The Beacon

Blog Tags: Swordfish

ICCAT Moves to Properly Manage Bluefin Tuna, but Doesn’t Take Action for Sharks and Swordfish

ICCAT protected bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna (Thynnus thynnus), pictured an Oceana Marviva Med Mediterranean Expedition in 2008. (Photo: Oceana / Keith Ellenbogen)

Earlier this month, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) concluded its meeting in Genoa, Italy to discuss protections for various marine species, including bluefin tuna, sharks, and swordfish. At the same time, the IUCN World Parks Congress concluded its once-a-decade meeting with new protections for marine habitat and other developments for the ocean.


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Video: Oceana Makes Plea for Mediterranean Swordfish, Says EU Overlooking Its Decline

A swordfish (Xiphias gladius) caught by a typical vessel for artisanal fishing swordfish with a harpoon in Italy. (Photo: Oceana in Europe / Alessandro Donelli)

Update: October 15, 2014

As the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) gears up to meet this November to discuss the future of highly migratory species like bluefin tuna, swordfish, and sharks, Oceana in Europe is sounding the alarm on the European Union for not taking measurable action to help recover Mediterranean swordfish. Mediterranean swordfish are highly overfished and have declined steeply by 70 percent from 1980s levels, according to assessments taken this year.


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Impacts of Climate Change on Highly Migratory Species Prioritized in NMFS Management Plan

Bluefin tuna are a highly migratory species affected by climate change

A bluefin tuna, a migratory species affected by climate change. (Photo: Oceana / Keith Ellenbogen)

Many marine species face endless obstacles: Overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction are large threats, as well as climate change and its associated negative impacts. Factors ranging from their habitat, food source, predator defense, migration routes, and breeding grounds are already changing from warming seas, and these impacts are so widespread that it’s caught fisheries managers’ attention.


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Net Loss - Keeping Sperm Whales Out of Drift Gillnets

(Photo: Gabriel Barathieu)

In 2010, as many as sixteen sperm whales drowned in drift gillnets intended for swordfish off the coast of California. In the recent issue of Oceana magazine, we cover Oceana’s efforts to protect Pacific sperm whales from this fate. Read an excerpt below, or visit the full article here.


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Drift Gillnets Kept at Bay . . . For Now

A frequent victim of drift gillnets © Jose Alejandro Alvarez/Marine Photobank

We can breathe a momentary sigh of relief. This Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to maintain protections off California and Oregon for the critically endangered population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles. However, in 2014 these federal fishery managers will consider another proposal for allowing driftnets into sea turtle habitat southwest of Monterey, California.

At the meeting a few days ago in Tacoma, Washington, the Council considered a full array of proposals to expand the use of drift gillnets off California and Oregon and into an area currently designated to protect Pacific leatherback sea turtles. But Oceana—with the help of our partners, and support of our avid Wavemakers—successfully thwarted those efforts by presenting new science on the decline of leatherback sea turtles; by revealing scientific data showing massive wasteful bycatch of large whales, dolphins, sharks, and other fish by the drift gillnet fishery; and by bringing forward the public uproar over the proposed expansion of the driftnet fishery into a currently protected area.

Mile-long drift nets hang like invisible curtains in the water column to catch swordfish, but they unselectively entangle other marine life traversing through the open ocean. To numerically paint the portrait of this wasteful fishery, for every five swordfish caught in 2011, one marine mammal was killed and six fish were tossed back dead. When it comes to whales, this fishery takes many species, but one of particular concern is the sperm whale. The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and it is estimated that 16 of these amazing endangered whales were taken in the drift gillnet fishery in 2010 alone.


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Florida Swordfishermen turn to Less Destructive Gear

It's rare that the issues of longline fishing and bycatch make it to the evening news, but this report from CNN highlights a promising technology called buoy gear fishing that could replace the extremely destructive practice of longline fishing for swordfish. As you might guess, traditional longlines are long--miles-long, and sometimes set with thousands of baited hooks that catch everything from swordfish (both adult and juveniles) to endangered sea turtles, marine mammals, sawfish and sharks. Swordfishing in the Florida Straits, a major nursery area for baby fish, became very popular in the late 1960s.  However, by the 1990s, swordfish populations had collapsed, with longlining banned in the area by 2011.

This video tracks Florida fisherman Tim Palmer's switch from longlines to buoy gear. Instead of thousands of hooks, Palmer sets only 12 at a time, which can be actively monitored for juvenile fish or protected species that might take the bait instead of the intended adult swordfish.  If and when fishermen notice that this has happened, they can respond more quickly and minimize the potential injury of the hooked animal.

Despite recent successes with this new gear, the movement away from destructive longline fishing is not universal or even well-accepted by all fishermen. In the Pacific, federal regulators recently approved new rules, set to take effect November 5, that will allow longline fishermen targeting swordfish and tuna to incidentally catch almost twice the number of endangered leatherbacks and loggerheads that they entangle each year.

Oceana is fighting to prevent these new rules from going into effect and is pushing for responsible fishing practices that reduce bycatch around the world.


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Endangered Sea Turtles Face Increased Threats

Endangered loggerheads will be subject to 100% higher catch ©Oceana

After a victory for Pacific sea turtles last week, here’s some not so good news. 

Two endangered species of sea turtle are facing an increased threat after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a plan allowing a Hawaii-based shallow-set longline swordfish fishery to catch more endangered sea turtles while hunting for swordfish in the North Pacific Ocean.

Currently, regulations allow a capture, or “take,” of 16 endangered leatherback sea turtles and 17 endangered loggerhead sea turtles per fishery per year. If and when turtle catch limits are reached, the fishery must close for the year. However, the new rule, set to take effect November 5, will allow a 62 percent increase in allowable takes of leatherbacks for a total of 26 per year, and a 100 percent increase in the catch of loggerheads for a total of 34 per year. 

The timing for this approval is particularly paradoxical, as NMFS upgraded the status of the Pacific loggerhead sea turtle from “threatened” to “endangered” little more than a year ago, and designated almost 42,000 square miles of ocean waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles earlier this year. The leatherback sea turtle was also recently designated as the official state marine reptile of California.

Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana, said:

This decision is outrageous. On the one hand the federal government acknowledges Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles are endangered and that more needs to be done to protect them. At the same time they say it is okay for U.S. fishermen to kill more of them.”

We agree, it’s outrageous – and our campaigners are examining the available options in a plan to stop these measures before they take effect on November 5. We’ll keep you posted!


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Video: Mercury from Source to Seafood

The health benefits of seafood are well-documented, but some people avoid eating it after hearing reports of high mercury levels. This video might help make things a little clearer.

Produced by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, the video explains how mercury gets into water and then into the fish that we eat. Burning coal releases mercury into the air and increases its concentrations in our waterways. Depending on where in the food chain a fish is, it could have low levels of mercury or high levels that could be unhealthy.

Eating seafood has many health benefits—it has important Omega 3 fatty acids and is low in the saturated fats you find in other animal proteins, especially red meat. Many fish are safe and healthy to eat. While shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna have higher mercury levels, there are plenty of other options that are safe to eat. You can find responsible and healthy seafood choices in our Sustainable Seafood Guide

Check out the video, which also features Oceana senior scientist Kim Warner, to learn more about how mercury builds up in the environment and how to stay healthy while including seafood in your diet.


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Seafood for Thought: Are You Eating Mercury?

© Oceana/Juan Cuetos

Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing and health. Today we’re taking on mercury.

Maybe when you think of mercury you think of old thermometers. But did you know that mercury in seafood can affect your health?

As a result of antiquated manufacturing techniques, a few chlorine factories release mercury pollution into nearby rivers and streams, which ends up in the ocean, where it travels up the food chain, becoming more and more concentrated in larger and larger fish, including favorites such as tuna and swordfish.

What’s the danger of mercury in fish? Mercury is a neurotoxin and can cause symptoms such as headaches, foggy thinking, muscle stiffness, dizziness, nausea, and hair loss. Mercury is dangerous for women who are or may become pregnant because children are particularly susceptible to the effects of mercury poisoning.

The best way to protect yourself and your family is to learn what kinds of seafood have high mercury levels and to consume these only in moderation. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide contains information about mercury levels as well as about sustainability.

We’ve made progress over the years, both in requiring stores to provide information about mercury and in getting companies to switch to less dangerous ways of producing chlorine. However, mercury in fish remains an issue. Just this summer, Oceana was instrumental in convincing the Spanish government to release a study finding that more than half of mako shark and swordfish samples had dangerous levels of mercury.

You can learn more about mercury and you can also take action by asking Walmart and Sam’s Club to post safety notifications about mercury in fish.


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Oceana Uncovers Dangerous Mercury Levels in Fish

© Oceana/Juan Cuetos

Spain’s biggest newspaper, El País, featured Oceana prominently in this morning’s cover story. The article describes Oceana’s unrelenting effort to make previously confidential research regarding unsafe mercury levels in large fish freely accessible to the public, highlighting an important victory with implications for the health of the Spanish populace and the transparency of the Spanish government.

Here’s the back story: in 2003, Spain’s Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) conducted a large research study that documented levels of mercury and other heavy metals in large fish such as various sharks, swordfish, and bluefin tuna.

The results of the study were not good: 62.5 percent of the 128 mako shark samples and 54.2 percent of the swordfish samples contained high, unpermitted levels of mercury. Despite this alarming evidence, the results were never released due to concerns about its possible impact on the fishing industry.


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