Title:
SAFE-GUITARFISH: Scientific Engagement of Fishers in Guitarfish Conservation

Duration:
1 year and 4 months (August 2023 – December 2024)

Partners:
Environmental Organisation for the Preservation of the Aquatic Ecosystems, iSea

Funded by:
Cyprus Environmental Foundation

Project Description:
The critically endangered guitarfish have suffered severe population declines over the years. Specifically, the blackchin guitarfish has suffered a dramatic >80% reduction in its population over the past 50 years and is now almost absent from the northern Mediterranean, with only limited numbers remaining in the South Mediterranean. Through citizen science initiatives, we have successfully identified potentially important guitarfish locations in Cyprus which appears to host some of the few remaining nesting grounds of the species in the Mediterranean Sea. However, the lack of sufficient data hampers effective management actions to protect this species. The illegal keeping of guitarfish due to lack of awareness, along with improper handling practices during release can lead to mortalities, disproportionately affecting the already small and threatened population of the species, particularly of the juveniles.

In response to these challenges, the SAFE-Guitarfish project aims to actively engage both recreational and professional fishers in the conservation of the species. Through workshops, fishers will gain knowledge about the species’ significance, threats, safe handling techniques, and citizen science reporting.  Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) will be utilized to better understand the spatiotemporal activity of the species and its interactions with fisheries. Tagging initiatives will provide insights into guitarfish structure, demographics, fisheries interactions, growth rates, size-specific characteristics, and movements in specific locations. The core of the project lies in tagging initiatives, which will provide valuable data on guitarfish populations, demographics, interactions with fisheries, growth rates, size-specific characteristics, and movements in specific locations. By involving fishers in monitoring the tagged individuals, this comprehensive approach aims to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility, reducing mortalities and advancing our understanding of guitarfish populations. Ultimately, the project’s findings will be consolidated into a comprehensive manuscript, serving as a vital conservation tool for managers and the broader research community.

Project Activities:

  • Fishing Expeditions: The project will coordinate fishing expeditions in Larnaca Bay and Akrotiri (Limassol) to engage recreational and professional fishers in tagging guitarfish using spaghetti tags.
  • Stakeholder Workshops: Three workshops will be conducted in Larnaca (2) and Limassol (1) to educate recreational and small-scale professional fishers about responsible fishing practices and their crucial role in guitarfish conservation through citizen science reporting.
  • Public Awareness Campaigns: Public engagement, stakeholders, and policymakers through social media and media collaborations. Regular updates on the project’s progress, objectives, and outcomes will highlight the significance of citizen science participation, increasing awareness about the project’s goals.
  • Dissemination of Results: The project’s findings will be shared with relevant networks, including the IUCN elasmobranch specialist group, EU ELIFE research project partners, and the MECO network. This will contribute to the broader scientific and conservation communities, supporting evidence-based decision-making and better management practices for guitarfish populations.