Selected category: Science/Research

New study underscores urgency to rebuild global fisheries

By: Rod Fujita & Doug Rader

iStock_000029334204_smallerPeople have been catching fish for thousands of years, so you’d think by now we would have a pretty good idea of how fisheries are doing.  However, the two most basic numbers that you need to answer that question – how many fish are in the sea, and how many are being caught – have been highly uncertain.

A new study published in Nature by researchers at the University of British Columbia finds that the number of fish in the sea has been underestimated, and that the world’s fisheries should be more closely monitored. We couldn’t agree more.

It’s critically important for scientists to estimate these numbers so we can tell whether catch is too high, too low, or just right.  The stakes are enormous: these numbers and trends will determine what management actions are necessary to ensure that fisheries can continue to provide healthy food for billions of people and provide livelihoods for tens of millions. Read More »

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Sharks need smarter management and better data to recover and thrive

By Amada44 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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 »

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Cuba’s plan for shark conservation

A Caribbean reef shark encountered off the coast of Cuba.

A Caribbean reef shark encountered off the coast of Cuba. Credit: Noel Lopez Fernandez

Sharks are recognized by scientists, resource managers and the tourism ministry in Cuba for their critical role in marine ecosystems, as a tourist attraction for divers and as a protein source when caught by fishers. Leaders from various Cuban agencies, looking at how to balance these needs and protect sharks, are now for the first time creating a national plan for shark conservation.  This is important not just for Cuba but for the entire Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region where many shark populations travel throughout waters shared by many nations.

Earlier this year I sat in a hotel discoteca in Trinidad, Cuba that was converted into a teaching space for daytime use. Here I watched fishers jump at the chance to correctly identify shark species and prove their skills in front of their peers. This was the second shark and ray identification workshop organized by Cuba’s Ministry of Food (MINAL) and EDF where fishers, boat captains and port employees came together from across the country to learn about Cuba’s efforts to study and conserve sharks.

Because of ongoing concerns over declining shark populations in the region, the Cuban government is making shark conservation  a national priority through the development of its first-ever National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Sharks and Rays (NPOA-Sharks). They hope to complete it by the end of the year. Read More »

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New study concludes that catch shares are working for fishermen in the U.S.

iStock_000014104307MediumThe good news keeps rolling in about the performance of fisheries managed with secure fishing rights – called “catch shares” in the United States.

An important, detailed analysis of all 20 US catch-share fisheries, authored by scientists and economists of NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology and six regional fisheries science centers, was just issued in the journal, Marine Policy.

The bottom line is that the 13 well-studied catch shares show strong performance, with important increases in an index that adds together a wide array of economic productivity elements and that takes into account changes in relative fish abundance.  Even in just the first three years, that index gains an average of 22% versus baseline years (see Table 7).  For the six longest-established catch shares, the index is an average of 77% higher after the third year, with no increase lower than 14% (see Table 8). Read More »

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At The Brink: Ocean Tipping Points

Healthy Coral in the Gardens of the Queen, Cuba. Photo: Noel Lopez Fernandez

Healthy sponge in the Gardens of the Queen, Cuba. Photo: Noel Lopez Fernandez

Coral reefs seem delicate, but when they are healthy they can take a lot of abuse.  I’ve seen corals recover from severe hurricanes and even volcanic eruptions. But coral reefs can also transition suddenly from colorful, vibrant ecosystems to mere shadows of themselves.  Decades of scientific investigation have shed a lot of light on this, and in a recent publication, my colleagues and I summarize a lot of the data that have been collected on Caribbean coral reefs to identify where these dangerous “tipping points” are.  This work is part of the Ocean Tipping Points project, a collaboration between several institutions aimed at finding tipping points in all kinds of marine ecosystems so that managers can implement measures that will keep these ecosystems well away from the brink. Read More »

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It’s Time to Take New England’s Groundfish Fishery Out of the Dark

Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo: Tim Connor

Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo: Tim Connor

What every fishing port in New England has long feared has now come true: the iconic cod fish is disappearing in our waters. If our shared goal is to rebuild a sustainable fishery for years to come, then we need to better understand what is happening to the fish stocks. This calls for better science, which has been the subject of discussion for years.

A key foundation of better science is better catch monitoring.  Inadequate catch data is the Achilles heel of the groundfish fishery in New England – particularly with cod – and the only way to improve this in a cost-effective way is through a comprehensive monitoring system that uses video technology. Read More »

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