The Beacon

Blog Tags: Fishing

Video: Andy Sharpless on Fish and World Hunger

Did you know that protecting our oceans could be an answer to world hunger? A few weeks ago our CEO Andy Sharpless gave a talk at TedxSF about how saving the oceans can help feed the world.

We think it’s a fantastic, thought-provoking presentation, please watch and pass it on:


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Chile to Expand Marine Reserves in 2012

A sea turtle in Hanga Roa Bay, Easter Island. © Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

Great news today: The Chilean Government announced its intention to expand the Salas y Gómez marine reserve and to create a smaller reserve in Hanga Roa Bay – the harbor right off the main town and capital of historic Easter Island.  This new marine conservation plan for Easter Island is set to be established by the end of the year.

The government also announced the plan to develop an assessment and status report of the main fisheries of Easter Island.

Following an expedition in 2010 to Salas y Gómez Island, led by Oceana, National Geographic, and the Waitt Foundation, the Chilean President announced the creation of the original Salas y Gómez marine reserve. This no-take reserve protects 150,000 square kilometers around the island – an area larger than Greece. 

In 2011, Oceana and National Geographic Society partnered with the Chilean Navy and conducted an unprecedented expedition to study the marine area surrounding Easter Island and Salas y Gómez Island to assess their current states of conservation and potential need for new protection measures.  Using the baseline study developed from this collaboration, Oceana proposed the expansion of the Salas y Gómez marine reserve, Motu Motiro Hiva, to an area of 411,000 km2, making it the second largest no-take marine protected area in the world. 

These marine protected areas can only officially be declared after a referendum is conducted for the people of Easter Island, known as the Rapa Nui, and they give their approval for the proposals. 

Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its stone statues, called Moai. Salas y Gómez Island is a small uninhabited island 250 miles east of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. It was described by Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Ocean Fellow, as one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean. 

We’re excited to hear that Chile is electing to protect its invaluable marine resources in Easter Island and Salas y Gómez – and we’ll keep you posted as things progress.


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Exploring a Filipino Fish Market

© Suzannah Evans

Editor's note: This is fifth and final part in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.

After meeting with Marybeth in Lanuza, our crew headed back to Butuan City, where we split up – Paul to Manila on his way back to the UK, and Fel, Lito and myself to Cebu. Fel, a pride program manager for Rare, was nice enough to stick around in Cebu with me for a day and take me to the wet and dried fish markets in the old part of the city, where we could see the flip side of overfishing in the Philippines.

Cebu, the oldest city in the country, is the site where Ferdinand Magellan landed in 1521. He converted a few hundred native people to Catholicism before being killed in a battle a few weeks later, but his legacy endures: the Philippines is quite possibly the most Catholic place I’ve ever been, and I’ve been to Rome. Every office building includes images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and religion is woven into even the fashions of the young Filipinos, like the rhinestone cross earrings I saw on a young woman on our jeepney ride to the market.

The central market in Cebu encompasses several blocks of ramshackle stalls containing everything from bursting funeral flower arrangements to cages full of fighting roosters. Here’s where you can buy one of the Philippines’ famous street food delicacies: balut, or a fertilized duck egg hardboiled and eaten at three weeks’ gestation, feathers and all. (I didn’t have one. I earned my stripes the previous day by tasting several varietals of durian, a fruit so foul-smelling it’s often banned from taxis and public buildings. “Smells like hell and tastes like heaven” is what they say, and while the smell was pretty revolting, the fruit itself wasn’t half-bad. Our van smelled like roadkill for the next two hours, though, so the value of this experience was questionable.)


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Securing the Future of Filipino Fishers

Rare fellow Marybeth Rita leads a meeting with fishers.

Editor's note: This is part 4 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.

The last site we visited was overseen by Rare conservation fellow Marybeth Rita. Marybeth has a tough job because her campaign covers three towns separated by a hilly unfinished highway that she traverses by motorbike. After some heavy overnight rain, our van could hardly make it through the deep mud (with no guard rail down to the bay!) so I appreciated the difficulty of Marybeth’s assignment.

The mayor of Lanuza, Salvacion Azarcon, met us at her office in the morning. She was a really inspiring woman, and not just because she offered us some local palm wine at 8:30 in the morning. Called pirik-pirik, the wine was mixed with raisins to give it a very mildly sweet taste. It was good enough that we kept the bottle and had more later in the day.

Marybeth and the mayor were working together not just to enact 24/7 volunteer guarding at the MPA, but to start a critically important program to register fishermen. Right now, most local fishermen aren’t registered in any way, so it’s hard to tell if they’re legally in the municipal waters or not. Once registered, fishers will get an awning designed by Marybeth and the pride campaign that promotes the protection of the MPA.

The registration program will also allow fishers to become eligible for a low-interest 2,500 peso loan (about $58). This is a key element of keeping poverty at bay, because unfortunately many fishers can end up in hock to unscrupulous lenders who make loans at outrageous interest rates.


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Massachusetts Tackles Seafood Mislabeling

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

On Wednesday afternoon, the state of Massachusetts became a national leader in the fight against mislabeled seafood with a clear message: with an abundance of local seafood, there is no place for mislabeled seafood in Massachusetts, and more must be done to combat this common problem and protect consumers and the fishing industry from fraud.

The Hearing of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure provided a forum for representatives of the state Office of Consumer Protection, Department of Public Health and the Division of Marine Fisheries to update the committee on their efforts to respond to the issue, which was highlighted in a Boston Globe investigation and supported by separate research by Consumer Reports and Oceana

Drawing on its research into the causes and solutions to this chronic problem, Oceana was among a group of industry and scientific representatives that provided testimony to the committee. Oceana offered new information and clear recommendations about solutions to ensure that all fish are accurately labeled and can be tracked back to their boat or farm of origin.

In response to the testimony provided to the committee, Representative Theodore C. Speliotis, co-chair of the committee, summarized: “It’s clear there has been no oversight on fish mislabeling – none. This hearing is really just the first step.’’


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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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New Study: Climate Change Threatens Global Fisheries

As world leaders prepare for international climate change negotiations next week in Durban, South Africa, a new study out this week depicts the widespread threats that climate change presents for marine fisheries.

The bottom line? Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are presenting very long-term if not irreversible threats for the oceans.

Economists and top fisheries scientists at the University of British Columbia published a paper on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change that outlines the many challenges fisheries face from climate change, and how this can impact the global economy and hundreds of millions of lives. 

Global marine fisheries are underperforming, mainly from rampant overfishing, but climate change also creates several serious threats to the future productivity of fisheries. These chemical and physical changes linked to climate change such as decreased oxygen levels, changes in plankton communities and plant growth, altered ocean circulation and increased acidity can disrupt the basic functioning of marine ecosystems and thwart any potential recovery of global fish stocks. 

The study outlines how impacts can scale up from changing ocean conditions to the global economy, but the authors note that the true scope of impacts to employment are hard to predict.


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Seafood for Thought: Bottom Trawling

trawling infographic

Trawling infographic by Don Foley.

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 schooling you on bottom trawling.

When you’re enjoying a tasty seafood meal, you’re probably not thinking about habitat destruction and accidentally caught marine animals. (Or at least I hope you’re not, it might give you indigestion.) But unfortunately, in many cases, before seafood gets to your plate, those two things may have been part of the equation.

Take bottom trawling, which is the most destructive commercial fishing method on the planet. Bottom trawlers scrape huge, heavy nets across the seafloor, destroying everything in their path. Trawling destroys more seabed habitat each year than the world’s annual loss of tropical rainforest. One study found that trawling destroys 16 pounds of marine animals for every pound of sole brought to markets.

Trawling is designed to catch as many fish as possible, and is used particularly to target shrimp, cod, haddock, flounder, and rockfish. Dredging, which is a similar practice, is used to catch shellfish like scallops and clams. Currently, more than half the fish eaten in the US is the product of trawling.

Fishermen have been trawling for years, but in the 1980s, technological advances allowed them to begin trawling through coral reefs, which they previously had to avoid to protect their fishing gear.

Unfortunately, we know now the huge damage that even one pass of a trawler can cause reefs. In one study in Alaska, as much as two-thirds of some sponges damaged by one pass of a trawler had not recovered a full year later.

Reefs are an important home for fish, so trawling can also ruin fish stocks into the future – even for responsible and recreational fishermen.

Recently, we’ve seen important measures to stop trawling. Earlier this year, a group of North Pacific nations, including the US, agreed to protect more than 16.1 million square miles of seafloor from trawling. Just a month later, Belize banned trawling from its waters.

We’ve made a lot of progress to stop this destructive fishing method. You can help by paying attention to the seafood you buy. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site to get their guide to sustainable seafood, also available on paper or your smartphone, and tasty recipes to make with these fish.


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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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