermen as monitors of their own actions.

I care about these animals and the ecosystems they inhabit, but a caring based on something unseen is different than the care we have for something seen and experienced ourselves. No picture, video or report prepared me to experience instances of bycatch with my own eyes. My field experience in Baja California Sur was not designed to showcase instances of bycatch, however it did just that. The idea was for me learn about Grupo Tortuguero’s work in the community of Lopez Mateos (more on that later).

Sure, I already knew that:

 Worldwide, experts believe that fisheries bycatch is in the range of 27,000,000 metric tons.

24,000,0000 to 45,000,000 red snapper are caught as bycatch in Gulf of Mexico shrimp fisheries each year.

Researchers believe that between 1990 and 2008, 2.8 million sea turtles were trapped in nets as bycatch. (Six out of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.)

It’s a shame to smell wasted tuna from the cannery. Another bycatch experience happened a few days ago. We were out on a turtle rodeo (definitely more on that later!) when we came across a ghost net. Ghost nets are simply lost or deserted nets that continue to capture and kill marine species. Our boat was tasked with pulling the net out of the ocean. Yards and yards of abandoned net were pulled out of the water with dozens of fish in various stages of decomposition caught in it. Large tuna, barracuda and snapper were pulled out of the net and tossed overboard along with lots of small fish and crabs I could not identify. The smell of the decomposing fish made even our experienced fisherman captain ill. A net left alone in the ocean always runs the risk of becoming untied from an anchor and being lost to unnecessarily capture marine animals.

Nets don’t have to be lost to cause harm. Yesterday I went out with a couple of fishermen to bring in three nets they’d left overnight. On the way out of the harbor I inquired about the type of fish we planned to fish. Flounder, they told me. Thirty minutes into constantly pulling a net into the boat, we encountered our first flounder. Until that point, they had been yanking dead rays, juvenile tuna, crabs and other fish out of the net. Over four hours with just three huge nets, I would guess that 80% of the animals were thrown to the very well-fed group of pelicans that hung out by our boat. 80% bycatch! Other fish were kept on board for consumption by the fishermen or to sell for a price much less than they get for flounder

While the fishermen were approaching the end of the second net I heard one of them say, “there’s something big here… what is it?” Then I saw “it” emerge out of the water: a juvenile green turtle—deeply tangled in the deadly net. Its eyes were closed, neck limp. It had died. In the net. That they left out last night. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. I choked back a couple of tears, closed my eyes and looked away from the turtle for a while. Then I snapped a picture because to do the work that I do, I don’t ever want to forget that moment. Later that day I recounted the story and my emotional response to Juan, one of Grupo Tortuguero’s biologists. Juan replied kindly and simply: “that’s why I do what I do.” Me too, Juan.

This community, along with thousands of others in the world depends on fishing for their livelihood. The fishermen are good people that are doing a job they’ve done for decades. It’s time to help them do it better. An 80% fish bycatch plus dead turtles for a few pounds of flounder is not acceptable. We need to help fishermen find better ways to fish. In the meantime, we can support sustainably caught fish and organizations like Grupo Tortuguero and EDF that work on small-scale fisheries. 

Saving Sharks

Somehow until Tuesday, I had never stepped foot into a state capitol. Sure, I’ve been to many capitals, but never to the capitol.

On Tuesday I left my apartment at 6:15 a.m. to join a group of committed ocean-loving policy people on a visit to the capitol in Sacramento. The Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee held a hearing to vote on AB376, a bill that bans the purchase, sale or possession of shark fins.

The shark conservation movement continues to gain steam worldwide. Hawaii, Oregon and Washington have now banned the possession, sale or trade of shark fins.  Honduras announced this week a shark sanctuary in all of their national waters. Sharks play an important role in ecosystems and they need some special protections.

A passionate group of marine conservationists are now working for a similar ban in California. Thanks to the dramatic and successful work of WildAid, I am familiar with the shark fin issue. Check out one of WildAid’s most powerful public service announcements.

The experience in the capitol involved a ton of standing around, holding signs, being polite to security guards and whispering my questions about the process with fellow supporters. I had a ton of questions about the hearing process—Why is that guy leaving before the vote? She voted affirmatively, right? What is my role? (just to be a body that raises her hand when asked who supports the bill) Who is that lady in a suit? Why would anyone send in a set of amendments after the deadline? How many people are on the committee? Where are they? Why are they late? How many votes do we need? Only three people voted? What just happened? So we have no result? Why would they wait until 2:00 to vote? No matter what they have to vote today, right?

After the hearing that resulted in nothing but questions, we stayed around to show our support for the bill and try to talk with one of the senators that seemed against it. Eventually we headed home and received news of the bill’s approval via text message. Now the bill heads to the appropriation committee. The good news is this: it passed this round, it’s gaining support and sharks are a bit closer to having the protection they need.

The experience felt a bit like high school civics class meets college environmental demonstrations. I learned a lot, supported sharks and met some awesome marine conservationists. I also went to bed really early that evening. Perhaps next time the lawmakers will be considerate enough to schedule the hearing at noon!

(If you’re interested in getting involved in the movement, here are links to a few sites that work on the the shark fin ban: WildAidSeaStewardsOcean Conservancy)

My friend Emilio

Emilio releases a juvenile lobster (2008)

I’ve spent some time the last few weeks reviewing presentations and documents from a Trinational Fisheries Exchange between representatives from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. My task is to synthesize the weeklong exchange into a cohesive report that can be shared with the participants, fisheries stakeholders and donors.

While scanning the material and a photo from the exchange, I recognized one of the Mexican fishermen—Emilio. I met Emilio in 2008 during a fishermen’s exchange I organized with Dominican fishermen to Mexico. Emilio fishes for lobster in Punta Allen and is a “celebrity” in the world of cooperative fisheries management. His enthusiasm for community management of the fishery makes him a sought-after participant on fisheries exchanges. Emilio spent several days with our group of Dominican fishers in 2008. He took us fly fishing (I even learned to properly cast the line!) and diving for lobster. Emilio and I have emailed periodically over the past few years. He’ll let me know the year’s total catch and how he’s doing. I’ve shared with him about my studies and career aspirations. I was excited to know that Emilio traveled to Cuba for the exchange. We exchanged emails last week and I let him know that I still have plans to return to visit him.

An important note on weather

I thought San Francisco summers were supposed to be bad. Ya know, foggy and grey. Turns out, so far San Francisco out performs Monterey. The sun has been out full force all week in San Fran. I’ve spent my lunch breaks walking along the Embarcadero and enjoying the sailboats on the Bay.

Today, I’m working from home in Monterey. It’s grey here. I suppose that eliminates the temptation of taking an extended lunch break! Ah, Northern California summers. (I know, D.C. people, I know!)

Fun & Games

A few weeks ago a group of EDF’ers and I headed to the California Academy of Science’s Nightlife. The Cal Academy, if you haven’t been there, is that cool building in Golden Gate Park with a living roof. Each Thursday night they stay open late for the 21+ crowd. A D.J. spins some tunes, bars are arranged around the exhibits and a selected theme is celebrated. We attended the Cal Academy’s Sustainable Seafood evening with the purpose of hosting a game that the EDF Catch Share Design Center developed.

The game, Go Fish, No Fish, uses chopsticks (rod & reel), toy shovels (trawl net) and little plastic fish to illustrate how traditional fisheries management frequently fails the ocean and fishermen. Nightlife participants were invited to play a 5 minute game of Go Fish, No Fish. My role was to facilitate the game to ensure that it was fun yet instructive. This task meant retaining the attention of the participants, despite the DJ’s tunes, abundance of mixed drinks and promise of free oyster samples just 10 yards away. Game players quickly engaged in “fishing” for the plastic fan-tailed goldfish. They learned that shortening the fishing season caused a race for fish (imagine a group of adults racing to “catch” plastic goldfish with chop sticks!). The last fishing round illustrated how catch shares encourage fishermen to fish safely, get involved in protecting fish stocks and increase profits. The game players were surprisingly engaged and interested in issues of fisheries management. Nice job, San Francisco residents!

After my shift of facilitating Go Fish, No Fish I explored the Cal Academy’s reptile collection and aquarium, caught the sunset from the living roof and watched a show in the Planetarium. Unfortunately, the oysters were gone by the time I got there.

Full House

My house = 2 blocks away!

I found housing in San Franscico. Technically, it’s a walk in closet. Practically speaking, it fits a queen size mattress, a chair and my suitcase. And it comes with two lovely roommates–a friendly girl my age and a sweet kitty named Joley.

Most importantly, my summer digs are within 2 blocks of the old Full House house! If you don’t understand, you’re too young. What ever happened to predictability?

Colleen to EDF’s Ocean Innovations Team!

Peace Corps changes people. For me, it meant a career change. After two years working with small scale fishers in the Dominican Republic during Peace Corps, I knew I wanted to work with fishing communities to find innovative solutions that would ensure the long-term survival of their communities and marine environments.

Last fall the Environmental Defense Fund‘s Rod Fujita spoke in one of my classes. He shared about his pragmatic yet optimistic approach to solving big ocean problems. Then he shared stories of exciting ways that small communities in Latin America manage their own fisheries.

I am excited to announce that I will spend 11 weeks this summer working with Rod as an intern in the Ocean Innovations Department at the Environmental Defense Fund in San Francisco.  Stay tuned to hear what I learn, do and how I survive the cold and foggy San Francisco summer!