Monthly Archives: January 2010

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, and EDF Host Fishermen Listening Session in Beaufort, SC

Gullah/Geechee Fishermen Listening Session-Beaufort_SC_045The Oceans program has developed robust relationships with an array of people across the U.S. including fishermen, scientists, academics, and political leaders; however, it‘s not every day that it works closely with royalty. Over the past several weeks, the Oceans program has partnered with Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee nation, and the organization she founded, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition in its effort to engage African-American fishermen in the Southeast – the voices of whom haven’t been apart of the conversation to sustain fisheries.  

For many years, Queen Quet has diligently championed the conservation of the rich Gullah/Geechee culture and heritage. The Gullah/Geechee is a minority group within the African-American population. Spanning from the coast of Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, the Gullah/Geechee nation has upheld the linguistics and traditions of their West African ancestry. The Gullah/Geechee  are a people that have lived off the land and water for over 300 years, and their inherent ties to these resources are pervasive throughout their way of life.

Gullah/Geechee Fishermen Listening Session-Beaufort_SC_051Because the continuity of this way of life is pertinent for Queen Quet and her people who have fished for generations, she expressed a keen interest in collaborating with EDF to better understand the challenges facing African-Americans for what has been perceived as a changing rate of participation in subsistence and commercial fisheries.  To best document the concerns of this community, EDF and the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition cosponsored a listening session in Beaufort, South Carolina on January 21st. The event was a great achievement and brought together local and state officials and approximately 30 fishermen. For a group that generally has not been present at public forums in the past, this turnout signified the importance of the subject.

Gullah/Geechee Fishermen Listening Session-Beaufort_SC_047According to Queen Quet, seafood is one of the major sources of employment for the Gullah/Geechee. During the meeting, the fishermen openly shared their concerns about the fishing industry, drawing comments from nearly everyone in the auditorium throughout the night.

The adversities identified by the community included size and catch limit restrictions, limited access to docks and oyster beds, depletion of fish stocks, unawareness of changing regulations and management decisions, and rising costs. These are the type of issues confronted by many of the fishermen with whom EDF works.  Although the fishermen looked to EDF to present solutions to the issues identified, they also saw the value in shaping a collective voice. When asked, there was an incredible consensus by the fishermen to form a Black fishermen association encompassing the South Atlantic region.

The information gathered from these sessions will be shared with political leaders such as Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the Congressional Black Caucus to bring awareness to an issue affecting the livelihoods of their constituency and begin to chart a way forward. We intend to proceed with another listening session in North Carolina in April.

As the session concluded, the attendees were interested in keeping this momentum strong and inquired about a follow-up meeting taking place. Needless to say, we were extremely heartened about this great start.  We will work to continue to build a strong relationship with this community and help them find solutions to their challenges that will result in sustainable and healthy fisheries.

Nicole Smith is a 2009 – 2010 Oceans Program Fellow working to engage African-American fishermen in the U.S. southeast.

Posted in Uncategorized / Tagged , , , , , | Read 3 Responses

Climate Change Threatens Chemical Composition of the Oceans

Rod FujitaThe recent U.N. Climate Change conference in Copenhagen highlighted the range of challenges associated with fighting climate change, from cutting energy use to financing clean technology in developing countries.  Why the global sense of urgency and focus?  Because the impacts of climate change are already being felt.  Most of our discussions center on the dangers of sea level rise, which is already inundating low-lying islands and valuable wetlands; on changes in precipitation and air temperature, which will affect everything from agriculture to asthma; and on the shift in seasons and habitat that will make life difficult for trees, butterflies, and the other wildlife we are familiar with.

Enormous threats indeed.  And it is perhaps inevitable that we are focused on the land and our fellow terrestrial inhabitants.  But let us not forget the fact that we are changing the ocean profoundly in many ways.  A recent study suggests that over a third of the entire ocean is heavily impacted by human activities, and that there is no longer a single patch of seawater anywhere that can be said to be pristine.  And incredibly, we are not just affecting patches of the ocean here or there – we are changing the very chemistry of the seas, chemistry that has remained stable for millennia and which defines the parameters for life in the sea and also for the habitability of the planet for us.

All living systems are buffered from extreme change by their chemistry.  If not for the carbonate/bicarbonate and other buffering chemicals in our blood, the pH (a measure of acidity) would fluctuate wildly and none of the myriad proteins or enzymes essential for life would function.  Because pH is a logarithmic scale, very small changes in pH can be disastrous for life – for example, a change of less than one pH unit is lethal to humans. Oceans along coast

The ocean is a gigantic living system, and is perhaps one of the best-buffered systems on the planet.  Enormous quantities of buffering chemicals have been entering the ocean each year for billions of years.  Remarkably, though, even the ocean is not impervious to the impacts of fossil fuel combustion and carbon dioxide emissions. 

As atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen, the ocean has steadfastly taken up about 2 billion tons of it every year, protecting us from an even more serious climate crisis than we have already.  However, carbon dioxide reacts with seawater to create carbonic acid.  As a result, while the pH of the ocean varies widely in response to local conditions, scientists have detected a noticeable drop in pH (an increase in average acidity) over the last 20 years and project a decrease in pH by 0.3-0.4 units – a huge change –  by 2100 if nothing is done to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. 

Read More »

Posted in Uncategorized / Tagged , | Read 4 Responses

New Data Policy Can Help Recover Sea Turtle Populations

Loggerhead close up over aqua_2792097[1]_shutterstock_RFThe National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is proposing to implement a new rule this year that can help improve our understanding of sea turtles and how the fishing industry interacts with them. This is good news because the current data on “sea turtle interactions” isn’t very plentiful in most fisheries. The rule would be important because managers need to understand the activities that affect sea turtles so they can develop effective conservation programs that recover threatened and endangered populations, such as Loggerhead sea turtles.

The rule would work by identifying fisheries in state and federal waters that will be required, upon NMFS’ request, to take scientific observers on fishing trips to gather information about the number of sea turtles encountered and the types of interactions. Several fisheries would be put on a list, called an Annual Determination, and would be subject to carrying observers for 5 years. NMFS is proposing to include fisheries such as trawl fisheries and gillnet fisheries in this Annual Determination.
In addition to the use of observers, NMFS should consider using new technologies (such as at-sea video monitoring) that can be cost effective and may allow an increase in the level of monitoring, especially in fisheries where accommodating an observer is difficult. 

Good data will help NMFS evaluate existing sea turtle protections and develop better management measures. Regulations based on good data, sound science, and industry, accountability can improve management of sea turtles and help rebuild endangered populations.

Posted in Uncategorized / Tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed

Alaska Pollock Remains Good Seafood Choice Despite Current Challenges

Today the Monterey Bay Aquarium – with whom Environmental Defense Fund partners on its Seafood Selector – updated its popular Seafood Watch pocket guides. A number of new and revised rankings were part of the update, including the first-ever farmed salmon to reach the ‘Green’ (Best Choice) list.

Perhaps the most notable new ranking is for Alaska pollock, which was moved from ‘Green’ (Best Choice) to ‘Yellow’ (Good Alternative). If you’ve never heard of pollock, it’s related to cod and is actually the fourth most popular seafood item in America. It’s the whitefish used in fish sticks, fish filet sandwiches, and surimi (imitation crab meat). Pollock is the largest fishery in the United States (and the largest food-fish fishery in the world), with annual catches averaging two billion pounds.

Some people may interpret the ‘Good Alternative’ ranking to mean that the Alaska pollock is no longer sustainable. Rather, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new report, which took more than a year to write, highlights some environmental challenges facing the fishery, but ultimately concludes that pollock is still a good choice for both seafood consumers and businesses. (This fact was confirmed yesterday when the pollock fishery was recommended for re-certification to the Marine Stewardship Council).

Here’s a brief outline of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s findings:

1. Pollock biology
The good news: Pollock mature quickly, are short-lived and reproduce often, making them resilient to fishing pressure. Important spawning areas are also off-limits to fishing.

2. Status of pollock stocks
The good news: pollock populations are not overfished, and are still considered healthy;
The bad news: they have steadily declined from all-time highs earlier this decade. The stock is also influenced by changing environmental conditions, and climate change is affecting the Bering Sea faster than many other places on Earth.
Outlook: Fishing quotas have been reduced in each of the last four years to account for less pollock, and the latest projections show the stock rebounding by 2012.

3. Bycatch
The good news: the pollock fishery is one of the ‘cleanest’ – averaging less than 1% bycatch relative to overall catch.
The bad news: bycatch of chinook salmon – a commercially and culturally important species in coastal Alaskan communities – steadily increased from 2001-2007, peaking at 120,000 fish.
Outlook: the pollock industry instituted a voluntary bycatch avoidance program in 2008 that helped reduce salmon bycatch by more than 80% in just two years. Additional regulations are scheduled to go into effect in 2011.

4. Habitat & ecosystem impacts
The good news: the latest government study concluded that groundfish fisheries (including pollock) have only minimal and temporary impacts on the Bering Sea floor.
The bad news: the study also showed that midwater pollock trawls contact the bottom more than originally thought (~44% of the time), which reduces sensitive habitat features in parts of the Bering Sea. There are also concerns about the effect of the fishery on Steller sea lions and northern fur seals.
Outlook: The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has closed sensitive areas to pollock fishing in an effort to protect bottom habitats and important marine mammal sites. Additionally, new science will continue to identify sensitive areas in need of protection.
5. Management
The good news: the pollock fishery is managed by one of the strongest catch share management systems in the world. It is well-equipped to tackle conservation challenges quickly and effectively, and features a number of characteristics shared by few others:

  • The pollock fleet regularly catches less than their quota, meaning that in many years, they intentionally leave millions of pounds of fish in the water;
  • The North Pacific Council has set the Total Allowable Catch at or below the levels recommended by its scientific advisory body every year since 1977;
  • Most pollock vessels have 100% observer coverage – which is paid for by industry – minimizing the government’s cost to effectively manage this fishery;
  • The cooperative nature of the pollock fleet means they can share information and respond to environmental issues – such as salmon bycatch – in real-time (as opposed to the slower nature of the Council process);
  • The pollock management plan features a number of protections for the marine ecosystem at-large, including a provision to ensure that pollock populations are large enough to provide adequate food for marine mammals and other predators;
  • The management system and the pollock industry cooperatively collect an unprecedented amount of scientific information about the fishery and the marine ecosystem. These data are used for stock assessments, monitoring quotas and bycatch, assessing habitat and ecosystem impacts, and improving the conservation and management of marine resources in Alaska.

The bottom line is that pollock remains a sustainable seafood choice for both consumers and businesses. The fishery has demonstrated unparalleled sustainability leadership in the past and is well-positioned to address new environmental issues. Their innovative catch share management system is more responsive than conventional approaches, meaning they can identify and address issues as they arise (as opposed to most fisheries, which often find out once it’s too late). Finally, all Monterey Bay Aquarium and Environmental Defense Fund seafood rankings are updated as new information emerges, meaning any changes in the pollock fishery will quickly be reflected in future assessments.

Posted in Seafood / Tagged , , | Read 6 Responses

An Interview with Kate Bonzon, EDF’s Senior Manager of the Catch Shares Design Center

Passionate. Dedicated. Those words describe each of the professionals in the Oceans program at Environmental Defense Fund. Our team is comprised of knowledgeable people with a wide range of experience in fisheries, marine sciences and oceans policy. This series of interviews with some of our staff offers a look into their backgrounds and work in oceans conservation and fisheries management.

Kate Bonzon, EDF Director of Design Advisory ServicesKate, what do you do at EDF?

I manage the Catch Shares Design Center, which helps communities and fishery managers identify the best options as they are designing catch shares.

Catch shares aren’t one-size fits all, and should be tailored to each fishery. There have been hundreds of catch shares implemented across the globe. Most have been very successful. It’s our job to look at what works, what doesn’t and share that knowledge with communities that are getting ready to transition to catch shares. I’ve spent the last year and a half working on the Catch Shares Design Manual, which lays out a roadmap of how to develop a catch share program and the various options that are available. 

I also serve as a matchmaker between the communities and fishery managers designing catch shares and the experts who are involved in successful catch shares and have a great deal of experience to draw from, like fishermen, scientists, economists and fishery managers worldwide.

What were you doing at EDF before you started working on catch shares?

One of my first assignments was to interview fishermen up and down the West Coast to gather and incorporate their valuable knowledge, such as important spawning areas, into policy discussions. When I talked to the fishermen, it was clear that traditional fishing regulations were working against them as they struggled to provide for their families and be good stewards of the oceans. I see catch shares as how we can bring back our fisheries and also keep fishermen out on the water.

Didn’t you help get loans for fishermen interested in conservation?

Yes. I helped establish the California Fisheries Fund which gives fishermen low-interest loans to move to sustainable fishing practices. I helped raise $5 million dollars for the fund, including $2 million from the State. I got to know many fishermen through that effort, including one who still regularly invites me to family dinners where he serves the delicious Dungeness crab he catches.

What did you study in school?

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and decided to stay close to home for school, so I went to Stanford for both undergrad and grad school. My Masters degree is in Earth Systems with a focus on marine conservation. I spent a few months at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey on boats and underwater studying the marine life there.

Why did you decide to work on fishery issues?

Every summer when I was a kid my family visited relatives on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound of Washington state. We went crabbing and clamming all the time. Being on the water was paradise for me. Years later in college I jumped at the chance to take a class on fisheries and it really showed me just how solvable many of the problems facing fisheries are. I decided to apply for an internship at EDF’s oceans program and I’m still here years later.  

What don’t most people know about you?

I love planning parties for my friends and family. I’ve thrown more birthday parties, engagement parties and baby showers than I can count. Most people don’t know that I love open water swimming. I swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco in 40 minutes, and I’m training to swim 3 miles with my mom in Donner Lake in the Sierras near Tahoe.

Posted in Pacific / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Two New Editorials on Catch Shares: Newsday and

A better fish tale;
New approach to end overfishing
January 8, 2009
This link has the beginning of the editorial. For those who are not subscribers to Newsday, we’re hoping to obtain permission to reprint the entire piece here on EDFish.

Time to put scallops under a catch share/ITQ program to end industry – NMFS battles (Editorial) 
By John Sackton 
Jan 8, 2009 

[Editorial Comment] It’s time for the scallop industry in New England to move towards an ITQ or catch share program. If such a program were in place, much of the dispute between the industry and the New England Fishery Management Council would simply not occur.

Currently, the movement in 2011 is toward ‘accountability measures’ – such as closing the fishery if a hard cap is reached. But the accountability measures under consideration seem unlikely to change the relationship between the scallop industry and NMFS.

The reason is simple: without an effective ITQ or catch share program, the amount of scallops harvested annually misses management targets – either being more or less than predicted prior to the season. This is natural when a fishery still uses effort based management – where only the number of days fishing is controlled, and the cpue and the productivity of the fishing grounds varies. If ‘accountability’ then requires a hard cap, the industry will be hit with closures, and a race to fish will ensue.

The industry has long objected to catch shares or an ITQ system because, first, they are happy with the rotational system of closed areas and trip limits, which function similarly to catch shares to some degree, and secondly, a fully developed catch share system would raise the specter of consolidation.

In fact, the scallop industry is highly concentrated with two large owners each responsible for a significant portion of the catch. Scallop vessel owners can operate up to a limit of 17 vessels. Companies with large numbers of vessels and stacked permits can rotate crews to keep the vessels operating far beyond the nominal limits of days at sea per vessel.

Moving to catch shares would probably cap the current level of ownership for the largest scallop fleets, or even reduce it – and that is one reason it is opposed in the industry.

But it is hypocritical for the industry to flail away at NMFS without addressing the fact that more scallops were caught last year than planned. After the fact, some are arguing that the scallop landing limits were set too low. This may be true. But the best cooperative experiences in stock assessment and research take place in fisheries with catch shares – where regulators know exactly what is going to be caught, and the industry works with, and even funds, science to document stock levels, mortality, and knows what are the highest scientifically based harvest levels.

Read More »

Posted in New England / Comments are closed