Right Whales Vs The Lobstering Industry

Right whales and fishing gear do not go well together. (NOAA Photo Library)

And right whales may finally get some protection:

A federal district court judge ruled last week that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect right whales adequately from the risks posed by lobster fishing.

It is too early to know exactly how the ruling in a lawsuit brought by a group of environmental organizations will affect the lobster industry. U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg asked those groups and NOAA to file briefs suggesting an appropriate “injunctive remedy” against further violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Good. It’s long past time for the interests of other species to be valued and considered outside a human commercial frame, and the Endangered Species Act is a powerful legal imperative to do just that. The lobstering industry is already challenged by change (and now COVID-19). Now it will also have to figure out a way to stop putting down gear that entangles and kills right whales. All this probably means a smaller industry and fewer lobstermen, which will be a rough transition. But if state and federal aid can help ease that transition, the world will become a better place for right whales (and lobster).

Seabird Slaughter

Fisheries don’t just kill fish:

Evidence for the horrific impact of fishing gear on seabirds has been revealed by the closure of Canadian fisheries after fish stocks collapsed in the early 1990s.

Biologists have long worried that diving birds can become entangled in gillnets, which are anchored in fixed positions at sea. Designed to snare fish by the gills, these nets can also trap and drown birds.

This has been graphically demonstrated by finds of birds enmeshed in nets, but a quantitative assessment of the effects of such ‘by-catch’ on seabird populations has been hard to come by.

Now, that hard evidence has come from a careful study of seabird populations off the eastern coast of Canada, where cod and salmon fisheries were closed and gillnets removed in 1992. This work comes just weeks after another report estimated that hundreds of thousands of birds die each year in gillnets around the world.

Ecologists Paul Regular and William Montevecchi of the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St John’s and their colleagues examined data on various marine birds at five major Canadian seabird reserves in Newfoundland and Labrador between 1968 and 2012. They then compared bird population trends with data on gillnet use between 1987 and 2009.

The team found that populations of diving birds such as murres and gannets, which are vulnerable to entanglement in nets, increased after the ban. But in the same period, the numbers of gulls and other surface-feeding scavengers that benefit from unwanted fish thrown away by fisheries decreased, the researchers report in Biology Letters. Although the gull populations declined, these species are not at risk of extinction and it is likely their numbers are returning to more natural levels with the reduced influence of human activity.

Hard numbers
“Based on previous estimates of tens of thousands of murres killed each year in regional gillnet fishes, clearly significant numbers of breeding murres have survived that wouldn’t have otherwise,” say Regular and Montevecchi. The data ”support the widely held but rarely documented contention that by-catch mortality affects seabird populations”.

Just one more reason to not eat fish–even if you can convince yourself that the fish themselves are being fished “sustainably.”

Squid Poaching

In this March 14, 2013 photo, workers offload fish from a fishing ship in Port Stanley, Falklands Islands. Fish are suffering from the fight between Argentina and the Falkland Islands. Scientists say the western South Atlantic Ocean claimed by both governments is the only place in the world where scientists don’t jointly manage their shared seas. As a result, unlicensed boats are able to scoop up vast quantities of squid and other species. Photo: Paul Byrne

Wherever there is a loophole or a vacuum, the poachers will go. And with Argentina and the Falkands failing to cooperate on fisheries management, there is a fishing fleet so large its lights can be seen from space working the area and clearing the ocean of squid:

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — It was a rare victory in the squid wars: Argentina’s coast guard cutter Thompson fired warning shots at two Chinese trawlers, blocking their escape into international waters. Ten tons of squid were found in the holds of the Lu Rong Yu 6177 and 6178 after they were hauled into port on Christmas Day.

But this was just the first such capture in two years, a minor disturbance to the hundreds of unlicensed, unregulated fishing vessels that exploit the South Atlantic, pulling out an estimated 300,000 tons of ilex squid a year.

The species, which roams across the maritime boundary between Argentina and the Falkland Islands, is key to a food chain that sustains penguins, seals, birds and whales. Managed well, it could sustain a vigorous fishing industry and steady revenues for both governments.

But the two sides aren’t even talking.

Argentina pulled out of a fisheries management organization it had shared with Falklands in 2005. The lack of cooperation has left both sides ill-equipped to deal with the fleet scooping up squid just beyond their maritime boundaries, and sometimes within.

“It’s like the Wild West out there,” said Milko Schvartzman, who campaigns against overfishing for Greenpeace International. “There are more than 200 boats out there all the time,” and many routinely follow squid into Argentina’s economic exclusion zone, he added. “Unfortunately the Argentine government doesn’t have the naval capacity to continually control this area.”

This is just another example of how the inability of nations and fishing interests to work together to manage fishing resources drives fish populations toward disaster. I continue to think that the only way the oceans can truly be managed successfully is on a global basis (with fishing fleets regulated on a global basis no matter where they are fishing), and with all the oceans’s resources being managed as universal resources, and not just for coastal states or states with the naval power to assert sovereignty.

Yes, it is unlikely that coastal nations will surrender their claims. But the existing national model they are protecting is a complete failure.

In this NASA Earth Observatory image made available by NASA on March 22, 2013, the southern tip of South America is seen at night in April of 2012. Off the coast, the lights of a huge fleet of shrimp boats can be seen, right along the maritime border between Argentina, the Falkland Islands and international waters. Scientists say this unmanaged fleet is threatening the South Atlantic marine ecosystem by depleting the squid, which are key to a food chain that provides sustenance for penguins, seals, birds and whales. Photo: NASA’s Suomi Polar-orbiting Partnership Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/Outlaw-fleet-scoops-squid-from-Argentine-waters-4380413.php#ixzz2PWmhKcZ7

Who Owns The Fish?

The whole concept that humans “own” the fish in the sea is objectionable, but that is the system that humanity has created to try and regulate fishing. And it’s a system that does not work very well, or protect small fishermen.

Here’s an interesting take on the failed system, by the Center For Investigative Reporting (via GOOD):

I would prefer that we figure out an alternative food source to fish, and let the oceans be. But if we are to fish, it needs to be globally managed on the basis of the principle that all earth’s resources should be shared sustainably by all earth’s people–and not according to who has coastline–and quotas should be drastically reduced according to the most conservative scientific evidence regarding what annual take any given fish stock can handle.

Top Predator: It’s A Reality Show (But Not A Fake One On TV)

These fins used to be attached to a "top predator." Until another predator came along.

The top predator in the oceans is not one of the top predators that normally pop into your head–sharks, killer whales, swordfish, marlin. The top predator in the oceans is, well, us.

And according to researchers from the University Of British Columbia we are doing a pretty thorough job of taking out all the top oceanic predators and destabilizing the oceanic food chain (with, for example, the sort of swordfishing practices I posted yesterday).

Here’s the bottom line:

In half of the North Atlantic and North Pacific waters under national jurisdiction, fishing has led to a 90-per-cent decrease in top predators since the 1950s, and the impacts are now headed south of the Equator, according to a new study published online December 5 in the journalMarine Ecological progress Series…

[snip]..The scientists found that the exploitation of marine predators first occurred in coastal areas of northern countries, then expanded to the high seas and to the southern hemisphere. The decline of top-of-the-food-chain predators also means widespread and fundamental changes to both the structure and function of marine systems.

This is exactly the sort of finding that reinforces the analogy of humanity as locusts, systematically and relentlessly depleting resources and species around the planet. As Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at UBC, asks: “After running out of predator fish in the north Atlantic and Pacific, rather than implementing strict management and enforcement, the fishing industry pointed its bows south. The southern hemisphere predators are now on the same trajectory as the ones in the northern hemisphere. What happens next when we have nowhere left to turn?”

That’s an obvious question that has no good answer. And we got here because the price and consumption of fish in no way reflects the costs of this outcome.


Humanity’s Destructive Shortsightedness In One Video

This is footage of a fishing boat longlining for swordfish in the Med. Their hooks and technique are resulting in the slaughter of really small, immature swordfish.

It’s painful to watch, and worth remembering next time you are considering ordering or eating swordfish. The demand you create, even if your swordfish comes from a mature fish, is creating the demand that leads to this. So maybe it’s time to stop eating swordfish, or charging a price that reflects the destruction of the species that is ongoing.

No matter what sorts of regulations and sustainable principles are applied to fisheries, the Iron Law Of Fishing (and humanity) is: if it makes money it will be done.

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