Author Archives: EDF Oceans

FAO adopts sustainable small-scale fisheries guidelines

Photo credit: Jason Houston

Photo credit: Jason Houston

Small-scale fisheries provide a host of social and economic benefits to local communities.  They contribute about half of the global catch; supplying food for local, national and global markets.  They are responsible for about ninety percent of fishing employment. They provide income, contribute to food security and nutrition, alleviate poverty, and often support a way of life strongly anchored in local culture and community.

But small-scale and artisanal fisheries face many challenges today including depleted fish stocks; pollution; encroachment from development; climate change, and sea level rise. Many small-scale fishing communities are marginalized, with low levels of access to political power, education and other resources.

To combat these challenges, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) collaborated with governments, Civil Society Organizations and other stakeholders to develop a set of ‘Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication’ (SSF).  Today at the biennial meeting of the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries in Rome, delegates adopted the SSF Guidelines by consensus.

The SSF Guidelines offer guidance on how to deliver on the promise of sustainable small-scale fisheries in a way that is ecosystem-friendly, participatory and sensitive to cultural context. The Guidelines give strong new impetus to the importance of inclusiveness in setting goals and designing management systems that can work for communities, with an emphasis on the key role that women play in sustainable fishing communities.

In brief, the Guidelines stress that:

  • Small-scale fishing communities need to have secure tenure rights, which equitably distribute benefits from responsibly managed fisheries.
  • These tenure rights are balanced by responsibilities for long term conservation and management of fishery resources, and small-scale actors must fish at levels and with practices that protect the resource over the long term.
  • States must include small-scale fishing communities in the design, planning and implementation of management systems to sustain fisheries and communities – and in particular must ensure that women are equitably included in all aspects of the process.
  • The post-harvest and trade sectors are just as critical to the security of SSF communities as fishing itself, and stakeholders from these sectors (particularly women, who are often more active in post-harvest than harvest roles) must be included in the design, planning and implementation of these parts of the value chain.
  • Special attention to social and economic development may be needed to ensure that often-marginalized SSF communities can have secure livelihoods and enjoy their human rights.
  • Governments need to put in place policies and plans to take into consideration the potential for significant risks to SSF communities from disasters and climate change.
  • All parties need to respect and make use of traditional knowledge, in addition to collecting and disseminating scientific research, in support of SSF; communicating the data in an efficient and transparent way is an essential component of sustainable management.
  • Small-scale fisheries also operate in near-shore environments of great ecological value, and thus high-quality fisheries management systems in those places also yield tangible environmental benefits.

The FAO developed the SSF Guidelines through a very broad and inclusive process of outreach and listening; the result was a document that truly reflects the concerns and aspirations of the people and communities who depend on these fisheries. EDF commends all involved for adoption of these important guidelines and looks forward to assisting in implementation.

Click here to view the full guidelines.

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World Oceans Day: All eyes on oceans in June 2014

 

Photo Credit: Carlos Aguilera

Photo Credit: Carlos Aguilera

World Oceans Day is an annual reminder that the oceans are our planet’s greatest natural resource and that we must take actions to protect them. The livelihoods of millions of people around the world depend on healthy oceans, yet they face threats including overfishing, acidification and marine pollution.

Fortunately, all eyes will be on the oceans this June through a series of international events designed to raise awareness, inspire positive policies and spark conversations between local governments, fishermen and conservationists about how to build a brighter future. Here are a few events to watch:

  • Food & Agriculture Committee on Fisheries (COFI): On June 9-13, the FAO Committee on Fisheries will meet in Rome, Italy to finalize their guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication. View the agenda here.
  • Capitol Hill Oceans Week (CHOW): From June 10-12, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will host a week of conferences, workshops, and seminars to discuss the future of the world’s oceans. Guests and speakers come together to bridge the gaps between non-profits, academia, industry, and more to discuss the conservation of the world’s oceans and its resources. Click here to learn more.
  • State Department “Our Ocean Conference”: On June 16 & 17, Secretary of State John Kerry will convene an international conference of scientists, environmentalists and world leaders to discuss solutions for overfishing, ocean acidification and marine pollution. For those that can’t attend, you can follow along and contribute to the discussion through the #ourocean2014 hashtag on Twitter. Secretary Kerry and the Department of State will host delegates from around the world to discuss ocean issues. You can participate by registering for the Department of States’ Thunderclap.
  • Global Ocean Commission Report Release: The independent Global Ocean Commission recently released research on the value of the ocean and will share its much-anticipated recommendations on June 24th. McKinsey & Company will also release a new report detailing the economics of the seas, promising a fundamental shift in how we should value the bounty of the ocean. Learn more here.

The world’s oceans are vital resources, and will continue to be for generations to come. EDF is committed to healthy oceans, fisheries and fishing communities. It is inspiring to see the international community focus on oceans. Thanks to World Oceans Day more will come to learn about the importance of our oceans, and what we can do to protect them.

 

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5 Reasons for Hope on World Fisheries Day

bundle of fish

photo credit: tarotastic via photopin cc

Today is World Fisheries Day— a healthy reminder of how important fisheries are, regardless of where we live.

Wild fisheries must be managed and harvested sustainably in order to successfully rebuild global fish stocks and reliably feed the billions of people around the world who rely on them.

Innovative solutions are needed to establish sustainable fishing practices as the norm and to give a boost to coastal communities that rely on healthy fish stocks.

But today, global fisheries are tremendous pressure—to feed the world’s growing population and from the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.  There is, however, cause for optimism.  Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. In the United States, improved management—in part due to the flexibility and alignment of environmental, social and economic incentives that catch shares provide—is paying off.  Fish stocks are rebuilding, fishermen are finding innovative solutions to be more selective about the stocks they target and the value of commercial seafood landed in 2012 was almost 20% higher than the average of the last decade. Fishermen are also seeing increased revenue per vessel. NMFS recently released an economic study of fisheries managed under quota allotments which found revenue increases of 27% in the first year and 68% after 10 years of the program.  Read More.
  2. Earlier this year EDF examined successes from the United States and several other countries, such as Japan, Chile and Mexico, to assemble a comprehensive toolkit for designing and implementing management systems that can build resilient, profitable fisheries. This toolkit represents years of research and can deliver value to fishery managers around the world. Read More.
  3. After years of deliberation, the European Union has finalized proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the EU’s framework for fisheries management.The new policy promises a better future for both fishermen and fish by providing a comprehensive management system designed to restore healthy marine environments while supporting profitable fisheries and thriving coastal communities. The new CFP, which will enter into force in January, calls for Member States to move to eliminate the wasteful practice of discarding fish at sea. It also requires fishing at sustainable, Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) levels, and supports a regionalized approach through decentralized decision-making. Read More.
  4. EDF is a proud founding member of an ambitious effort with the World Bank and more than 100 partners to bring 50% of the world’s wild fish under sustainable management in 10 years while increasing economic benefits by $20 billion annually.   This project represents impressive cooperation among countries, the private sector, NGOs and fishery stakeholders and can potentially transform the world’s fisheries and fishing communities. Read More.
  5. Many struggling or collapsed fisheries across the globe are already improving. The challenge is to replicate successful strategies and continue building partnerships with fishermen and other fishery stakeholders in the regions of the world where healthy fisheries are most essential. We are confident this can be achieved and will continue working to bring fishermen and managers together to find efficient, sustainable solutions that will work for both fish and fishermen. Read More.

We hope to have more progress to celebrate next year on World Fisheries Day.

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It’s Official: U.S. fisheries continued their upward trend in 2012

Photo Credit: NOAA

Each year, the National Marine Fisheries Service provides the public with a “statistical snapshot” of fish landings in the United States. This week, the numbers for 2012 were released via the agency’s Fisheries in the United States report. The national picture in terms of the quantity and value of fish landed was once again encouraging. And although we didn’t quite reach the historic level of 2011—which set a new record for landings value —the upward trend enabled by improved fisheries management is unmistakable.

The raw numbers in the report are another reminder of the critical role fishing plays as an economic driver in the United States. U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2012, valued at $5.1 billion. The ex-vessel value of seafood landed in Alaska alone was $1.7 billion; $618.2 million in Massachusetts; $448.5 million in Maine. Those figures don’t include economic benefits derived throughout the value chain, with jobs created and supported at the docks, in processing, transportation and sales.

Recreational fisheries are also experiencing robust activity.   More than nine million anglers took 70 million trips last year, catching nearly 380 million fish. The estimated total catch weight was more than 200 million pounds, the most popular species being spotted seatrout, Atlantic croaker, black sea bass, summer flounder and red drum. Numerous other reports and studies have documented the economic benefits that recreational fishing stimulates, supporting jobs in industries ranging from marine manufacturing to tourism.

Without healthy, sustainable fisheries, none of these benefits would accrue. It’s true that we have more work to do to ensure that all our nation’s fisheries are being managed for long-term health, and that fishermen in some regions still face daunting economic challenges. But taken as a whole, this week’s report provides further evidence that the reforms of recent years are paying dividends. The value of commercial seafood landed in 2012 was almost 20% higher than the average of the last decade.

Ultimately that means more money in the pockets of fishermen—who in many parts of the country are seeing a return on their investment in new rights-based management approaches that incentivize conservation and ensure compliance with science-based catch limits.

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New management plan continues to yield conservation & economic benefits in Pacific groundfishery: NOAA report

fishery observer

WCGOP Observer
Photo Credit: NOAA Report, supplied by Sean Sullivan

On September 24, NOAA Fisheries released their report on the second year (2012) of the West Coast Groundfish Catch Shares Program, a program that EDF has been instrumental in helping to develop, implement and improve. The report notes the spirit of partnership that helped bring a catch share management system to the Pacific Coast, and praises the program's conservation and economic performance. Mostly, however, NOAA credits fishermen for using the flexibility afforded under catch shares to improve their long-term economic prospects and avoid overfished species.

 

 

Here are some highlights:

  • Conservation: The report notes “a significant reduction in the amount of bycatch,” of overfished species, and concludes that the program “is actively rebuilding several groundfish stocks.”
  • Catch: Harvest of target stocks continues to improve—up 5% from 2011.
  • Business Flexibility: Transfers of quota between fishermen increased dramatically in comparison with 2011, and were relatively constant throughout the year. This increase indicates better understanding among fishermen of how to leverage their allotment for efficient business planning.

NOAA’s report also reflects the strong and growing interest among West Coast fishery stakeholders in transitioning from 100% observer coverage on groundfish boats to lower cost alternatives, like cameras, that will still ensure 100% accountability for all catch.

The West Coast catch shares program is still a work in progress, but NOAA’s analysis is very encouraging.

“The report from the second year reinforces what we’re seeing. There are a lot of positive things happening that provide a solid foundation for building on,” said Shems Jud, Deputy Director of EDF’s Pacific Ocean team. “By working with fishermen now to help lower their operating costs and expand fishing opportunity, we think this program can be made durable for the long-term, and eventually turn into a real economic success story.”

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Letter: Fishing Regulations Shouldn’t Imperil Safety

USCG Boat, Oregon

photo credit: Tidewater Muse via photopin cc

Regulations to restock fisheries and keep fishermen safe ought to go hand in hand. Unfortunately, in an effort to control how many fish are caught, regulators frequently impose rules that end up putting fishermen in harm’s way. For instance, if fishermen are limited to a set number of days on the water, there is pressure to go out and stay out, no matter the weather conditions.   This time constraint also makes it less likely that captains and crew will take safety precautions and get enough rest.

EDF Oceans has joined safety advocates and families of commercial fishermen who have lost their lives at sea in signing a letter urging the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to ensure that rules to control overfishing do not result in unsafe conditions for fishermen.

The letter, signed by members of the Safe at Sea Network, as well as other fishing safety advocates, says, “When it comes to fishing safety, management plans should ‘first do no harm.’”

Strategies to protect fish stocks are vital, but it’s entirely feasible to accomplish those goals without making fishing more dangerous. Fishery management plans can be designed in a manner that allows fishermen to stay home on stormy days without losing their economic share in the fishery. They will also have more time to make sure their safety equipment is up to date, attend safety trainings and maintain their vessel to meet safety standards.  While safety factors vary in every fishery, catch shares can make fishing safer by eliminating derby style ‘race to fish’ scenarios and allowing fishermen to stay at home during stormy weather.

NMFS is currently examining revisions to existing safety standards, which direct the regional fishery management councils to consider safety as a factor when developing fishery management plans. The standard must be strengthened so that protecting human life at sea is paramount, rather than “optional or an afterthought.”

The letter lays out concerns that need to be addressed before rules to govern fishing can be finalized, such as:

  • Does the proposed policy result in a derby-style fishery?
  • Does the proposed policy include daily catch limits or limited fish days that would push vessels to stay out in poor weather?
  • Does the proposed policy result in a vessel working in distant water more than three hours from SAR (Search and Rescue) assets?

The letter was submitted to NMFS and was also discussed last week at the Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee (CFSAC) meeting at the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. The committee provides recommendations to the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security on safe operation of commercial fishing vessels.

During the meeting, the committee voted to endorse the letter—signifying their support for continuing to encourage NMFS and the councils to make safety at sea a priority when developing fishery management plans.

Read the full letter here.

 

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Expedition Cuba Part 3: Collaborative Research Establishes Baseline Monitoring in Cuba

Cuban and Mexican researchers, Alejandra Briones and Ivan Mendez, look at a sample that will be analyzed in CIM’s lab to assess the faunal communities in the water column.

By: Kendra Karr and Valerie Miller

Part III of a blog series detailing a February 2013 Research Expedition in Cuba organized by EDF Oceans’ Cuba, Science, and Shark teams and funded by the Waitt Foundation. A team of scientists from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. along with EDF staff set sail to share knowledge, scientific methodologies and to survey shark populations in Cuba. The tri-national expedition was led by Cuban scientists from University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (CIM) and U.S. scientists from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida.

Researchers from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. participated in an exploratory research cruise in the Gulf of Batabanó along the Southern coast of Cuba to monitor shark populations, local faunal communities and to train fellow team members in monitoring techniques.  Leaving the port of Batabanó, the RV Felipe Poeytransected the shallow, soft-sediment habitat that comprises the majority of the Gulf.  The cruise set off for the remote and sparsely populated Isle of Youth, the largest island in the Canarreos Archipelago.  Canarreos Archipelago is home to a national park and several marine protected areas (MPAs) which contain habitats that possess ecotourism potential and provide refuge for ecologically and economically important species such as lobsters, sharks and finfish.

U.S. researcher Dr. Ernie Estevez collects the last sample of fauna from the water column outside the corals reefs of Punta Frances.

Monitoring activities started near the southwestern portion of the island, inside Siguanea Bay, continued around Punta Frances and into the nearshore waters facing the Caribbean Sea.  This part of the Isle of Youth has a diverse array of habitats, including some of the healthiest and most intact coral reefs and mangroves in the region, as well as seagrass beds, and soft sediment habitats.   Conducting a research expedition in multiple habitats presents a unique opportunity to observe organisms living at the bottom of the ocean (in benthic habitats) and in the water column surrounding these habitats. The expedition recruited two benthic researchers (scientists who study organisms living along the bottom of the ocean) to join the team comprised mainly of shark scientists, to capitalize on the opportunity and create a baseline monitoring program of these faunal communities across habitats in the Gulf Batabanó and surrounding waters.  Dr. Ernie Estevez of the U.S. and Mote Marine Laboratory and Dr. Maickel Almanza of Cuba’s Center for Marine Research led the design of the monitoring program.

Monitoring programs help provide information about the health of the area prior to future impacts (i.e. disturbance either natural or human caused), so that analysis can aid forecasting.  Baseline data helps measure the severity of ecosystem disruptions and helps to calibrate recovery programs.  Additionally, this data may help identify areas that are more resistant, or less resilient to disturbances over time.  Long term monitoring of ecological communities and populations is one of the most effective tools that managers and scientist have to track and analyze how ecosystems work.   Unfortunately, long-term datasets are rare and those that do exist are often limited in geographic scope.

What’s a faunal community and why are they important?

The team identified plankton living in the water column and macrobenthos (small fish, crustaceans, worms and mollusks living at the bottom of the ocean) across habitats as targets because changes in the diversity and abundance of these fauna can be indicators to the health of the ecosystem, and they are critical components of important fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. The small fish, crustaceans, worms and mollusks that comprise the fauna collected in the monitoring program are often the principal food source for fish in the region. Sharks, as apex predators, depend on highly productive foraging areas (e.g., dense seagrass meadows) and support abundant amounts of prey, such as larger fish that consume plankton. The team also recorded environmental variables necessary for a healthy habitat, including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, depth and organic content in sediments.   Absent baseline species and ecosystem data, future efforts to end overfishing, protect marine life and improve the management of marine resources will not succeed.  This is just one of the ways in which Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. are working together to improve monitoring efforts that will increase data availability and enable a tri-national assessment of shark population status, including an understanding of how variability in abundance of faunal communities and their predators influence foraging behavior and shark migration in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

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Expedition Cuba Part 2: Scientists Partner with Fishermen to Explore Cuban Waters

The tuna fishing crew meets up with the research team in the Gulf of Batabanó.

By: Valerie Miller & Kendra Karr

Part II of a blog series reporting on the February 2013 Research Expedition in Cuba organized by EDF Oceans’ Cuba, Science, and Shark teams and funded by the Waitt Foundation. A team of scientists from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. along with EDF staff set sail on an exploratory research cruise to share knowledge, scientific methodologies and to survey shark populations in Cuba. The tri-national expedition was led by Cuban scientists from University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (CIM) and U.S. scientists from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida.

In early February the team of researchers boarded the RV Felipe Poey and departed the south coast of Cuba for the Gulf of Batabanó.  The nine-day expedition was designed to monitor shark populations, collect baseline data on plankton and benthic communities and train scientists in data collection techniques for future monitoring.  It took the entire first day to steam to the Isle of Youth.   By the evening the smooth waters and night sky had blended into one endless black landscape. As a sense of isolation set-in, the boat turned towards some lights in the distance – which emanated from a lobster station floating in the middle of the Gulf.  After a day crossing the ocean with no land in sight, it felt strange stepping off the boat and onto the deck at the station. The lobster fishermen, friends of the Cuban scientists, showed us around the facility which stores their daily catch in pens.  This moonlight meeting was just the first of many productive interactions with fishermen throughout the journey.

Collaboration is key for shark monitoring

Tapping the expertise of local fishermen was central to accomplishing the objectives of the expedition in relation to both data collection and training. The entire team learned about shark capture and tagging methods, but since the techniques had never been implemented to monitor populations in the Gulf, we relied on fishermen’s knowledge to locate sharks. We were fortunate to come across a Bonito tuna boat on multiple occasions. The tuna fishermen track sharks to locate schools of tuna and sometimes use the sharks to corral multiple schools together and cast their bamboo fishing rods to selectively catch tuna. Fishermen are able to identify sharks from notches they have previously marked in their fins.  One fisherman declared, “without sharks, there is no tuna fishery.”

On one occasion we tied our boats to together, which allowed Dr. Jorge Angulo, the lead Cuban scientist and CIM director, to catch up with the Bonito’s captain.  The old friends were happy to see each other again, and discussed where sharks are congregating in the Gulf.  The captain suggested that we explore “Los Indios,” a region off the Isle of Youth.  We ventured to Los Indios the following day to set our gear. The scientists agreed that this “edge” habitat where the reef meets the sand was more likely to have sharks, whereas much of the Gulf is shallow open water with a soft sediment bottom seafloor, not the usual preferred shark habitat.

Scientist Anmari Alvarez of Cuba’s Center for Marine Research discusses manatee monitoring with two finfish fishers.

Scientist Anmari Alvarez of Cuba’s Center for Marine Research discusses manatee monitoring with two finfish fishers.

A day’s catch sparks conversation on sharks

Along with the tuna fishermen, we also met up with a finfish fishing boat. In the mornings, the fishermen picked up researchers to help retrieve the nets set the day before and assess the catch. We all reunited in the afternoon; the fishermen’s catch displayed on the deck—a mix of rays and fish—and the researchers had the opportunity to collect data and take genetic samples of the species of interest.   Dr. Bob Hueter, head shark researcher from Mote Marine Laboratory, used a hammerhead shark caught that day to impart some shark anatomy lessons.  Researchers and fishermen were quizzed on their biological knowledge and helped take genetic samples that could potentially connect Cuba’s sharks to known populations in other regions of the Gulf of Mexico.

Our crew and the fishermen dispersed between the two decks of the connected boats to discuss the day’s work and shark habitat in the Gulf. While the fishermen we met do not direct their fishing towards sharks, they sometimes catch them as bycatch. One fisherman mentioned that they used to catch sharks more often in certain regions but believe that they have been overfished. The scientists agreed that the extent of overfishing is difficult to know since there is so little historical data on sharks in the Gulf.

Learning from the experience of the fishermen, our group hypothesized about the shark populations — preferred habitats, seasonal migration patterns and potential locations of nursery habitats. EDF’s tri-national shark conservation program is essential to improve the monitoring of shark populations in Cuba and ensuring that species are managed sustainably.

 

Unexpected opportunities in marine conservation

While the main objectives of the expedition focused on understanding shark populations in the Gulf, our interactions with the fishermen included discussions on a variety of marine life. Anmari Alvarez, a Cuban scientist who specializes in manatees, always takes the opportunity to talk about the marine mammal with fishermen. She reviewed a colorful flyer with the details on how fishermen can report a manatee sighting and explained that involving fishermen in monitoring is invaluable to her, as she cannot be in the Gulf every day. In one unexpected opportunity for collaboration, the finfish crew presented the Cuban researchers with a tag they removed from a sea turtle. They had been saving it for months, not knowing to whom to report the inscribed number. It just so happened that the tag was marked with the abbreviation for Quitana Roo, Mexico, and Ivan Mendez, a scientist from Mexico, was on-board to recover it.

Like scientists everywhere, the Cuban researchers’ monitoring efforts rely on data from fishermen’s catch. They have recently expanded their monitoring of shark landings at several ports along the north coast but have fewer resources to collect shark data in the Gulf of Batabanó. The bonds between the fishermen and scientists proved particularly important for this exploration—from sharing knowledge of shark habitats to a bi-national turtle tag exchange. There remains much to learn about shark populations in Cuba and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Our research team is now better prepared to collect and organize shark data and looks forward to partnering with fishermen in future expeditions.

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