Sharks and rays in the Mediterranean have something to be happy about this weekâ€”10 species now have special protections under the Barcelona Convention.
These 10 speciesâ€”including hammerheads and shortfin makosâ€”have suffered significant population losses. Shark and ray numbers have declined and some species are nowhere to be seen in areas where they were once common.
Todayâ€™s decision allows the EU to formalize protection for these important predators. Itâ€™s a step in the right direction for the EU, which recently delayed measures that would have limited overfishing in European waters.
â€śThese vulnerable sharks and rays have been granted the legal protection that they urgently require,â€ť according to Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe. Now that the legal protections are in place, the next step will depend on locating where the protected species remain in the Mediterranean, and implementing strict protection measures in those areas.
Sharks and rays are some of the oldest fish in the oceanâ€”the oldest shark relative is estimated to be up to 450 million years old. And now some species have lost 99% of their population in just the last century. Overfishing is a huge threat to these living fossils, and if we want them to be around in the future, we have to act now.
It might seem straight out of science fiction, but this story is real â€“ radioactive tuna could be swimming in an ocean near you.
A new study found that after last springâ€™s Fukushima nuclear accident, Pacific Bluefin tuna caught off of San Diego appear to have been contaminated by radioactive materials from last springâ€™s nuclear accident in Japan.
The March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant in central Japan. Even now, the only way to enter the zone 20 kilometers around the plant is with special government permission. After the accident, tests showed that concentrations of radioactive Cesium in coastal waters increased up to 10,000-fold.
This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the same radioactive Cesium in 15 Bluefin tuna specimens caught outside of San Diego. The fish tested showed a 10-fold increase from normal Cesium concentrations, well below the safety limit established by Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishes.
Bluefin are a highly migratory species â€“ they spawn in the West Pacific near Japan, then, once they have matured, may travel more than 9,000 miles to the East Pacific and the California coast. Theyâ€™re such strong swimmers that the trip only takes a few months.
During the course of this trip, the radioactive concentration fell as the fish grew and the Cesium decayed. If they had tested tuna from Japan, the radiation would be expected to be up to 15 times more concentrated, according to Daniel Madigan, Zofia Baumann, and Nicholas Fisher, the co-authors of the study.
Monterey Bay Aquariumâ€™s Seafood Watch already lists bluefin as a species to avoid due to severe overfishing and high mercury levels. Theyâ€™re highly valued as sushi fish, which has led to a steep decline in their populations in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Bluefin tuna are slow to mature, and are often caught before they have a chance to reproduce. Oceana is currently working to protect bluefin tuna from overfishing.
Almost half of the worldâ€™s seafood now comes from fish farms, which can cause significant environmental harm if not responsibly managed.
Because many fish are confined to a small area, aquaculture can lead to high levels of pollution and outbreaks of diseases. Sometimes the farmed fish escape, which can hurt wild fish populations and the local ecosystem. Aquaculture can also lead to overfishing since carnivorous fish, like salmon and tuna, are fed large amounts of fishmeal made from prey fish like anchovies or herrings.
The Velella Project is an experiment off the coast of Hawaii that is trying to address some of the problems associated with aquaculture. Instead of enclosing fish in stationary nets or tanks like traditional farming methods, a specially-designed spherical pen, called the Aquapod, drifts through the water containing 2,000 hatchery born fish.
Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and AtÂmospheric 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, â€śIs the 2006 law succeeding in reÂstoring fish stocks? Are adjustments needed to ensure robust stocks and sustainable commerÂcial and recreational fisheries in the future?â€ť Hereâ€™s an excerpt of the response by Mike Hirshfield. Oceanaâ€™s Senior Vice PresiÂdent for North America, and Chief Scientist. He is currently on sabbatical; you can read about his travels at his blog.
The United States is fortuÂnate to have a law designed to keep abundant fish populations in the ocean. All ocean lovers, including commercial and recreational fisherÂmen, 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 â€” and didnâ€™t â€” do, as well as the way the National Marine FisherÂies Service is implementing the law. Some problem areas are indicated below by italics.
The amendments only addressed part of the problem. Fisheries manÂagement comes down to three prinÂciples: First, donâ€™t kill more fish than can be replenished. Second, donâ€™t kill too many other animals. And third, donâ€™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. ConservationÂists 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 populaÂtions. For long-lived, slow-growing species like Atlantic halibut, some sharks, and Pacific rockfish, the extra overfishing means their populations wonâ€™t rebuild for decades â€” if ever.
Too many species are â€śoff the books.â€ť Several hundred species of fish caught by fishermen are not inÂcluded in fishery management plans, so managers donâ€™t consider them subject to the accountability requireÂments 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 reÂbuild. Many rebuilding plans are designed with little better than a 50 percent chance of success â€” meanÂing they are nearly as likely to fail. Even an 80 percent chance of sucÂcess 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. â€śNot overfishedâ€ť and â€śpreventing overfishingâ€ť are weak standards of success, leaving too many populaÂtions 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.
Last month our CEO Andy Sharpless attended the Economist's World Oceans Summit in Singapore. He spoke to the BBC about the importance of sustainable fishing to the future of global food security, check out the interview and pass it on:
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 â€“ 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 Iâ€™ve ever been, and Iâ€™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. Hereâ€™s where you can buy one of the Philippinesâ€™ famous street food delicacies: balut, or a fertilized duck egg hardboiled and eaten at three weeksâ€™ gestation, feathers and all. (I didnâ€™t have one. I earned my stripes the previous day by tasting several varietals of durian, a fruit so foul-smelling itâ€™s often banned from taxis and public buildings. â€śSmells like hell and tastes like heavenâ€ť is what they say, and while the smell was pretty revolting, the fruit itself wasnâ€™t half-bad. Our van smelled like roadkill for the next two hours, though, so the value of this experience was questionable.)
Editor's note: This is part 3 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
Ayoke Island may be the most idyllic place Iâ€™ve ever seen. Itâ€™s a small island in the northern part of Lanuza Bay covered with a riot of coconut and palm trees.
The town is a small cluster of bamboo and thatch homes. I was lucky enough to get to snorkel in the aqua waters of the Ayoke Island MPA with Lito, a Rare staffer, while fishers held a community meeting in the guardhouse. Unlike the waters of Cortes, which contain mostly an undulating seagrass meadow, Ayoke is home to a stunning reef with ten-foot table corals and seemingly endless clusters of branch corals.
But even in this paradise, there are signs of trouble. We saw very few fish, although I did spot one fat sea cucumber resting on a table coral. I didnâ€™t see any giant clams, although Lito said he saw a dead one. Broken patches of branch corals littering the ground were evidence of dynamite fishing.
Even so, Ayoke Islandâ€™s MPA was named one of the Philippinesâ€™ top 10 marine protected areas, no small feat in a country with 1,600 MPAs, the most in the world. But as recently as December the community faced a real test when the MPA was dynamited during the townâ€™s fiesta, when no one was volunteering at the guardhouse. No one knew about the bombing until a family that was new to town showed up at the market with several boxes of fish that everyone immediately recognized as the result of dynamite fishing. As fishers told Cherry Ravelo, Rareâ€™s conservation fellow for Ayoke and nearby General Island, they felt like they had been robbed.
Editor's note: This is part 1 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
The northeast coast of Mindanao island in the Philippines is home to a series of small towns comprised almost completely of fishing families.
Last week, I visited several of the municipalities along with Rare, a US-based group that is working to protect the regionâ€™s local fishing livelihoods and help keep the communities out of the poverty spiral that can happen when thereâ€™s no more fish, and therefore, no more food.
Rare sponsors conservation fellows in 12 areas in the Philippines. These fellows, who are members of the community, become part of Rareâ€™s two-year program to end destructive and illegal fishing and safeguard the local marine protected area, which is kind of a â€śfish bankâ€ť for the town. In return, the fellows earn a masterâ€™s degree from the University of Texas.
These marine protected areas (MPAs) are quite small â€“ 100 acres here, 200 acres there â€“ but they make a huge difference to the communities, which include fishers working from paddle dugout and outrigger canoes with basic hook-and-line or net gear. Before Rareâ€™s campaigns got started last fall, many of the MPAs werenâ€™t really guarded closely and illegal fishing within the boundaries, which are usually marked by buoys or bamboo poles, was difficult to stop. But now Rareâ€™s fellows have been organizing 24/7 enforcement of the MPAs and for the most part, illegal and destructive fishing has been greatly curbed.
Rareâ€™s projects are called Pride Campaigns because they take care to show the towns that they have something special and worth protecting. The MPA guards are all volunteers, with overnight shifts lasting 12 hours or more, and we learned that some of the guards are local fishermen who were once illegally fishing within the MPA before learning the value of protecting it.
In addition to staffing the MPA, the Rare fellows create a mascot for the campaign thatâ€™s based on the areaâ€™s flagship species, like rabbitfish, lobster or giant clams. These cute anthropomorphized creatures have quickly become the most popular parts of the campaigns. In the little villages of Mindanao, the arrival of the mascots is a major event.
Iâ€™ll talk a little more about each fellow that I met in upcoming posts, but I first want to thank Rare for letting me tag along on these site visits. It was really an extraordinary experience.
Congress took a strong step forward today in the fight against illegal fishing, as Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced legislation to fight this growing global problem that threatens our oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers worldwide.
The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Frank Guinta (R, NH-01), Sam Farr (D, CA-17), Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), and Donna Christensen (D-VI).
The legislation, titled the â€śIllegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act,â€ť would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
Illegal, or pirate, fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching species that may be threatened or endangered. Because this fishing is unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess the true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates, however, that pirate fishing results in global economic losses of between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for as much as 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Today the World Bank announced a new international alliance called the Global Partnerships for the Oceans and we are excited to announce our involvement!
Itâ€™s a collaborative partnership in every sense with many of the worldâ€™s top conservation organizations, private interests and the World Bank pooling their resources and energies to help tackle the toughest issues facing our oceans like overfishing, marine degradation and habitat loss.
Oceana understands the need to protect our oceans for their beauty and splendor, but we also recognize that thereâ€™s more at stake here. Itâ€™s not just about the environment. Itâ€™s also about the millions of people who rely on the oceans to keep them healthy and well fedâ€”and the millions more who will rely on them in the future.
Oceanaâ€™s CEO Andy Sharpless said it best: â€śThis global partnership couldnâ€™t come at a better time. At this moment weâ€™re looking at two diverging lines: world population, on a steady ascent, and global fish catch, on a steady decline. If we reverse this latter trend with better fisheries management, we could have enough wild seafood to feed the 9 billion people projected to live on our planet in 2050. No longer is this issue solely about ocean conservation - itâ€™s also about humanity and saving the oceans in order to feed the world.â€ť
Weâ€™re advocating for better ocean management to meet this challenge. By ensuring our oceans are productive enough to feed a growing population weâ€™ll improve biodiversity and strengthen key habitats in the process, which will make the oceans healthier, too.
Oceanaâ€™s model for saving the oceans is just one of many. But thatâ€™s what makes this partnership so great. Weâ€™re uniting conservationists from all corners, public and private. Itâ€™s the complementary collaboration that makes this alliance so strong and well rounded.
The news of the alliance was first announced today at the World Oceans Summit in Singapore, which brought together many of the worldâ€™s leaders in ocean conservation including our very own CEO Andy Sharpless.