Blog Tags: Overfishing
Editor's note: A new study from researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Washington shows that most of the world's fisheries are overexploited but could be improved considerably through conservation measures. The following is Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless' response to that study.
"This study finally lays to rest the question of whether or not the world’s fisheries are in crisis – they are. As the authors report, more than half of the world’s fisheries are in decline. And as they point out, worst hit are small scale fisheries which are critical for feeding hungry people all around the world.
We believe that this report provides a clear call to action. We need to quickly put in place responsible management measures in the countries that control most of the world’s wild seafood. As the study finds, putting in place these measures would allow depleted stocks to recover to sustainable levels and could result in future catches that are up to 40 percent larger than are predicted if current unsustainable fishing practices continue.
We know from past experience all around the world – including in the “assessed fisheries” described by the authors – that putting in place better fisheries management allows fisheries to rebound. And we agree with the authors’ prescription for these measures – science based quotas and habitat protection. We do believe that they (and the world’s fishery managers) should place a great emphasis on reducing bycatch which is critical to the future of our wild fish stocks.
One other critical point not covered in this study is that putting in place these management measures does not take an international treaty. Just 25 countries control 75% of the world’s fish catch and can – through their own legal systems – put in place the policies that can allow fisheries to recover.
The world has a moral obligation to act on the findings of this study as it would enable the sea to feed 400 million hungry people living in major fishing nations and would help offset the projected dramatic increase in demand for protein from a world population that is forecasted to rise to 9 billion people by 2050."
It’s no secret that the health of our oceans is under extreme threat.
With dangers like overfishing, climate change and ocean acidification, keeping our oceans healthy is a complex problem that has proved difficult to address.
Scientists and policymakers now have a little help, however, with the recent creation of the Ocean Health Index. Developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers, the index provides an overall score for global ocean health, using 10 different social, economic and ecological criteria such as water quality, habitat, livelihoods, and coastal protection.
The research findings, published in the journal Nature last week, gave our oceans a collective score of 60 out of a possible 100 points. Scores were calculated for 133 different regions located around the world, with marine waters from some countries ranking as low as 36 while others as high as 86. The United States scored only a little higher than the global average, with 63 points. Disturbingly, only 5 percent of these regions scored above 70 points.
Sharks and rays in the Mediterranean have something to be happy about this week—10 species now have special protections under the Barcelona Convention.
These 10 species—including hammerheads and shortfin makos—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.
Today’s decision allows the EU to formalize protection for these important predators. It’s a step in the right direction for the EU, which recently delayed measures that would have limited overfishing in European waters.
“These vulnerable sharks and rays have been granted the legal protection that they urgently require,” 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 ocean—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 – radioactive tuna could be swimming in an ocean near you.
A new study found that after last spring’s Fukushima nuclear accident, Pacific Bluefin tuna caught off of San Diego appear to have been contaminated by radioactive materials from last spring’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 – 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. They’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 Aquarium’s Seafood Watch already lists bluefin as a species to avoid due to severe overfishing and high mercury levels. They’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 world’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 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.
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 – 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.)
Editor's note: This is part 3 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
Ayoke Island may be the most idyllic place I’ve ever seen. It’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 didn’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 Island’s MPA was named one of the Philippines’ 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 town’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, Rare’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 region’s local fishing livelihoods and help keep the communities out of the poverty spiral that can happen when there’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 Rare’s two-year program to end destructive and illegal fishing and safeguard the local marine protected area, which is kind of a “fish bank” for the town. In return, the fellows earn a master’s degree from the University of Texas.
These marine protected areas (MPAs) are quite small – 100 acres here, 200 acres there – 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 Rare’s campaigns got started last fall, many of the MPAs weren’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 Rare’s fellows have been organizing 24/7 enforcement of the MPAs and for the most part, illegal and destructive fishing has been greatly curbed.
Rare’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 that’s based on the area’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.
I’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.
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