On World Oceans Day we celebrated an ecosystem which is inextricably linked to our lives. Oceans cover about 70% of the planet and contain 99% of Earth’s living space. They are home to nearly half of all known species, generate most of the oxygen we breathe, help regulate the climate, and provide food for billions of people around the world. In fact, 2 billion people in the developing world depend on seafood for at least 50% of their nutritional needs.
There are myriad challenges facing the world’s oceans, including pollution, climate change, acidification and overfishing (often as a result of mis-management of fisheries), yet new policies and management tactics offer hope for improving the economic and environmental outlook of our oceans.
EDF is a founding partner of the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans—an “alliance of more than 100 governments, international organizations, civil society groups, and private sector interests committed to addressing the threats to the health, productivity and resilience of the world’s oceans.” A separate but complimentary initiative is the “50 in 10 Initiative” which seeks to ensure that 50% of the world’s fish are caught under sustainable management by 2023. Consensus is emerging among global leaders that solutions to the problems we are facing exist—and can be scaled up to empower fisheries to deploy these proven solutions. Read More »
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. Read More »
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.
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 »
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.
In the United States today, 65% of all fish caught in federal U.S. waters comes from catch share programs, which helped drive a 17 year high in fish landings last year. We are continuing to see evidence that catch shares can help to rebuild fish populations while providing fishermen with more stable and profitable jobs as the stock recovers. Last year was exciting and productive for our Oceans team. We want to look back at the year with you, and look forward to how we will continue working with fishermen and fishery managers to restore fish populations at home and abroad. Our goals for 2013 are to:
Improve the health and profitability of U.S. commercial fisheries and ocean ecosystems
Advance Pilot Projects that improve recreational fisheries by partnering with recreational fishermen
Promote catch shares internationally
Work with fishery stakeholders and scientists to improve science, data collection and monitoring in both catch share and non-catch share fisheries for improved management.
In 2011, just three catch share programs (the Pacific Groundfish IFQ, New England sector program, and the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper IFQ programs) saved nearly 16 million pounds of fish from being wasted last year as discards—enough to feed about one million Americans their seafood for a year.
In the Pacific Region, January 2012 marked the first-year anniversary of a catch share management program for more than 60 species of commercially important groundfish. EDF played a key role in the program’s development, and we are working hard to ensure its durability. In the first year, West Coast fishermen discarded 80% fewer fish than in the previous year, and their revenues reached $54 million—42% higher than the previous five-year average (2011 NOAA Report). Read More »
We can often get wrapped up in policy discussions and advocacy, and forget to take a moment to appreciate why we care about the ocean. Last week a video started popping up on the internet of some dolphins off the coast of Santa Cruz, CA.
The video was meant to be of a tuna fishing trip, but caught some magical footage of a pod of dolphins swimming together. The video is so vivid; it almost looks like computer generated animation. So take a moment, click play (wait until about the one minute mark), and appreciate why working to preserve our oceans’ ecosystems is important.
There are many challenges facing our planet’s oceans which have not been addressed to date by any single group of citizens, lawmakers, fishermen or world leaders. Fortunately, hope can be seen in the Global Partnership for Oceans (GPO), a growing alliance of “governments, international organizations, civil society groups, and private sector interests that will mobilize knowledge and financial resources to address threats to ocean health, resilience and productivity.” This partnership, announced in February, has garnered the support of over 80 signatories so far and represents a bold and courageous front to save the oceans and preserve their social, biological and economic benefits for generations to come.
A declaration was released today by the GPO stating its objectives for achieving its international commitments for healthy and productive oceans. Read More »