The Beacon

Blog Tags: Overfishing

Cod Numbers Disappoint Fishermen and Scientists

A fishing boat in the Gulf of Maine. © Gretchen Ertl for the New York Times

New England fishermen and conservationists alike are in a state of alarm over recent findings from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that Gulf of Maine cod – long a staple of New England waters and a critical species for thousands of commercial fishermen in Massachusetts and New Hampshire – are seriously depleted and have been heavily overfished for the past few years. 

This news comes as a shock to both fishermen and scientists, since the previous assessment, done in 2008, found that the stock was following a positive trajectory toward recovery. 

Under the most recent reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law that governs the nation’s marine fisheries, the regional fishery management councils must implement measures to reverse overfishing and ensure that nearly all stocks are rebuilt within ten years. 

Rebuilding fish stocks to healthy levels ensures that fish will be at robust levels to allow commercial fishing to continue on these stocks well into the future. For Gulf of Maine cod, the rebuilding deadline is 2014. The 2008 assessment indicated that the stock was well on its way toward meeting that deadline, so the New England Fishery Management Council set annual catch limits under that assumption and fishermen fished according to the law. 

In a startling reversal, scientists have now determined that the picture in 2008 was flawed and the stock is nowhere near as healthy as they initially thought. In fact, they have found that the stock is only 20 percent of its rebuilt size and is being fished roughly five times the level it can sustain. 

Even more troubling, scientists say that even if all fishing of cod ceased, the species will still not recover by the 2014 deadline. NMFS has said that even under the best case scenario, the stock would not be rebuilt until 2018. The assessment is currently under peer review and the results will be released later this month.


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A Fishery for the Future: Off the Hook

nova scotia boats

Fishing boats in Nova Scotia. © Becky Cliche via http://www.offthehookcsf.ca

A group of hook-and-line fishermen in Nova Scotia are helping change the face of fishing, and we think you should know about them.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the CSA model, or Community Supported Agriculture, in which subscribers pay for weekly shares of a farm’s produce. Off the Hook is a Community Supported Fishery using this model with fish, connecting a co-operative of small-scale fishermen from the Bay of Fundy to subscribers in and around Halifax, Nova Scotia. Customers receive weekly shares of the co-op’s catch of fresh whole haddock and hake. 

The benefits? Community Supported Fisheries like Off the Hook provide more family income, more market choices, and increased ownership and control. Subscribers get better access to the freshest local, sustainable fish along with a better connection to local fishing communities and the ocean. It’s a win-win.

Off the Hook has been named a finalist in a global competition being held by National Geographic called "Turning the Tide on Coastal Fisheries". The contest aims to find community supported projects that provide innovative solutions to overfishing. Off the Hook was the only project in North America to make it to the top 10 out of more than 100 entries from 48 countries.

The last phase of the contest is an online vote that ends Dec 24. If Off the Hook makes it to the top three, they will be flown down to DC to meet with key stakeholders in international fisheries management and marine conservation. The winner receives a $20,000 grant, and National Geographic will produce a video that features their project.

Vote for Off the Hook and spread the word about Community Supported Fisheries!


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Congress Chips Away at Overfishing Progress

We’ve made a lot of progress in curbing overfishing in the past few decades – but that progress could be unraveled if several dangerous new bills make it through Congress.

On December 1, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine eight pending fisheries bills, many of which seek to undermine the nation’s foremost fisheries management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), and roll back decades of progress in rebuilding depleted fish populations. 

Among the bills under consideration are the “Fishery Science Improvement Act of 2011” (H.R. 2304), the “Flexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2011” (H.R. 3061), and the “American Angler Preservation Act” (H.R. 1646).

Since 1976, the MSA has helped reverse the dangerous decline in U.S. fisheries that resulted from decades of overfishing. Under its reauthorization in 2006, fisheries managers are now finally required to implement specific measures by the end of 2011 to ensure that overfished stocks can adequately rebuild. 

These bills, erroneously disguised as “improvements,” would significantly weaken the law that has successfully governed federal fisheries management for thirty-five years by relaxing many key requirements of the law. Collectively, these bills threaten to undo much of the progress we have made in rebuilding depleted populations. 


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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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New Report: EU Taxpayers Fund Overfishing

Trawlers in the Mediterranean. © Oceana/Juan Cuetos

Oceana released a new report today outlining the shocking amount of subsidies that pour into Europe’s fishing industry. European taxpayers are essentially paying for overfishing – to the tune of 3.3 billion Euros ($4.6 billion) in 2009.

Here are some other stunning facts from the report:

  • Oceana’s analysis found that a total of at least €3.3 billion of subsidies were available to the European Union fishing sector in 2009. This is more than three times quoted public figures, which only reference the European Fisheries Fund.
  • Total subsidies to the fishing sector are equivalent to 50 percent of the value of the total fish catch by the European Union in the same year ( €6.6 billion)
  • Spain, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Italy received the most fishing subsidies. 
  • 13 European Union countries had more fishing subsidies than the value of the landings of fish in their ports.
  • Europe is one of the world’s top three subsidizers, along with China and Japan.
  • As a result of these major subsidies, the European Union now has a fishing fleet that is two to three times larger than what is needed to fish sustainably.
  • More than two-thirds of these subsidies have the ability to enhance fishing capacity and promote overfishing.

Check out the full report and pass it on!


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US and EU Reach Accord on Pirate Fishing

Trawl nets containing uprooted gorgonian corals. © Oceana/Juan Cuetos

Today, the U.S. and E.U. signed a historic agreement to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. These activities are responsible for most illegal fish on the market, some of the most destructive fishing practices in use, and a loss of as much as $23 billion in revenue for legal American fishermen.

The agreement builds on measures each side has already enacted, such as an American moratorium on driftnet fishing and European import processes that require seafood certification. Additionally, two bills currently in the Senate would ban mislabeling seafood and put government money to reducing seafood fraud.

News of the US-EU agreement comes on the heels of a new study recommending that industrial deep-sea fishing be banned. Many deep-sea fish, such as orange roughy and Chilean sea bass, have long lifespans and low birthrates that make them highly susceptible to overfishing. The study also cites the harmful effects of bottom-trawlers, which both wipe out entire local populations of the target fish species and bulldoze long-lived deep sea corals.

Oceana board member and renowned fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly told the Washington Post that the costs of deep-sea fishing far outweigh the benefits.

“It’s a waste of resources, it’s a waste of biodiversity, it’s a waste of everything,” Pauly said. “In the end, there is nothing left.”


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Friday Infographic: Fishing Down the Food Chain

This is the second in a series of ocean infographics by artist Don Foley. These infographics also appear in Oceana board member Ted Danson’s book, “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”  

With shark week fast approaching, how about a shark-related infographic to whet your appetite?

Today’s infographic illustrates how overfishing fundamentally alters ocean ecosystems, leading to fewer and smaller fish over time.

Infographic by Don Foley

If overfishing isn’t stopped, the largest fish like sharks, tuna, cod, and salmon eventually run out and overfishing expands to previously untargeted, smaller spe­cies, some of which were considered undesirable. As a result, the world catch is now primarily made up of small fish like pollock rather than large predators like grouper, and this shift to smaller and smaller species over time is called “fishing down the food chain.”


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Q&A with Author Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky with his 10-year-old daughter Talia.

The latest issue of Oceana magazine is now available; check it out for features about Ted Danson’s new book, our new sea turtle spokesladies and Patagonia’s threatened waters.

Also in this issue is a Q&A with author Mark Kurlansky, whose 1997 international bestseller Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World is a seminal work of non-fiction about overfishing.

I spoke to him about his new book, The World Without Fish: How Kids Can Help Save the Oceans, which explains the current crisis in the oceans in easy-to-digest language and graphics, and outlines how kids can help.

What inspired you to write The World Without Fish?

MK: I’ve been writing about fish for many years. I talk to kids about it a lot and I noticed a few things. They are tremendously interested, partly because kids just really like fish. We’re raising a generation with a great sense of environmental urgency; they want to know about these things. It’s a very complicated thing, much more complicated than it’s often presented. Consequently, kids are perplexed about what’s going on. So I thought I would explain it.

Has your daughter read the book? Is she interested in ocean issues?

MK: Yes, she has. It’s a very ambitious book for kids, and I wanted to know about anything she found difficult or hard to understand. She’s really into it. She’s my fishing buddy. We spend our summers in Gloucester fishing for striper.

What do you hope kids (and adults) take from your book?

I’d like them to appreciate the complexity of the issue to understand that it’s not that people aren’t doing anything -- a lot’s being done, but they’re still struggling to figure out what works. I wouldn’t mind them coming away with a little respect for fishermen and their struggles with the issue. This all can be turned around and if it isn’t, it will be a huge disaster.


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Oceana’s Expedition Shows Need to Protect the Baltic

As a part of European Maritime Day, today Oceana’s team in the Baltic released some initial findings from the ongoing expedition. They presented guidelines for the protection of the Baltic Sea, including rules for sustainable fisheries management, habitat protection and ending harmful fishing subsidies.

The expedition team has been documenting the incredible biodiversity of the Baltic; check out the latest photos - from beautiful nudibranchs to grey seals to a dead jellyfish in the oxygen-deprived bottom of the deepest part of the Baltic:

These photos reveal the impact of pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing practices on the Baltic, but they also show areas with healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity, providing a window into what the Baltic Sea could look like if Marine Protected Areas are expanded and well-protected, and if laws and regulations are fully enforced.

Studies have shown that such enhanced protection measures and more stringent management of fish resources would benefit fishermen and local communities dependent on fisheries, as well as at-risk ecosystems.

Stay tuned for more from our team in the Baltic!


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Protecting Costa Rica’s Biodiversity

A collared aracari on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Sometimes our supporters point out organizations that are doing inspiring work for the oceans around the world. Thanks to supporter Joanna Adler for alerting us to the great work of an organization in Costa Rica called CIRENAS.

The Center of Investigation for Natural and Social Resources, or CIRENAS, is an organization that co-manages the Caletas Ario Nature Reserve, which is located on one of the last undeveloped stretches of coastline on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.


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