Monthly Archives: July 2012

EDF Oceans Program Mourns the Passing of Admiral James Watkins

It is with deep sadness that the EDF Oceans Program mourns the loss of Admiral James Watkins, a retired United States Navy officer and former Chief of Naval Operations, who led the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that reported its wide-ranging findings for improving ocean stewardship during the Bush Administration.

As a pioneer in oceans conservation and policy reform, the Admiral made a positive and significant impact on the improvement of our oceans during the course of his lengthy and renowned career. Among those was the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts to establish the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. The initiative, which he co-chaired, is a bipartisan group dedicated to propelling meaningful ocean policy reform forward. The admiral was invited numerous times both to testify before Congress and advise them on ocean governance reform. In the media, he has been revered as an oceans expert and has written several notable op-ed pieces on oceans policy and reform. 

In honor of the admiral’s contribution to oceans policy reform, EDF Oceans vows to continue to protect the oceans that he valued, fought for and loved so much.

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‘Deadliest Catch’ Star Says Catch Share Management Brought Major Benefits


The F/V Seabrooke. Photo credit: Discovery Channel

Scott Campbell Jr, a captain on Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch,” one of cable’s most popular shows, told CNNMONEY that catch shares have brought significant safety, environmental and financial benefits for crab fishermen in Alaska’s Bering Sea.

While crabbing in the Bering Sea is inherently dangerous, catch shares have made it less deadly.  Before crabbers were racing in an intense derby as short as two days, and 8 crabbers perished during the last five years of traditional management compared to one since the switch to catch shares in 2005.

According to CNNMONEY, Campbell explained that prices have improved. In addition, with longer seasons, crab pots can “soak” in the water longer, which gives the small crabs more time to escape, as intended.   For those that don’t escape, fishermen have more time to sort through crabs they catch and carefully return the small ones you’re not allowed to catch back to the water unharmed.

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Update: Policy-Makers Taking Notice on Rigs to Reefs

A large group of chub (Kyphosus sp.) school under the platform. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS (From NOAA)

Despite a lot of bad weather and the end of red snapper season, fishing is heating up in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing isn’t the only thing that’s hot, though, as the debate over removing non-producing oil rigs in the Gulf is also going at a fever pitch.

I wrote back in late April about the current controversy regarding plans by the Department of Interior (DOI) for the expedited removal of these retired rigs.  Lots of recreational fishermen oppose this policy, because the underwater structure creates a reef habitat for fish – nice for the fish – but also a great target for fishermen.

Several actions are underway to ensure that removal is just an option and that artificial reefing is also an option.  As I mentioned in that previous post, Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana have introduced bills in Congress.  Since then, there was a proposal to amend the Farm Bill with a provision on rigs and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is continuing the process to designate the retired rigs as “essential fish habitat.”  Also, other members of Congress, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, state fisheries managers and sportfishing groups have all written letters to Secretary Ken Salazar seeking at least a delay in implementing outright removals and, ideally, a new policy altogether.

EDF is helping call attention to these proposals and requests. In our meetings and conversations with staff at the White House and Department of Interior it has been clear that confusion is a big stumbling block.  We all need better numbers and information about what is going on.  What seems to many to be a deadline for removal is, to the government, only a requirement to file a plan for either reefing or removal.  Boat captains have tallied removals that they have seen, and the agency has different numbers.  Read More »

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NOAA Releases Report on First Year of West Coast Groundfish IFQ Program

Catch Monitor Ian Cole (left) inspecting catch as it is offloaded. Photo courtesy Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released a report on the results from the first year of catch shares in the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Fishery. With the positive and transformational changes the fishery has seen, EDF is proud to have worked closely with fishermen and fishery managers to see the IFQ program developed and put into place.

The 2011 report’s findings were remarkable, citing dramatic reductions in bycatch and discards after catch shares implementation. Before catch shares, the non-whiting fleet had a discard rate which ranged between 20-25% and in 2011 after implementation discards plunged to 4.8%.

Improved conservation also means better outcomes for fishermen. According to the report, retention rates were significantly higher in 2011 than 2010 which means fishermen were able to keep more fish and profit from their sale. “I had some big reservations about the catch share program prior to implementation,” said Rex Leach, a fisherman and member of the Oregon Trawl Commission. “However, after the first year, I’m happy to say I was wrong. Now my discards are almost non-existent and I can plan my groundfish landings when it’s convenient to my operation.”

Groundfish trawl fishermen deserve positive recognition for their efforts to make the new system work. Still, a suite of costs associated with the program – along with the fleet’s debt from a 2003 vessel and permit buyback – warrant swift action.  Specifically, fishermen are required to pay an increasing share of the cost of onboard observers, ultimately paying 100% of those costs by 2015. They are also required to pay up to 3 percent of ex-vessel revenues as required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to pay for the catch share program’s administration and operation.  At the same time, the overhanging buyback debt absorbs 5% of their ex-vessel revenue. Together, these costs amount to between 10 and 20% of a fisherman’s gross income – a burden that could undermine all of the investment and benefits from this new program.

EDF has been working with fishermen, with Council staff and with leaders at NOAA Fisheries to find solutions that will reduce costs for the trawl fleet while maintaining critical program components like 100% accountability.  Finding those solutions will be essential to achieving the long-sought stability and profitability of the fleet, and for helping fishermen and processors continue to provide healthy, delicious, sustainable seafood.

To read the full report, click here.

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Now In Your H-E-B, Gulf Wild™ Seafood

Gulf Wild™ Red Snapper and Grouper

Photo courtesy of Gulf Wild™

It wasn’t that long ago that the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery was on the brink of collapse.  The fishermen were stuck in a race-for-fish that was both dangerous and expensive.

Fishermen were going out of business or barely hanging on, and the red snapper population was in serious trouble.  The out-dated fishery management system wasn’t working, and consumers could only count on getting fresh, local snapper during a brief season every year. That was until a group of commercial fishermen and EDF came together to find a solution.

That solution – the red snapper catch share program – began in 2007.  Because this program proved successful almost immediately, fishermen were able to expand the program to include grouper and tilefish in 2010.  This has helped to make commercial fishing a viable industry again, consumers are able to get fish they love year-round, the amount of wasted fish has dramatically decreased, and once depleted populations are steadily rebuilding. Read More »

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Maryland Crab Pilot Aims to Modernize Reporting

Maryland Blue Crab

Photo by: John Starmer/Marine Photobank

When summer time rolls around on the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, tourists and locals alike start thinking about one thing: Blue Crabs. Will there be enough? How much will they cost? How long will the season last?

Past years have seen seasons cut short based on regulations that conservatively lower scientifically determined catch limits as a precautionary management measure, because real-time harvest data is limited.  The process for counting how many crabs have been caught – and by whom – has been problematic, relying on a paper-based system that is time-consuming and too slow to allow meaningful adjustments to catch limits midseason. This year, both watermen and state officials agreed that a new system, using modern and faster technologies, was needed. Read More »

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