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International Postdoc position : Jennifer Beckensteiner

Jennifer Beckensteiner, started in October 2020 a 2-year ISBLUE post-doc in the AMURE laboratory in the framework of ISblue Theme 4 : “Living oceans and ecosystem services” supervised by Olivier Thébaud and co-supervised by Tony Charles, (Saint Mary’s University, Canada) under the research project: “Strengthening the sustainability of fisheries by adapting social-ecological systems to global change”.

Jennifer, can you tell us what you were doing before coming to the AMURE lab?

I always thought I would work in natural resource management and little by little, following the internships I did and the people I met, it became clearer. I am originally from Lyon (France) where I did a degree in biology. I then went to Montpellier (France) for a Master’s degree in ecology and biodiversity management. I did my first research internship in 2011 in Vanuatu, in an idyllic setting, working on the management of reef fisheries and studying how local communities managed their own marine resources (Léopold, Beckensteiner et al. 2014).

It was a bit of a dream Master’s internship and my supervisor at the time, Marc Léopold, really made me want to specialise in marine resource management and fisheries management. I quickly realised that the field of fisheries had very specific methodologies and that it would be preferable to do a second Master’s degree specialising in fisheries science to familiarise myself with the quantitative methods specific to this field.

I therefore took a semester-long course at the Agrocampus of Rennes (France). My internship focused on the assessment of two data-poor exploited coastal fish stocks in southern Angola and how to preserve these stocks with marine protected areas (Beckensteiner et al. 2016).

For this internship, I was supervised by David Kaplan who was then based at the UMR Marbec in Montpellier. He agreed to collaborate with me on a thesis and as he was appointed a position at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, I followed him! And that’s how I ended up doing my PhD in the United States.

In the U.S, a PhD thesis lasts 5 years, is that right ?

Indeed, it is a 5-year contract. The first two years, unfortunately, you don’t do much research. There are a lot of courses, just like when you’re a Master’s student. Everyone is brought up to speed with courses in physical oceanography, biological oceanography and so on. And then you also have to find your own funding for the thesis. Sometimes the first two years are financed by the Institute and then it is up to the student to put together applications for grants. Some students start with projects that have already been funded by their supervisor, but this is quite rare.

My thesis evaluated the effectiveness of territorial use rights (or TURFs) for fisheries and aquaculture management in Chile (view article) and Virginia (view article), and their associated issues. This thesis dealt with areas such as natural resource exploitation, land-use planning and coastal use conflicts, and had a unique interdisciplinary character as it covered the fields of natural sciences, fisheries sciences and social sciences (economics – view article).

Moreover, I was co-supervised by Andrew Scheld who is a fisheries economist. This collaboration gave me a taste for the economics of natural resources, and I even did a first 6-month postdoc on the economic evaluation of the impacts of offshore wind farm development on the bivalve fisheries of the Northwest Atlantic. One thing led to another and I now find myself at AMURE lab with the status of an “economist’s postdoc” even though I am originally a biologist!

Why did you apply for the ISblue postdoc position?

I didn’t know Brest (France) at all. What interested me was working with Olivier Thébaud. I had met him two years earlier at a conference, the North American Association of Fisheries Economists Forum in Nova Scotia, and I suggested that we set up a research project together. He was open to the idea, we thought for a year about a subject that we also developed with a Canadian colleague, Tony Charles, and which we finally submitted to ISblue. In the end, I didn’t choose Brest in particular, but I chose the collaborator, the team and the AMURE research unit, which is one of the only research units in the socio-economy of fisheries in France.

Can you explain your research project?

The topic is entitled FishAdapt: Strengthening the sustainability of fisheries through the adaptation of socio-ecological systems to global change. It is about how fishermen, on the one hand, but also fisheries management institutions, on the other hand, can react and adapt in the face of large-scale environmental, economic and socio-political changes. Fisheries adapt de facto, so it may be a new spatial and temporal distribution of fishermen, new target species, or ways of fishing, or a transformation in terms of the organisation of the sector. Sometimes these responses will have negative repercussions on the collective. The adaptation of the management framework often takes longer than the economic actors and this is potentially a problem. The question that seems to us to be important is what is the capacity of the governance systems that limits or on the contrary favours these responses.

I will look at two case studies that have undergone major transformations in recent decades. The first case study involves small pelagic fisheries in the Bay of Biscay and the second concerns the development of invertebrate fisheries in Nova Scotia. For this project, I will carry out field surveys with stakeholders who have been affected by the crises, analysis of statistical fisheries data and bioeconomic modelling.

This research will allow more comprehensive assessments of the long-term responses of fisheries systems, identifying adaptation processes at sectoral, community and institutional levels. The results will allow the identification of alternative, more flexible and adaptive management scenarios for marine socio-ecosystems.

How do you see the future after the ISblue postdoc?

Unfortunately, I know more and more post-docs who are leaving the research environment because they cannot find permanent positions. The environment remains precarious for us. It is complicated! I imagine that I will do a few post-docs before I get a permanent position.  My dream would be to work at the IRD but there are very few positions available….

In any case, I would now like to stay in France!

Having arrived in Brest in October 2020, what are your impressions of the city?

I was pleasantly surprised! I lived in Virginia for 6 years, which has a fairly tropical climate, and in France I was more from the south, between Lyon and the Mediterranean coast. I was therefore very apprehensive about the climate of Brittany. But it’s not as bad as I expected. I was also told that the city was very industrial, but again I expected worse: I like its commercial port, the marina, the castle in the middle of town and the Penfeld riverside. And then, compared to the United States, the fact that I don’t have to take my car every day to get around is really nice. I’m rediscovering the charm of local shops and weekly markets, all on foot, it’s great!