Inquiring Minds

The Net Result

What does a fish do when it spots trouble ahead? That depends on what kind of fish it is, according to Pingguo He, a commercial fishing specialist with UNH's Sea Grant and Cooperative Extension programs. His insights on fish behavior are helping fishermen develop nets that protect threatened species.

Government regulations strictly limit the catch of overfished species. If fishermen catch any immature or restricted fish (called bycatch), they must throw them back. He's work on fish behavior is one of many research efforts to design selective fishing gear that will reduce bycatch.

To build a better net, one that targets certain species and allows others to swim free, He studies the behavior of different fish in their natural environments. He needs access to fishing boats and expertise to do this, so he has teamed up with Bart McNeel, a veteran commercial fisherman from Westbrook, Maine. Their collaborative study is supported by the Northeast Consortium, which encourages research partnerships between scientists and commercial fishermen.

By attaching underwater cameras to several parts of a net, He and McNeel have made many key observations about the behavior of different fish. They've discovered that flatfish like flounder dive deep down in order to escape from predators and fishing gear, whereas roundfish like cod often rise up higher in the water as they tire from trying to swim away. The team has also seen how different fish feed: Some comb the seafloor for food, while others look for food closer to the surface. "These are all differences that we can use to build a net that separates fish and lets some of them escape," says He.

The modified nets are fitted with different-sized mesh and various types of grates that sort fish based on their shape and behavior. For example, one net is designed to separate cod, a highly regulated fish, from flounder. Since flounder instinctively dive to escape the net, He designed one to use this behavior to trap them. Any cod that are scooped up by the net rise to the top, where a grate allows them to escape.

Last year He showed a preliminary version of the net to a group of New Hampshire fishermen. The demonstration was done at Memorial University of Newfoundland, home of the world's largest fisheries flume tank. The tank is used for testing and demonstrating towed fishing gear.

The fishermen were amazed to see what their nets look like underwater and how slight modifications could greatly reduce bycatch. They soon jumped in with their own suggestions for improvements.

"Fishing used to be a lot of guesswork," He says. "Fishermen often base the effectiveness of their net on the catch size--if they could catch a lot, the gear must be working fine. Now they can have a much better visual sense of what goes on below the water and how small adjustments to their nets can have big effects."

Helping Moms Manage Stress

The frenetic pace of modern life leaves many people feeling overwhelmed and searching for ways to cope. According to Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, a health psychologist and researcher in the Family Research Laboratory at UNH, the impact can be especially significant for mothers. "Even at the start of the 21st century, it's difficult to be a mother," she says. "Many stressors--like excessive commutes, too much debt and long work hours--are universal, and moms dealing with stress are common, yet most mothers believe they're the only ones feeling this way."

In her book The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Coping with Stress, Depression and Burnout, Kendall-Tackett looks at the responsibilities mothers juggle: home, career and childcare, as well as issues like fatigue, the problems associated with parenting children with health issues, and childbearing loss, such as infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth. "Many mothers face substantial hardships. They experience overload because they're caring for both children and aging parents. And mothers are tired," Kendall-Tackett says.

A wife and mother of two sons, Kendall-Tackett believes we must be open about the challenges mothers face. "I talk about 'hidden' feelings because so often they're unacknowledged," she says. "Then moms are further isolated because society offers few avenues for relief. This book gives voice to these concerns and offers a way out."

Awareness is the first step in learning to cope. "Women need to recognize the issue and understand that they are not alone in facing these challenges," Kendall-Tackett says. "Then they can begin to explore approaches to make life better."

For many women, an initial strategy is to start setting limits. "I know women with more on their 'to do' lists than could possibly be completed in a day," she says. "With open and creative minds, women should evaluate what they're doing and decide if everything really needs to be done."

Kendall-Tackett also points to "sharing the load" as another way to set limits. "This may mean developing strategies with your partner and children so all the chores at home are accomplished," she says. "It may also mean paying for outside help. Start small and be flexible, then take time to enjoy the results. Make sure not to free up time simply to do more work."

The final strategy is to seek support. "Moms may find support from their families, co-workers, other moms or online communities. The important thing is to get support from a place where they're comfortable."

Most of all, Kendall-Tackett concludes, mothers need to recognize that when they take care of themselves, everyone benefits. "Self-care is not selfish," she says. "When we make positive changes in our own lives, we become better wives, mothers and members of our communities."

Forecast for 2102: Warmer, Smoggier

If you've been telling your kids that winters were tougher when you were young, you're right. New Hampshire and New England in general are definitely getting warmer, according to a recent report by the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space. The report, "Preparing for a Changing Climate," says that average annual temperatures have risen 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit for all of New England and upstate New York over the past 100 years, but the temperature increase in New Hampshire is 1.8 F.

Some effects of this warming trend can already be seen. New England has experienced milder winters, earlier maple sap flows, earlier dates for ice melting on lakes and reduced snowfall in recent years. But the big news in the report has to do with the future, not the past. Two different climate models project much greater warming in the years to come, with temperature increases between 6 and 10 F over the next century. "If 6 F are added to Boston's 30-year average temperature, the result is approximately the same as the 30-year average for Richmond, Va.," says Barrett Rock, professor of natural resources at UNH and the study's lead author. "If 10 F are added to Boston's 30-year average, the result is the 30-year average for Atlanta, Ga." In either case, the change in climate would be greater than any experienced in the region in the past 10,000 years.

Along with warmer temperatures will come more rain, the report says, and if automobile and power-plant emissions stay the same, regional air quality and acid rain problems will get worse. This poses increased risks to human health, and the environmental impacts could be enormous. "Potential droughts or flooding projected by the climate models will have profound impacts on regional water availability and quality, and warming coastal waters will cause species shifts and toxic algal blooms," Rock observes. "Sea-level rise could become a significant problem for low-lying coastal regions."

One of the more dramatic effects is likely to be seen in the region's forests, where some species, such as maple, birch and beech, will become less common, giving way to others that are more tolerant of warmer temperatures, such as oak, hickory and pine. This would mean a considerably duller color display in the fall.

There is strong evidence that much of the warming experienced in New England and around the world in recent years is caused by human activities. That means that New England policy-makers have several options to reduce or eliminate potentially adverse impacts, the report states. "These actions include promoting the use of forests to absorb and store carbon dioxide, reducing regional air pollution by reducing emissions from automobiles and power plants, developing highly efficient energy sources and investing in 'green technologies,'" Rock says.


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