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Oceana Magazine Spring 2014: New Horizons

New Horizons

Bloomberg Takes Oceana to Brazil and the Philippines

We have big news for the oceans: Oceana is a joint recipient of a $53 million, five-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to rebuild fish populations in three of the world’s largest fishing nations: Brazil, Chile, and the Philippines, which account for more than 7 percent of the global catch of seafood by weight. Called the Vibrant Oceans initiative, this grant is the largest philanthropic commitment for international reform of fisheries management.

“Everyone who cares about rebuilding ocean fisheries should feel immensely encouraged by this announcement,” says Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless. “The Vibrant Oceans initiative allows truly global-scale action to rebuild the world’s oceans, and this moment is terrifically encouraging for everyone who fought to restore ocean abundance.”

Ocean conservation and international food security are inextricably connected. The world’s human population is expected to pass 9 billion people by 2050. Although that’s a 30 percent increase in population from current levels, the UN predicts that our demand for food for will actually grow by 70 percent, as rising incomes increase the demand for a meat-heavy, western-style diet. Right now 1 billion people on this planet suffer from hunger, and we don’t have enough arable land and fresh water to feed 2 billion more without incurring massive losses to biodiversity. Seafood will be critical to ensuring that the world’s growing population doesn’t go hungry, but 87 percent of fisheries around the world have come close to, reached, or exceeded their limits.

“By restoring abundance in our oceans we can feed nearly a billion people a healthy seafood meal each day and benefit biodiversity,” says Sharpless. “Oceana’s results-driven approach works, and we are delighted that Bloomberg’s support will allow us to win more victories for our oceans.”

In partnership with the other Bloomberg Philanthropies grant recipients, Rare and EKO Asset Management, Oceana will rebuild critical fisheries in Chile, Brazil, and the Philippines. Oceana will reform industrial fishing by advocating for national policy changes that can increase fish abundance, like setting and enforcing science-based quotas, reducing bycatch, and protecting critical habitat. Working at the other end of the fisheries spectrum, Rare will empower artisanal fishermen by working with coastal communities to create exclusive fishing rights for local fishers, along with the creating and strengthening protected areas.

Small-scale and industrial fishers catch roughly equal amounts of fish for food, and both fisheries are largely depleted in these countries. Working with both large- and small-scale fishermen will help reverse declining fish populations more quickly because the efforts are mutually reinforcing. For example, national policies can stop industrial boats from unfairly skimming the bounty of local-level conservation, and local communities energized by their own conservation efforts can support consistent national policies.

The grant also supports EKO Asset Management, who will develop strategies that bring private capital to financially reward small-scale fishers and industrial fleets as they transition to more sustainable management.

Chile

Oceana currently works with the Chilean government to restore its fisheries — some of the largest in the world — and protect important marine areas, including hundreds of biodiverse seamounts and remote islands.

Chile recently adopted one of the most forward-thinking scientific fishing management plans ever proposed, setting science-based quotas to help rebuild four critical species: common hake, jack mackerel, anchoveta, and sardines. Reduced quotas will allow populations of these dramatically overfished species time to recover, ensuring that they remain a plentiful source of food for the future.

Funding from the Vibrant Oceans initiative will sustain Oceana’s efforts to rebuild ocean abundance in Chile — which ranks eighth in the world in terms of the total amount of fish caught in its ocean. The initiative will also support Oceana’s campaign to protect marine ecosystems, including protecting new areas vulnerable to bottom trawling for shrimp.

Brazil

The economic giant of South America, Brazil is a massive country best known for the Amazon River’s dense rainforest. But Brazil is much more than just the Amazon—the country also has substantial ocean resources, producing more than 500,000 metric tons of fish every year from its extensive marine territories. Fish consumption in Brazil grew 51 percent over the past eight years. In 2012, the Brazilian government committed to double the country’s fish production in just four years.

But Brazil’s oceans are already overfished, falling far short of their potential as a source of food, jobs, and economic stability. “For example, the sardine fishery is one of the biggest fisheries in the country, but the population is so depleted that the fishermen now rely heavily on the other species that they catch at the same time,” says Dr. Michael Hirshfield, Oceana’s chief scientist and strategy officer.

As one population of fish declines, fishermen move on to another species or another location, a process called sequential overfishing. “It’s like when you max out one credit card,” says Hirshfield, “and instead of paying off your debt, you just get another card and start charging.” But this system can’t continue forever, and Brazilian fishermen depend on the sea, especially the hundreds of thousands of artisanal fishermen clustered along the country’s coastlines.

Philippines

More than 10,000 miles west across the Pacific lies the Philippines archipelago. The northern point of the tropical Coral Triangle, this nation of more than 7,000 islands is home to some of the world’s most prolific oceans. Coastal waters teem with greater fish biodiversity than anywhere else on earth, and just 50 acres of the Central Visayas region hold more species of coral than the entire Caribbean Sea.

The picture of fisheries is much the same in the Philippines as in Brazil. Commercial species are being caught at unsustainable rates, and 75 percent of fishing grounds are overfished. Catch levels have increased over the past few decades only because of sequential overfishing.

“Overfishing is a very immediate and personal problem for people in the Philippines,” says Margot Stiles, director of science and strategy at Oceana. More than 60 percent of the 100 million people in the Philippines live in densely-populated coastal areas, with little to no arable land. Many Filipinos, especially those in poor and rural communities, rely on fish as their main source of income. Stiles says that an estimated 44 percent of fishermen have no other ways to earn a living. Fish is also a key source of food: served at every meal, it accounts for 56 percent of animal protein consumed by Filipinos.

“The good news is that neither country is in denial about the status of their fisheries,” says Hirshfield, “and fisheries leaders have expressed a strong desire to move towards sustainable fishing.”

Drawing on the organization’s international experience, says Hirshfield, Oceana’s local teams will work with the governments in Brazil and the Philippines to strengthen the three pillars of good fisheries management: setting science-based quotas, reducing bycatch, and protecting habitat. Oceana also hopes to protect juvenile fish, deter illegal fishing, and ensure access to fishing grounds for artisanal fishermen and their communities.

“These policies are good for the national interest,” says Sharpless, “because improved fisheries management will result in more fish available for fishermen and citizens.”

“Both Brazil and the Philippines are great places to be innovative,” says Stiles. “The hope is that if we can collaborate with each government to create responsible fisheries policies, other countries will take notice.” As the year unfolds, Hirshfield and his colleagues will be hiring vice presidents from Brazil and the Philippines to lead Oceana’s efforts in each country, and establishing and staffing offices. The goal is to have both offices up and running in the next few months.

“Despite differences in culture, history, governance structures, and geography, the issues in Brazil and the Philippines are very similar,” says Hirshfield. “At the heart of it we have fishermen who are just trying to make a living, a growing demand for seafood, and fish that just can’t keep up. It gives me some hope and some confidence that if we can get the human element right, the biology will respond.”