How important is the role of science in managing U.S. fisheries?

Jeremy Sterk / istockphoto

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is proud to sponsor a panel this week at the annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) – the nation’s preeminent organization advancing fisheries science – that examines the role of science in federal fisheries management. Ten years ago, Congress gave science a stronger role in fisheries management. Today, overfishing has dropped significantly in U.S. waters and we have seen a number of fish stocks successfully rebuilt. Coincidence? Unlikely.

This week’s panel will examine what part the strong scientific provisions of the law have played in rebuilding fisheries, new scientific innovations needed to address remaining challenges, and whether any additional changes to the law could further strengthen management success. Read More »

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How science and technology can help save sharks

photo credit: Philippe Guillaume corrida via photopin (license)

Every year, Shark Week gives us a peek into the world of shark research and the amazing science and technology developing to study these captivating animals. This year, we were amazed by ultrasounds for pregnant hammerhead sharks and measuring a goblin shark’s bite.  The latest science and technology can also help fishermen seeking other species to avoid sharks, protecting them from a significant source of injury and death while saving fishermen money.

Globally, shark bycatch represents one of the greatest threats – maybe the greatest threat, — to shark populations. Worldwide, sharks caught as bycatch can make up nearly half of the total reported catch, and that’s not counting the large amount of catch that goes unreported. Often, fishermen want to catch more valuable species like swordfish and tuna using pelagic longlines, one of the most prevalent fishing gears on the high seas, and hate accidentally catching sharks instead. So how can science and technology help solve this problem? Read More »

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Gulf anglers like me are demanding change

EDF Gulf Director, Robert Jones, after a recent fishing trip.

Fishing gets in your blood. As a kid growing up on the Texas coast, I spent as much time as possible on the water. Today, an inordinate amount of my time and treasure goes toward maintaining an offshore boat so I can get my salty fix on weekends. I’m one of millions of Americans for whom fishing is a lifestyle. And I’m part of an overwhelming chorus of Gulf anglers who are sick and tired of the broken way we manage recreational red snapper fishing and are demanding change.

The recovery of red snapper is an incredible opportunity. As the stock has rebounded over the last decade, the total amount of catch available annually has grown from 5 million to 14 million pounds. For seafood businesses and consumers, that has delivered tremendous benefits, increasing the value of the commercial fishery from $37 million to $220 million and making delicious Gulf red snapper available year-round in restaurants and grocery stores.

But it’s an entirely different story on the recreational side. Instead of anglers and recreational fishing businesses throughout the Gulf reaping the benefits of recovery, we are stuck in a downward spiral of recreational management failure. Anglers are catching more and bigger fish in state seasons that have become longer and longer – up to 365 days in Texas. As a result, 81% of angler quota is now caught in state waters meaning federal seasons are getting shorter and shorter – like this year’s original three-day season. This has been suffocating our access to the best offshore fishing grounds.

Then last month, the feds did a complete about-face, opening the floodgates with an “all weekends, all summer” recreational season. The problem with this approach is that it will lead to a massive breach of the very science-based catch limits that have brought red snapper back from the brink. We estimate that under the new 2017 season rules, recreational anglers could take as much as three times their safe limit, jeopardizing the fishery. This is a recipe for repeating the disastrous overfishing of previous decades, and returning to the days when my dad and I could barely find a red snapper on a trip. Today we filed a lawsuit to ensure that doesn’t happen. To be clear, we are not trying to end this year’s recreational season and we don’t think fishermen should have to pay the price for the Commerce Department’s misguided decision.

For us, going to court is about more than preventing a return to overfishing: it’s about breaking the cycle of profound recreational management failure and catalyzing innovative, solutions-oriented reforms.

The good news is there are plenty of smart ideas out there that can achieve conservation goals, improve fisheries data, and give anglers more access and flexibility. For example, headboat captains led a pilot project allowing them to take anglers fishing year-round in exchange for requirements they count and report every fish they catch. Charter operators are implementing new electronic reporting systems that provide managers with data in close to real time. Louisiana’s LA Creel data collection program is an example of states working with anglers to deliver a clearer picture of catch rates and provide opportunities for an expanded state role in management. And there are tools that have long worked for hunters that should be considered in the red snapper fishery to improve angler access.

Now is the moment to build out and scale up these new approaches to how we manage recreational fishing. Working together, we can ensure a healthy red snapper stock, extend the success of our Gulf seafood industry, give anglers flexible access, and ensure that future generations of Americans can enjoy the thrill of catching red snapper.

Robert E. Jones, a lifelong recreational fisherman, was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is director of Environmental Defense Fund's Gulf of Mexico Oceans program. 

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Two more rockfish species declared "rebuilt"

Photos: Vicky Okimura

Rapid comebacks mean greater fishing opportunities, more sustainable seafood for U.S. markets

EDF’s Pacific team is pleased to share the news that stocks of both Bocaccio and Darkblotched rockfish have been declared rebuilt on the West Coast, well ahead of schedule. Commercial fishermen – who have worked for years to avoid catching the species – will soon be much freer to harvest them and to supply consumers with these beautiful, delicious, sustainable rockfish.

Previously declared overfished, Bocaccio and Darkblotched are among several species that have been under strict rebuilding plans in recent years.  As such, they’ve been among the “constraining species” that fishermen have intentionally avoided catching since 2011, when the trawl fishery’s quota-based catch share management system was implemented. (Fishermen sought to avoid them prior to 2011 also, but under less effective management systems.) Read More »

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Bold commitments to sustainable fisheries at the United Nations will help Belize achieve sustainable oceans goals

The government of Belize has just made major voluntary commitments at the United Nations Oceans Conference that, once implemented, will secure Belize’s fisheries as an engine for sustainable development.

Healthy oceans and sustainable fisheries are crucial for poverty alleviation, food security and generating economic growth in low and middle income countries. This goal is reinforced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which declare a target to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” The health and vibrancy of Belize’s coastal communities, where 15,000 people depend on fisheries for their livelihoods, depend on this target becoming a reality.

Last week, fisheries ministers, fishermen, community leaders and the conservation community from around the world gathered at the United Nations Oceans Conference to share experiences and strategies for achieving this vision, and declare voluntary commitments for good stewardship of the oceans.

The Government of Belize, representatives of Belize’s fishing community, Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Toledo Institute for Development and Environment and The Nature Conservancy presented Belize’s major achievements in sustainable fisheries at the conference. At the gathering of leaders and experts in fisheries management from around the world, Belize’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, Sustainable Development & Climate Change, Minister Omar Figueroa, highlighted the major step Belize took in partnership with Belize’s fishing and conservation community to end open access fisheries, and implement the world’s first national system of multispecies fishing rights for a small-scale developing world fishery, called managed access. In some fishing areas, this system is already yielding benefits as fishermen are reporting higher catch, and illegal fishing has dropped 60%. Read More »

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