A friend of mine recently asked me, ‘Why do you work on fisheries?’
I began to talk about how fisheries is the ultimate tragedy of the commons problem, an economic term coined by Garett Hardin in the 1960s which explains how individuals act in their individual best interest rather than do what is best long term for the group. I talked about how governments are challenged by managing shared natural resources and how this is even more complex with ocean fisheries since we do not see the fish disappear beneath the surface.
That long and “technical” answer may be part of the reason, but it doesn’t fully explain why I do what I do. The real answer is much simpler. I love our oceans. I have spent all my summers on an island on the Swedish west coast called Koster, where the water is clear and full of life. And I grew up in Stockholm – a city surrounded by water. I took my diving license at age 16, as soon as I was allowed, even though this meant training and doing my final dives in February on the east coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea, with sub-zero temperatures and visibility of less than a meter. Read More
Fishing boat coming in from Galveston Bay.
Photo Credit: Roy.Luck
Galveston Bay is a busy body of water. It carries the traffic of the Houston Ship Channel. It is a popular recreation destination for fishermen and others. It not only serves as a home to birds and large marine animals, but also as a nursery ground for many important seafood species. It is the nation’s seventh largest estuary and among them the second most important seafood producer, behind only the Chesapeake Bay.
The immediate effects of the oil spill on March 22, 2014, are visible in the oil sheens and tar balls floating in the water and the “oiled” birds and animals that crews are trying to help. But, we can’t see how this heavy marine fuel, containing toxic chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is harming shrimp, crabs, oysters, red drum and other fish that call the waters of Galveston Bay home. This contamination can hang around for a long time. Studies from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill show that even in low concentrations PAHs can disrupt the development of fish and invertebrate larvae; and in high concentrations can be lethal. Recent reports of tunas susceptible to deformities from the 2010 spill attest to the potential risks long after the spill itself is gone.
The timing of this spill is bad for several key species especially important to the seafood industry and consumers. Brown shrimp have already spawned offshore, and March is the month when the young ride tides coming back inshore to settle in seagrass beds and marshes, habitats that are their nurseries – and where the water is now contaminated with oil pollution. The young are especially vulnerable from now until about May or June. Young blue crabs that settled during the winter in Galveston Bay are also in danger, as are baby fish; including Gulf menhaden, a large harvest in the region’s fishing industry and a fish that is a vital food for larger fish and other animals. Marine life in the way of the oil is dying; and those not killed are exposed to toxic chemicals that could impair their reproductive potential, and some fish that feed on worms in bottom sediments may acquire and carry toxics in their tissues. The seafood “crops” in the area could well be reduced.
Anyone who has been to Galveston Bay has seen the many dolphins are other large marine life that frequent the area and eat these other fish. As these contaminants enter Bay food chains our concern turns not only to how these animals are affected by the spill in the short term, but also to their longer-term health, and even to whether or not seafood species that live there could constitute a human health risk that must be guarded against into the future. Read More
President George W. Bush signs the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006, joined by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers.
Photo Credit: AP, from talkingfish.org
Fisheries management can be a contentious business. So it’s all the more striking that the business of legislating on federal fisheries has historically been a relatively cordial affair. The gains of the last two decades have been possible because of strong cooperation across the aisle. In 1996 the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) prioritized conservation in federal fisheries management for the first time. Alaska’s Republican Congressman Don Young jokes that the Magnuson-Stevens Act could have been called the Young-Studds Act because of his close collaboration on the SFA with Gerry Studds, then a Democrat from Massachusetts. It passed both chambers by overwhelming margins and was signed into law by President Clinton. Ten years later, the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act strengthened conservation mandates in response to continued overfishing and the failure to rebuild overfished species. It was championed in the Senate by Republican Ted Stevens in close cooperation with his Democratic counterpart Daniel Inouye. It cleared the Senate by unanimous consent, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
With Congress once again considering reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), there’s a welcome bipartisan consensus that the law is working. Senior lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are talking about building on our recent successes and exploring minor tweaks to the law rather than pursuing any kind of far-reaching rewrite. Despite serious ongoing challenges in specific fisheries, the legal framework created by Congress is clearly succeeding. Science-based annual catch limits are ending overfishing; and statutory rebuilding timelines have driven the recovery of more than 30 previously depleted stocks. This is great news for the health of the ocean. It’s even better news for seafood lovers, saltwater anglers, and coastal small businesses—the most important long-term beneficiaries of fishery management success. Read More
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: Read More
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. Read More
It may seem counter-intuitive that sharing the catch yields more fish and economic benefits for fishermen and coastal communities, but that is exactly what catch shares are proven to do.
NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) recently released its first national report assessing the economic performance of catch share programs in the United States. This report further validates the findings outlined in a 2011 Marine Policy Paper, “Assessing Catch Shares’ effects evidence from Federal United States and associated British Columbian Fisheries (Grimm et. al), which examined 15 catch share programs in the U.S and British Columbia before and after catch share implementation.
While these two studies differ slightly in selected fisheries, variables and time frame, they both conclude that catch shares consistently outperform conventional management systems across the board. Graduating to catch shares yields a robust return on investment: longer seasons, fewer risks, higher revenues, less waste and more full time jobs. An overview of the findings from Grimm et al. is presented in the table below. Read More
The EU Parliament will vote in plenary this fall on the EMFF. Photo Credit: Europa.eu
Given scarce resources in the EU and UK, it’s especially important that fishing privileges are allocated in a way that best serves national sustainability interests—and now is the time to invest. This month, the European Council approved proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the EU’s framework for fisheries management. The new policy calls for Member States to end discarding and restore fisheries to sustainable levels. It mandates implementation of systems for allocation of fishing opportunities that are transparent and objective, and that take into consideration environmental and social criteria, as well as historical catch rates.
Regrettably, the fisheries policy reforms to the CFP lack the funds necessary to achieve its objectives. Shortly after the policy puzzle pieces fell into place, Parliament’s Fisheries Committee took up the accompanying funding legislation – the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) –and shot itself in the foot. Unlike the Council of Ministers, the Parliament’s Committee voted not to provide member states, and potentially other stakeholders such as Producer Organizations, with financial support for designing, monitoring and engaging stakeholders in the process of developing fair and transparent allocation schemes. Instead, the Committee voted to re-institute boat-buying and engine-modernizing subsidies, which undermines sustainability by prodding fishermen to increase their fishing capacity. Read More
Recently, the impacts of climate change on fisheries have been in the news. The emphasis has been on the inability of scientists to explain how climate change is affecting fisheries or to fix the problems it seems to be causing. These include shifting distribution and abundance patterns of commercially valuable fish stocks – shifts that may leave fishermen stranded with very restrictive catch limits, even when they have been doing everything possible to protect and restore their stocks. These problems are being felt acutely in New England, where catch of some valuable stocks has been highly restricted to rebuild stocks depleted by overfishing – but they face even more restrictions as scientists find less fish in the water, possibly due to migrations induced by climate change.
A better scientific understanding of how climate change influences the distribution and abundance of fish is certainly needed, but that may be less important than the need for more flexible human institutions that can rapidly adjust to those changes. Read More