EDFish

Selected tag(s): Fish

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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Ecomarkets: Scaling Up Marine Conservation

Originally published in the Huffington Post Green Blog: 12/30/12

The ocean is enormous, supporting a vast array of life while providing food, fuel, recreation, and spiritual rejuvenation.  But efforts to conserve the ocean, though valiant, are meager compared to the scale of the threats to the ocean.  Ocean conservation advocates have achieved many notable successes, such as dramatic reductions in certain kinds of pollution, the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and major improvements in fishery management in some areas of the world.  However, a recent analysis that EDF participated in suggests that 40% of the ocean is still strongly impacted by a range of threats, including shipping, the modification of rivers and estuaries, coastal development, pollution, and overfishing.  How can we scale conservation efforts up to match the ocean’s vastness and the severity of these threats?

To answer this question, we must first accurately diagnose the problem. Conventional markets, which drive so much of mass human behavior, only value a few of the many goods and services that the ocean provides, like fish and oil.  The critically important ocean processes that produce fish, regulate the climate, assimilate wastes, and provide all of the other goods and services on which the diversity of ocean life and we humans depend are generally not valued by markets.  Because markets see value only in parts of the ocean, and not in the whole, the valuable pieces are extracted and the rest is degraded.

Conservation has been pushing back against market forces, among the most powerful forces in the world, in the form of regulation.  While regulations like water quality standards and MPAs can be very effective, they often depend on high levels of enforcement because they are working against market forces and the incentives to exploit valuable resources without stewarding the ecosystems that support them.  Regulations in this context are often perceived as threats to livelihood and human welfare, resulting in opposition and conflict.  It is not surprising that it typically takes many years and sometimes decades to get ocean conservation measures in place. Read More »

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Finding the Ecological Cliff and Staying Away from It: Thresholds for Sustainability

In “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” author and journalist, Malcolm Gladwell explains how sociological changes often happen very quickly and unexpectedly.   He describes a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

It turns out that many natural ecosystems have tipping points too, called ecological thresholds.  Healthy ocean ecosystems can resist change, exist in alternative states and recover from storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions – and even from human activities like pollution and fishing.  Having more than one species that do similar things but in slightly different ways helps ecosystems stay healthy; i.e., makes them resilient.  But when we reduce species so much that they can’t play their ecological roles or when we stress the system too much, these ecosystems can reach a tipping point and change rapidly from beautiful, productive systems to damaged systems that are incapable of creating the wonders and benefits they once produced. Read More »

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Ocean Conservation Should not be a Partisan Issue

Stetson Bank Coral and Sponges

Stetson Bank Coral and Sponges. Photo credit: Frank and Joyce Burek

No matter what happens at the polls today, the ocean and the fish that live in it will still require our attention and conservation efforts. With all the politics and rhetoric circulating throughout the media, the fact that oceans and other vital ecosystems provide invaluable resources and benefits to the billions of people on this planet tends to go unnoticed. Even worse, there is a tendency to paint the environment as a partisan issue, when regardless of your political beliefs—ensuring we have a healthy natural world is essential to your survival and happiness for the future.

The oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the world’s water. An estimated 20,000 species of marine fish swim beneath the largely unexplored waters, along with complex plant and animal life including coral reefs, sea grasses, whales and sharks. Billions of people globally depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and the economic value of fishing for their livelihood. Many of these people live in poor, undeveloped countries and will rely more heavily on the ocean as populations increase and global warming impacts their ability to cultivate food on land. The reality of our global dependence on the ecosystem services that the ocean provides becomes more evident with studies such one which recently came out in Science, citing that 80% of the world’s un-assessed fisheries are in worse shape than previously thought. But there is hope if we act now to align the right incentives and increase the economic value of fisheries, while putting fishermen at the forefront of conservation.  Ensuring that the world’s fish stocks are replenished is a human imperative, not a political talking point. Read More »

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Consumers Deserve to Know about Seafood Contaminants

Tim Fitzgerald, Sr. Policy Specialist, Oceans

Tim Fitzgerald, Scientist and Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

If you can choose whether to have tartar sauce with your fish, why not high levels of mercury?

The Washington Post ran a story last week that said fish consumption advisories for pollutants like mercury do more harm than good by discouraging people from eating fish. Tuesday, the newspaper published a letter in response from me and Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services and member of EDF’s Board of Trustees.

Eating seafood is an important part of a healthy diet. However, that does not justify ignoring the fact that some types of fish contain high concentrations of environmental contaminants. Just last week, a new study came out that documented significant losses of IQ points from the American population as a result of elevated blood mercury levels (and other environmental contaminants). Read More »

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