Archive for the ‘Sustainable fisheries’ Category

Living with Sea Otters

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

A rare and famous success in conservation is the recovery of sea otters in the North Pacific. Of course it is also complicated.

Sea otter raft, floating among the fronds of kelp in a coastal kelp forest (otterproject.org)

Sea otter raft, floating among the fronds of kelp in a coastal kelp forest (otterproject.org)

Sea otters once lived along the kelp coasts from Hokkaido to Baja. Solid colors indicate where some recovery has occurred.(otterproject.org)

Sea otters once lived along the kelp coasts from Hokkaido to Baja. Solid colors indicate where some recovery has occurred.(otterproject.org)

Their story is familiar. Once two to three hundred thousand sea otters lived in inshore kelp beds around the North Pacific from Baja California to Hokkaido in Northern Japan. A market in China for their pelts opened in the early 1700s nourished by Russian hunters, and it later expanded to Europe. By the early 1800s, few sea otters remained on the Alaskan coast, so the hunt continued down the British Columbia coast to Washington, Oregon and finally California until few if any remained there as well. A belated international treaty in 1911 stopped all hunting leaving perhaps 2000 left alive in scattered colonies. Extinction seemed the likely outcome.

The sale of sea otter pelts (here measured in thousands) in London peaked in the 1880s, then crashed rapidly as the supply dwindled from  over-hunting. (en.wikipedia.com)

The sale of sea otter pelts (here measured in thousands) in London peaked in the 1880s, then crashed rapidly as the supply dwindled from over-hunting. (en.wikipedia.com)

It didn’t happen. Instead, natural recovery, a few re-introductions, and a hundred years later sea otters have re-established colonies throughout most of their range, in some places even to pre-hunt numbers.

Hunted almost to extinction along the coast of BC, sea otters were reintroduced on the coast of Vancouver Island in 1989, and new colonies have re-established on the central BC coast (theglobeandmail.com)

Hunted almost to extinction along the coast of BC, sea otters were reintroduced on the coast of Vancouver Island in 1989, and new colonies have re-established on the central BC coast (theglobeandmail.com)

Sea otters are keystone predators. If they are not present, sea urchins thrive, eat all the young kelp shoots, destroy the kelp forests, and create urchin barrens – virtually nothing there but sea urchins. If they are present, they eat the urchins, the kelp forests regrow and biodiversity increases: more fish, more sea birds, more marine mammals, and on the BC and Alaskan coasts, more eagles.

A mature kelp forest results in far greater biodiversity than an 'urchin barrens' (aquariumofpacific.org)

A mature kelp forest results in far greater biodiversity than an ‘urchin barrens’ (aquariumofpacific.org)

But much of the world that the sea otters have recovered into is radically different from the one from which they were almost completely eliminated. In Alaska, after recovering to pre-hunt levels, they crashed once again to about 30,000 animals – probably due to Orca shifting their predatory focus to them from seals which had greatly declined in numbers. Where the Exxon Valdez foundered near Prince William Sound in 1989, about half the newly re-established sea otter population there of 5000 died from the oiling. On the central coast of California, diseases from coastal pollution appear to have kept the recovering population from growing very large.

As well, conflicts with humans increasingly occur, for both species hunt the inshore rocky subtidal for the same shellfish. In California they compete for abalones. There the sea otters have refused to remain in selected regions set aside for them along the coast, and now they roam freely – and are certainly not appreciated by abalone fishermen. In Alaska they are resented, if not hated, by inshore crab fishermen.

A sea otter rests on its back while ripping the legs off the crab it just caught.(seaotters.org)

A sea otter rests on its back while ripping the legs off the crab it just caught.(seaotters.org)

Yet on the west coast of Vancouver Island their reception is different. Along 300km of this coast live the Indigenous peoples of the Nuu-chuh-nulth First Nations. They speak of having shared the sea’s resources with other species, including sea otters, for thousands of years, and they are intent on continuing to live in harmony with them now. They need recognition of their rights as First Nation’s and despite resistance from the Harper Government they are slowly winning them through the courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada. They present a model for successful conservation, as they act to ensure the well-being of this and future generations.

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, traditionally  whale oriented cultures, live on the west coast of Vancouver Island (stoningtongallery.com)

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, traditionally whale oriented cultures, live on the west coast of Vancouver Island (stoningtongallery.com)

Logo for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations (blogs.ubc.ca)

Logo for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations (blogs.ubc.ca)

The Nuu-chah-nulth fishermen also ask how many sea otters are enough. Enough to keep the ecosystem a kelp forest rather than an urchin barrens, certainly. But then? Not so many that few shellfish are left for them to gather. They know they will need to be able to shoot sea otters when they become too numerous.

Not surprisingly, this raises strong reactions from non-fishing humans, for sea otters are considered cute. Cuteness of course is a purely human construct. Though sea otters do look harmless living in the coastal kelp, cracking shellfish on their bellies as they float on their backs, sometimes playing together, they can also be hostile and aggressive. Our coexistence is essential with communities of species whether we like them or not. We just can’t let them deplete the resources we have agreed to share with them.

So the questions remain everywhere along the kelp coasts: How many sea otters are enough? How will we control their numbers? And do the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations provide a model that will work elsewhere?

The Shrimp of Shrimps

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Shrimp are now the most popular seafood in North America. More than lobsters or tuna or even salmon.

Whiteleg Shrimp: Who can resist this?fiveinthechamber.com)

Whiteleg Shrimp: Who can resist this?(fiveinthechamber.com)

Getting shrimp to us has become infamous for all the collateral damage it has created. Shrimp trawlers, trawling for adults in the shallow tropics and sub-tropics of the world, have damaged bottom habitats and tossed out an immense load of unwanted bycatch – both features that should continue to condemn the method to oblivion.

Farming shrimp in coastal tidal ponds creates a whole different suite of equally damaging effects: mangroves are destroyed to make the ponds, and the ponds are moved every few years leaving behind nothing but devastation; pollution and waste are extensive; lethal disease is frequently widespread; salination of the underlying water table occurs; and in some regions people who do the farming or collect the fish for fishmeal may work in close to slave conditions, provoking concerns about human rights and social justice. It’s pretty well all bad.

One species in particular, the Whiteleg Shrimp (Litopanaeus vannamei) has become the species of choice for farms from Mexico and the Caribbean to India, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is native to the warm Pacific coastal waters of Central America from Sonora Mexico south to Peru, and it grows faster, requires less protein to grow, and is more resistant to disease than other species. Everyone wants it.

Adult Whiteleg Shrimp, Litopanaeus vannamei (regisbador.com)

Adult Whiteleg Shrimp, Litopanaeus vannamei (regisbador.com)

In 1990 a modest annual Whiteleg fishery of 90,000 tons existed. Then, as the mangrove farms in Asia embraced the species, the fishery grew huge, reaching 3.2 million tons in 2012, dominating the market.

In 2010, because of the mangrove destruction and the human rights abuses, Greenpeace designated Whiteleg Shrimp a Redlist species. A reasonable conclusion would surely be to say sayonara to the whole sorry mess of shrimp farming and trawling.

But all is not yet lost.

Gradually, ‘intensive’ farming has begun, moving the ponds away from the shores, though still dealing with water supply problems, contamination, and disease. Not great news, but better.

Then, in the past few years, a new method of ‘superintensive’ farming has emerged, and it is very promising. The shrimp are bred and the larvae are grown in hatcheries, and post-larvae are then shipped to inland culture facilities. At their best, these facilities grow the shrimp to market size in a few months in biosecure tanks under controlled temperature conditions, using recirculated sea water, requiring no pesticides or antibiotics.

Whiteleg Shrimp larvae are grown in hatching facilities and then sent to the super-intensive tank farms. (intechopen.com)

Whiteleg Shrimp larvae are grown in hatching facilities and then sent to the super-intensive tank farms. (intechopen.com)

One of these super-intensive farms near Boston was featured recently in the NY Times, but 22 others are scattered across the US – in Iowa, Minnesota, even one near Las Vegas. This is revolutionary. Suddenly many of the problems associated with trawling or coastal pond culture disappear. No habitat destruction, no pollution, no added chemicals, no abused humans.

The Blue Oasis superintensive tank farm for Whiteleg Shrimp, near Las Vegas (lasvegassun.com)

The Blue Oasis superintensive tank farm for Whiteleg Shrimp, near Las Vegas (lasvegassun.com)

There’s sophisticated science to all this of course: selective breeding of Whiteleg adults to produce disease resistant larvae requires great care and patience. The largest breeding companies are now in Florida and Hawaii – the one on Molakai for instance. Comparable facilities in Vietnam and China now do their own selective breeding of Whiteleg for farms, but super-intensive tank culture is still uncommon there.

Meanwhile, the companies that have started tank farming in the US are quite excited. Should they be?

Their main remaining challenge is cost, and mostly they supply high end restaurants. But people in America are increasingly concerned that their food is produced in the least damaging way, agreeing to pay more for it where they need to.

Tank farmed Whiteleg Shrimp has now won the highest rating from Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. So let’s buy this stuff. Let’s insist on shrimp that have been raised in tank farms.

Then the tank farms will flourish and spread, replacing mangrove farms and shrimp trawls. The warm water coastal ecosystems will be far better off, bycatch will be radically reduced, and mangroves will not be destroyed for farming shrimp.

Everyone wins.

The Growth of MPAs

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

To reduce global overfishing, we struggle to nourish sustainable fishing through better regulations, monitoring and enforcement, by eliminating subsidies and destructive fishing methods, and by protecting coastal fishing communities and involving them in co-management.

At the same time, we are establishing more and larger Marine Protected Areas – MPAs. The total area protected has doubled since 2010. This is good news.

Currently, there are about 6000 MPAs around the world, varying immensely in size as well as in what actually gets protected.
Using his executive authority just as Presidents Bush and Clinton did before him, President Obama now is creating the largest MPA yet, this one in the South Central Pacific. The area is already partly protected as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, but it will now become a lot larger, expanding from 224,000 sq km to 2,017,000 sq km – a little larger than Mexico – and it will become a lot more protected, prohibiting all commercial fishing.

The new Marine Protected Area proposed by President Obama will be huge, remote, isolated, and sparsely populated (propresobama.org)

The new Marine Protected Area proposed by President Obama will be huge, remote, isolated, and sparsely populated (propresobama.org)

The new MPA lies southwest of Hawaii and includes the ocean around Palmyra Atoll, Howard and Baker Islands, Kingman Atoll, and Wake Island (of World War II fame). It is so remote that the only commercial fishing there is for tuna – about 3% of the central and western Pacific catch now occurs there, and will have to shift. Remote indeed.

In fact a huge amount of what has been protected globally lies in the Pacific Ocean – the Coral Sea and around New Caledonia, the Great Barrier Reef, Papahanaumokuakea (in nw Hawaiian waters), and soon around both the Pitcairn Islands and Palau. All are huge MPAs, ranging from 360,000 sq km to 1.3 million sq km. Not surprisingly, most of them are also in the EEZs of remote and often sparsely populated islands.

Palmyra Atoll, southwest of Hawaii is one of the 7 islands around which the recently announced MPA will be established (e360yale.edu)

Palmyra Atoll, southwest of Hawaii is one of the 7 islands around which the recently announced MPA will be established (e360yale.edu)

If it weren’t for the growing stresses of climate change, the South Pacific would be the safest region on the planet for tropical organisms to live. Despite the challenges of enforcing protective regulations where there are few people, little land, and lots of ocean, this is all very reassuring.

Palmyra Atoll has an airstrip, a protected lagoon, and few inhabitants: not a controversial site to protect.(travel-images.com)

Palmyra Atoll has an airstrip, a protected lagoon, and few inhabitants: not a controversial site to protect (travel-images.com).

What if we look globally instead of just South Pacifically? Only about 1.17% of the world’s total ocean area is protected, and only about 2.86% of the world’s EEZs are protected. Since an MPA rarely means no fishing, just that some protection from some use occurs, even those low numbers are misleadingly high: of all the area covered by MPAs, only 8% is actually ‘no-take’, truly protected from fishing.

An MPA may still allow multiple uses, and only a restricted region is usually 'no-take' (pcouncil.org).

An MPA may still allow multiple uses, and only a restricted region is usually ‘no-take’ (pcoouncil.org).

Where a lot people actually live, on the crowded coasts of our continents, MPAs are so much harder to create. Those that exist are usually small, multi-use, and not isolated. The resistance to MPAs by commercial fishing, industrial users, residential users, everyone with any kind of stake, can be great.

At the other extreme, on the High Seas beyond the 200-mile EEZ limits of the world’s coastal countries, there really are few constraints and regulations, despite efforts at international cooperation. Protecting a lot of the South Pacific is possible only because of the many remote islands that exist there. The rest of the Pacific as well as the North and South Atlantic Oceans are a different matter.

Enforcement of existing or imagined protection remains the greatest challenge – but in coastal regions it could be done for much less than coastal nations currently spend on subsidizing their fisheries.

Meanwhile, dreams of protecting the High Seas drift closer to reality as discussions about High Seas no-take regions continue, even at the UN. Imagine making 60% no-take, enforced through automatic monitoring of all fishing vessels.

The conversation about MPAs is now also broadening to encompass ecosystem protection – safeguarding ecosystem services, including stronger links with coastal communities.

Obviously we have a long way to go to adequately protect our marine resources from ourselves, and getting there may look impossible. But it isn’t.

Illegal fishing: still low risk, high return

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

In early April the US Congress did something quite amazing: it overwhelmingly agreed to ratify an FAO sponsored international agreement, the Port State Measures Agreement. By this agreement, the US will deny port entry to fishing vessels suspected of carrying illegally caught fish, and will warn other ports about the fishing vessel.

Many species are caught illegally, but both Albacore and Bluefin Tuna are particularly vulnerable because they are large and very valuable (environment1.org)

Many species are caught illegally, but both Albacore and Bluefin Tuna are particularly vulnerable because they are large and very valuable (environment1.org)

A lot of countries signed on to this agreement in 2010 but 25 have got to ratify it before it becomes international law. So far 13 countries have done so – besides the US, Norway, New Zealand, Chile and the EU have ratified it, along with Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Uruguay, Oman, Gabon and the Seychelles. Not surprisingly, no sign of Canada as yet. Though not yet international law, it is well on its way, and it will happen.

It’s an important step. Up to about 20% of the fish caught globally (and 32% of the fish marketed in the US) are caught illegally. Illegal fishing is big business, renowned for its high return on relatively low risk.

A US Coast Guard cutter escorts a stateless IUU fishing vessel that had been fishing for albacore with drift nets (oceanfad.org)

A US Coast Guard cutter escorts a stateless IUU fishing vessel that had been fishing for albacore with drift nets (oceanfad.org)

Illegal fishing occurs in lots of ways – using banned floating gill nets, fishing in protected areas, fishing without licenses, fishing protected species, fishing over quota, falsifying documents, the options are many. Often fishing under flags of convenience, ownership of illegally fishing vessels can be very difficult to determine.

In the fisheries business, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are known as IUU, and that spreads the problem further, for coastal nations must regulate their fisheries and establish clear reporting methods before illegal fishing can be identified. This occurs most places, but not all – some nations lack the government or the political will to regulate, and some EEZs are just too huge to enforce any regulations that do exist. The high seas, beyond the 200 mile limits of the EEZs, of course are especially vulnerable.

Illegal fishing may be relatively low risk, and therefore irresistible, but the potential damage is huge. Stocks are depleted, marine habitats are damaged, management estimates of stock sizes and health are inaccurate, fishermen fishing legally are hurt economically, and coastal fishing communities suffer.

Italian fishing vessels set illegal drift nets for Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean (pewenvironmentalgroup)

Italian fishing vessels set illegal drift nets for Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean (pewenvironmentalgroup)

And there is more. Since the fishing activity itself is illegal, other miserable and also illegal activities occur as well – a ship’s crew may be underpaid or may even be bonded slaves, and the ships may be used for both human and drug trafficking.

So illegal fishing is pretty horrible from all points of view, including conservation and issues of social justice. The new FAO agreement helps – it lacks enforcement beyond port denial, but it still helps. It’s a start.

of course we need to do a lot more. The International Maritime Organization has onboard transponder tracking systems on the global merchant fleet, on all vessels over 24 m long, and it works – but fishing vessels are not included. Every fishing vessel of that size should not be tracked as well (the technology exists in a variety of forms) Information on vessels fishing illegally should be widely shared. We need stronger regulations to protect declining stocks.

None of this is impossible. Of course, strong enforcement needs to exist: illegal fishing is criminal, and the crimes need to be recognized.

And we as consumers can help. Markets need to care where their fish come from – we need to keep IUU fish off the shelves.

So ask where the fish you buy come from. Ask for evidence that it was caught legally. Force our markets to care.

They will if we do.

Canadian Government Fails Again

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

For the past six years delegates from 98 countries have hammered away at a document with the catchy title ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries’. Sponsored by the FAO, it is in its final draft, heading toward presentation to the FAO Fisheries Committee next month.

Coastal fishing communities and fisheries, like this one in Vietnam,  are particularly vulnerable in Asia and Africa (worldfishcenter.org)

Coastal fishing communities and fisheries, like this one in Vietnam, are particularly vulnerable in Asia and Africa (worldfishcenter.org)

Canadian delegates have participated throughout, helping to create what is surely one of the more idealistic and humane documents of international cooperation. Now, suddenly, Canada has withdrawn its support for the document, jeopardizing its future.

Ninety percent of fisheries are small-boat, family-owned operations, landing about 2/3 of all fish caught, and providing protein for billions of people. However, over the past decades, nations have increasingly supported industrial fishing and aquaculture at the expense of small-scale fisheries.

Small-scale fisheries need top down support to survive in the presence of the heavily subsidized large-scale fisheries (jenniferjacquet.com)

Small-scale fisheries need top down support to survive in the presence of the heavily subsidized large-scale fisheries (jenniferjacquet.com)

The Guidelines try to rectify this imbalance. They focus on human rights, cultural concerns, and Indigenous rights, and they emphasize the need for gender equity and equality. They invoke the need for the precautionary approach, ecosystem-based management, community-based co-management, and the rule of law. They emphasize that priority should be given to small-scale fisheries communities, and that with recognition of such tenure rights come responsibilities.

Women do much of the work in small-scale fisheries once the fish have been landed. Their role needs to be clearly recognized. (toobigtoignore.net)

Women do much of the work in small-scale fisheries once the fish have been landed. Their role needs to be clearly recognized. (toobigtoignore.net)

They also recognize that the real world has become one too often characterized by poverty, violence, corruption, crime, and economic abuse of women, and that coastal communities also face the accumulating stresses of climate change, pollution, coastal erosion, and destruction of coastal habitats.

That is what makes this document so valuable to the world. It is a model of what could be, and of what should be. It is, in the face of all that is wrong and threatening, a defense of the sustainability of small-scale fisheries and fishing communities, a defense of the poor and the marginalized, and a defense of women’s rights.

It is worth reading.

Even in Canada there are many fishing communities that are small, vulnerable, and in need of support (smallscales.ca0

Even in Canada there are many fishing communities that are small, vulnerable, and in need of support (smallscales.ca0

So what now, at the last minute, is the problem that Canada’s Harper Government has with the document? It seems that the most recent draft includes wording, proposed by Mauritania, that calls for the protection of fishermen “in situations of occupation“. The Harper Government apparently views this is as a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli intrusion, and Harper’s pro-Israeli political stance trumps any support he might have for improving global human rights and sustaining small-scale fisheries and communities.

In recent years the Harper Government has made clear its contempt for the UN, for other global agreements such as on fire arms and climate change, and within Canada for environmental protection and even for democratic processes. But this one is really beyond the pale.

The Canadian delegates are of course deeply embarrassed, and hope for a resolution. A number of Canadian fisheries scientists have written a concerned ‘Open Letter to the Government’. But we in Canada need a bigger solution. We need a government that recognizes we are part of a troubled world beset by human injustice and environmental threats. We need a government that believes in social justice and sustainability.

Canada should be a model to the world, not a pariah.

We need a new government, as soon as possible.

Krill and Omega 3

Friday, April 25th, 2014

TV ads, pharmacy shelves, it’s hard to miss bottles of Omega 3 capsules, derived from krill, promising relief or protection from cardiovascular and other diseases.

Krill oil pills are marketed far too well (leehayward.com)

Krill oil pills are marketed far too well
(leehayward.com)

There are two serious problems with this. One is the impact this will have on krill populations, and the other is the validity of the evidence of the benefits.

Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, is the primary source of krill oil (healthyplanetcanada.com)

Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, is the primary source of krill oil (healthyplanetcanada.com)

First the source. The main source is Antarctic Krill, Euphausia superba. It grows to 5cm long, and lives in huge schools in the the near-ice regions around Antarctica. Much of its food comes from the algae growing on the under side of the ice. Its predators? Pretty well every marine vertebrate living or hunting in the Southern Ocean: baleen whales, seabirds (penguins), most of the seals, many fish species, and now humans.

A small school of Antarctic krill - you can see how easily trawled the shrimp are (healthpost.co.nz)

A small school of Antarctic krill – you can see how easily trawled the shrimp are (healthpost.co.nz)

In our illustrious past as hunters in the Southern Ocean, we eliminated the Antarctic fur seals by 1900, most of the great whales by the 1930s, pelagic fish by the 1970s, and bottom finfish by the 1980s. That has left krill.

Krill trawling began in the 1970s, and didn’t look promising: the animals had to be processed within hours of capture to avoid rapid enzymatic breakdown releasing toxic flourides. Now, however, ships process the krill quickly, rapidly removing the oil, and freezing or drying the meat.

The Southern Ocean is remote, hard to protect, and under stress (underwatertimes.com)

The Southern Ocean is remote, hard to protect, and under stress (underwatertimes.com)

We don’t actually eat krill meat – that goes into fish meal for chickens – but during the past decade the oil has become an increasingly popular source of Omega 3 as a human dietary supplement.

The current level of krill fishing in the Southern Ocean may appear to be sustainable, but the signs of are everywhere. Apart from Southern Humpbacks, the great whales have not recovered; Adelie and chin-strap penguin populations are in decline; in warmer water areas of the West Antarctic Peninsula non-nutritious gelatinous salps are outcompeting krill; and in areas where sea ice is shrinking, less under-ice algae exists for krill to feed on.

Penguin populations are in decline, an indirect indication of a stressed ecosystem (noaa.com)

Adelie Penguin populations are in decline, a direct indication of a stressed ecosystem (noaa.com)

The Southern Ocean ecosystem depends on krill, but even without our krill fishing, something is clearly very wrong. The deepest, newest threat to the krill is our desire for Omega 3, for we are too numerous, too obsessed by our health, and too susceptible to sophisticated marketing. We are insatiable.

Now, to complicate things, and just published in The Annals of Internal Medicine, comes a meta-study of 72 studies of the dietary use of Omega-3 fatty acids in treating coronary disease, altogether involving 600,000 participants from 18 countries. Its conclusion? No support actually exists for cardiovascular guidelines that promote high consumption of Omega 3.

We are extracting oil from Antarctic Krill for medical benefits for ourselves that are dubious at best, to supplement fish meal which is ecologically short-sighted, and to supplement what we feed our pets. None of this is necessary, and appears in fact have no true value for any of us: chickens, cats, dogs or humans.

This isn’t a hard situation to resolve: we can stop krilling. At stake is the viability of an immense, critical and threatened ecosystem.

Iconic Southern Humpack in the Southern Ocean (earthtimes.org)

Iconic Southern Humpack in the Southern Ocean (earthtimes.org)

Chandrika Sharma and ICSF

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Most of the best leadership and action related to many of the stresses now plaguing our planet comes from international NGOs.

Sorting shrimp in Bagladesh. Small scale coastal fisheries vary immensely, but all need support (consult-poseidon.com)

Sorting shrimp in Bagladesh. Small scale coastal fisheries vary immensely, but all need support (consult-poseidon.com)

An effective example is The International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF). In the face of the calamitous impact of offshore, industrial fishing fleets, its ambitious mission is “to support fishing communities and fishworker organizations, and empower them to participate in fisheries from a perspective of decent work, equity, gender-justice, self-reliance and sustainability”.

ICSF encourages the development and protection of small scale fisheries, like this one in Cambodia (flikr.com)

ICSF encourages the development and protection of small scale fisheries, like this one in Cambodia (flikr.com)

It started up 28 years ago and now involves coastal fishing communities around Southeast Asia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and East Africa. The ongoing challenge continues to be to achieve recognition of the importance of small-scale fisheries, fishworkers and fishing communities.

One of its publications is An Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries that emphasizes the need for balancing human wellbeing and ecological wellbeing, for application of both the adaptive and precautionary approaches, for recognition of the value traditional knowledge, and for community participation in co-management.

This truly identifies the needs and hopes of the coastal fisheries of the whole world.

Chandrika Sharma was Executive Secretary of ICSF. She was a passenger on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, on her way from KL to Beijing and then on to Mongolia where she would have represented ICSF at the 32nd Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific.

Chandrika Sharma

Chandrika Sharma

We so need rational, articulate, committed, persistent and well-informed social activists like Chandrika Sharma to give us at least some hope in these increasingly perilous times.

Losing her is distressing for too many reasons.
I wish that I had known her.

Fishing for the Army in North Korea

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

What with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s recent execution of his uncle Jang Sung Thaek, not to mention Dennis Rodman’s crazed basketball undiplomacy, North Korea has been in the news again. Though Jang’s execution certainly indicates political power conflicts we know little about, it also has called attention to the very unusual ways that fisheries and other businesses are managed in North Korea.

An infrared image of the Korean peninsula at night. North Korea is mostly dark. Fishing boats of other nations cluster along 200 mile limit (akbizmag.com).

An infrared image of the Korean peninsula at night. North Korea is mostly dark. Fishing boats of other nations cluster along 200 limits (akbizmag.com).

In North Korea, an ‘army first’ policy continues to dominate economic affairs, yet the army is not funded by a central budget. Instead the military owns companies, organizations, and their banks, and funds itself from their profits. Various fisheries are among those companies. Fishing companies supply the military directly with fish to feed the very hungry soldiers, and they also produce some of the few products – like clams and crabs – that they can sell for international currency (the Chinese are the only trading partner left), and the profits go to the military.

Different government agencies own different companies, so there is conflict among the agencies for access to those companies. When Kim Jong Un inherited power two years ago, he gave control of the fish trade to his cabinet to promote the economy. Uncle Jang grabbed it, consolidated his companies, and gathered the profits for himself and his political interests.

But then a few months ago, Kim Jong Un saw some his soldiers going very hungry, and ordered the return of control of the fisheries to the military. The soldiers sent to carry out the order were met with stiff resistance by men loyal to uncle Jang, a few were killed, and the military backed off. The Supreme Leader was furious, sent in more soldiers, regained control of the fisheries, executed two of Jang’s top aides, then arrested and quickly executed uncle Jang as well.

Since the Dec 12 execution, Kim Jong Un has enthusiastically encouraged army regulars to fish on the side. And the only management strategy of fisheries that appears to exist is his exhortation for fishermen to fish ever harder to feed and fund the army.

Supreme leader Kim Jong Un inspects a storage facility for frozen squid, not long after executing his uncle Jang (independent.co.com)

Supreme leader Kim Jong Un inspects a storage facility for frozen squid, not long after executing his uncle Jang (independent.co.com)

In recent weeks a couple of North Korean fishing boats have drifted into South Korean waters. One had no crew or fuel. The other had a few crew and no fuel – it had drifted for a month since it left port with insufficient fuel to go very far and it got caught in winds and currents, leaving the crew to try to survive on whatever fish they could then catch. At least they were fishermen.

North Korean fishing boat that drifted into south Korean waters in early January (koreajoongangdaily.joins.com).

North Korean fishing boat drifted into south Korean waters in early January(koreajoongangdaily.joins.com).

So Fishermen in North Korea fish for the army. Any profits go to the army. The army depends on the profits from the fisheries as well as from other companies to fund itself. Regulations on fishing do not exist, but fishermen are encouraged to fish for quotas they cannot reach, and their supervisors are expected to report when they meet their quotas. Fishing boats are small, underequipped, and access to sufficient fuel is one of many challenges. Fishing is very hard.

And it gets harder. Last week reports surfaced of another event. A couple of fishing boats, with 22 crew including some women, crossed into into South Korean waters and were picked up by a South Korean patrol boat. When questioned, the North Koreans denied they were seeking asylum, so the South Koreans sent them home overland. When they arrived, they were all shot. True? The scanty sources seem reliable, and have not yet been denied. What is true is that we think this is all too possible.

Such conflicts and deaths are collateral damage of an irrational and absurd way to manage fisheries.

The rest of us should truly appreciate our own methods of fisheries management, no matter their flaws.

Little news gets out of North Korea (nationalpost.com)

Little news gets out of North Korea (nationalpost.com)

Good Models for Failing EU Fisheries

Monday, November 11th, 2013

The continuing experiment that is the EU ought to be a model of progress for the world, and perhaps in some ways it is, a response to the cries of ‘Never Again’ that rose up at the end of the 2nd World War. But in regulating its fisheries, protecting its fish from over-exploitation, it has clearly failed.

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the european Union is huge, one of the largest, with 25 million square km (wikipedia.org)

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the european Union is huge, one of the largest, with 25 million square km (wikipedia.org)

Still, after decades of efforts, some progress occurred over the past few weeks, resulting in a general ban on discards or bycatch, and greater regulation of individual fisheries to meet the minimum requirements of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) management. Considering the various conflicting needs of so many nations, this is good news.

Atlantic cod stocks are ever closer to oblivion in the North Sea (bbc.co.uk)

Atlantic cod stocks are ever closer to oblivion in the North Sea (bbc.co.uk)

On the other hand, it is a disappointing outcome. It targets a 5% discard rate rather than zero, implemented gradually over the next decade, and some species will still be exempt. It should have banned all deep-water bottom-trawling, but instead proposes not to trawl sites that are identified as particularly vulnerable. Left undecided is how to enforce the new regulations and how to fund the enforcement. Meanwhile subsidies persist for a fleet that is 2-3 times as large as it should be.

Opposition to stronger outcomes came from Spain and France, and from industrial-sized vessels, all of which think they will be harmed even by the limited new regulations: they maintain the changes will happen too quickly, will be too hard to implement, and will be too expensive.

They are wrong. There are quite a few examples elsewhere that the EU could look to.

Atlantic cod - mostly gone from the North-west Atlantic, almost gone from the North Sea, is doing well in the North-east Atlantic (umn.edu)

Atlantic cod – mostly gone from the North-west Atlantic, almost gone from the North Sea, is doing well in the North-east Atlantic (umn.edu)

One is nearby, in Norway, not a member of the EU. Twenty five years ago, in response to dwindling cod stocks, Norway initiated a zero discard policy. More selective gear was used – letting smaller fish escape rather than become bycatch, and some fishing grounds were closed, particularly where the smaller fish were more common. To enforce the ban on discards, vessels have been closely monitored.

The Arctic or Norwegian cod population is in good shape, protected by  tight regulations (imr.no)

The Arctic or Norwegian cod population is in good shape, protected by tight regulations (imr.no)

As fish populations have recovered, catch sizes have increased. Norway also emphasizes ecosystem-based management, science-based decisions on quotas, and precautionary approaches – approaches hard to find in the new EU agreements. And if Norway can do it, so can the EU, as the Norwegians like to point out.

Another example is from the central coast of California. Fishing, including bottom-trawling, pretty well ceased in Moro Bay, south of Monterrey, for all the usual reasons. But then the Nature Conservancy proposed a new approach. With the agreement of the fishermen of Moro Bay, they bought up all the trawl fishing licenses, and the fishermen either left the fishery, or have leased permits back from the Conservancy. The intent – and the outcome – has been to support, yet reduce the level of trawling to a sustainable level, and to try to mitigate its impact.

A brown pelican in Morro Bay celebrates the new fishery regulations there. (flickr.com)

A brown pelican in Morro Bay celebrates the new fishery regulations there. (flickr.com)

And there’s more. In 2005, with the involvement of the fishermen and the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund mediated the designation of 3.8 million acres of coastal waters on the central coast as a no-trawling zone. Not the whole coast but a compromise intended to support fishing, and fishing communities, at a reduced but sustainable level.

Large areas off the central coast of California are now designated as no-trawl zones (edg.org)

Large areas off the central coast of California are now designated as no-trawl zones (edg.org)

The partnership has involved fishermen, community leaders, scientists, and state and federal agencies. This appears to be true co-management. And it is another model that can be exported, if only oppositional lobbyists can be successfully induced to recognize the need to compromise. When the alternative becomes a much wider ban on trawling, compromise is the only option.

We know now that bycatch can be eliminated. Trawling can be limited and regulated. Deep-water trawling can be banned. Enforcement is feasible. Subsidies can be used judiciously, even eliminated. Fleet size can be reduced. Cooperation among all the players is achievable. Ecosystem-based management is possible.

And then fishing is actually sustainable.

So listen up, EU. At stake is the sustainability, the viability of fish stocks in European waters.

Salmon Trumps Gold

Friday, October 25th, 2013
The world's largest run of sockeye salmon occurs in Bristol Bay (nbcnews.com)

The world’s largest run of sockeye salmon occurs in Bristol Bay (nbcnews.com)

Each year 30-40 million sockeye salmon, along with smaller numbers of chum, silver and king salmon, return to breed in the rivers and streams that empty into Bristol Bay, Alaska after several years growing in the North Pacific.

Bristol Bay, Alaska - 400 km long, 250 km wide at its mouth (pewenvironment.org)

Bristol Bay, Alaska – 400 km long, 250 km wide at its mouth (pewenvironment.org)

Bristol Bay, the easternmost extension of the Bering Sea on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula, is relatively shallow, with shoals, sandbars and strong winds, as well as tides that are funneled up to a remarkable 10 m by the time they reach the eastern end of the bay. Shipping is a challenge.

It is a region of salmon fishing, both commercial and sport, of canneries, and of hunting and tourism. It is also a region with very large reserves of gold and other tempting minerals.

Bristol Bay has a large watershed, including the large Lake Iliamna  where Pebble Mine would be located (fishermenforbristolbay.org)

Bristol Bay has a large watershed, including the large Lake Iliamna where Pebble Mine would be located (fishermenforbristolbay.org)

The possibility of mining the minerals at what is known as Pebble Mine has been the focus of an intense fight for a couple of decades. There are reasons to be concerned.

If mining occurred, it would last several decades and would accumulate 10 billion tons of mining waste that would somehow have to be stored ‘permanently’ in an area that is considered to be an earthquake zone. And of course such mining also uses and contaminates vast amount of fresh water.

It is hard to find anyone in the region who supports Pebble Mine. Almost a million people have signed a petition that opposes it.

Last May the EPA issued a draft assessment indicating the risk of contamination from the proposed mine would be great, and that the Clean Water Act could be invoked to protect the region. Still, two companies have wanted to start the permit process – Anglo American and Canadian Northern Dynasty Minerals.

Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator, appears to be sympathetic to protecting Bristol Bay, but says the EPA will follow the science (washingtonpost.com)

Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator, appears to be sympathetic to protecting Bristol Bay, but says the EPA will follow the science (washingtonpost.com)

In mid September, Anglo American unexpectedly announced that the whole endeavor was too much of a risk, and pulled out. An encouraging development, but Canadian Northern Dynasty Minerals say they’ll continue on alone to seek permits.

Perhaps they won’t. A final draft of the EPA assessment is not due until the end of this year, but Congressional hearings are currently underway.

Even if the EPA succeeds in stopping the mining, other threats to Bristol Bay remain. Much of the Bay has been a target for oil and gas drilling, also for decades. Despite great opposition from local villages, Native Tribes, fishing organizations, conservation groups, and even the State of Alaska, the US Dept of Interior opened the Bay to oil and gas exploration when Reagan was president.

Areas of possible oil and gas exploration in Bristol Bay (businessinsider.com)

Areas of possible oil and gas exploration in Bristol Bay (businessinsider.com)

Congress added the Bay to the moratorium on oil exploration following the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, and in 1998 Clinton extended the protection from exploration to 2012. Not surprisingly, George W. Bush removed Bristol Bay from the moratorium in 2003 and then in 2007 lifted the further protection that Clinton had given it. In 2010, Obama once again removed the area from any leasing programs, protecting it through 2017. The US Republican Congress tried seven times to withdraw that protection during its 2012 session, and though it failed each time, it is clear that any decisions can easily be reversed.

Part of the salmon fishing fleet in Bristol Bay (fisherynation.com)

Part of the salmon fishing fleet in Bristol Bay (fisherynation.com)

Bristol Bay is wild, remote, diverse and productive, one of the richest marine ecosystems left on Earth. It can be protected, and its fisheries can be sustained. Or it can be wrecked by the usual suspects.

These are hardly rational times, and ‘saving’ a place is a process that may never end.

Constant vigilance is our only option.

Permanent protection will take unending effort (akmarine.org)

Permanent protection will take unending effort (akmarine.org)