Callum Roberts is a professor of marine conservation at the University of York in England and author of the 2007 book “The Unnatural History of the Sea.” His second book, “The Ocean of Life”, was published this spring. Oceana asked Roberts about the new book and why we need a “New Deal” for the oceans. This Q&A is from the new issue of Oceana magazine.
How does the Ocean of Life differ from your first book, "The Unnatural History of the Sea"?
“The Unnatural History of the Sea” is about how 1,000 years of hunting and fishing have changed the oceans. It is a voyage through time and around the world in which I let eye witnesses tell their stories of discovery, plunder, glory and heartbreak, and in doing so let us see the oceans in a new light, as if for the first time. “The Ocean of Life” is painted on a bigger canvas. In it I go back to the very beginning in an effort to answer questions like, where did the oceans come from, what were they like before the Cambrian explosion of larger life, who were the first seafood lovers and where did they live? Although I cover the long history of fishing, it is by way of prelude to an exploration of the many other ways in which we are changing the oceans. Almost without noticing it and within my lifetime, humanity has gained dominion over the sea.
What's the most surprising thing you learned about the oceans while researching and writing "The Ocean of Life"?
Probably the most startling and troubling thing I learned, when I drew together the many intertwining strands of our influence, is that the oceans are changing faster today and in more ways than in all of human history. In fact, we may have to go all the way back to the planetary cataclysm that ended the reign of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago to find a more rapid transformation of the sea.
We have good news to share: the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has looked at our petition to have West Coast great white sharks listed as an endangered species – a petition 44,000 of you backed – and has agreed to take it to the next level!
Having agreed that these sharks may qualify for endangered status, NMFS will now spend the next nine months researching the sharks and will announce their final decision in June 2013.
This is an important milestone, and we want to thank you for helping make it happen. Those 44,000 signatures showed that great whites have supporters across the country and that people are paying attention to what happens off our shores. We're so grateful for your help – and the sharks are too.
Recent scientific studies show that great white sharks off the coast of California and Baja California, Mexico are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white shark populations and that there are only a few hundred adult sharks remaining in this population.
The biggest threat to great white sharks on the West Coast right now are the gillnets that are trapping their young. We're hoping that this effort will lead to more research, increased observer coverage and management of the fisheries that are harming them, and more awareness of the importance and vulnerability of these magnificent creatures. Great white sharks are a vital part of the ocean food web, and we can’t let them disappear.
We will keep you posted as the story unfolds!
Editor's note: This is a guest post by Simone Lewis-Koskinen, Program Assistant at SeaWeb, reporting from the Seafood Summit in Hong Kong. Oceana is a sponsor of the summit.
After many months and several thousand emails, phone calls and meetings, the Seafood Summit has arrived! SeaWeb’s 10th Annual Seafood Summit in Hong Kong, kicked off this Wednesday with a series of pre-Summit activities exploring the existing and future horizons of the eco-certification landscape, investment mechanisms for fisheries and local seafood markets. Despite the jet lag, most of the participants were in high spirits and eager to mingle, setting the tone for what’s sure to be the best Summit yet.
The following three days will see a flurry of panels, workshops and meetings that get at the heart of some of the most pressing issues facing the seafood industry. From climate change to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, the topics run the gamut, promising a healthy dose of debate and discussion.
Panels addressing tuna and shark issues are particularly likely to spark some heated debates given the cultural and traditional ties to the region. From Friday’s panel discussion on local trends around shark fins and consumer attitudes, to Saturday’s workshop on sustainable shark fisheries, Hong Kong is shaping up to be the perfect place to elevate these dialogues to the next level.
Other sessions likely to provide some interesting food for thought examine the relationship between seafood and the consumer, exploring the various avenues to engage consumers in the discussion. As the Holy Grail for many conservation groups, sessions sharing tools and lessons learned around translating consumer awareness into behavior change are sure to spark a lot of interest.
The Seafood Summit is an annual event hosted by SeaWeb that brings together global representatives from the seafood industry and conservation community for in-depth discussions, presentations and networking around the issue of sustainable seafood. The goal of the Summit is to foster dialogue and partnerships that lead to a seafood marketplace that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. The breadth and depth of topics, discussions and perspectives serves as a catalyst for new solutions as one of the premiere events in the seafood community.
Looking back at past Summits, this year’s event represents the first steps into new territory. Traditionally held in Europe and North America, bringing the Seafood Summit to Hong Kong is an important step for helping the sustainable seafood movement engage more effectively with the Asian marketplace. Many of the presentations so far have acknowledged the growing role Asia has and will continue to play in the path towards sustainability. In the days, months and years to come, this initial foray will surely be remembered as setting the stage for many of the lasting relationships formed at the 2012 Seafood Summit.
The new issue of Oceana magazine is hot off the presses! In this issue, I interviewed Oceana senior advisor Alexandra Cousteau, who also graces this issue's cover.
The granddaughter of famed ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Alexandra doesn’t take her family legacy lightly. She spends her days advocating for ocean and water conservation around the world. Oceana welcomed her as a senior advisor to the organization in February, a role she will juggle along with many others, including being a mother to her baby daughter Clémentine. Besides lending her expertise to Oceana, Alexandra is a National Geographic Explorer, founder of Blue Legacy International, and brand ambassador for Oceana expedition partner Revo Sunglasses. Here's what she had to say:
Tell me about your family’s history with the oceans.
Clearly my family has a long history with the oceans. It’s hard to tell my story without talking about my grandfather because it’s a multi-generational continuation of what he started. He spent years imagining the aqualung, finally co-inventing the regulator with Emile Gagnan in 1942. And it hasn’t evolved that much (since then) – the technology is incredibly simple. It allowed him to pull back the curtain on 70 percent of the planet that up until that point nobody could have imagined. My grandfather was really the first to tell stories about what’s there and help people understand it.
What’s your earliest ocean memory?
My first dive was when I was seven. My grandfather took me in the Med off the coast of Nice. He had fashioned a small scuba set for me, a little mask and a little tank with rubber suspenders and what seemed like a huge regulator on my small face. I was hesitant at first because I didn’t understand the technology; breathing underwater was just counter-intuitive. Before I had a chance to protest, he looked down at me, gave me a wink and pushed me in. I took a few tentative breaths and as soon as I saw that it worked I started swimming down, I was so excited. I found myself surrounded by these small silver fish which were swimming in unison in a circle around me.
Shark Week is almost over, but one of the most exciting shows of the year is airing tonight.
Tonight at 9 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific) tune in to Discovery Channel to watch “Great White Highway,” which follows the secret lives of great white sharks off the Pacific Coast. And perhaps you’ll recognize the narrator – he’s the one and only actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson.
Here’s the show's description:
Right outside the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is home to some of the biggest great white sharks in the world... but only for part of the year. Teams of scientists from Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey Bay have spent years tagging and tracking these sharks to find out why they come here, why they leave and where they go when they do — out into the Pacific on the Great White Highway. But the sharks have kept much about their lives completely secret, leaving researchers with little information about what they spend their summers doing and almost no idea about where they mate or bear their young. Now, armed with new technologies, the team is hoping to wire the ocean and find out how these sharks live their lives — and why California is one of the biggest stops on the Great White Highway.
And if you haven’t already, add your name to our petition to list the US West Coast population of great whites on the endangered species list.
Drum roll, please: we’re excited to unveil our latest video starring actress and ocean lover, Aimee Teegarden of “Friday Night Lights.”
We traveled with Teegarden up the coast of Southern California, from La Jolla to Santa Barbara Island, filming a video about the need to protect the ocean’s threatened habitats.
Teegarden showed off her surfing skills and also free dove with sea lion pups in a gorgeous kelp forest.
“It’s amazing that hidden treasures like this exist all over the ocean – you just have to look for them. It’s really upsetting to think about an awesome place like the sea lion rookery being destroyed by destructive fishing, pollution, or anything else harmful,” said Teegarden. “This experience made it clear that we need to identify these unique and important areas in the ocean and do whatever we can to save them. I love that Oceana finds the special places like this and then fights to protect them.”
Kinsey is best known for her role as the tightly-wound head of accounting on “The Office,” and she also appeared in a video for Oceana’s sea turtle campaign alongside Rachael Harris (“The Hangover.) Kinsey will be joined by sustainable chef and author Barton Seaver and Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell. Their stops will include a briefing on Capitol Hill and a reception at National Aquarium.
Oceana has found mislabeling of nearly one in five fish fillets sampled in Boston-area supermarkets, as well as the mislabeling of more than half of the seafood sampled in the Los Angeles-area. Oceana is calling on the federal government to make combating seafood fraud a priority as well as for traceability of seafood sold in the United States.
Tomorrow Christie’s International Auction House will host a Post War and Contemporary Arts evening sale, featuring Yves Klein’s FC 1, which is being sold on behalf of an anonymous collector. FC 1 is expected to achieve a record-breaking final sale price, a portion of which will be donated to Oceana.
FC 1 is the most important work by Yves Klein ever to be offered at auction, and is considered to be one of the most important Post War European works of art. The piece has been featured prominently at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.
We’re so thankful to our friends at Christie’s for their continued support. Christie’s has put together a great website, including a tab about Oceana and a video about the making of the piece:
Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration set catch limits under the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act amendments for all covered species, a major triumph for fisheries management.
The Environmental Forum asked the leading voices in fisheries management, “Is the 2006 law succeeding in restoring fish stocks? Are adjustments needed to ensure robust stocks and sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries in the future?” Here’s an excerpt of the response by Mike Hirshfield. Oceana’s Senior Vice President for North America, and Chief Scientist. He is currently on sabbatical; you can read about his travels at his blog.
The United States is fortunate to have a law designed to keep abundant fish populations in the ocean. All ocean lovers, including commercial and recreational fishermen, should celebrate the passage of the 2006 amendments to that law. If they are carried out fully, we will definitely see increased fish populations in future years. Our fishery management system is one of the best in the world, certainly compared to places like Europe. But before we pat ourselves on the back too much, we need to take a clear-eyed look at what the amendments did — and didn’t — do, as well as the way the National Marine Fisheries Service is implementing the law. Some problem areas are indicated below by italics.
The amendments only addressed part of the problem. Fisheries management comes down to three principles: First, don’t kill more fish than can be replenished. Second, don’t kill too many other animals. And third, don’t wreck the places fish need to live. The 2006 amendments really only dealt with the first.
The amendments came 10 years too late for some species. Conservationists thought the 1996 amendments required an end to overfishing. We were wrong. Unfortunately, for some species, the additional decade meant ten more years of declining populations. For long-lived, slow-growing species like Atlantic halibut, some sharks, and Pacific rockfish, the extra overfishing means their populations won’t rebuild for decades — if ever.
Too many species are “off the books.” Several hundred species of fish caught by fishermen are not included in fishery management plans, so managers don’t consider them subject to the accountability requirements of the 2006 amendments. Managers have even removed species from plans to avoid the obligation. Species subject to international management are exempt from the requirements, even if overfished, like Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Too many species may fail to rebuild. Many rebuilding plans are designed with little better than a 50 percent chance of success — meaning they are nearly as likely to fail. Even an 80 percent chance of success means 20 of 100 such plans will fail. We may not always have all the science we would like, but it needs to be taken seriously, with the tie going to the fish. We need more safety margin, not less.
The bare minimum is the target. “Not overfished” and “preventing overfishing” are weak standards of success, leaving too many populations at risk. Fish stocks will face increased threats from a changing climate. We need to hedge our bets with larger fish populations, not the bare minimum.
You can read the full piece at The Environmental Forum.
We have finally made it -- Last night Oceana’s new Los Angeles seafood fraud report was featured on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Ever-angry Lewis Black responded to the report: “Snapper, tilapia, who gives a S#@*? That’s what the ketchup’s for!”
Well, not quite the message we were going for with the report, but pretty funny nonetheless.