The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog
The other day I told you how there's a good chance we could see an end to commercial overfishing subsidies through WTO negotiations. And, my organization is not alone in making the case to the World Trade Organization. At least 125 scientists from 27 countries feel the same way and sent a letter to WTO making it clear that "an ambitious outcome in the ongoing WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations is vital to the future of the world's fisheries," The scientists who signed the letter are a who's who of ocean fisheries scientists, including Daniel Pauly, Boris Worm, Jeremy B.C. Jackson,; Andrew Rosenberg,; Carl Safina, Callum Roberts; Larry Crowder, Wallace "J" Nichols. These leading experts made the stakes clear: "Fisheries subsidies," they note in the letter, "produce such strong economic incentives to overfish that reducing them is one of the most significant actions that can be taken to combat global overfishing." How's that for pressure?
You can see the full letter here.
Most ocean conservationists are on pins and needles in anticipation of the results of this week's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting. But I'm also thinking about another three letter acronym and how much good may be coming out of it. W-T-O. That's right, the World Trade Organization.
In Geneva (and at the current Doha round) there's serious talk of cutting government subsidies for commercial fishing - the fundamental driver for the unsustainable exploitation of the oceans. I just returned from there, where I met with Pascal Lamy - head of the WTO, and, together with Professor Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, briefed a large number of the delegates.
Government subsidies of $30-34 billion (to an industry whose dockside revenues are $80 billion) swell the global fishing fleet to something like 200% of sustainable capacity. It's no wonder that scientists predict the collapse of our fisheries by mid-century. These subsidies can only be eliminated through multi-lateral action, since all countries will refuse to unilaterally disarm in the race to capture the last wild fish. That makes the WTO the best place where real change can happen.
I made a pit stop in London to help fuel some media attention on the issue. Check out the terrific piece in Canada's Globe and Mail, liberally quoting economist Sumaila, author of the most recent global study on subsidies.
Like a chapter out of an adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson the research crew aboard Oceana's research catamaran, the Ranger, found themselves in peril amidst the clutches of a seven-ship band of angry fishermen wielding hooks.
The Ranger, at sea now for two weeks photographing the use of illegal driftnets in international waters off of France, was sailing peacefully when seven ships surrounded the vessel demanding cameras and other incriminating evidence. The angry commercial fishermen immobilized the Ranger's propellers with rope, and hurled fish (and four-letter words) at the crew.
Your TV just got a little smarter. As Amanda mentioned last month, the Sundance Channel has launched "The Green," a weekly primetime destination that showcases original series and documentaries based on the earth's ecology and "green" concepts for living in better harmony with the planet.
I'm personally excited about this project now that my favorite Seafood Contamination Campaign spokeswoman, Amber Valletta, has her very own spot. She joins the ranks of other thespians, athletes and supermodels using their fame for the good of the environment.
>>Check out this actress in action.
To you, this picture may just look like ants marching in a desert, but among ocean experts, this picture has gone as viral as Britney's shaved head. What you're seeing is an image of shrimp trawlers off the coast of China, taken from space. Those teeny, tiny specs are responsible for destroying huge swaths of seafloor and thanks to these images, which appeared in the prestigious journal Nature yesterday, scientists now have irrefutable visual evidence to prove what they could only conceptualize before.
The only thing worse than overfishing our oceans and driving species to the brink of extinction is the government paying to do it. That's been the case for far too long, as upwards of $30 billion (that's billion, with a "b") worth of subsidies are handed over to the fishing industry every year. A whopping $20 billion of that are used for things like boat repairs, fishing equipment and fuel; expenses that allow for increased and intensified fishing practices.
It's no wonder so many people flock to Queensland, Australia. The fastest growing region on the southeast side of the continent down under offers a subtropical climate with an outdoorsy lifestyle -- and an abundance of bull sharks?
These feisty elasmobranches are so abundant in fact that residents are catching them off apartment balconies with rigs no more complicated than a pork chop tied to a string.
Though bull sharks abound in the Golden Coast canals, sharks on the whole are actually in trouble. Experts estimate that close to 100 million sharks are caught every year (and mostly by commercial fishing gear, not by pork chops on strings).
Some folks are quick to give sharks a bad rep without considering their importance as top feeders in the marine food web. But when we remove these so-called lions of the ocean from their habitat through shark-finning and bycatch, it doesn't take long for the rest of the food web to feel the effects. Chew on this:
In 2004, North Carolina's century-old bay scallop fishery effectively ended because too few scallops survived into the autumn to sustain fishing, according to a report published in Science last month.
The culprit? Rays. Vast increases in the numbers of rays, which eat scallops. The rays have been decimating the young scallops before they could grow to commercial size.
So where do the sharks come in?
Though eel populations have declined 99 percent since the 1970s, according to a spokesman for the European Union, an EU eel conservation plan three years in the making was nixed by the French, according to a story by Charles Clover.
Tom Friedman, in last Sunday's New
York Times Magazine, makes the point that green is the color that can unite the red and blue states.
At Oceana we have found that conservation issues can and do cross party lines. For example, the Bush administration (yes, the Bush administration!) recently -- after working closely with our organization and other groups -- submitted a proposal in the ongoing World Trade Organization talks that would significantly cut fisheries subsidies.