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.
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.
Ocean 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
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
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
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
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.
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 , . 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 . 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 . This phenomenon, known as “fishing down marine food webs” was first described by  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. Severe declines in the populations of major predator species have now been reported around the world , . Overexploitation of a species can have cascading effects and have the potential to trigger regime shifts altering the ecological function of marine systems , . In many instances, the decline of finfish species has been followed by an increase in their invertebrate prey ,  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 , .
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
March 12th, 2014, by Amelia Urry on Grist.org
Bristlemouth à la beurre. Miso-seared mola mola. Lanternfish tartare.
If you’ve never seen these things on a menu, that’s probably because humans don’t generally catch or eat the denizens of the mesopelagic zone, that slice of sea about 656 to 3,280 feet below the ocean surface (also known as 200 to 1000 meters, which is much easier to remember). Lying just below the pelagic, the top layer of the open sea where most of the fish we’re familiar with live, the mesopelagic is apparently much more lively than we thought.
A paper published last month in the journal Nature Communications revised the estimate of biomass in this “twilight zone” of the ocean up from 1 billion tons to more than 10 billion — meaning these deep-dwellers actually make up something like 95 percent of the total fish in the sea.
This might sound like good news — lots more fish! — but it’s not nearly as good as some news outlets would have you believe. The right-wing blog Powerline optimistically asserted that “maybe overfishing of tuna won’t turn out to be quite the crisis we thought it was,” while The National Review’s Greg Pollowitz told us to stop worrying about ocean pollution since deep-water “deserts” under trash gyres turn out to be chock-full of fish. Even Popular Science overplayed the positive angle in its subhead: “Good news for fish. And humans who like fish.” (To be fair, a caveat followed in the piece itself: “This study doesn’t have much relevance for the issue of overfishing, which is an enormous and still growing problem.”)
I like fish, but I don’t expect to be picking dragonfish bones out of my teeth anytime soon. Deep-sea biologist Andrew David Thaler points out that media coverage of this study has distinctly neglected context — namely that, while this news teaches us a lot about the mechanics of the open ocean food chain, and may even explain why the sea is so good at absorbing our extra carbon, it really has little to bring to the human dinner table. Yes, there are a lot of (weird) fish out there, but that’s not a good excuse to keep dumping plastic in the Pacific or fishing bluefin tuna to extinction.
Not to mention that mesopelagic fish have been undercounted precisely because they are extraordinarily good at evading the trawl nets sent down to survey them. (So don’t get too excited about plundering this untapped food source, at least not yet.) The new research was done with sonar instead — harder to dodge that sound wave, huh, myctophids?
This article refers to a workshop organized mainly by Todd Capson from our team, working with partners in NZ and with the Marine Conservation Institute:
Aquaculture experts from the United States and New Zealand are meeting in Nelson to focus on protecting the $350 million industry in New Zealand from harmful ocean acidification.
About 60 shellfish experts will share knowledge at the workshop on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ocean acidification is the progressive increase in the acidity of the ocean, which caused a dramatic decline in Pacific oyster larvae in the United States in 2007.
It is not a problem in New Zealand currently, but it is important ocean monitoring systems are in place to enable the government to track future changes in ocean chemistry, the Ministry for Primary Industries says.
“There are key lessons to be learned from our colleagues in the United States that will assist us in focusing research, planning and management practices to enable the industry to grow despite pH decline,” Cawthron Institute aquaculture scientist Dr Norman Ragg says.
The New Zealand aquaculture industry is worth $350m a year.
Week of November 27, 2013
PMEL successfully deployed the first carbon dioxide flux and ocean acidification mooring in the Northern Indian Ocean on November 23. The Bay of Bengal Ocean Acidification (BOBOA) mooring will help us understand the large intraseasonal, seasonal and interannual biogeochemical variations in the Bay of Bengal, and how the marine ecosystem in the Bay is changing over time.
This mooring is part of the Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA) made possible through a close partnership with NOAA and Bay of Bengal partners. Read more and see live data on the BOBOA Carbon website.
This past week my deputy Marie Damour traveled to Nelson for a workshop on ocean acidification which our Embassy co-sponsored with the New Zealand government, the NZ seafood industry and the Gordon & Betty Moore foundation. The workshop, titled “Future Proofing New Zealand’s Shellfish Aquaculture: Monitoring and Adaptation to Ocean Acidification,” was intended to respond to what Secretary of State John Kerry describes as the “economic, environmental, and policy concerns created by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and the resulting acidification of our oceans.”
The two-day conference brought together more than 60 shellfish experts to share their knowledge in order to help identify ways to protect New Zealand’s NZ$ 350 million (US$ 285 million) per year aquaculture industry from the effects of climate change. The agenda was organized around two topics identified as top priorities during the 2012 session of the N.Z.-U.S. Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation – (1) Climate Change Monitoring, Research, and Services in the Pacific, and (2) Marine and Ocean Research.
Just as climate change has evolved from a purely scientific discussion into a set of significant economic and security concerns, ocean acidification has quickly evolved from a theoretical exercise into a major economic threat. Just looking at the United States, for example, one of every six jobs is marine-related, and more than one-third of the Gross National Product originates in coastal areas.