EDFish

Breaking down barriers, building up trust: French & UK Channel scallop fisheries are ready for change

Photo: Matt Watson, MSC

Photo: Matt Watson, MSC

Dialogue is often the first step towards change, and is a sign of willingness to cooperate. And there was plenty of it at the Scallop Management Workshop held recently in Brixham, England. The event was organised by WWF and EDF in collaboration with GAP2, a research project funded by the European Commission. The forum provided an inclusive setting to engage industry on design and management of their fishery and to identify opportunities to strengthen the existing management framework.

For the first time, industry participants from both sides of the French/English Channel were in the same room discussing what changes are necessary to achieve greater sustainability for the shared scallop fishery. More than 60 people took time off the water and from their jobs to tackle the management challenge head on.   Appreciating differing perspectives was a central component of the gathering’s success.  It requires a good deal of patience and frankly, courage, when addressing issues of such cultural and economic importance.

"We have heard from scientists in the UK and in France – they are frustrated due to lack of resources from Government departments. Those of us in the industry have said 'we've got the platforms, come out on our boats and gather the data – teach us to become gatherers of data'.

Fishermen are willing to do that, but they need to be guided which takes time and resources…but it can happen, and I think it should happen, and I hope it does happen," said Jim Portus, Chief Exec, South Western Fish Producer Organisation.

It’s important to build on the momentum generated in Brixham with a follow up workshop focused on putting dialogue into action. Ideally, a more tailored group will be able to map out the steps required to inform appropriate management and accountability measures.

Government and scientists will be instrumental in identifying these needs, but the process should be taken forward through a co-managed, bottom-up approach with industry leading the discussions. A collaborative approach is imperative to produce a long-term management plan that achieves genuine sustainability and secures a viable and healthy fishery for now and for the future. We look forward to supporting the next steps of this discussion and learning more about the different needs of stakeholders in this important fishery.

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Tri-national collaboration & research in the Gardens of the Queen: The expedition begins

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

With support from the Waitt Foundation, EDF launched an initiative last year with the University of Havana's Center for Marine Research that allowed teams of Cuban, U.S. and Mexican scientists to carry out a series of expeditions to conduct vital new research on Cuba's remarkable—but understudied—marine and coastal ecosystems. 

A Special Caribbean Reef

Coral reefs are some of the world’s most imperiled marine habitats.  Impacts from climate change, pollution, overfishing and resource extraction combine to threaten reefs all over the world.  This is especially true in the Caribbean, where rapid development is underway across the Caribbean Sea, exacerbating the stressors on coral reefs and their related seagrass and mangrove ecosystems.

However, in one special corner of the Caribbean, the Gardens of the Queen archipelago, has remained remarkably resilient in the face of this collective pressure.  A Caribbean marine paradise, The Gardens consist of more than 600 cays and islands and is home to the largest contiguous reserve in the Caribbean at 2,170 square kilometers.  It supports a mosaic of mangrove, seagrass, patch reefs, fringing red and reef slope and is abundant with fish, sharks and other marine life.

To reach the Gardens of the Queen from mainland Cuba, one must bisect the Gulf of Ana Maria, a shallow-water system comprised of mangrove, seagrass and coral reefs. The ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and Gardens of the Queen together cover more than 10,000 square kilometers of productive habitat, making the entire archipelago a magnet for eco-tourism, including SCUBA diving and recreational fishing. Despite a growing eco-tourism industry and offering one of the best examples of a resilient Caribbean reef, much about the Gardens remains a mystery.

We are excited about our partnership with the University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) and the Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeras (CIEC), and the potential for collaborative scientific exploration to yield foundational data  and information about marine habitats in and around the Gardens of the Queen.  Our inaugural expedition in (February) 2013 harnessed expertise from a tri-national team of scientists, which shared knowledge and scientific methods while surveying migratory shark populations off Cuba's south coast in the Gulf of Batabanó, to the west of the Gardens of the Queen.  In October 2013, scientists from the three organizations hopped aboard the RV Felipe Poey and RV Itajara to journey to the Gardens reserve itself, and the nearby Gulf of Ana Maria.  This 19-day expedition produced new data about the special Gardens ecosystems, and shared expertise among scientists from the three organizations, promoted collaboration, increased scientific capacity and forged new friendships. Read More »

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Community-based fishery management delivers individual and collective benefits in Belize

DSC_0088Recently, I traveled to Belize to see how TURF-reserves (territorial use rights for fishing co-located with no-take zones) are performing and learn about plans to expand them nationwide. The Mesoamerican Reef, the largest in the Atlantic Ocean, spans the Belizean coastline and is rich in biodiversity and a crucial source of income for thousands of fishers. Coastal fisheries, however, are at risk due to overfishing, and other pressures such as coastal development and climate change.

In Belize, fishers have seen a decline in their catch, and the Belize Fisheries Department is using TURF-reserves to provide fishers the right incentives to become better stewards of their resources.  As fishers take better care of their fishing area they will realize benefits and secure them for future generations.  This approach to fisheries management is known as “Managed Access.”  In 2008 the Belize Fisheries Department began working with EDF, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), and other Belizean institutions to deploy two Managed Access pilot projects.

Motivated by the success of the projects, the Belizean government is committed to expanding Managed Access to nearly half its fishing grounds, setting the country on a course to comprehensively rebuild and conserve its fisheries and precious biodiversity.

DSC_0074While in Belize, I saw fishermen, government managers, and environmental organizations working side by side to achieve this goal. Park Ranger Edwin Cabrera gave me a personal tour of one of the pilot sites, the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.  Edwin works for TIDE, the local organization that co-manages the reserve with the Belize Fisheries Department. He was preparing to head out to the Port Honduras guardhouse, where he’ll spend two weeks on patrol.   Enforcement is critical to the success of Managed Access because it ensures that only those who have licenses to fish in the area are fishing, that they’re following the rules inside the TURF, and that no one is fishing in the no-take zones. Edwin and I talked a lot about how the TURF is working, what his job involves, and what kind of challenges the rangers are facing. The rangers are a dedicated group; they work under difficult conditions and have to cover an expansive body of water. Under the TURF, fishermen work closely with Edwin to protect an area they are extremely invested in.

DSC_0129Compliance with regulations has increased dramatically.  Fishers themselves are now turning in offenders, signaling growing support for TURFs. Edwin is encouraged by the improvements he has seen in management and conservation of the area in the past three years. Approximately 70% of fishers fishing in the TURFs report that they are catching more fish than they were before Managed Access, resulting from the changes they’ve made as they become stewards of their marine resources.

The Fish Forever partnership is partnering with the Belizean government to expand upon the success at PHMR and Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve. Fish Forever is a partnership of EDF, Rare, and UCSB to reform small-scale fisheries in the developing tropics through the creation of TURF-reserves in five countries and will help to accelerate adoption of new TURF-reserves in Belize.  Expanding and implementing Managed Access isn’t easy. Accustomed to an open access fishery, transitioning to TURF-reserves can be difficult for both fishers and managers. This is why it’s very important to have open and honest conversations with fishers – the primary users and beneficiaries of local fisheries.  The Belize Fisheries Department, Rare, and EDF held a series of workshops throughout the country while I was there to talk to fishers about how to best support them as they make the change to Managed Access.

For example, one requirement of managed access in Belize is that all license holders must report all their catch. The fishers we met with see the benefit – knowing more about what you catch means that you can manage it better – but that doesn’t mean that filling out logbooks is easy. It takes a lot of time, you may have to travel far to drop them off, some fishers can’t read or write and there are multiple local names for lots of fish in different regions. Most importantly, fishers fear that this information could be used against them. We talked through these difficulties and then proposed ways to resolve them – such as have someone collecting data at a landing site, holding trainings on filling out logbooks, providing forms in both English and Spanish, using drawings and diagrams on the sheets, and hosting scientists to present on data and communicate how exactly it will be used. This type of conversation ensures that as managed access is implemented, fishers are part of the process and are given the opportunity to provide input and advice on the best way to manage marine resources.

DSC_0036I came away impressed by the progress underway in Belize.  This success is spreading by word of mouth and new groups of Belizean fishers are looking to implement TURFs in their own fishing grounds.  They are motivated and excited to participate in the joint effort to protect their future livelihoods.  Managed Access has its challenges, rendering advance engagement and coordination with fishers essential to gaining their support.  Next time I’m in Belize, I’m confident that Managed Access will have spread its roots across the country, that fishers are seeing consistent increases in their catch and income and that they see a secure future for themselves and future generations.

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European Parliament adopts final piece of CFP reform to fund sustainable fisheries

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Photo: European Commission

Guest author: Erik Lindebo, Brussels

Today the European Parliament adopted the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which establishes the financial framework for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for 2014-20. The Council is expected to agree to the text in the coming weeks, after which the new EMFF will be officially adopted by the Institutions and published in the Official Journal in June, at which point it will formally enter into force.

The new EMFF is a clear step in the right direction and should assist Member States and the fishing industry to further reduce unsustainable fishing practices.

It offers financial assistance for a variety of measures aimed at implementing the reformed CFP.   Particularly encouraging is the inclusion of:

  1. Support for investments that enable fishermen to purchase fishing gear and equipment that avoids catching unwanted fish and that facilitates handling, landing and storage of unwanted species. This assistance will provide robust incentives for fishermen to change catching behaviour and ease the overall transition of the fishing industry to more sustainable practises.
  1. Increased earmarking of funds for data collection and control and enforcement activities. As the new CFP is implemented, more and better data will be needed. The funding increase will help.  An enhanced level of collaboration between scientists and fishermen can also be financed to promote innovation and research, which will provide multiple benefits to fishery managers. Resources to properly implement at times costly results-based approaches will deliver collective benefits and provide industry the opportunity to move towards output-driven results with full accountability.
  1. Co-financed pilot projects and increased support for Advisory Councils, Producer Organisations and stakeholder dialogue. As we move towards a more regionalised policy, the significance of such support will only increase, as more bottom-up approaches will need to be developed.
  1. Support for fishing opportunity allocation systems. Rights-based management (RBM) systems will play a vital role in promoting a more adapted, profitable and self-sufficient fishing industry.  Previous results from across the globe demonstrate that considerable time and resources are needed to allow for careful design and stakeholder engagement and input when developing such systems.

The final piece of the puzzle is in place. Let the implementation of the CFP begin!

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The quest for sustainable seafood has never been easier

Photo credit: Rick Moonen/RM Seafood

Photo credit: Rick Moonen/RM Seafood

If you love seafood, the six weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter is likely one of your favorite times of the year. It doesn’t hurt that restaurants, fish markets and grocery stores are awash with Lenten promotions, resulting in the most profitable period for seafood sales.

So why not use this time to get out of your comfort zone?  Put down the tuna and salmon and try something new; the seafood market has an abundance of options.   Additionally, consumers are seeking out local and sustainable seafood like never before, representing some of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry for the past several years.

But which fish are the best to buy? Tools like EDF’s mobile  Seafood Selector and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app are great ways to have sustainable seafood recommendations at your fingertips. Some fish pundits like Chef Alton Brown – host of Good Eats and other programs on the Food Network – go so far as to encourage consumers to ignore all the labels and just “Buy American.” In the absence of definitive information, this might be your best option. However, it’s usually a good bet that your fishmonger or server can tell you where their fish is from.

Did you know?

The average piece of fish can be handled by up to 10-15 people before it gets to your plate. This isn’t inherently bad, especially if it’s coming from remote waters, like Alaska’s Bering Sea. However, more and more seafood lovers want to know who caught their fish, and more importantly, how long it’s taken to get to market. In response, a number of companies, fishermen and nonprofits alike are committed to “shortening the supply chain” between the ocean and your plate. Here’s a sampling of some of our favorites:

  • Gulf Wild provides individually tagged, traceable and responsibly-caught red snapper and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Ecofish is one of the first all-sustainable seafood companies. Their products can be found in health food and natural food stores all across the country.
  • I Love Blue Sea is a California-based company selling a variety of seafood online and direct to consumers. They recently added Gulf Coast and Chesapeake Bay products too.
  • Dock to Dish is a new startup on the East End of Long Island that delivers fresh, hand-caught Montauk seafood to New York City restaurants and consumers within 24 hours.
  • Sea 2 Table partners with local fishermen from small-scale wild fisheries around the country to get their catch direct to market as fast as possible.
  • Community Supported Fisheries have sprung up in the last few years in the mold of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Basically, you pay a local fisherman upfront for a share of his catch and receive a regular seafood delivery throughout the season.
  • Trash Fish or ‘underutilized’ or ‘underappreciated’ seafood species are all the rage right now, and our good friends at Chefs Collaborative are hosting a series of dinners around the country that hope to spread awareness about fish that are sustainably-caught yet undervalued.

It's never been easier to find sustainable, healthy seafood that directly benefits local, responsible fishermen. So put down that generic fish sandwich and help ensure that this trend continues.

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The future of Galveston Bay: Implications of the oil spill

Fishing boat coming in from Galveston Bay. Photo Credit: Roy_Luck

Fishing boat coming in from Galveston Bay.
Photo Credit: Roy.Luck

Galveston Bay is a busy body of water. It carries the traffic of the Houston Ship Channel. It is a popular recreation destination for fishermen and others. It not only serves as a home to birds and large marine animals, but also as a nursery ground for many important seafood species. It is the nation’s seventh largest estuary and among them the second most important seafood producer, behind only the Chesapeake Bay.

The immediate effects of the oil spill on March 22, 2014, are visible in the oil sheens and tar balls floating in the water and the “oiled” birds and animals that crews are trying to help. But, we can’t see how this heavy marine fuel, containing toxic chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is harming shrimp, crabs, oysters, red drum and other fish that call the waters of Galveston Bay home. This contamination can hang around for a long time. Studies from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill show that even in low concentrations PAHs can disrupt the development of fish and invertebrate larvae; and in high concentrations can be lethal. Recent reports of tunas susceptible to deformities from the 2010 spill attest to the potential risks long after the spill itself is gone.

The timing of this spill is bad for several key species especially important to the seafood industry and consumers. Brown shrimp have already spawned offshore, and March is the month when the young ride tides coming back inshore to settle in seagrass beds and marshes, habitats that are their nurseries – and where the water is now contaminated with oil pollution. The young are especially vulnerable from now until about May or June. Young blue crabs that settled during the winter in Galveston Bay are also in danger, as are baby fish; including Gulf menhaden, a large harvest in the region’s fishing industry and a fish that is a vital food for larger fish and other animals. Marine life in the way of the oil is dying; and those not killed are exposed to toxic chemicals that could impair their reproductive potential, and some fish that feed on worms in bottom sediments may acquire and carry toxics in their tissues. The seafood “crops” in the area could well be reduced.

Anyone who has been to Galveston Bay has seen the many dolphins are other large marine life that frequent the area and eat these other fish. As these contaminants enter Bay food chains our concern turns not only to how these animals are affected by the spill in the short term, but also to their longer-term health, and even to whether or not seafood species that live there could constitute a human health risk that must be guarded against into the future.

Long-term monitoring of the ultimate footprint of this spill will be necessary so that we can continue to understand how it impacts the ecosystem, and protect people who eat seafood from the bay.

As reports come out about the history of the ships involved in this spill and how the accident occurred it is important to remember that in areas where a large amount of pollution exists so close to such important habitat we must do everything we can to ensure the long-term safety of the species we rely on for ocean health and our own supply of food. Read More »

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Let’s not turn back the clock on U.S. fisheries

G.W. Bush signing MSA Re-authorization 2006

President George W. Bush signs the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006, joined by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers.
Photo Credit: AP, from talkingfish.org

Fisheries management can be a contentious business. So it’s all the more striking that the business of legislating on federal fisheries has historically been a relatively cordial affair. The gains of the last two decades have been possible because of strong cooperation across the aisle. In 1996 the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) prioritized conservation in federal fisheries management for the first time. Alaska’s Republican Congressman Don Young jokes that the Magnuson-Stevens Act could have been called the Young-Studds Act because of his close collaboration on the SFA with Gerry Studds, then a Democrat from Massachusetts. It passed both chambers by overwhelming margins and was signed into law by President Clinton. Ten years later, the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act strengthened conservation mandates in response to continued overfishing and the failure to rebuild overfished species. It was championed in the Senate by Republican Ted Stevens in close cooperation with his Democratic counterpart Daniel Inouye. It cleared the Senate by unanimous consent, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

With Congress once again considering reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), there’s a welcome bipartisan consensus that the law is working. Senior lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are talking about building on our recent successes and exploring minor tweaks to the law rather than pursuing any kind of far-reaching rewrite. Despite serious ongoing challenges in specific fisheries, the legal framework created by Congress is clearly succeeding. Science-based annual catch limits are ending overfishing; and statutory rebuilding timelines have driven the recovery of more than 30 previously depleted stocks. This is great news for the health of the ocean. It’s even better news for seafood lovers, saltwater anglers, and coastal small businesses—the most important long-term beneficiaries of fishery management success.

In this context, a reauthorization discussion draft that has been circulated by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings is all the more befuddling. Chairman Hastings voted for the 2006 reauthorization and celebrates its success. At a committee hearing convened to consider the discussion draft earlier this month he was emphatic: “In the [previous] hearings we’ve held there was general agreement that the Act is working,” the Chairman said in his opening statement. “I have said all along that the Act is fundamentally sound.” Yet as EDF outlines in a comment letter submitted to the committee today, the substance of the Chairman’s discussion draft is deeply discordant with his affirming rhetoric. His overhaul of the law would do more than merely “shift the balance” of fishery management in modest and benign ways. On the contrary, if enacted in its current form we fear it would set us on a path back to the failed management practices of the past.

Take overfishing. This scourge devastated many coastal communities in previous decades, costing countless jobs and forfeiting untold billions in lost economic output. During this month’s hearing, Chairman Hastings was careful to assert that his draft does not eliminate requirements to prevent overfishing, and in a narrow sense that’s true. Yet those provisions failed to prevent widespread overfishing until legislators added requirements for enforceable science-based quotas, which the discussion draft would undercut. It doesn’t take a fisheries scientist to see that rolling back those specific mandates will wind back the clock. Indeed, the discussion draft explicitly allows overfishing to continue after a population is declared overfished. And it permits catch limits set at the overfishing limit, inviting management on the knife’s edge.

Or take rebuilding. NOAA estimates that renewing depleted fish stocks will ultimately result in $31 billion in additional sales impacts, supporting 500,000 jobs and increasing dockside revenues by more than 50 percent. During this month’s hearing Chairman Hastings was quick to argue that his discussion draft does not eliminate the requirement that fisheries be rebuilt. But that assertion obscures the real story. As the testimony of NOAA Fisheries Deputy Assistant Administrator Sam Rauch made clear, managers struggled to rebuild depleted fisheries until the MSA imposed a statutory timeline, which has been the impetus necessary to do the hard work of rebuilding our nation’s fisheries.  To do away with any meaningful rebuilding timeline, as the discussion draft proposes, would be a highly retrograde step.

At the same time, the draft threatens to stymie needed improvements. It could place obstacles in the way of wider use of electronic monitoring, which many see as the next step in reducing costs and improving data collection. It would limit the flexibility of many Councils to adopt new catch share programs—and it defines the term so broadly that it would include shifts in allocation. It would also expand state waters for the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico—but only for red snapper management, creating a confusing and unwieldy patchwork of regulations.

To be sure, challenges remain in federal fisheries. The scientific basis for establishing quotas and other management actions can and should be improved. Twenty-first century tools must be employed to assess species, and data from fishermen, academia, and other non-governmental sources must be integrated more effectively where possible.  Costs of modern management threaten small boat operators in some areas. Conserving the ecosystem on which fisheries depend, rather than focusing on each species in a vacuum, could make our marine resources more resilient.

But addressing these challenges does not require rewriting the central provisions of the MSA.  Improved implementation can address many of them, along with narrow revisions to the statute where the need has been shown to exist.  EDF joined a diverse group of fishermen, other industry leaders, and academics in submitting a letter to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calling for more and better cooperative management of fishery resources.  Congressman Wittman recently introduced H.R. 3063, which would make the stock assessment process more transparent and accessible to non-governmental participants without sacrificing conservation requirements.

The discussion draft, on the other hand, would make sweeping, disruptive and problematic changes to the MSA.  The good news is that there’s still plenty of time for Congress to get reauthorization right. With the Senate moving closer to the release of its own discussion draft, there’s reason to hope that Chairman Mark Begich and Ranking Member Marco Rubio will forge a bipartisan approach that can emulate the traditions of their Senate predecessors. And with leaders in industry, government and academia all lining up to express concerns about the House discussion draft, there’s still the possibility that Chairman Hastings will consider wholesale changes to his reauthorization bill before it’s introduced. For the sake of fishermen, coastal communities and seafood lovers everywhere, we urge the Chairman to do just that.

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Electronic monitoring is improving fishery management across the country

EMWorkshop2014

In previous fishery monitoring posts we explored a variety of obstacles to collecting accurate and timely data from vessels in the Chesapeake Bay, West Coast and New England fisheries. These fisheries don’t just have monitoring challenges in common. They also share a solution: each region is piloting an electronic monitoring (EM) or electronic reporting (ER) system intended to make data collection more comprehensive, flexible and affordable. These are not the only regions exploring how new technologies can be integrated into fishery monitoring plans.  In fact, all eight of the U.S. fishery management regions have, or are currently testing EM or ER tools.

In 2013, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded a Fisheries Innovation Grant to Dorothy Lowman to convene a National Electronic Monitoring Workshop.  Lowman is a natural resource consultant and Chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.  EDF cosponsored the workshop, viewing it as a linchpin in bringing fishery leaders together to identify common challenges, and common solutions, to monitoring—one of the most important elements of fisheries management. The workshop facilitated information exchange across regions and helped address outstanding challenges in implementing cost-effective monitoring systems. After more than seven months of planning by a Steering Committee that included fishing industry, managers, monitoring companies and EDF, the National EM Workshop was held January 8th and 9th in Seattle, Washington.   More than 150 fishery managers and stakeholders from across the country attended the workshop along with select representatives from Canada, Denmark and Australia.

The workshop included a technology showcase and poster displays, topic-driven breakout sessions, fishery and gear type-specific sessions, and plenary sessions with a diverse panel of speakers.   Ms. Lowman created a website (www.EMinformation.com) to highlight key takeaways of the workshop and provide a forum to coordinate and share information regarding monitoring activities in different regions.

Feedback from the workshop has been overwhelmingly positive.  One attendee felt renewed enthusiasm for pursuing EM/ER in his region. Another attendee remarked that many of the major players are now on the same page with understanding EM and its possibilities.

We’re proud of the workshop outcomes and look forward to sharing lessons learned from the workshop with our partners across the eight U.S. fisheries regions and internationally.  To learn more about EDF’s work on Electronic Monitoring visit our Monitoring Fisheries Electronically webpage.

 

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