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Japan’s fish catch sinks for 4th straight year to all-time low

Filed under: Fisheries Management 

By TETSUSHI YAMAMURA, April 27th, 2018, The Asahi Shinbun

Photo/Illustraion

A plunging fish catch in 2017 for the fourth consecutive year has the agriculture ministry considering drastic revisions to its fisheries resources control efforts as well as regulatory reform to encourage expansion of the commercial fish farming industry.

Japan’s fish hauls totaled a record low of 4.304 million tons, sinking 1.3 percent from the previous year, according to a government survey released by the agriculture ministry on April 26.

The record low haul of “surumeika” (Japanese flying squid) and “sanma” (Pacific saury) heavily affected the total fisheries and aquaculture production, which stood at its lowest since the survey of these species began in 1956.

The record low catch appears to be due to several factors, including natural environmental influences such as changes in ocean temperatures, as well as the rise in the fish catches in neighboring countries.

Countries have tightened controls of their 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. In addition, a decline of fishery resources has been blamed for the low hauls in recent years.

The agriculture ministry is seeking to compile specific measures to address the problem by the summer, which may include mapping out a strategy to raise the country’s fish production by tightening fish catches and bolstering the aquaculture industry.

Until now, fisheries resources have been controlled mainly by limiting the size and the number of fishing vessels. However, the ministry will shift its focus to controlling the volume of fish hauls.

To carry out thorough controls on fish catches, the ministry will consider expanding the setting of ceilings on the amount of fish taken by species, which has been already introduced for some. This will be coupled with the expansion of the species for catch quotas by fishery operators and fishing vessels.

As a control measure, the maximum sustainable yield concept, or MSY, the largest annual catch that can be maintained over an indefinite period, is also under consideration for introduction.

MSY will not only prevent resources depletion but also will maintain the level of the largest yield that can be taken from a species’ stock over the long term. The system has already been ushered in Europe and the United States.

As for regulatory reform, the ministry will consider reviewing the system to allow well-heeled companies and other entities with large sales markets to more easily acquire aquaculture fishery rights for “maguro” (tuna) or “tai” (sea bream), and other species.

The government’s Regulatory Reform Council is discussing measures in the fisheries industry and is scheduled to compile a proposal at an early date.

The ministry’s annual survey shows the wild fish catch reached a record low of 3.258 million tons, a drop of 0.2 percent compared to the previous year.

Read more here

Mining power: EPA’s Pruitt aims to short-circuit Clean Water Act

By Jessica Hathaway  

Three days before the deadline for public comments on the proposed Pebble Mine project  in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt directed his staff to create a rule limiting the agency’s ability to regulate projects under Clean Water Act guidelines.

These are the exact guidelines that commercial fishermen and local tribes urged Obama-administration EPA officials to invoke to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska’s salmon gold mine.

In a memo dated Tuesday, June 26, Pruitt directed the EPA’s Office of Water to submit the following changes, at minimum, to the Office of Management and Budget within the next six months:

• Eliminating the authority to initiate the section 404(c) process before a section 404 permit application has been filed with the Corps or a state, otherwise known as the “preemptive veto.”

• Eliminating the authority to initiate the section 404(c) process after a permit has been issued by the Corps or a state, otherwise known as the “retroactive veto.”

• Requiring a regional administrator to obtain approval from EPA Headquarters before initiating the section 404(c) process.

• Requiring a regional administrator to review and consider the findings of a final Environmental Assessment or environmental impact statement by the Corps or a state before preparing and publishing notice of a proposed determination.

• Requiring the agency to publish and seek public comment on a final determination before such a determination takes effect.

“The guiding principle should be to provide landowners, developers and entrepreneurs with certainty that the EPA will not short-circuit the permitting process… before taking any steps to veto a permit application,” the memo reads.

Mining permits are typically submitted by massive global corporations that have the lawyers, lobbyists and money to push through the permit phase. Users of clean water are typically lowly individual American citizens with an ever-dwindling influence on their federal government.

No one who has followed the Pebble process for the last two decades could possibly say the fishermen pulled a power play over the massive Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals. A multinational company named “dynasty” can hardly invoke a pity party for lack of power.

Thousands of Bristol Bay’s fishermen have fought hard to protect their livelihood from being invaded by a foreign investor who is free to cut and run after it makes its 50-year cash-out investment in Pebble — leaving behind the toxic waste resulting from the metals mining process. Forever.

This singular victory for a sustainable fishery and a renewable resource hardly warrants EPA’s attempt to shut down one of the few powers we have as citizens to protect our access to a public resource.

Source: https://www.nationalfisherman.com/viewpoints/alaska/mining-power-epas-pruitt-aims-to-short-circuit-clean-water-act/

Climate Change May Be Creating A Seafood Trade War, Too

June 15th, 2018, Marshall Shepherd, Forbes.com

One of the grand challenges that I find as a climate scientist is conveying to the public the “here and now” of climate change. For many people, it is still some “thing” that seems far off in time or distance from their daily lives of bills, illness, kids, and their jobs. Ironically, climate change touches each of those aspects, but the average person does not often make the connections. People eat seafood and fish, but most people will not make any connections between tonight’s dinner of flounder, lobster or mackerel to climate change as they squeeze that lemon or draw that butter.

A new Rugters University study caught my eye because it is a good example of a “here and now” impact. Climate changes is causing fish species to adjust their habitats at a more rapid pace than current policy can manage. Many species of flounder, lobster, mackerel and crab are migrating to find colder waters as oceans warm.  The study suggests that such shifts may lead to international conflict and reductions in fish supply. Seafood is a pawn in the trade chess game.

NOAA

Fishers on deck

Researchers at Rutgers University say that an obsolete and outdated regulatory system has not kept pace with how the ocean’s waters are warming and shifting fish populations. I actually wrote a few years ago in Forbes about how warming waters were shifting crab populations in the North Pacific and affecting fishers as well as one of my favorite TV shows, The Deadliest Catch. This new study published in one of the top scientific journals in the world, Science, has provided new insight that has implications for our food supply and potential international conflict. According to a press release from the university:

for the first time that new fisheries are likely to appear in more than 70 countries all over the world as a result of climate change. History has shown that newly shared fisheries often spark conflict among nations. Conflict leads to overfishing, which reduces the food, profit and employment fisheries can provide, and can also fracture international relations in other areas beyond fisheries. A future with lower greenhouse gas emissions, like the targets under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, would reduce the potential for conflict, the study says.

Malin Pinsky is an assistant professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers and one of the authors of the study. He, postdoctoral associate James Morley and a group of international co-authors reported that commercially important fish species (in other words things you like to eat and that many depend on for sustenance) could continue to migrate further northward in search of colder waters.

Read more here

Simple rules can help fishery managers cope with ecological complexity

Filed under: Blog, Fisheries Management 
herring fish

Schooling herring, one of the fisheries studied in this analysis .Jacob Bøtter/Flickr

To successfully manage fisheries, factors in the environment that affect fish — like food sources, predators and habitat — should be considered as part of a holistic management plan.

That approach is gaining traction in fisheries management, but there has been no broad-scale evaluation of whether considering these ecosystem factors makes any economic sense for the commercial fishing industry. In these often profitable and competitive markets, that question has lacked the evidence to rule one way or another.

A team of ecologists and economists has addressed that question in the first study to test whether real-life ecological interactions produce economic benefits for the fishing industry. The results were published online last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Going into this, I shared the belief that because we know species are connected, ignoring that connection is potentially putting ecosystems in harm. What we really found was a much more nuanced benefit,” said lead author Tim Essington, a University of Washington professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. “Rather than enhancing economic benefits, the holistic approaches to natural resource management are better viewed as a way to more equitably distribute risk and reward across different users.”

The researchers found that economic benefits were minor when ecological interactions were factored into the equation. Instead, this ecosystem-based approach offers other benefits to the fishing industry — namely, a simple set of rules to avoid scenarios that could cause a worst-case outcome for fishes and their surrounding environments.

Most U.S. fisheries are managed by looking at the biology of the targeted fish species. Managers consider what the species’ expected abundance is year to year and make decisions about how many can be caught each season. That process, however, doesn’t account for ecosystem factors such as predators, habitat or temperature that also can influence a species’ abundance. This can lead to an incorrect estimate of the number of fish that can be caught sustainably.

To test whether a holistic approach helps or hurts the industry from an economic perspective, the researchers looked at an actual predator-prey relationship between two fisheries, cod and herring. Separately, both fisheries are among the largest and most profitable in the world.

Read full story here

The Alaska Fisheries Miracle

Filed under: Fisheries Management 

A video made by Brad Matsen (one of our board members) and Mark Brinster to illustrate the value of documenting the past history of successful fisheries management. It includes interviews with fishermen and scientists, explaining the miracle of the Alaskan/North Pacific sustainable fisheries. A project of the the National Fisheries Conservation Center to archive stories of those involved in the success of Alaska fisheries management.

The Alaska Fisheries Miracle from NFCC on Vimeo.

The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries

Filed under: Fisheries Management 

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: It’s a Keeper

This in-depth and comprehensive look at our nation’s most important fisheries management law was the result of the combined work of several of our board members, at the request of some of the most prestigious national conservation funders. As the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was coming up for reauthorization, this body of work, with many interviews with fishermen as well as thorough research and analysis was a key piece in outlining the incredible difference the Act had on fisheries management. We are proud of the result of this undertaking.

Our Deadened, Carbon-Soaked Seas

Filed under: Ocean Acidification 

nytimes oa picOcean and coastal waters around the world are beginning to tell a disturbing story. The seas, like a sponge, are absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so much so that the chemical balance of our oceans and coastal waters is changing and a growing threat to marine ecosystems. Over the past 200 years, the world’s seas have absorbed more than 150 billion metric tons of carbon from human activities. Currently, that’s a worldwide average of 15 pounds per person a week, enough to fill a coal train long enough to encircle the equator 13 times every year.

We can’t see this massive amount of carbon dioxide that’s going into the ocean, but it dissolves in seawater as carbonic acid, changing the water’s chemistry at a rate faster than seen for millions of years. Known as ocean acidification, this process makes it difficult for shellfish, corals and other marine organisms to grow, reproduce and build their shells and skeletons.

About 10 years ago, ocean acidification nearly collapsed the annual $117 million West Coast shellfish industry, which supports more than 3,000 jobs. Ocean currents pushed acidified water into coastal areas, making it difficult for baby oysters to use their limited energy to build protective shells. In effect, the crop was nearly destroyed.

Human health, too, is a major concern. In the laboratory, many harmful algal species produce more toxins and bloom faster in acidified waters. A similar response in the wild could harm people eating contaminated shellfish and sicken, even kill, fish and marine mammals such as sea lions.

Increasing acidity is hitting our waters along with other stressors. The ocean is warming; in many places the oxygen critical to marine life is decreasing; pollution from plastics and other materials is pervasive; and in general we overexploit the resources of the ocean. Each stressor is a problem, but all of them affecting the oceans at one time is cause for great concern. For both the developing and developed world, the implications for food security, economies at all levels, and vital goods and services are immense.

This year, the first nationwide study showing the vulnerability of the $1 billion U.S. shellfish industry to ocean acidification revealed a considerable list of at-risk areas. In addition to the Pacific Northwest, these areas include Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and areas off Maine and Massachusetts. Already at risk are Alaska’s fisheries, which account for nearly 60 percent of the United States commercial fish catch and support more than 100,000 jobs.

Ocean acidification is weakening coral structures in the Caribbean and in cold-water coral reefs found in the deep waters off Scotland and Norway. In the past three decades, the number of living corals covering the Great Barrier Reef has been cut in half, reducing critical habitat for fish and the resilience of the entire reef system. Dramatic change is also apparent in the Arctic, where the frigid waters can hold so much carbon dioxide that nearby shelled creatures can dissolve in the corrosive conditions, affecting food sources for indigenous people, fish, birds and marine mammals. Clear pictures of the magnitude of changes in such remote ocean regions are sparse. To better understand these and other hotspots, more regions must be studied.

Read more here

Talking Fish: “Known is a drop. Unknown is an ocean.”

Filed under: Fisheries Management, Projects 

September 8th, 2014 By Peter Shelley, TalkingFish.org

That still-true ancient line, penned by Tamil poet Avvaiyar some two thousand years ago, reminds us all that while it is worth paying attention to what we see, it is often critical to be seduced by our convictions about what it means. And so it is that recent reports from the Portland waterfront of bountiful cod can neither be ignored nor fully credited.

They are what they are: observations. While a lot of cod have apparently been landed in Portland compared with recent years—and when was the last time anyone heard good news from the Portland Fish Exchange?–and while everyone hopes for good news about cod and a future for cod fishermen in New England, a couple of hundred thousand pounds of landed cod hardly leads to the conclusion than the recent scientific stock assessment update is wrong indicating that Gulf of Maine cod populations are in extremis.

This situation brings to mind the experience several years ago when fishermen from Gloucester were reporting that they had never seen so many inshore cod while the scientists concluded that cod prospects were terrible and getting worse. As it turned out then, they both were right in their own ways. An unusual and concentrated burst of the sand lance populations off Cape Ann had attracted cod from far and wide but that random feeding frenzy that the Gloucester fishermen were seeing in such great abundance. But those high catch rates were not representative in any sense of a recovery of cod in the region, as the scientists knew.

That was the year when almost 50 percent of all the landed Gulf of Maine cod were caught within just a 100-square-mile hot spot off Gloucester. The abundance of cod that Gloucester fishermen were seeing did not reflect the larger condition of the stock. Even then, old timers at the St. Pete’s Club in downtown Gloucester were no doubt snorting that these “young guys” had never seen the abundance of cod that Gloucester boats once fished in earlier times.

Is the science about Gulf of Maine cod wrong? Probably, if one is talking about any kind of precision. Population models are now being asked to look into biological territory that the people who build these models have never seen before. But based on the best scientific judgment, there have never been as few cod in the Gulf of Maine as today. Never. The uncertainties introduced by that fact alone dwarf the conventional uncertainties inherent in population modeling and suggest that prospects are worse than already imagined.

And, as Regional Director John Bullard has aptly reminded us all, greenhouse gas emissions are driving regional ocean temperatures increases, acidification of the oceans, and shifts in plankton formation and abundance into ecological territory that the Gulf of Maine has likely never seen, at least in human experience. The Gulf of Maine may be experiencing some of the most severe, early consequences of climate change in all the world’s oceans. No one knows how those forces, coupled with decades of chronic overfishing, loss of large female spawners, and historic low population numbers have affected the ability of cod to get by, let alone recover in New England.

Daniel J. Boorstin drew a conclusion in The Discoverers that is worth repeating in this context: “The great obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.”

Read more here

Eat up! These bottom fish make a dramatic recovery on West Coast

Filed under: Fisheries Management, Projects 

Septmeber 2nd, 2014 By Craig Welch, The Seattle Times

Marine scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium said Tuesday that government regulators and fishermen had made such strides in how they manage and catch 21 species of rockfish, flounder, lingcod and sole that it listed all among the “good” or “best” seafood choices in its popular guide.

The nation’s most influential sustainable-seafood group believes a host of once-troubled West Coast bottom fish are now recovering

 so well that consumers should seek them out at restaurants and markets.

Marine scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium said Tuesday that government regulators and fishermen had made such strides in how they manage and catch 21 species of rockfish, flounder, lingcod and sole that it listed all among the “good” or “best” seafood choices in the new edition of its popular guide.

“This is the first time we’ve really seen this happen at this scale on the West Coast,” said Santi Roberts, science manager at the aquarium.

The aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide (www.seafoodwatch.org), with its handy red, yellow and green codes, helps environmentally conscious shoppers, restaurant goers, chefs and grocers determine which species of commercial fish and shellfish are caught in the most ecologically sensitive manner.

The aquarium undertakes a rigorous, peer-reviewed evaluation for each species and urges consumers to avoid eating those not fished sustainably, while also recommending better alternatives.

Many of the species upgraded this week were deemed by the federal government in the mid-1990s or early 2000s to have been badly overfished

The aquarium still listed a few of the least problematic species as acceptable alternatives but urged fish lovers to completely avoid most species, particularly a wide variety of long-lived rockfish, often served as red snapper or rock cod., some to such an extent that scientists were concerned about their survival. Quotas were cut in half.

But a series of major changes to management of the West Coast commercial groundfish fleet has turned around future prospects for many of these species.

“The fishermen deserve a lot of credit,” said Frank Lockhart, with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s groundfish program. “I still sometimescan’t believe how talented they are at avoiding the wrong fish and catching the right fish. ”

Overhauling the management of these fisheries, both Lockhart and Roberts said, made that task a little easier.

Many of the species, from California to Washington, are caught using trawl nets that may drag along the bottom, harming some sensitive areas.

Most were managed using massive quota systems that encouraged a race among fishermen to catch everything they could, regardless of markets. Fishermen often scooped up species they weren’t targeting and ended up tossing away many fish that weren’t salable.

But in the mid- to late 2000s, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees West Coast commercial fishing, began closing many ecologically sensitive areas to fishing. The council also divvied up quotas and redistributed them to individual fishermen as catch shares, which made it easier for fishermen to take their time and be more selective in the species they targeted. That reduced waste.

That step represented fundamental change, Lockhart said.

Read more here

Overfishing and the Replacement of Demersal Finfish by Shellfish: An Example from the English Channel

Filed under: Fisheries Management, Projects 

Note: this research, and other similar findings, illustrate the fact that fish stocks do not exist in isolation, thus emphasizing the importance of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

July 10th, 2014, by Carlotta Molfeese, Doug Beare, Jason M. Hall-Spencer, Research Article on PLOSone.org

Abstract

The worldwide depletion of major fish stocks through intensive industrial fishing is thought to have profoundly altered the trophic structure of marine ecosystems. Here we assess changes in the trophic structure of the English Channel marine ecosystem using a 90-year time-series (1920–2010) of commercial fishery landings. Our analysis was based on estimates of the mean trophic level (mTL) of annual landings and the Fishing-in-Balance index (FiB). Food webs of the Channel ecosystem have been altered, as shown by a significant decline in the mTL of fishery landings whilst increases in the FiB index suggest increased fishing effort and fishery expansion. Large, high trophic level species (e.g. spurdog, cod, ling) have been increasingly replaced by smaller, low trophic level fish (e.g. small spotted catsharks) and invertebrates (e.g. scallops, crabs and lobster). Declining trophic levels in fisheries catches have occurred worldwide, with fish catches progressively being replaced by invertebrates. We argue that a network of fisheries closures would help rebalance the trophic status of the Channel and allow regeneration of marine ecosystems.

Introduction

Effects of overfishing on marine trophic structure

The field of historical marine ecology has introduced a different perspective to our understanding of marine ecosystems; it has revealed that overfishing has had profound effects on coastal ecosystems worldwide for centuries [1][2]. The historical response to overfishing is an increase in fishing effort, an expansion to new and deeper grounds and a shift to new target species [3]. In the last decade, fisheries have shifted towards smaller, lower-trophic level species as large predatory species with a higher economic value had been depleted [4]. This phenomenon, known as “fishing down marine food webs” was first described by [5] in 1998: they demonstrated a decline in the trophic level of global fisheries landings from 3.3 units in the early 1950s to 3.1 in 1994. Studies performed independently from commercial catch data on smaller, regional scales over the last decades have shown even more rapid declines in trophic level.

Fisheries typically remove top predators first and as a result their direct competitors and prey are able to prosper, affecting the overall productivity and ecological stability of the ecosystem[1]. Severe declines in the populations of major predator species have now been reported around the world [6][7]. Overexploitation of a species can have cascading effects and have the potential to trigger regime shifts altering the ecological function of marine systems [8][9]. In many instances, the decline of finfish species has been followed by an increase in their invertebrate prey [10][11] and although new and economically viable fisheries have developed for these new target species, concerns have been raised about their long-term sustainability as well as shifts towards homogenized, simplified ecosystems [12][13].

In the present study, we used a 90-year dataset of international catch statistics from the English Channel marine ecosystem, a region that has numerous important fishing ports and where finfish landings now make up a far smaller proportion of the catch than they did historically (Figure 1). This dataset spans a period of intensive fishing which we use to assess whether there has been a trend for ‘fishing down’ food webs in a region where it has not been reported before. Finally, we discuss the way forwards to improve fisheries sustainability using area closures to aid recovery of marine ecosystems.

Read more of the research article here

Several mainstream media sources covered this research: The Telegraph, Western Morning News, and The Plymouth Herald

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