The Beacon

Blog Tags: Bycatch

Triumphs for Troubled New England Fish

The mythical Atlantic cod. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

We are excited about two big wins this week for the future of fish in New England.

The first is a major legal victory that establishes the first full count, cap, and control fishery in the Northeast. This lawsuit settlement means that the New England groundfish fishery, which catches Atlantic cod, haddock and flounder, among others, must strictly account for how much fish it’s catching and discarding.  Groundfish have been severely overfished, and this new ruling is an important step in establishing more sustainable fishing practices in the region.  

Oceana has been campaigning for years to establish science-based monitoring of this historically overfished region of the U.S. Oceana won a legal victory in 2010 when a federal court ruled that the fishery must demonstrate that discards would be accurately counted, but when it soon became clear that discards would not be adequately monitored, Oceana brought a new lawsuit in 2012.

Secondly, we’re applauding a new set of significantly reduced annual catch limits for two stocks of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

While all stocks of Atlantic cod have been overfished to alarming levels, the cod populations in these two areas have dropped to dire levels – an assessment earlier this year showed that after 15 years of trying to rebuild these two cod populations, virtually zero progress had been made.

The Gulf of Maine cod population is currently at less than 19 percent of its target level, while the Georges Bank cod population is at 7 percent. The new limits will reduce catches in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank by 77 percent and 55 percent, respectively, in a last-ditch effort to save these populations.

The fishing of groundfish like Atlantic cod is historic, older even than America itself. Atlantic cod has been harvested by U.S. fishermen since the 17th century, and the ocean was believed to be so teeming with cod that one could almost walk across the ocean on their backs.

As is often the case, however, fishing turned into overfishing, with U.S. stocks of Atlantic cod coming dangerously near to commercial collapse in the mid-1990s. Concerted efforts to replenish cod stocks began, but to little avail – a 2011 assessment of Gulf of Maine cod showed that the fish was still being seriously overfished, and was not recovering at an adequate rate.

Unfortunately, this disappointing story is not unique to Atlantic cod; today, 14 of 20 groundfish populations in New England are overfished or experiencing overfishing, making these victories that much more critical for the future of these populations. 


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2012 in Review: Oceana's Top Five Victories

Sharks, like this great white, won several major victories in 2012. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

As 2013 rapidly approaches, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past year at Oceana. Thanks to your support, we were able to achieve more than a dozen major victories for the oceans! You signed petitions to lawmakers and companies, submitted seafood samples and participated in rallies and events, and it made a difference. Here are five of the major victories we won in 2012 as a result: 

1. Alibaba.com stops selling manta ray products

When Oceana discovered that the online international marketplace Alibaba.com was selling manta ray products, we asked for your help in stopping it. Nearly 40,000 of you responded by signing our petition, and Alibaba listened, removing manta ray leather products from the website.

2. Victories for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle

2012 was a good year for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles. We helped establish the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks in continental U.S. waters this year. The government designated nearly 42,000 square miles of critical habitat off the West Coast. The Pacific leatherback was also designated as California’s official state reptile following a bill sponsored and supported by Oceana with the support of thousands of California citizens and more than 30 conservation groups.


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Chile Becomes First Country in World to Protect All Seamounts from Devastating Bottom Trawling!

Coral formations in Juan Fernandez archipelago lie among Chilean seamounts

As you enjoy those last holiday cookies before the New Year comes with its resolutions, we’d love to share one final present for you to enjoy: we are thrilled to announce that last week, the country of Chile became the first in the world to protect all of its seamounts from the devastating effects of bottom trawling! Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless and actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson collaborated in an article published by the Huffington Post to share this excellent news with the world.


Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges that are home to an unbelievable array of sea creatures fed by the nutrient-rich water from the deep upwells. The destructive practice of bottom trawling, where large, heavy nets weighing as much as several tons each effectively clear-cut everything living on the seafloor,  causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor and its creatures than any other human activity in the world.  Although some of Chile’s seamounts have already been damaged or destroyed by the country’s fishing fleet, the December 20 decision closes any further trawling to Chile’s 118 seamounts until scientists have assessed these and other underwater ecosystems off the coast of Chile.


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Oceana Chief Scientist on HuffPost Live

Oceana chief scientist Michael Hirshfield dropped by Huffington Post Live yesterday to talk sustainability, food security and fish (Michael begins speaking at around the 11 minute mark).

Michael says that the oceans are an often overlooked resource that if managed correctly could become 20 to 40 percent more productive than they are today, and sigificantly contribute to the global food budget in 2050 when world population is expected to top out at 9 billion people. Michael also discusses the merits of aquaculture, a term that encompasses everything from tuna farming which is unlikely to aid food security or the fight against overfishing, to shellfish cultivation, which can benefit both seafood lovers and ecosystems alike. Watch the video to learn more!


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Ted Danson: Save the Oceans, Feed the World

In this new video actor Ted Danson talks about the founding of Oceana a decade ago and its growth in becoming the largest ocean-only conservation group in the world. Now, he says, Oceana's focus is on saving our fisheries.

As he notes, a third of fish caught worldwide are discarded, never making it to the dinner table. It's what is known in the industry as "bycatch" and it accounts for over 16 billion pounds of wasted catch each year. While the majority of the world's fisheries are overexploited, Oceana believes that through science-based quotas, habitat protection and by stemming the outrageous waste of bycatch, the oceans can continue to be a major source of the world's protein as world population approaches 9 billion people by the middle of the century.

"This is no longer about saving fish. It's about feeding the world," he says in the video.

Mr. Danson also offers some sound philosophical advice as well:

"Do not wait until ah, when I've made it I will then give back. Start behaving as if you have made it and start giving back now."

Thanks to our friends at Nautica and GQ for the video!


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Oceana CEO: World's Fisheries are in Crisis

Editor's note: A new study from researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Washington shows that most of the world's fisheries are overexploited but could be improved considerably through conservation measures. The following is Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless' response to that study.

"This study finally lays to rest the question of whether or not the world’s fisheries are in crisis – they are. As the authors report, more than half of the world’s fisheries are in decline. And as they point out, worst hit are small scale fisheries which are critical for feeding hungry people all around the world. 

We believe that this report provides a clear call to action. We need to quickly put in place responsible management measures in the countries that control most of the world’s wild seafood.  As the study finds, putting in place these measures would allow depleted stocks to recover to sustainable levels and could result in future catches that are up to 40 percent larger than are predicted if current unsustainable fishing practices continue.

We know from past experience all around the world – including in the “assessed fisheries” described by the authors – that putting in place better fisheries management allows fisheries to rebound. And we agree with the authors’ prescription for these measures – science based quotas and habitat protection. We do believe that they (and the world’s fishery managers) should place a great emphasis on reducing bycatch which is critical to the future of our wild fish stocks.

One other critical point not covered in this study is that putting in place these management measures does not take an international treaty. Just 25 countries control 75% of the world’s fish catch and can – through their own legal systems – put in place the policies that can allow fisheries to recover.

The world has a moral obligation to act on the findings of this study as it would enable the sea to feed 400 million hungry people living in major fishing nations and would help offset the projected dramatic increase in demand for protein from a world population that is forecasted to rise to 9 billion people by 2050."


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156 Million Pounds of Fish Wasted in Northeast

Bycatch a threat to fisheries ©Wikimedia Commons

Bycatch is a word that is thrown around a lot in the fishing industry, but when a trawler is throwing away half the fish it catches, somehow “bycatch” doesn’t seem to adequately capture the scope of the problem. It’s that sort of scale of waste that is described in a troubling new report by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The report claims that 156 million pounds of fish were discarded by fishing ships in the Northeast last year.

“156 million pounds of bycatch in the Northeast equals jobs lost and meals wasted,” said Gib Brogan, Northeast representative at Oceana. “What is bycatch to one fishery is often targeted catch to another. Take skates for example, which are a common bycatch species in the lucrative scallop fishery. Nearly 75 percent of the 101 million pounds of skates that were caught were discarded while New England skate fishermen struggle to increase their quotas.”

Amazingly, the NMFS report also found that no information is being collected about bycatch in more than half of the fishing fleets from North Carolina to Maine.

And fishermen are often the first to feel the effects of these reckless practices. Last week the fisheries of the Northeast U.S. were declared a disaster by the federal government and crashes in the region’s storied cod, haddock and flounder fisheries have led regulators to impose drastic cuts for 2013. What got us here? Insufficient data about bycatch which led to inaccurate fish stock assessments. While regulators waited for the fisheries to rebuild, the silent and unaccounted for catch of millions of pounds of discarded fish had been gutting stocks to unsustainable levels.

Oceana works tirelessly advocating for the reduction of bycatch. Only by counting every fish, and by setting catch limits at sustainable levels can we ensure the future of our fisheries.


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Save Shark Week’s Stars

greatwhite_noaa

Great white sharks keep the oceans healthy and balanced ©NOAA

Whether you fear them or admire them, most people have an instant reaction when they hear great white shark.  

Intrigue, mystery, and terror have guided attention on great white sharks since they lit up the screens in the 1975 thriller “Jaws.” The film made history 37 years ago for its chilling characterization of these powerful sharks, and swimming in the open ocean has never been the same since.

Great whites are making history once again, this time for their globally declining populations from bycatch in commercial fisheries, capture in beach protective nets, and slaughter for their fins, teeth, and jaws in the shark fin and curio trade.

Here on the US West Coast, new scientific studies have shed light on the status of great white sharks off California and Baja California, Mexico. Our great white sharks are even more unique than we thought; in fact they are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white sharks around the world. They congregate off Mexican Islands and the “red triangle” off Central California (including the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes, and Point Sur), and make extensive offshore migrations to the distant “white shark Café” and even to the Hawaiian Islands.

But, sadly there may be as little as a few hundred adult great white sharks remaining in this population, far less than anyone expected. This low population alone puts these great whites at great risk of extinction from natural and human-caused impacts. Continued existence of these West Coast great white sharks is threatened by their low population size, inherent vulnerability to capture, slow growth rate, low reproductive output, and the ongoing threats they face from human activities. This is why Oceana is petitioning the federal government and the state of California to list this population of iconic sharks on the Endangered Species List.

What is threatening great white sharks off California and Mexico?

Young great white sharks are un-intentionally caught as bycatch in commercial fishing entangling nets. Set and drift gillnets--which together target California halibut, yellowtail, white seabass, thresher sharks and swordfish--catch great white shark pups in their nursery grounds.

Since 1980, over 10 great white shark pups have been reported being caught in these nets every year. The scary part is that monitoring of bycatch on these fishing vessels is very low so take of these pups remains underreported. In other words, more great white sharks are caught than we are aware.

Additionally, young great white shark “pups” caught in their nursery grounds off the Southern California coast have the second highest mercury level tested on record for any sharks worldwide. These mercury levels exceed six-fold the established thresholds where harmful physiological effects have been documented in other marine fish. Levels of harmful contaminants of PCBs and DDTs in their liver tissue are the highest observed in any shark species reported to date globally.

Endangered species status will bestow additional protections to white sharks, including better monitoring and management to reduce fishery bycatch and additional research to further understand these fascinating top predators of the sea.

As much as we may fear them for their bad rap, we need great white sharks to keep our oceans healthy. Just as wolves keep deer populations under control, great white sharks play a critical top-down role in structuring the marine ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check, such as sea lions and elephant seals, benefiting our fisheries and abundant wildlife.

Listing the West Coast population of great white sharks on the Endangered Species List will help us learn more about the lives and threats of these amazing animals through additional research funding and protection measures.

Please help us in our efforts to protect US West Coast great white sharks from extinction by signing a letter of support for their listing on the Endangered Species Act.


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Exciting News for Turtles

Kemps Ridley sea turtle

Kemps Ridley sea turtle

Amanda Keledjian is a marine scientist at Oceana.

This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a proposed regulation that would help prevent sea turtle deaths from shrimp fishing by requiring all skimmer trawls operating in the Gulf of Mexico to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs).

Oceana and other concerned organizations welcome this exciting news after having asked NMFS to address ongoing sea turtle mortalities and enforce its own protective regulations that are crucial to the recovery and survival of these threatened and endangered species. Turtle excluder devices have effectively reduced the number of sea turtles that drown as a result of commercial fishing activities each year, and NMFS estimates that this new rule could save more than 5,500 sea turtles!  

When properly attached to fishing nets, TEDs act as an escape hatch and allow captured turtles to swim freely away while shrimp accumulate in the net. However, many skimmer trawl boats have been exempt from TED requirements and were instead restricted to towing nets for shorter periods of time.  Despite their proven effectiveness, it has taken many years for NMFS to require TEDs in fisheries that are known to harm turtles, with a long history of litigation surrounding this contentious issue. 


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Victory for Vulnerable Porbeagle Sharks

porbeagle shark

This porbeagle is pleased. © Doug Perrine / WWF

October was a month full of shark protections, and we’re excited that the trend seems to be continuing into November.

Today, the EU has announced important measures that will protect porbeagle sharks, which are threatened by overfishing.

The new laws will protect porbeagles throughout EU waters, where previous regulations only applied in certain areas. Today’s measures make all fishing for porbeagles illegal and requires that any sharks caught accidentally be released immediately.

Porbeagles are heavily fished for their fins and meat, and because they take a long time to reproduce, they recover from overfishing extremely slowly. Estimates suggest that porbeagle populations in the Mediterranean have declined by 99% since the 1950s.

While this is great news, there is still more to be done to protect vulnerable porbeagles. “The protection of porbeagles by the EU represents an important step for the conservation of this species. However, given its highly migratory nature, if porbeagles are to recover, similar actions must follow at the international level,” said Dr. Allison Perry, wildlife marine scientist with Oceana.

We’re particularly excited about the timing of this measure because it comes right before this month’s meeting of ICCAT, an international commission with the authority to enact shark protections across the Atlantic Ocean.

We want the U.S. to call for international protections for porbeagles and other vulnerable shark species. You can help us by speaking up for sharks!


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