Monthly Archives: September 2009

SAFMC Protects Deep Water Corals

Deep water corals off the southeastern U.S.Big news comes from the U.S. Southeast, where the regional fishery management council voted last Thursday to protect what is likely the planet’s largest deepwater coral ecosystem, covering nearly 25,000 square miles, stretching from North Carolina to Florida.

This final action culminates ten years of active collaboration between scientists (including EDF Oceans Chief Scientist, Doug Rader), managers, environmentalists and fishermen to protect this recently discovered world treasure. While rulemaking in the U.S. Department of Commerce will extend into next year, the vote last week was a major conservation milestone. In combination with the establishment of national marine monuments in the distant Pacific in January, this action truly establishes 2009 as the year of the oceans!

Recent Press:

The Charlotte Observer

Orlando Sentinel

TCPalm (Florida)

Photo courtesy of Steven Ross

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U.S./Cuba History in the Making

EDF Staff with Cuban delegates in Washington, D.C.Last week marked the beginning of a sea change in U.S. and Cuba cooperation on the environment. Our Oceans team invited and secured visas for a delegation of Cuban scientists to come to the U.S. for meetings with EDF and other partners. EDF has been working in Cuba for almost a decade to protect coral reefs, conserve mangroves and other vulnerable coastal ecosystems, and to conduct scientific research with our Cuban partners.

During this historic visit, EDF staff and our Cuban guests discussed future opportunities to collaborate, both in Cuba and the U.S. Of paramount importance are new projects aimed at protecting and sustaining fish populations and other shared resources in the Gulf of Mexico, northern Caribbean, and Atlantic.

Staff from our Climate and Air program and Land, Water and Wildlife program made presentations on their work and initiated discussions on possible collaborations on climate change and agricultural runoff. On Friday, the delegation traveled to Sarasota to meet with scientists from the Mote Marine Lab. Scientists from EDF and Mote are involved in a tri-national collaboration on marine sciences and conservation with our partners from Cuba and from Mexico.

Despite years of political separation, Dan Whittle, director of EDF’s Cuba Project says, “The environment knows no borders, and the resources we share are so important. We see the environment as the one issue that can bring the two countries together.”

Denise Stetten, manager of the Latin America and Caribbean Oceans Program at EDF says, “The spirit of the meetings was extremely positive and several important projects for collaboration emerged. We will be sure to follow through with those ideas and continue to build on our foundation of cooperation.”

News coverage of the visit:

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South Atlantic Council Votes Unanimously to Explore Catch Shares

SA boat - smWe know that Southeast fishermen and business owners aren’t happy with the long season closures in place for many popular snapper grouper species, but today marks a victory toward better management that will help move the fishery away from closures. Today the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to explore a catch share amendment for the snapper grouper fishery. 

Managing a fishery under catch shares  is an opportunity to replace current management that focuses on closures – which don’t help fish, fishermen or businesses – with a more rational system that allows for increased flexibility about when and how to fish. Catch shares management also helps stocks recover and offers stability to fishing and other local businesses.

This decision is a chance for both commercial and recreational fishermen to get in the driver’s seat about how their fishing is managed, and start getting their seasons back. Catch shares also help achieve conservation gains very quickly, such as significantly reducing the amount of fish that must be thrown overboard dead due to outdated management rules.

Several fishermen spoke up at the Council meeting in favor of catch shares.

“In the midst of these long closures, catch shares could be the fishing industry’s saving grace,” said Phil Conklin, a commercial fisherman out of Murrells Inlet, S.C.  “Just look at the Gulf’s red snapper fishermen if you want proof that this can work in the Southeast. We’re in the same situation they were five years ago. Rather than letting our fishing industry continue to go down the drain under these season closures, that many doubt will even help the fish and will certainly hurt fishermen, we should seriously consider catch shares for our fishery.”

The Council’s decision shows that they’re thinking about the long-term health of the fishery. They should keep this momentum going and work to implement a catch share for the fishery soon. It’s the best way to keep the Southeast’s fishing heritage alive.

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Task Force Seeks to Harmonize Government Policy for the Oceans

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy DirectorThe Obama administration took a big step towards harmonizing the policies of the federal government as it relates to oceans.  With 140 federal laws and more than 20 federal agencies and commissions covering the oceans, you can imagine how difficult it can be to keep everything straight. 

The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force issued its report yesterday outlining a new unifying national ocean policy to advance environmental, economic and others goals.  The next step is for the Task Force to report on how the operations of the government might change to better implement this policy consistent with federal law.   

 This new national ocean policy was a core recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission. The task force’s report is an important and welcomed step but the bigger picture is perhaps more exciting.  The report signals that the Obama administration is focusing on the oceans, raising it to the highest levels government.  There is much more to be done for the oceans, but this is a terrific step.

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“Dock Talk” Shows that Books Can Only Take You So Far

Snapper Off-load in Destin, FLAt a recent meeting in Destin, FL, where members of our Gulf and South Atlantic teams met to discuss collaborative projects, I had the opportunity to see a commercial boat offloading its catch after a three day fishing trip. What an experience! 

As multitudes of red snapper, vermilion snapper, and grey triggerfish were loaded off the boat and put on ice, I took the opportunity to meet with the Captain and crew and ask questions.  I learned what species are caught together, and therefore which species probably share the same habitat. 

The Captain told me about the places he goes fishing, what depths he fishes, what gear he uses, and how far out he goes.  It was interesting to learn that many of the species he co-catches in the Gulf are same species that are caught together in the South Atlantic.  It reaffirmed for me, from a shared habitat and ecosystem point of view, that collaboration between the South Atlantic and Gulf teams is beneficial and even critical.

The Captain explained that he is pleased with the recent red snapper catch share program because he doesn’t have to go as far to catch fish since the red snapper stock seems to have expanded. He also doesn’t have to throw nearly as many fish back overboard.  His job is more profitable and takes less time.  Who wouldn’t be happy with that?

Additionally, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist was on hand taking otolith (ear bone) samples from fish to take back to the agency’s lab.  This random sampling of otoliths was taken in order to determine the ages of the fish that were caught.  Under a microscope, an otolith has rings on it, like a tree trunk, that can be counted to age the fish.  She even showed me how to take an otolith sample!

Overall, I learned a valuable lesson. As a fisheries scientist, it is imperative to get out in the field and ask fishermen questions.  As I think about how a catch share program would work for the snapper grouper fishery in the South Atlantic, it is important for me to understand the biological aspects of fish that are caught together and share the same habitat. These aspects must be factored into a successful catch share program. 

Fishermen are good at what they do and have insightful knowledge into the oceans they depend upon to make a living. This type of information and insight can’t be learned in a book, sometimes you just have to get out on the docks.

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We Seek Your Expertise; EDF Releases Catch Shares Design Manual for Public Comment

Draft Catch Shares Design Manual - For public commentEffective design of a catch share program is the critical piece that can make all the difference in how the needs of a fishery and its fishing communities are met under catch shares management. Catch Shares Design Manual: A Guide for Fishermen and Managers provides information and recommendations to fishery managers and stakeholders on specific catch share design elements as they relate to conservation, economic, and social objectives.

EDF developed this manual to provide a roadmap to catch share design, drawing on the experience of hundreds of fisheries in over a dozen countries and expertise from over 30 fishery experts from around the world.

While the Manual is comprehensive, it is not prescriptive: It is a series of questions whose answers help guide and inform the catch share design process.  Detailed discussions of various design elements are coupled with tools (including charts, check-lists, and case studies) to outline and highlight options.

Today, we release the draft of the Manual and ask for your constructive feedback and comments. We seek your expertise to make the document even better and will incorporate comments into the final version to be released later this year.  We hope you will contribute to this document.  Please go to to provide your review before September 30.

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