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Trawling: human impacts on the deep seafloor

4 Dec

Scientists have for the first time estimated the physical footprint of human activities on the deep seafloor of the North East Atlantic. The findings published in the journal PLoS ONE reveal that the area disturbed by bottom trawling commercial fishing fleets exceeds the combined physical footprint of other major human activities considered.

The deep seafloor covers approximately 60% of Earth’s surface, but only a tiny fraction of it has been studied to date. Yet as technology advances and resources from relatively shallow marine environments are depleted, human impacts on the deep seafloor are likely to increase.

“Information on the location and spatial extent of human activities affecting the deep-sea environment is crucial for conservation of seafloor ecosystems and for governance and sustainable management of the world’s oceans,” said Angela Benn of the National Oceanography Centre, who led the new study.

The researchers focused on the OSPAR maritime area of the North East Atlantic, where human activities are particularly intense. The area covers over eleven million square kilometres, about 75 percent of which is deeper than 200 metres, and includes important fishing grounds such as those of Hatton and Rockall.

Using available data for the year 2005, they mapped and estimated the spatial extent of intentional human activities occurring directly on the seafloor as well as structures and artefacts present on the seafloor resulting from past activities.

They looked exclusively at the physical footprint rather than the consequential ecological effects of disturbance, contamination and pollution, which are harder to ascertain. One difficulty that they faced was that of accessing data on human activities that was accurate, up to date and comprehensive, and in a suitable format for analysis.

“Some governments, public organisations and private companies were far more forthcoming with information than others,” explained Benn. “Significant improvements are needed in data collection and availability, and this requirement needs to be built into international conventions and treaties with a legal framework in place to ensure informed environmental management.”

Despite difficulties and various uncertainties, the researchers’ assessment suggests that, although now banned, previously dumped radioactive waste, munitions and chemical weapons together have the lowest physical footprint of the human activities considered, although they do not consider potential dispersal after leakage.

Non-fisheries marine scientific research also has a relatively small footprint, whereas those of fisheries marine scientific research, telecommunication cables and the oil and gas industry are moderate. However, even on the lowest estimates, the spatial extent of bottom trawling is at least ten times that for the other activities assessed, with a physical footprint greater than that of all the others combined.

The study estimated the total area of physical imprint in 2005 to be around 28,000 km2. However many human activities in the deep sea are concentrated in certain areas, particularly in shallower depths between 200 m and 1500 m, and in particular habitats which become disproportionally impacted. The OSPAR area comprises many different habitats each with different and diverse ecosystems.  The percentage impact in each of these habitats would provide important information but unfortunately there is virtually no detailed seabed mapping to provide this information.

As demands drive human activities ever deeper the imprint will become more widespread.  “Consequently,” argues Benn, “there needs to be a much greater understanding of the relative impacts of human activities on the deep seafloor, and in particular how these activities affect seafloor ecosystems and biodiversity.”

original article @ national oceanography centre

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‘No Fish Left Behind’ Approach Leaves Earth With Nowhere Left to Fish, Study Finds

3 Dec

ScienceDaily (Dec. 2, 2010) — Earth has run out of room to expand fisheries, according to a new study led by University of British Columbia researchers that charts the systematic expansion of industrialized fisheries.

In collaboration with the National Geographic Society and published in the online journal PLoS ONE, the study is the first to measure the spatial expansion of global fisheries. It reveals that fisheries expanded at a rate of one million sq. kilometres per year from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s. The rate of expansion more than tripled in the 1980s and early 1990s — to roughly the size of Brazil’s Amazon rain forest every year.

Between 1950 and 2005, the spatial expansion of fisheries started from the coastal waters off the North Atlantic and Northwest Pacific, reached into the high seas and southward into the Southern Hemisphere at a rate of almost one degree latitude per year. It was accompanied by a nearly five-fold increase in catch, from 19 million tonnes in 1950, to a peak of 90 million tonnes in the late 1980s, and dropping to 87 million tonnes in 2005, according to the study.

“The decline of spatial expansion since the mid-1990s is not a reflection of successful conservation efforts but rather an indication that we’ve simply run out of room to expand fisheries,” says Wilf Swartz, a PhD student at UBC Fisheries Centre and lead author of the study.

Meanwhile, less than 0.1 per cent of the world’s oceans are designated as marine reserves that are closed to fishing.

“If people in Japan, Europe, and North America find themselves wondering how the markets are still filled with seafood, it’s in part because spatial expansion and trade makes up for overfishing and ‘fishing down the food chain’ in local waters,” says Swartz.

“While many people still view fisheries as a romantic, localized activity pursued by rugged individuals, the reality is that for decades now, numerous fisheries are corporate operations that take a mostly no-fish-left-behind approach to our oceans until there’s nowhere left to go,” says Daniel Pauly, co-author and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at UBC Fisheries Centre.

The researchers used a newly created measurement for the ecological footprint of fisheries that allows them to determine the combined impact of all marine fisheries and their rate of expansion. Known as SeafoodPrint, it quantifies the amount of “primary production” — the microscopic organisms and plants at the bottom of the marine food chain — required to produce any given amount of fish.

“This method allows us to truly gauge the impact of catching all types of fish, from large predators such as bluefin tuna to small fish such as sardines and anchovies,” says Pauly. “Because not all fish are created equal and neither is their impact on the sustainability of our ocean.”

“The era of great expansion has come to an end, and maintaining the current supply of wild fish sustainably is not possible,” says co-author and National Geographic Ocean Fellow Enric Sala. “The sooner we come to grips with it — similar to how society has recognized the effects of climate change — the sooner we can stop the downward spiral by creating stricter fisheries regulations and more marine reserves.”

The University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre, in the College for Interdisciplinary Studies, undertakes research to restore fisheries, conserve aquatic life and rebuild ecosystems. It promotes multidisciplinary study of aquatic ecosystems and broad-based collaboration with maritime communities, government, NGOs and other partners. The UBC Fisheries Centre is recognized globally for its innovative and enterprising research, with its academics winning many accolades and awards. The Sea Around Us Project is funded in part by the Pew Environment Group. For more information, visit www.fisheries.ubc.ca and www.cfis.ubc.ca.

The National Geographic Society, the Waitt Foundation, the SEAlliance along with strategic government, private, academic and conservation partners including the TEDPrize, Google and IUCN, are beginning an action-oriented marine conservation initiative under the banner of “Mission Blue” that will increase global awareness of the urgent ocean crisis and help to reverse the decline in ocean health by inspiring people to care and act; reducing the impact of fishing; and promoting the creation of marine protected areas. For more information, go to www.iamtheocean.org.

original article @ sciencedaily.com

Bluefin tuna still largely unprotected as conservation conference ends

29 Nov

article Guardian.co.uk

Environmental groups criticize ‘measly’ 4% reduction in fishing quota, which they say will do little to protect declining stocks which are also under threat from illegal fishing

Fisherman land a bluefin tuna Conservation groups had hoped to see bluefin tuna fishing quotas slashed or suspended, but the quota was reduced by a mere 4%. Photograph: Jeffrey L Rotman/Corbis

An international conservation conference in Paris made progress this Saturday on protecting sharks but didn’t do anything to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which has been severely overfished to feed the market for sushi in Japan, environmental groups said.

Delegates from 48 nations spent 11 days in Paris haggling over fishing quotas for the Atlantic and Mediterranean, poring over scientific data and pitting the demands of environmentalists against those of the fishing industry.

Conservation groups said delegates took steps in the right direction with moves to protect oceanic whitetip sharks and many hammerheads in the Atlantic, though they had hoped for more. Sharks were once an accidental catch for fishermen but have been increasingly targeted because of the growing market in Asia for their fins, an expensive delicacy used in soup.

WWF, Greenpeace, Oceana and the Pew Environment Group all strongly criticised the 2011 bluefin quotas set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT, which manages tuna in the Atlantic and Mediterranean as well as species that have traditionally been accidental catches for tuna fishermen.

Environmental groups had hoped to see bluefin fishing slashed or suspended, saying illegal fishing is rampant in the Mediterranean and that scientists don’t have good enough data to evaluate the problem.

The commission agreed to cut the bluefin fishing quota in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean from 13,500 to 12,900 metric tonnes annually about a 4% reduction. It also agreed on measures to try to improve enforcement of quotas on bluefin, prized for its tender red meat.

Sergi Tudela, head of WWF Mediterranean’s fisheries program, attacked the “measly quota reduction.” Oliver Knowles, Greenpeace oceans campaigner, complained that “the word ‘conservation’ should be removed from ICCAT’s name.”

Russell F Smith, representing the US delegation, said: “I think we made some progress. I wish we’d made more.”

Meanwhile, the CNPMEM French fishing industry union praised the decision, saying “reason prevailed.”

The international commission’s committee of scientists had said keeping the status quo was acceptable, but environmentalists say there is so much unreported fishing that doing so is irresponsible.

read more

Brazilian Divers Protest Against Shark Finning And Tuna Commission Inaction On Shark Massacres

27 Nov

from underwatertimes.com

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — A thousand shark fins cut from black cardboard, representing just five minutes of the world´s shark fisheries, dotted the sands of Copacabana Beach this Saturday to protest the indiscriminate killing of sharks to feed the Asian shark fin trade.

Promoted by Divers for Sharks, a coalition of diving industry and recreational divers in 128 countries and based in Brazil, the protest is the first in a series of demonstrations and awareness activities scheduled to coincide with the meeting of ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna. Environmentalists and the diving industry have accused ICCAT of being deaf to their requests for stricter regulations to prevent catching sharks in tuna long-lines and the practice of ‘shark finning’, where fins are removed from sharks and the body dumped overboard. Recently, fins from an estimated 280,000 sharks were confiscated by Brazilian authorities from a contraband shipment bound to China from the Northern State of Pará.

 

“Politicians and bureaucrats as those irresponsible ICCAT officers only listen to the fishing industry lobby, but there are thousands of jobs and millions of dollars generated by the non-consumptive diving industry that benefit coastal communities in developing countries that have to be taken into account. Sharks are a major diving attraction and are are fast disappearing from diving sites, endangering jobs for people who protect the marine environment while ICCAT and other international fora only protect the interests of the industrial fishing corporations”, said Paulo Guilherme Alves Cavalcanti, a Brazilian dive operator and co-founder of Divers for Sharks.

Sharks have become globally threatened by finning to supply Asian markets where affluent people pay astonishing prices for shark fin soup, a tasteless dish associated with wealth in some cultures. With many countries now taking measures to protect sharks in their waters, Brazil, with unregulated and barely enforced fisheries and border controls, has become a major target for the shark fin contraband mafias, and also supplies shark fins legally for export by the thousands.

Brazilian marine conservation activist and writer José Truda Palazzo, Jr., who co-founded Divers for Sharks with Paulo Cavalcanti, said that “it is shameful that ICCAT is presiding over the demise of the Atlantic sharks and that other regional fisheries agreements are doing the same the world over. Industrial fishing has become a criminal mining industry, and it´s time the people to learn about it and stop its abuses before it´s too late.”

ICCAT is meeting in France from the 17 to 27 of November, and is expected to give little attention to the plight of threatened or endangered species caught in the oceanic fisheries it manages.

Divers for Sharks has pledged to raise public awareness about the plight of sharks and their importance to the diving industry health worldwide. The protest in Rio should be a major eye-opener for lawmakers to watch the poor performance of international fisheries agreements and to take urgent action to save sharks and other marine species from extinction.

For more information please visit Divers for Sharks on Facebook.

Sea Shepherd activists free hundreds of threatened bluefin tuna off Libya

22 Oct

Steve Irwin crew throws rotten butter during confrontation with Italian and Libyan fishermen over endangered bluefin catch

Why anti-whaling campaigners are the bluefin tuna’s last hope

Sea Shepherd activist cuts blue tuna fishing net during Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna Defense Campaign Sea Shepherd activist cuts the bluefin tuna fishing net in the Mediterranean. Photograph: Simon Ager/Sea ShepherdGreen activists using helicopters, divers and rotten butter yesterday confronted Libyan and Italian fishermen to release hundreds of threatened bluefin tuna which they strongly suspect were illegally caught off the Libyan coast.

In the first action of its kind in north African waters, the international crew of the California-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society released around 800 tuna from a cage being towed behind the Italian trawler Cesare Rustico.

Stocks of bluefin tuna, one of the most valuable but endangered fish in the Mediterranean, have been decimated by ruthless overfishing in the last 20 years to the point where they are now unlikely to survive more than a few more years. Catches are limited to two weeks of the year and shipowners have been given strict quotas by governments, but with little policing, the industry has been easily able to flaunt the law.

In a statement from the boat, Captain Paul Watson said: “Sea Shepherd’s helicopter reconnaissance flight this morning found two fishing vessels. One was engaged in transferring bluefin tuna into one of the two nets being towed by the other vessel.

“The captain of the Cesare Rustico said when questioned that the tuna were caught on the morning of the 14th by the Libyan vessel Tagreft. When we replied that the number of tuna in the cage exceeded the quota for the Tagreft, the captain said the cage also included tuna from seven other Libyan seiners. All the catches were caught on the 14th, the last legal day, according to the captain.

“The problem with this explanation was that we had observed … weather conditions for those two days made fishing virtually impossible.

“The extremely difficult conditions, coupled with the position of the cages only 40 miles off the Libyan coast, when they should have been moving 25 miles a day, suggested to us that the fish were freshly caught within the last three days at the most.”

The Sea Shepherd, which annually confronts Japanese whalers in the Antarctic waters, then asked to examine the fish for juveniles. “We were refused. I then put the bow of the Steve Irwin onto the cage so we could look into the cage from the bow to examine it further.

“Suddenly, the Maltese vessel Rosaria Tuna rammed the Steve Irwin on the aft port side and slid alongside the port rail, as a fisherman tried to violently gaff Sea Shepherd crewmembers with a long, sharp-hooked pole.”

In the ensuing fracas, the Steve Irwin crew crew retaliated throwing rotten butter at the fishermen, and then sent divers into one of the cages to identify the size, age, and quantity of the bluefin tuna caught.

“Once it was clearly established that the cage was overstocked and that a high percentage were juveniles, Sea Shepherd divers freed the 700-800 tuna,” said Watson.

“It is our position that the bluefin tuna we freed from that cage held a large number of juveniles and that the fish were caught after the official closure of the season. It is also our position that the fish that we freed exceeded the quota,” said Watson.

“They shot out of that net like racehorses,” said Canadian cameraman Simon Ager.

Save Our Sharks – A must watch video (and share)

17 Oct

Sharks are being killed at alarming rates around the world mostly to supply the demands for shark fin soup in the East. If this situation doesn’t change quickly we risk losing any chance we still have of saving our sharks before they’re gone forever. This short film won a Panda award at the Wildscreen Film Festival 2010.

*WARNING: This film contains some graphic images of sharks being killed and finned.*

Showdown on Bluefin Tuna

17 Oct

Article By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF AND DAVID JOLLY
@ New York Times

A bluefin tuna is harvested from a tuna farm off the Calabrian coast in Italy

A bluefin tuna is harvested from a tuna farm off the Calabrian coast in Italy

In advance of an annual meeting of bluefin tuna fishing nations next month in Paris, scientists and environmental groups are sharply questioning the validity of scientific data being used to set catch levels for the fish, which remains highly coveted as sushi but is increasingly threatened by commercial overfishing.

A scientific panel convened in March by the international commission that regulates the Atlantic bluefin catch suggested that this year’s quota not exceed last year’s limit of 13,500 tons. Such a catch would give bluefin stocks a 60 percent chance of recovering by 2019, the panel said.

But many national fisheries continue to ignore their obligation to provide accurate data on how many bluefin they land each year, making accurate quotas virtually impossible to produce, outside observers assert.

“Some years, some countries don’t report,” Brad Smith, a marine ecologist with the Pew Environment Group, said in an interview. “Or they report too late. Or they underreport. When there’s so much non-compliance, nobody complains.”

According to Pew, more than 85 percent of countries failed to meet reporting deadlines or to accurately report data on their bluefin tuna activities in 2009. Some countries in the Mediterranean, where most bluefin is caught, may be underestimating the size of their catch by as much as two-thirds in some years, Mr. Smith said.

Meanwhile, the large illegal bluefin catch is also being widely overlooked from year to year, he added.

“We need to get illegal fishing under control, at the very least,” he said.

There is little dispute that bluefin stocks have declined sharply in recent years, with wide agreement that the population of these large ocean-crossing fish are down to no more than 15 percent of their historical levels. But there is growing concern that the bluefin is poised for an even more dramatic crash, one that could push the species over the brink into commercial extinction.

At a United Nations conference earlier this year, an attempt was made to list the bluefin tuna as a threatened species, which would prevent it from being traded internationally. Strong opposition from Japan and other bluefin fishing nations sank the measure.

Some important political players at the upcoming meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or Iccat, in Paris have vowed to take a tough stance on problems facing the bluefin, however.

In an interview last month, Jane Lubchenco, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator, said the United States would press for scientifically sound management of the bluefin at the meeting.

“It’s time for all members to step up to their responsibilities,” Dr. Lubchenco said. “At the last Iccat meeting there was good progress, but not enough.”

She added, “If the agreements are insufficiently strong, we would consider a moratorium.”

Several European Union countries, including France, have also said that they are open to a moratorium to allow tuna stocks to recover.

“The bluefin is a special case — there’s a danger of the collapse of the stock,” Maria Damanaki, the European commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, said in a recent interview.

“What I can say for sure is that we’re going to follow the scientific advice” at Iccat, Ms. Damanaki said. “We’re not going to back down.”