Tag Archives: fishery

Deep-water fishery makes a comeback in a rare conservation success story

Successful environmental stories are something rare to find, especially during the current climate crisis. But there is one happening on the west coast of the United States that is worth telling.

Two decades after authorities banned their work in large parts of the Pacific Ocean due to species’ depletion, bottom trawler fishermen – those who fish deep-dwelling fish such as bocaccio using nets – are returning by reinventing themselves in a sustainable way.

On January 1st, authorities will reopen a fishing area three times the size of Rhode Island near Oregon and California. Groundfish bottom trawling will again be authorized to work, even with the approval of environmental groups that used to question the activity.

The success story comes after a long collaboration between fishermen and environmental groups. They developed a long-term plan that will allow the groundfish industry to make a comeback, while also protecting large areas of reefs and coral beds that benefit the overfished species.

“It’s really a conservation home run,” said Shems Jud, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s ocean program. “The recovery is decades ahead of schedule. It’s the biggest environmental story that no one knows about.”

The initiative was also celebrated by conservationists focused on the deep-water habitats, an area now not explored by bottom trawlers. According to the agreement between fishermen and environmentalists, there will be an area of the ocean 3.4km deep that will be off-limits to bottom trawling.

“Not all fishermen are rapers of the environment. When you hear the word ‘trawler’, very often that’s associated with the destruction of the sea and pillaging,” said Kevin Dunn, whose trawler Iron Lady was featured in a Whole Foods television commercial about sustainable fishing.

Groundfish refers to dozens of species that live on or near the bottom of the Pacific. Vessels use weighted nets to get as many fish as possible, but by doing so they can harm underwater habitat. Since the 1990s, scientists have been warning over the reduction of fish stocks, with nine of the more than 90 groundfish species in trouble.

Regulators soon took action, assigning quotes to trawlers on the amount of each species they could catch. Fishermen learn which areas to avoid and started innovating to net fewer banned fish. Surveys showed a rebound in groundfish and an 80% decline in accidental trawling of overfished species.

The success of the quota system led to revived conversations between environmentalists and trawlers, as regulators were due to revisit the trawling rules. The two groups met more than 30 times and started working on a proposal, sharing information and knowledge.

This led to a plan being approved last year by regulators to reopen the Rockfish Conservation area near Oregon and California and ban future trawling in extreme-depth waters, also making off-limits certain habitats that are considered essential for fish reproduction.

“A fair number of fishermen thought it was a good deal and if it was going to happen, it was better for them to participate than not,” said Tom Libby, a fish processor who played a big role in the agreement. “It’s right up there with the best and most rewarding things in my career – and I’ve been at it 50 years.“

The fishermen will now have to work to increase consumer demand for a fish that hasn’t been available in grocery stores and restaurant menus for a generation. They will be able to harvest as much as 54 million kilograms per year, according to the new scheme.

Credit: Pixabay.

Number of fishing vessels doubles while fish stocks crumble

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

In the past 65 years, the number of fishing vessels casting their nets in the world’s oceans has more than doubled, from 1.7 million to 3.7 million. The problem is that this dramatic rise in fishing vessels hasn’t been followed by a boom in fish stocks — on the contrary. According to a new study, despite considerable advances in technology, there are now more vessels chasing fewer fish, highlighting the precarious state of the world’s fisheries.

Drops in a bucket

Yannick Rousseau, a graduate student studying fisheries ecology at the University of Tasmania, studied data from national registries, studies, and local reports in order to assess fishing in more than 100 countries. The researchers counted industrial fishing boats that can haul tons of fish at a time, motorized small-scale boats, as well as non-motorized small boats. At the end of the tally, the researchers found that the number of fishing vessels around the world has more than doubled. However, these ships need to use more resources to catch fish. According to the study, the “catch per unit of effort (CPUE)” — the amount of energy and resources required to catch fish — is abysmal. Compared to 1950, fishing boats today only catch 20% of the fish for the same amount of effort, the authors reported in the journal PNAS.

“What we have seen over the last 65 years is more and more fishing vessels chasing fewer fish,” Rousseau said.

“Since 1950 a dramatic increase in the size of the fishing fleet in Asia has more than off-setting small declines in North America and Western Europe.

“Most of the increase in vessel numbers has been in motorized fishing boats, a change from the unpowered ‘artisanal’ fishing vessels that once characterized Asian and African fishing fleets.

“But, despite its advanced technology and increased numbers, the modern motorized fleet is having to work much harder to catch fewer fish,” he said.

The sharpest drop in CPUE was registered in Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Southern Mediterranea, indicating their fisheries expanded at a much faster rate than fish stocks could support. Meanwhile, the most effective fishery management practices are in Australia, where CPUE has stabilized over the last decade.

But despite this worrisome trend, researchers expect that even more fishing boats will sail in the future. These boats will be equipped with larger motors, allowing them to fish on the high seas where the remaining fish stocks are less affected.

“However, on current worldwide trends we can expect to see a further one-million vessels on the water by mid-century and the average engine power of the global fleet continues to increase,” Rousseau said.

“These changes will further challenge the sustainable use of fisheries resources in coming years.

Although overfishing has been extensively studied, authorities have been slow to react — and this could cause an irreversible collapse of the world’s fisheries. Previously, scientists found that fishing ships cast their nets on over 55% of the world’s oceans. Most modern fisheries partially rely on trawling – dragging huge nets across the seafloor in order to capture species of fish and crustaceans — which, as a side effect, is leveling the seafloor. Meanwhile, fish stocks are being threatened by climate change. One study estimates that increased temperatures shrank the number of fish hauled from the ocean by 4.1% between 1930 and 2010.

As many as 56 million people living in coastal and island countries depend on fish to support their livelihoods. Worldwide, fish make up 17% of our protein intake, according to the United Nations.

“This is a particular concern for populations in regions such as Southeast Asia, where a high proportion of people rely on  for sustenance.

“Our findings suggest that additional management measures are urgently warranted to ensure the future sustainability of global marine resources,” Rousseau said.

Alpine river bank. Photo: Flickr

Just 1 in 10 Alpine Rivers still flow Today

The Alps may seem like a paradise, but the environmental situation is extremely dire. Just one in ten rivers are healthy enough to maintain water supply and to cope with climate impacts according to a report by WWF. The study is the first ever to take a look at all the Alpine rivers.

The choked rivers of the Alps

Alpine river bank. Photo: Flickr

Alpine river bank. Photo: Flickr

Naturally, there are over 2600 km of rivers in the Alps; but out of these, only 340 kilometers remain ecologically intact, while the rest of 2300 are heavily modified or dried out. The environmental consequences are huge, as rivers are biodiversity hotspots and play a key role in maintaining the ecological services of an area.

“Healthy rivers, streams, wetlands and floodplains provide a suite of ecosystem services including fresh water and flood protection,” said Christoph Litschauer, Head of WWF’s European Alpine Freshwater Program. “These systems are essential for human livelihood. Beyond basic services, we also have to look at healthy natural rivers as one of our best insurance policies against climate change.”

The problem is not just related to the Alps – 4 million people from eight countries rely on the Alpine rivers as water sources, either for drinking or for agriculture, fisheries, energy, jobs and recreation. The study, which was conducted by Vienna’s University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences also found that just 11 percent of the rivers are on their original valleys, the rest being redirected or used in hydroelectrical dams.

“Many planned hydro-dams are situated in protected areas like the Soca in Slovenia or on pristine rivers like the Isel in Austria. These counteract current protection efforts,” continued Litschauer. “Rivers are more than mere energy suppliers; they need to be seen for the complete natural services they provide.”

But it’s not just local issues affecting the rivers – climate change is making its presence felt as well. The temperature in the Alps has risen by 2°C within the last 200 years, far above the average global temperature increase of .85°C.

To make things even worse, following the catastrophic floods that hit Europe in the past few years, WWF highlights the need to strengthen the resilience of water ecosystems. They explain that local populations are unable to provide the necessary protection, and call on governments to protect and restore these rivers.

“Extreme weather events are increasingly likely and we must protect and strengthen the capacity of our ‘green infrastructure’ including living rivers and wetlands. The environment is changing and we must respond,” said Litschauer.

The WWF study also highlighted a no-go are for hydro power plants and highlights river stretches for future restoration projects. A study like this one is long overdue and shows the incredible amount of damage suffered by Alpine ecosystems. Even though the Alps still have unspoiled areas, the extent of the damage is surprisingly high, the study concludes.

Fisheries have no more place to expand on Earth

A new study that just makes you say ‘Wow!’ was published in the online journal PLoS ONE by researchers from the University of British Columbia; they concluded that our planet has absolutely no more place to expand fisheries after charting the systematic development of the industry.

The study is the first one of this kind, taking into consideration the spatial development of fisheries throughout the world; they found out that from the 1950s to the 1970s, fisheries expanded at a rate of one million sq. kilometres per year, and this rate more than tripled by the 1980s and 1990s. However, after that period, the numbers slowly dropped.

“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.

On the other hand, less than 0.1 percent of marine areas are protected against 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.

All in all, the era of great expansion for fisheries has come to an end and things are looking pretty dire, because wild fish sustainability is not possible at the moment.

“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.”