The Beacon

Speak Up for Arctic No-Fishing Zone

NMFS announced on Tuesday, May 26 that it is accepting public comments on an Arctic Fisheries Management Plan that would close the U.S. Arctic to fishing. After NMFS receives public comments they will publish a “final rule” later this year, and we hope to see in-the-water protections by early 2010.

As we see sea ice disappearing in the Arctic, previously ice covered areas are potentially available to commercial fishing. This landmark plan unanimously adopted by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) on February 5th would close federal waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas to commercial fishing of all finfish and shellfish species excluding Pacific Salmon and Pacific Halibut (which are managed by other councils).

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End Shark Finning Once and for All

Sharks, the top predators of the sea, are rapidly disappearing from our oceans. These denizens of the deep, shallow, fresh, salt -- well, pretty much all waters -- are in danger. They are caught for their fins and as bycatch, and their habitat is being destroyed. These big fish are absolutely crucial to the health of the oceans.

Many of these species (specifically those that are critically endangered), have few pups at a time, and their pregnancies may last up to 2 years or more. Also, many are long-lived and do not become sexually mature until later in life. This all leads to slow population growth and makes them susceptible to declines. Also, once their population is driven to low numbers, it takes a long time for their population to recover to sufficient numbers.

You can help by asking your senator to support the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 (S. 850), which aims to end shark finning once and for all. The act would require sharks be landed with their fins attached, thus providing a true shark finning ban as was originally intended. This bill has already passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate.

The following is a rundown of all the critically endangered species of sharks according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

A recent study conducted at the University of Hawaii provides “sound” evidence that sonar induces temporary deafness in bottlenose dolphins. Many have long blamed man-made noise -- mainly sonar used by the navy -- for mass strandings of whale and dolphin species. Although this study does not provide concrete proof that submarine and warship sonar activity is causing strandings, it does prove definitively that sonar activity can affect cetaceans if they are close enough to the source and exposed over a prolonged period of time. Whales and dolphins use sound for navigation and temporary deafness can leave them disoriented. They are traveling over very large distances and cannot afford to lose their sense of direction. If they were to accidentally swim into a shallow area or be washed ashore, they could rapidly become dehydrated and die.

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See Ice?

sea ice loss graph

We are losing sea ice cover in the Arctic at a rapid pace that has even surprised scientists. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the March 2009 arctic sea ice extent was 590,000 square kilometers below the 1979-2000 average. Over the past 6 years, arctic ice cover and thickness has been plummeting, and many of the leading scientific experts who study sea ice predict a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean may be realized as early as 2030. This dramatic loss of sea ice is the result of the rapid climate change occurring in the Arctic.

To make matters worse, the loss of sea ice is almost certainly speeding up warming in the Arctic. Sea ice reflects about 50-90% of the sunlight that hits it. This is in contrast to the open water, which only reflects about 10-15% of the sunlight that strikes it. With less ice more solar radiation is absorbed by the ocean, which otherwise would have been reflected back into space. With the loss of sea ice cover a lot more sunlight is being absorbed and heating the Arctic Ocean.

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