Project Leader

Rihab Louhichi

Rihab Louhichi

Who I am

I am a PhD researcher in marine biology at the Faculty of Science at the University of Sfax, Tunisia, and a member of the marine biodiversity laboratory of the National Institute of Marine Sciences and Technologies (INSTM). My studies began with a basic degree in natural sciences in 2018, followed by a Master’s degree in the biodiversity of organisms, populations and the environment in 2020. My passion for nature and marine ecosystems was my reason for choosing this type of course. Given the threats to our oceans, I have elected to act against illegal fishing and other human activities that may threaten species and ecosystems and to play a role in the conservation of marine life. During my research studies, I tried to follow the capture of elasmobranchs in particular, as these creatures are endangered. Since 2019 I have spent a lot of time surveying fish landings in ports and acting as an observer on fishing vessels. In fact, my Master’s thesis was on fishing and the ecology of the sandbar shark in the Gulf of Gabes.

In 2021 and 2022 I worked as an observer for the MedBycatch project, conducting a lot of interviews with fishermen in different ports to investigate vulnerable fish species caught by accident. The goal of this project was to look for conservation solutions for marine species. I was also an on-board observer participating in fishing activities and examining the species caught. At the end of the project, I was lucky enough to be selected as the representative for all the observers on the project and responsible for collecting data in the ports of the Gulf of Gabes region. This mission gave me the opportunity to attend workshops on a second project, which aimed to share experiences and knowledge and collaborate and build strong relationships between Medbycatch observers and the fishermen. The workshop was also attended by representatives from other Mediterranean countries participating in the Medbycatch project.

Where I work

Our project will be implemented in the Gulf of Gabes, Tunisia. The Gulf of Gabes, formerly known as Petite Sirte, is an area on the south-eastern coast of Tunisia that stretches between Ras Kaboudia in the north and the border between Tunisian and Libya in the south. The Gulf of Gabes is known for its wide and shallow continental shelf, 60 metres (197 feet) deep and extending 110 kilometres (68 miles) from the coast. Its particular topographical and biological characteristics suggest that it is a breeding and nursery area for many marine species. However, it is also the country’s most important fishing area, hosting about 50% of the Tunisian fishing fleet and landing about 50% of the national fish production. It is recognised as an elasmobranch biodiversity hotspot, where 27 shark and 21 batoid species have been recorded, most in breeding condition. Unfortunately these species are being impacted by unregulated fisheries.

What I do

The project will take the form of daily outings to the main ports of the Gulf of Gabes, where we will meet and conduct surveys with fishermen who specialise in catching elasmobranchs. The survey questionnaires will be about the technical characteristics of their fishing gear and when, where and at what depth they fish. The more surveys we do, the more reliable our information is likely to be, and the information provided will be up to date. After these interviews we aim to establish good relationships with the fishermen and be allowed to go on fishing trips with them. During the on-board surveys we will collect information about the depth at which they fish, the effort in terms of soak time and the number of hooks, and the composition of the catch in terms of species, size and sex. The length of the fishing trips can vary between one and five days, and we will schedule them depending on the fishing activity and taking the weather into account. During mitigation tests, a few boats will be chosen to test how long and at what depths they fish to examine the variation in catches according to the zones, the time and whether they fish during the day or at night. The collected data will be recorded after each fishing trip. When the weather is too bad for fishing, we can spend the day making people aware of the need to conserve elasmobranchs. These sessions could be organised in the port. We will complete the project by analysing the data and writing a report on our work and what we have learned.

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