Dusky Shark (Carcharhinus obscurus) are extremely rare. This one is swimming at Seaworld Aquarium in Queensland, Australia. Photo by: Amada44 via Wikimedia Commons
Shark advocates at Oceana recently sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), claiming that the way the agency controls fishing on dusky sharks violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Duskies are overfished and have suffered overfishing for years, even though it is illegal to retain them if they are caught. The duskies’ plight highlights the shortcomings of bans and similar efforts when it comes to protecting vulnerable species like sharks, especially when they are caught alongside other, healthier species.
Over the last several years, more and more people have learned about both the importance of sharks and the ongoing threats to their existence. This is great news because sharks are among the most important creatures in the ocean, playing a vital role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. Plus, they’re really cool. Formerly of interest exclusively to fish geeks like myself, Shark Week is now a widely celebrated summer ritual. Shark finning, a deplorable practice where a shark’s fin is removed and the rest of its body is discarded at sea, has been banned in the United States since 2000, and more than 70 other countries have enacted similar bans.
Despite this progress, shark populations remain threatened and overfishing is common. The FAO reports that the market for sharks has actually increased, and many sharks die as bycatch as a side effect of fishing for other species at healthier population sizes, such as Atlantic swordfish (which has recovered after a focused conservation effort). Read More
Credit: Gulf Wild
The Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery has undergone a tremendous recovery over the last eight years. Thanks to reformed commercial management the stock is rebounding strongly, and as a result this year’s quota is the highest on record. Unfortunately, recreational fishermen have not fully benefited, since their failed management system creates a cycle of shorter and shorter seasons. There are many competing attempts to address this very real problem, including several in Congress.
This week a U.S. House subcommittee will hold a hearing on H.R. 3094, a bill that proposes to transfer management for Gulf of Mexico red snapper to a new authority made up of the directors of the Gulf state fish and wildlife agencies. Some advocates of this approach, which we oppose, have suggested that the states successfully manage striped bass in the mid-Atlantic and Dungeness crab in the Pacific, and therefore transferring management of red snapper to the Gulf States is a good idea.
But these arguments gloss over important differences between red snapper and these other species, making the comparison about as real as most good fish stories. Read More
Next week, the House of Representatives will consider H.R. 1335, a bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Fisheries issues often avoid the partisanship that otherwise rules (some would say cripples) Washington, but the Natural Resources Committee voted out H.R. 1335 strictly on party lines, and we expect the same outcome next week. That’s a shame, not only because of the breakdown of bipartisanship, but also because this is a bad bill.
Many have written about how much U.S. fisheries management has improved over the last several years. A recent report from NOAA Fisheries confirms that overfishing numbers hit all-time low in 2014, and that 37 species around the country have rebuilt since 2000. EDF is proud to have worked side-by-side with the fishing industry as these gains have been made – not only because they’re delivering a healthier marine environment but also because they’re supporting more profitable fishing businesses and more prosperous coastal communities. Unfortunately, H.R. 1335 would jeopardize this progress. It would also put unnecessary restrictions on the decisions of the regional fishery management councils, long the bedrock of fishery management in the United States and a means for local fishermen and others to participate directly in the rulemaking process. Read More
Last night the House and Senate agreed to compromise language on a broad set of initiatives referred to as the transportation bill. Included in this “must-pass” bill is legislation dealing with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill known as the RESTORE Act. There is much to applaud in this bill; for example, it provides important funding for fisheries science and research. It’s too bad it also contains an empty political gesture against a fishery management tool that has benefitted the Gulf’s fishermen.
The RESTORE Act directs the penalties received by the federal government as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster to the affected region, including, at Senator Nelson’s particular insistence, providing funding for research to “support . . . the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem, fish stocks, fish habitat, and the recreational, commercial, and charter fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico.” At a time of scarce funds and great need, this effort will help the marine resources and fishermen of the Gulf recover from the blow they suffered two years ago.
Unfortunately, the bill also contains a gratuitous slap at the region’s fishermen by prohibiting the use of the funds provided in the bill for the development or approval of new catch share programs along the east coast or the Gulf of Mexico. The catch share language echoes an amendment previously offered by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) – but here it means absolutely nothing given a separate prohibition on using the money for any form of fisheries regulation. Read More
Fishermen hauling in a trawl.
Today, fishing once again topped the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of most dangerous jobs in the U.S. In 2010, commercial fishing had a fatality rate per 100,000 full-time-equivalent employees 33 times the average rate for U.S. workers. Although fortunately fishing’s fatality rate did decrease from 2009, it remains true that fishermen faced the highest chance of dying on the job compared with other occupations in the U.S.
Many things make fishing dangerous, but the way we regulate the industry can make things worse. For example, regulators often manage fishing by limiting when fishermen can be on the water, such as by setting short seasons, allocating a limited number of days at sea or shutting down a fishery when too many fish have been caught.
In order to catch enough fish to stay in business, fishermen must race to catch them before others do, which can lead to fishing in dangerous weather conditions, keeping exhausted crews on the water and overloading boats with excessive gear. All of these methods maximize catch in the short term but risk lives.
In contrast, catch shares give fishermen a secure amount of seafood they don't have to race their peers to catch. Catch shares provide flexibility to choose when to fish based on the weather and market conditions. Read More