Grad student Melissa Cronin wins Seafood Sustainability Contest

$45,000 prize will support Cronin’s efforts to to reduce the mortality of manta rays and devil rays incidentally caught during tuna fishing

Melissa Cronin
Melissa Cronin (photo by C. Lagattuta)

Melissa Cronin, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) at UC Santa Cruz, is the Grand Prize winner in the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) Seafood Sustainability Contest. She receives a $45,000 prize from ISSF for her contest entry, “Incentivizing Collaborative Release to Reduce Elasmobranch Bycatch Mortality,” which proposes handling-and-release methods that purse-seine vessel skippers and crew can use to reduce the mortality of manta rays and devil rays incidentally caught during tuna fishing.

Cronin’s winning proposal calls for cooperative workshops with purse-seine skippers and observers, offering financial rewards for the design, testing, and onboard implementation of feasible, scalable techniques for safely removing rays from vessel decks. It also includes training observers in tagging rays to track their post-release survival.

Rays and sharks are the species groups most vulnerable in the purse-seine fishery. In the Indian Ocean, for example, rays comprise the majority of by-catch in tuna fishers’ free-school sets. By-catch overall on such sets represents 0.9% of the total catch, and 34% of that is rays.

Cronin is a member of the Conservation Action Lab at UC Santa Cruz led by EEB Professor Donald Croll and Adjunct Professor Bernie Tershy. She was awarded a Switzer Environmental Fellowship in 2019.

In addition to the $40,000 Grand Prize, the ISSF award includes a trip, with an estimated $5,000 value, to a tuna event. ISSF will arrange for Cronin to present her proposal at a Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) event this year.

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is a global coalition of scientists, the tuna industry, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) promoting science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch, and promoting ecosystem health.