Selected tags: Fish

Closed areas can decrease uncertainty in effects of climate change on New England Fisheries

Gulf of Maine Map

Photo Credit: New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance

As fishermen around New England will be the first to point out, this summer, much like last year, has been abnormal. The ocean waters were warmer and cod, haddock, and flounders—the mainstay of our fishing industry for centuries—are increasingly elusive. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including decades of mismanagement and overfishing, inexact science and a mismatch in abundance of certain predatory species. Looking beyond these factors, the impact of climate change on fisheries is another factor driving fish abundance that’s worth a hard look.

The level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has now exceeded 400 parts per million, contributing to rising ocean temperatures. Some of the fastest increases in the last few decades have occurred in the Northwest Atlantic, and 2012 registered the largest annual increase in mean sea surface temperature for the Northwest Atlantic in the last 30 years.  

It is clear that climate change is disrupting New England’s fisheries right now; it is no longer an abstract, future scenario.

In the face of this evidence, fisheries managers need to factor in climate change alongside fishing effort and other elements when determining how to manage and rebuild fish stocks. The impacts of climate change can prevent fisheries management inactions from rebuilding fish populations, and conversely, excess fishing pressure can hinder the ability of a fish population to adapt to changes in climate. As I have written recently, a network of well-designed closed areas represents a promising management strategy to address the effect of climate change on fisheries.

Warming waters, shifting populations:

The mechanisms by which shifts in water temperature affect fish populations are not completely understood, but temperature driven changes have been observed in various species. Species’ response to climate change may be manifested as a shift in geographical distribution of the species, an expansion or contraction of the species’ range, or a change in depth distribution. Shifts in abundance are likely to be most apparent for species on the southern end of their range, and indeed shifts in fisheries distribution caused by warming waters are already taking place in the Northwest Atlantic. One study found a number of fish stocks in New England have shifted their center of biomass northward over the past 40 years.

Climate-driven shifts have been documented for cod in particular, one of the most economically, ecologically, and culturally important fish species in New England. Cod stocks on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine are at the southern end of their range in the Northwest Atlantic. Temperature influences the distribution of cod in the region, and warmer water temperature has also been linked to a decline in productivity in the Gulf of Maine.

While climate change may be affecting iconic species in New England fisheries, other species may also be shifting their distribution north to areas where they are not typically found. Several news articles in local media outlets this summer featured fishermen who described the changes they’ve witnessed in the distribution of fish species. Fishermen in Maine have seen increasing numbers of black sea bass and longfin squid – species not traditionally seen in the Gulf of Maine – while fishermen in Rhode Island are catching warm water species like cobia and Atlantic croaker.

Finding management solutions to uncertain changes:

The New England Fishery Management Council is currently working to design a new network of closed areas in the region, which would build resilience in the fishery by providing protection for fish, as they shift their distribution and as they adapt to a changing ecosystem, thereby protecting fishermen’s businesses in the long-term.

Closed areas can protect the territory most critical to the productivity of target fish species, including important but vulnerable habitats, areas important for foraging and areas that harbor critical life stages like large spawners and juveniles. Refuges from fishing pressure can provide further resilience for fish species faced with a changing environment and a well-designed network of closed areas provides important stepping stones for fish species shifting their distribution in response to warming waters.

One way to increase resilience to climate change is to rebuild the population structure for overexploited fish stocks. Fishing pressure typically targets the largest (and oldest) fish. However, large, old females are typically more successful breeders, producing a much larger number of healthy larvae, and spawning more frequently than their smaller counterparts. Closed areas designed around known spawning grounds or other areas where these large females congregate can preserve a population of older, larger fish within the stock, reducing their exposure to fishing pressure and allowing them to reproduce and contribute to stock rebuilding.

Climate change needs to be considered when designing properly functioning closed areas, understanding that both fish and fishing effort may shift as a result of environmental change.

Uncertainty is inherent in both the marine ecosystem and our management of fisheries, and creating closed areas can ensure some level of insurance against this uncertainty.  A closed area network for New England’s fisheries should be broadly distributed throughout the region to provide refuges to fish, particularly as stocks shift northward from their traditional areas of abundance. A well-designed network of linked closed areas can allow species distribution to shift in response to climate change, but remain at least partially protected. This will be important not only to fish but to fishermen, creating the resiliency needed in a healthy fishery to support the long-term interests of the fishing industry.

This closed area network can provide resilience to climate change in the near term, and can be adapted to meet changing conditions as species shift.  The Council needs to consider climate change when making decisions about developing this closed area network.  They should not miss the opportunity to take a positive step in the direction of managing for a changing climate.

Dr. Sarah Smith is a member of EDF Ocean's Spatial and Ecosystems Initiatives team

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Earth Day 2013: Awareness, Advocacy and Hope for the World’s Oceans

On this Earth Day, take a moment to appreciate the vastness and intricacies of our world’s oceans. Allow yourself to be mesmerized by the swirling currents continuously circulating the globe. It is amazing that science can meticulously catalog natural systems and present them to those without the ability to see what our Earth looks like from space. What this stunning NASA visualization does not show, are the numerous challenges facing the oceans such as overfishing, ocean acidification, oil spill contamination and plastic waste. While these challenges are largely hidden beneath the waves, increasing awareness, education, scientific research and advocacy have illuminated them. These challenges impact not only the fish and other creatures that live in the ocean, but the billions of people worldwide who depend on clean, healthy oceans for food and eco-tourism.

Fortunately, a growing momentum to save our oceans is emanating from all corners of the world as people see the value and imminent need to preserve marine resources for future generations. The World Bank announced a Global Partnership for Oceans last February 2012, which brings together governments, international organizations, civil society groups and members of the private sector with the common goal of assembling knowledge and financial resources to solve the threats facing ocean health and productivity. This partnership represents a concrete collaboration between global stakeholders to restore the oceans to health, and we are proud to be a part of this effort.

Here at EDF Oceans, we are working hard to conduct on the ground work with scientists, fishermen, governments and non-profits to ensure that there will be fish for future generations to enjoy. One project we have launched in the past year is a partnership with Rare and University of California, Santa Barbara, called “Fish Forever” which will “equip hundreds of coastal communities with the ability to boost the productivity of their fisheries while protecting the natural resources upon which they depend.”  Our skills combined produce a unique and scalable model for coastal communities around the world by empowering local fishermen to protect their ocean resources from illegal fishing and overexploitation. We are proud to partner with Rare and UCSB and look forward to continued collaboration and hard work to ensure a sizeable increase in sustainably managed fisheries around the world in the next five years.

There is hope for the oceans. Restoring them to clean, abundant waters will take years of research, hard work and dedication from stakeholders globally, but if we all take part in this marine awareness revolution this goal will become a reality.

 

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Fisheries Catch Data: A Tale of Two Approaches

photo credit: wanderlasss via photopin cc

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to entertain two opposed ideas at the same time and still function.

Two views on the importance of catch data for estimating the abundance of fish populations are portrayed as opposing ideas in recent articles, but both of the “antagonists” display first rate intelligence by coming to the same conclusion: catch data send an important signal about the status of a fish population, but other kinds of information must be applied to avoid being confounded by all the other things that affect catch and come to a reasonably accurate estimate of fish abundance.

This argument over methodology may seem arcane, but the stakes are high: estimates of the status of global fisheries based on catch data, which are available for most fisheries, suggest they are in pretty poor shape, because catches have declined sharply in many of them.  But when one looks at stocks that have been assessed by scientists who take into account fishery-independent measures of abundance, the situation looks far less dire, because decreases in catch can result not only from decreased abundance, but also from changes in markets, environmental conditions, regulations, and even in what fish are called – Hilborn and Branch point out that in the 50’s, all sharks were put into only 7 categories, but now there are 36 groups for which catch data are collected, so that reduced catch in some of the earlier categories may merely be the result of re-classification.

So catch data provide a satellite-eye view of the whole world that is out of focus, while stock assessments provide really sharp images of your town.  Which is the more accurate depiction of reality?  Neither, of course.  These two perspectives must be intelligently synthesized to find reality. Read More »

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‘Fish on Fridays’: Sustainable Fish Choices for Lent

Pike Place Seafood Market

Pike Place Seafood Market
Photo Credit: Joey Brookhart/Marine Photobank

During this season of Lent, millions of people are replacing meat with fish on Fridays.  And as they shop for seafood more frequently, many are also striving to avoid eating fish caught in a manner that further depletes the world’s fish stocks. With 87 percent of the world’s fisheries already fully or overexploited, buying sustainably caught seafood has become increasingly important to consumers.

Today, the best way to ensure you are buying sustainable seafood — and supporting American fishermen and fishing communities — is to buy from a US fishery managed under a system known as a “catch share.” Catch shares reduce overfishing by enforcing annual catch limits and increased monitoring, while granting fishermen a guaranteed share of the catch and greater flexibility in how they run their businesses.

They also provide consumers with more fresh, high-quality seafood. When all the fish have to be caught within the space of three days, as previous management required, it causes a glut on the market and most of those fish must be frozen. Longer fishing seasons mean fresh fish can be caught and sold year-round for consumers to enjoy.

So as you shop for your fish each Friday this Lent season, consider picking up some naturally sweet and lean Alaskan halibut, known for its firm, flaky texture. Or how about some sablefish, also known as “black cod” or “butterfish,” which is rich in omega 3 fats? It can be smoked, grilled or pan roasted. The popular Gulf red snapper is delicious when roasted with fresh herbs and vegetables, or perhaps your family would enjoy some mid-Atlantic golden tilefish, oven roasted with a bit of olive oil and sea salt? Next week give Virginia striped bass (rockfish) a try, rubbed with Cajun seasoning and blackened.

Want more ideas? Every Friday during Lent, we will be posting about sustainable seafood choices from catch share fisheries. Each week we will highlight a species, a fisherman and/or fishing community working hard to ensure a fresh and sustainable product, and a recipe to inspire you. We want to bring you closer to the fish you eat, and ultimately to the marine ecosystem that depends upon responsible consumer choices for its continued survival.

 

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EDF on the Radio: The California Fisheries Fund Helps West Coast Fishermen

CFF Director, Phoebe Higgins with Steve Fitz, a loan recipient

Last week, Phoebe Higgins, Director of our California Fisheries Fund, appeared on the John Young KUIC Hometown Morning show to discuss the productive work the fund is doing to help West Coast fishermen finance their transition to more sustainable fishing practices, improve the profitability of their fishing businesses and provide seafood consumers with the fresh and sustainably caught fish that they love.

Phoebe also discussed with John a new sustainable management program that is helping fishermen on the West Coast grow their fishing operations as well as allowing fish populations to rebound.  The Fund coupled with the Pacific Groundfish catch share program, is helping to maintain and grow California’s highly-valued ocean economy —worth $43 billion and contributing more than 474,000 jobs to the state. Fishermen have more time to fish carefully which improves their safety and dramatically reduces the amount of bycatch and discarded fish. In turn, fishermen are able to bring in higher quality fish to seafood consumers and market their fish at higher prices.

Listen to Phoebe discuss the California Fisheries Fund project and catch share programs on the show and see how one fisherman is benefitting from his loan.

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How Behavioral Economics Could Save Both the Fishing Industry and the Oceans

Eric Pooley, EDF Senior Vice President for Strategy and Communications

Eric Pooley, EDF Senior Vice President for Strategy and Communications

Preview of Harvard Business Review Blog by Eric Pooley 

Read the full blog here

It's frightening enough that 87% of the world's assessed fisheries are fully or over-exploited. But it is even scarier to consider how little we know about the condition of most of the world's fisheries, because four-fifths of them have never been scientifically assessed. A recent study in the journal Science is providing fresh insights into thousands of fisheries where data has not been previously available. These "data poor" fisheries make up 80% of the world's catch — and many are on the brink of collapse.

Despite the dire news, there is a bright spot in the study. The authors conclude that the ocean is nowhere near a lost cause and with the right management tools, the abundance of fish could increase by 56%. In some places, the study says, fisheries yields could more than double.

This isn't just a big deal for the fish. As the authors of the Science study write, "When sustainably managed, marine fisheries provide food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people worldwide." So what's the key to seeing such a rebound become reality? An approach to overseeing fisheries known as rights-based management, or catch shares.

Over the past decade, catch shares have taken hold in U.S. waters, ensuring the sustainability of about 65% of the fish landed in the United States. This is the greatest unknown policy success of our time. Don't take my word for it — I work for the Environmental Defense Fund, a policy shop that has long championed the approach. Instead, consider the facts that helped lead the authors of the Science article draw that same optimistic conclusion.

Catch shares are a market-based management tool used in commercial fishing that, coupled with catch limits, have been successful in rebuilding fish populations while improving the efficiency and business of fishing. After decades of failed regulatory regimes, catch shares are working for fish and for fishermen. What's unfolding before our eyes is a global behavioral economics study — one that's delivering major benefits to people around the world.

The Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery, for example, was on the brink of collapse in the early part of the last decade. Fishermen were limited to 52-day seasons that were getting shorter every year. The shortened seasons, an attempt to counter overfishing, hurt fishermen economically and created unsafe "derbies" that often forced them to race into storms like the boats in The Deadliest Catch.

**Intrigued? Keep reading the blog at Harvard Business Review

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EDF Wins Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for California Fisheries Fund

Environmental Defense Fund was awarded California’s highest environmental honor by Governor Jerry Brown at a ceremony last night for our creation of the California Fisheries Fund (CFF). The CFF, the first fisheries-specific loan fund in California and most comprehensive in the United States, provides capital to fishermen, fishing businesses and communities who are dedicated to safeguarding the environment, their fishery’s profitability and the greater oceans economy.

The award ceremony was hosted by California EPA in Sacramento, California. During his remarks, California EPA secretary Matthew Rodriguez said that the “entities that we’re recognizing tonight are really showing us the way forward. Their unique approach shows how, given a challenge, California businesses, nonprofit organizations and businesses can really rise to the occasion.”

There can be many business challenges for fishermen to transition to more environmentally-friendly fishing practices but with the California Fisheries Fund, we’re removing roadblocks and helping fishermen continue on the path to fishing sustainably and profitably.

So far, we have awarded fourteen loans totaling nearly $1.7 million to eleven borrowers including fishermen, fishing businesses and communities. Most recently, we closed a loan to Steve Fitz, a Half Moon Bay fisherman who attended the award ceremony with us.. Steve’s CFF loan allowed him to buy his boat from his uncle and carry on his family’s sustainable fishing legacy—operating the only commercial fishing operation in the nation that uses Scottish Seine gear. The most eco-friendly way to catch flatfish like Petrale sole and sand dabs, Scottish Seine gear consists of lines which gently guide fish into the path of light-weight nets. Unlike some other types of fishing techniques, Scottish Seine doesn’t use heavy gear that drags along the ocean floor. Read More »

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Managing for a Resilient Ocean

Good science should always guide policy.  In the ocean, policy reflects decades of scientific work on single species and on single endpoints, like water quality.  However, it is now clear that ocean ecosystems are more than the sum of their parts, and policy needs to catch up to this new scientific understanding.

Of course, we must continue to protect the aspects of ocean ecosystems that we value the most.  Fisheries need catch limits to keep stocks at sustainable levels.  Pollutants need caps to keep waters fishable and swimmable.  Forestry and farming need best practices and standards to keep estuaries healthy.  But it turns out that ocean ecosystems have tipping points – ecological thresholds beyond which they undergo dramatic changes.

Healthy and resilient ocean ecosystems function similar to the United States government’s system of checks and balances—different species do similar things but in slightly different ways, which help keep these systems both interconnected and even-keeled. However, when we reduce species populations so much they can no longer do their part, we alter the natural balance of the system, which can have grave effects.

Luxuriant kelp forests that support marine mammals and a myriad of other species provide us with various ecosystem services like seafood, agar (sugar made from kelp), recreation, and sheltering the coastline from waves. However, these habitats can turn to rocky barrens very rapidly when they reach their tipping points. We witnessed this in the 1800s when fur hunting became prevalent—decreasing the sea otter population. With fewer sea otter to consume urchins, urchins became overabundant, overgrazing the kelp and causing forests to disappear.

Fortunately, science is providing insights into the factors that make ocean ecosystems more capable of resisting these kinds of changes, and more able to bounce back when they are damaged; in other words, the attributes that make some systems more resilient than others.  Having lots of species with different ecological jobs (biodiversity and niches) is very important, as is having several species doing the same job but in slightly different ways (functional redundancy).  Lots of genetic diversity within species and populations is important as well.  It's a little like rocket science: rockets are complex systems that are made more robust and resilient (i.e., less likely to blow up) by building in redundant subsystems.  Nature has done that one better by building in even more diversity, allowing coral reefs for example to recover from hurricanes and even volcanic eruptions that devastate human communities.

In an ocean in which the temperature, pH, currents, weather, and human uses are changing, it makes much more sense to manage for resilient ecosystems than manage for maximum sustainable yield of one species or another.  Who knows what the next big impact to the ocean will be?  We need to increase resiliency so that no matter what, ocean ecosystems can persist and continue to provide the many valuable ecosystem services upon which we depend.  Our new paper draws on the science of ecosystem resilience and lays out a policy framework for achieving this goal.

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