The Beacon

Blog Tags: Overfishing

Sawfish Designated as Endangered Species

The unique and magnificent sawfish gained new protections this week. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sawfish have a reason to breathe a little easier today: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has completed comprehensive status reviews under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and has determined that five foreign species of sawfish meet the definition of “endangered” under the Act. Of course, this “victory” is bittersweet: no one is celebrating the fact that sawfish species are endangered, but rather that they now will finally receive the protections they so desperately need to recover their numbers.


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Overfishing is Putting the Mediterranean at Great Risk

Morrocan fishing boat in the Mediterranean

© OCEANA | Carlos Minguell

As we wrote about last week, the EU has taken some major steps toward a strong Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). That could mean less overfishing, better protection for endangered species, and an overall healthier ocean. Just a day after that agreement was reached, it seems that the CFP principles are set up for their first test.


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Victory! EU Moves Towards Overhaul of Fisheries Policy

Bottom trawler at Sant Carles de la Rápita, Spain ©Oceana

Today the Fisheries Committee of the EU parliament voted to radically reform its fisheries management policies, for the better. After 18 months of negotiations the body voted to put in place new measures that would effectively end overfishing and greatly improve the way the EU manages its fisheries, the third largest in the world.

This marks a true turning point for the EU, one of the poorest managed, most overfished regions in the world. In recent years, the majority of its scientifically-assessed fisheries have been found to be overexploited, which is no surprise given that it is also home to a heavily subsidized and extremely powerful fishing industry that is estimated to be two to three times larger than what sustainable fishing limits would allow.

Among the new reforms to the law that governs fisheries in the EU, what is known as the Common Fisheries Policy, Oceana is especially excited about the following changes:

  • An obligation to set catch limits above maximum sustainable yield levels by 2015, in order for stocks to recover by 2020
  • A clear ban on discards with proceeds from the landing of unwanted catches reverted to a fund to be used for data collection and control
  • An obligation for the fishing industry to contribute to the costs of data collection and control
  • A funding freeze to fishers that do not comply with fishing rules, as well as a funding freeze to Member States that do not achieve the objectives set in EU fishing legislation
  • An obligation to adjust fishing capacity to reflect the new catch limits and a thorough assessment of the fishing capacity of Member States
  • The creation of a network of fish stock recovery areas

Executive Director of Oceana in Europe Xavier Pastor was exultant after the vote, saying:

“Today, we, EU citizens, have broken the EU governments’ tradition of overexploiting fisheries resources and destroying our natural marine heritage in favour of short-term interests that have put the industry in decline. Today, we have a first hopeful look towards a future where fish stocks are sustainably managed and coastal communities’ livelihoods are guaranteed by plentiful seas.”

Oceana has been fighting for these changes for years and we are nearing the finish line. The new reforms now go to a vote before the entire European Parliament early next year. Learn more about the great work our European office is doing.


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Report Links Overfishing to Piracy

Bottom trawlers embark from Roses, Spain in Catalonia. ©Oceana/Juan Cuetos

A report out this week, “Resources Futures” by the venerable U.K. NGO, the Chatham House, issues a clarion call for wiser management of the world’s finite resources. In the face of a more crowded planet in the coming century, as billions aspire to a resource-intensive western lifestyle, pressure on the world’s food systems and its reserves of raw materials could become more acute.

This is especially true for the world’s fisheries and the report singles out practices, like unnecessarily generous subsidies for fishing fleets and the wide-scale waste of discarded fish as adding to the global decline of fish stocks. Interestingly, the report also asserts that overfishing poses not only a major threat to food security, but to broader world security as well. The authors write:

“Given the importance of fishing to livelihoods in many poor and rural areas, over-fishing can have other effects on security. Analysts have linked the rise of piracy off the Horn of Africa in recent years, for example, with the inability of the Somali state to prevent the overfishing of Somali waters by European, Asian and African ships. The reduction in fish stocks essentially raises the cost of legitimate livelihood. As one account puts it, ‘in a region where legitimate business is difficult, where drought means agriculture is nothing more than subsistence farming, and instability and violence make death a very real prospect, the dangers of piracy must be weighed against the potentially massive returns.’ Some pirates have even used this as a justification for their actions, arguing that they are protecting their resources and that ransom payments should be seen as a form of legitimate taxation. Overfishing also played an important role in the development of piracy in Southeast Asia.”


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Happy World Food Day!

Fisheries can provide 700 million meals a day ©Oceana

If it’s October 16th then it’s World Food Day! At Oceana we recognize the importance of this day, launched in 1979 by the UN to bring light to the issue of world hunger. With the world population careening towards 9 billion by mid-century and arable land growing both more scarce and more vulnerable thanks to global warming, we believe that well-managed fisheries will be critical to feeding the world.

Right now the world’s fisheries are not nearly as productive as they could be. More than half are over-exploited and technologically advanced fishing fleets are searching far and wide for ever more remote fish stocks that have yet to be exploited. But the idea that we can perpetually decimate stock after stock is not realistic on a finite planet. We need to manage our fisheries so that they give us enough to eat year after year. The good news is there are proven ways to do this.

1) Science-based quotas. Taking so many fish out of the water that populations are unable to maintain themselves one way to ensure collapse. Basing quotas on fish biology, rather than fishing industry interests is the only way to ensure that fish stocks will survive into the future.

2) Protect Habitat. Habitat vital to fish activities like spawning and feeding should not be steamrolled by bottom trawlers or fouled by pollution.

3) Reduce bycatch. Bycatch is the incidental catch of species not targeted by fishermen. It may sound like an obscure industry topic, but bycatch makes up over 10% of the world’s catch, or more than 16 billion pounds of wasted seafood every year. Bycatch is also a killer of endangered sea turtles, sharks and marine mammals.

These are steps that have been proven to restore stocks of fish wherever they have been implemented, from Baltic cod, to Spanish anchovies; from Japanese snow crab, to Norway herring, and the list goes on. While it’s counterintuitive, by imposing limits to what we catch today we will actually be able to increase the amount of fish that we catch tomorrow. A new study published in Science showed that sensible management could increase fish yields up to 40% and increase the biomass in the oceans by a whopping 56%! If managed wisely, our fisheries could provide the world with 700 million nutritious meals every day. That will be vital on a planet where almost a billion people already go hungry every day.

This World Food Day learn more about the world’s food security and vow to help fight world hunger. At Oceana it’s one of our highest priorities.


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EU Subsidies Hurt Both Fishermen and Fish

© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos

This tragic front page report from the International Herald Tribune shows that fishing subsidies have not only devastating effects on fish, but on the fishermen who catch them as well. In boom times, EU fishing subsidies encouraged Spanish fishermen to upgrade to larger, more destructive vessels, only to find their fishing quotas drastically reduced once the fish stocks were depleted.

Many fishermen now find themselves dependent on the government subsidies which are propping up an unprofitable industry that, in the EU, is two to three times larger than what sustainable limits allow. As the article says:

“The impact has devastated much of Spain’s coastal economy. It has also generated intensifying criticism of European Union policies that, environmental groups and experts say, have increased fishing communities’ dependency on subsidies to make up for the decline in both revenues and fish populations, even as the bloc continues to pay generous subsidies to scrap older vessels to upgrade Europe’s fleet. The new boats are typically bigger and more powerful, adding pressure on declining fish populations.”

The article also references an Oceana study published last year that outlines the insanity of the European Union’s fishing subsidy policies. According to that study 13 of the 27 EU countries receive subsidies larger than the value of their catch.

A separate report in 2010, A bottom-up re-estimation of global fisheries subsidies, estimated that, worldwide, $16 billion in annual fishing subsidies directly promoted overfishing. The report stated, “The role of subsidies to the issue of overcapacity and overfishing cannot be sufficiently emphasized.”

Help Oceana fight to end these destructive and counterproductive subsidies and to restore the abundance of the oceans.


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Oceana CEO: World's Fisheries are in Crisis

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."


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Ocean Health Gets a Failing Grade

The oceans scored a disheartening 60 out of 100 on the Ocean Health Index. 

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.


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Victory for Mediterranean Sharks and Rays

hammerhead

Hammerheads are one of ten species that are now protected ©Wikimedia Commons

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.


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Tuna Still Feeling the Effects of Fukushima

Bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna are carrying radiation from Japan to California. ©Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen

It might seem straight out of science fiction, but this story is real – radioactive tuna could be swimming in an ocean near you.

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.


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