Archive for the ‘International Affairs’ Category

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.

Military Dolphins

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Two coastal cities, San Diego and Sevastopol, one in California, the other on the Crimean coast in what was the Soviet Union and then the Ukraine and now is Russia. In each, the military has trained dolphins to help fight wars.

The dolphin pens near San Diego Naval Base (seattletimes.com)

The dolphin pens near San Diego Naval Base (seattletimes.com)

You may remember hearing about the San Diego unit long ago in the ’60s. The training there and in Sevastopol never stopped, though it was winding down in the Ukraine until last month when Russia got it back.

The Soviet, then the Ukrainian, and now the Russian  navy have trained dolphins at Sevastopol (vacationstogo.com)

The Soviet, then the Ukrainian, and now the Russian
navy have trained dolphins at Sevastopol (vacationstogo.com)

Trained in San Diego, bottlenose dolphins helped the US military in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf Wars. Those trained in Sevastopol – well, we don’t know if or when they were used.

Of course it is remains difficult to know what is true, but for whatever it means, the New York Times, The Wire and Izvestia at least agree on what is now happening.

It appears the two groups of dolphins may, if not meet, at least soon share the same piece of ocean for a while. The US is bringing some to the Black Sea for ‘NATO exercises’. The Sevastopol contingent, a couple of months ago headed for retirement or more likely continued labor in aquarium shows, will get renewed training by the Russian navy in the same Sea.

Dolphin in training, Sevastopol (rt.com)

Dolphin in training, Sevastopol (rt.com)

What on Earth are we doing?

We don’t know much about most species of dolphins, but we know quite a lot about bottlenose. We know they are intelligent, curious, social, and sexually very active. And we know they are very alien, relative to ourselves, in how they relate to each other, how they communicate, what they communicate, how and if they think, what and if they think of us, and what and how they feel.

Despite some heart warming stories of how they protect swimmers, they are not our friends and we are not theirs, no matter how much some of us really want them to be.

We have used animals, mainly horses, to help us in warfare for a long time. Dolphins are different.

We send them off as if they were independent parts of our military teams to set explosives, clear mines, and do possibly other nefarious things that are very hard to prove. They are trained to do stuff surreptitiously that our own divers are not strong or swift or crazy enough to do.

Another one in training in San Diego (thewire.com)

Another one in training in San Diego (thewire.com)

This really should stop. We can kill each other perfectly well and efficiently without making dolphins do it for us. We also can’t just toss them back into the wild when they’re no longer needed. Perhaps they don’t fare much worse than many of our human war veterans, but they are not us. They simply shouldn’t be involved.

Our militaries rationalize the situation by saying the dolphins live long as captives and appear to be happy, but surely we know all too well how absurd those words really are.

Instead, we need to leave them alone, and let them live their own lives in whatever ways they naturally do. They have plenty to cope with in our deteriorating ocean ecosystems without having to endure slavery.

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)

Grassroots Alternative

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

How do we achieve a global response to the challenges of climate change? How do we protect the planet from the risks of global change?

Arguments built on evidence-based science of course are essential, but they are also clearly insufficient. More evidence isn’t going to sway the deniers or the oil and energy corporations.

Better leadership is always worth pursuing, and some good leaders do exist, but the process of changing poor leaders for good ones is painfully slow, unpredictable, and anything but inevitable – no matter whether we look at the US, Canada, Russia or China.

unfccc

The UN would seem to be a likely forum, with its annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings – but these are highly politicized and very frustrating meetings of government representatives, and exclude the representatives of the many NGOs and civil organizations that are forced to meet around the edges and have very little influence.

At every annual COP meeting, Canada has received 'Fossil of the Day Awards' for its abysmal action and leadership in dealing with climate change (climateactionnetwork.ca)

At every annual COP meeting, Canada has received ‘Fossil of the Day Awards’ for its abysmal action and leadership in dealing with climate change (climateactionnetwork.ca)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is calling together what he hopes will be a more inclusive Climate Summit in NYC in 2014, and perhaps it will do better, but too many of the government players remain the same.

The 2)the annual Conference of the Parties, COP 20, organized by the UNFCCC will be held in Peru this year (mocicc.org)

The 2)the annual Conference of the Parties, COP 20, organized by the UNFCCC will be held in Peru this year (mocicc.org)

We clearly need something more – more global, more representative of civil views as well as those of scientists and NGOs.

A proposal has emerged from several directions: we need an annual conference along the lines of the International AIDS Conference, with the intent of provoking global cooperation to protect the climate.

Like the IAC it would include scientists, NGOs, and representatives of civil society, but not the UN and not individual governments. Like the IAC, it would be a forum for sharing information, for developing policy, for advocacy, a place where we can encourage action and where we can also call out nations and corporations that are behaving badly, like Canada.

The International AIDS Society has also been holding annual AIDS conferences for 20 years. AIDS 2014 will be held in Melbourne, with 20,000 delegates expected. (iasociety.org)

The International AIDS Society has also been holding annual AIDS conferences for 20 years. AIDS 2014 will be held in Melbourne, with 20,000 delegates expected. (iasociety.org)

This is not an impossible dream. The IAC started small and has grown huge. It has effected important changes. Obviously there are many differences, not the least being the sense of immediate and personal medical urgency that has driven the IAC.

Still, the urgency we face with the risks of climate change gets greater every year. To deal with them, we need global cooperation. So far the UN conferences and other government gatherings have achieved little of substance. We need another route to building a global voice.

Why don’t we start up a Global Conference on the Risks of Climate Change? It needs to come from us, a grass roots initiative that ignores governments and corporations.

It can start as small as it has to, but why not start?

Why not? (le-mot-juste-en-anglais-typepad.com)

Why not? (le-mot-juste-en-anglais-typepad.com)

Unexpected Leadership

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

We need outspoken leaders who understand the risks of climate change and who can reach a global audience, willing to prod inactive governments and counteract the corporate power and cynicism of the oil companies.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is certainly expressing the appropriate concern about the risks, but with the US Congress still in denial, his voice is too easy to ignore.

Every winter the smog in northern China reaches hazardous levels. This month is worse than ever. It can't continue. (earthspacenews.com)

Every winter the smog in northern China reaches hazardous levels. This month is worse than ever. It can’t continue. (earthspacenews.com)

We still await climate change leadership to emerge in other high C-emitting countries such as China. Meanwhile countries that should have become climate change leaders have instead become international embarrassments: Australia has ditched its cap-and-trade policy, while the anti-science, pro-oil actions of the government of Canada continue to expand.

Canadian Rick Mercer rants about the muzzling of scientists by the government of Canada (cbc.ca)

Canadian Rick Mercer rants about the muzzling of scientists by the government of Canada (cbc.ca)

So it is refreshing, surprising, and maybe even hopeful to have Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, speaking out over the past few months about the serious risks and costs of climate change. Kim, a physician, anthropologist and past president of Dartmouth is the first with any training in science to hold the position.

The World Bank is a UN international financial institution. It gives out loans to developing countries with a primary mission of reducing poverty. It doles out about 20 billion US dollars per year, which sounds like a lot, but that’s about what Facebook just paid for Whatsapp. It also gets its share of criticisms for how it operates and and how it manages the money.

What Kim has done in his recent speeches is to emphasize the link between the impact of climate change and poverty.

“Unless the world takes bold action now, a disastrously warming planet threatens to put prosperity out of reach of millions and roll back decades of development. Those least able to adapt – the poor and vulnerable – will be hit hardest.”

Kim talks a lot about the financial costs of climate change, and how much cheaper it is to make changes now rather than face the far greater costs 30 or 40 years from now. He reminds us that cities are the source of 2/3 of our CO2 emissions, and that among our challenges now is to make them low-carbon, and climate-resilient.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim speaks out on the impact of climate change (the guardian.com)

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim speaks out on the impact of climate change (the guardian.com)

A few weeks ago Kim announced ex-NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new appointment.
“The appointment of Michael R. Bloomberg as a Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change to the United Nations should be applauded from Beijing to Rio to Mumbai. His selection is a huge boost for global leadership efforts to combat climate change.” And so it should be.

Kim speaks of all this as a paradigm shift, a time of transformational change.

How do we get there?

A meeting was held at Bali this month, initiated by the World Bank and Jim Yong King, to develop the Green Climate Fund, designed  to encourage low C investments and clean energy solutions in developing countries (chimalaya.com) .

A meeting was held at Bali this month, initiated by the World Bank and Jim Yong King, to develop the Green Climate Fund, designed to encourage low C investments and clean energy solutions in developing countries (chimalaya.com) .

And a final quote from Kim:
“Tackling climate change is not an effort that governments can take on alone. We need a response that brings together governments, private sector, civil society, and individuals, following a coordinated, ambitious plan. We can help in many ways, but perhaps most fruitfully by highlighting the increasing costs of climate change and by mobilizing climate finance from the public and private sectors.”

And that’s the problem. We haven’t figured out yet how to create such a response, but create one we must.

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.

China in the Arctic

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The Arctic is a tantalizing target for exploitation, even among non-Arctic nations. Not surprisingly, none have greater plans than China, even though its ports are a long way from the Arctic.

The Arctic Council seems to have the power to negotiate how the Arctic will be developed, and China wishes to be included. Voting members of the Council are the circumpolar nations: Canada, US, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark (via Greenland). But twelve other non-polar nations have now received observer status, six of them added at the recent May meeting, and among these are India, Japan, and China. Polar Aboriginal groups also have observer status, but no votes – unfortunate, but also hardly surprising.

China of course has a growing interest in the issues the Arctic Council is discussing. Shipping, for instance. The distance from Europe to China is far shorter through the Arctic Northeast Passage than any alternatives, and there is no threat of piracy en route as there has been around horn of Africa. The Northeast Passage is already open for months each summer, and an enticing seven month season is now likely.

The Northeast Passage, now open, is a shorter route for China to reach Arctic Russia and ports in Europe (france24.com)

The Northeast Passage, now open, is a shorter route for China to reach Arctic Russia and ports in Europe (france24.com)

And then the gas and oil. Russia has access to huge natural gas sources close to shore along its central Arctic coast, where it is building new liquid natural gas facilities, along with associated port services. With the Northeast Passage open seven months a year, it need not build pipelines south but instead can fill Chinese tankers directly. China has invested deeply in the operation, intent on getting most of the available LNG.

Russian energy company Novatek is building LNG facilities on the coast of Arctic Russia (novatek.com)

Russian energy company Novatek is building LNG facilities on the coast of Arctic Russia (novatek.com)

Meanwhile, in northern Greenland, near Nuuk, China has arranged to develop an extensive iron mine, planning to send about 3000 Chinese miners in to do the work. When the coasts open in summer, it will transport the iron ore to China.

What’s left? Oh yes: fishing. The international waters of the Arctic, the so-called Arctic donut hole, are likely to be a rich and irresistible source of fish. Though that’s 4000 km from Shanghai, China already sends trawlers 7500 km to the Antarctic to fish for krill, so the Arctic is well in range. Its trawlers will be there, as soon as possible.

Arctic International waters (the donut hole) will soon be ice free in summer, but as yet no fisheries regulations exist to protect it (oceansnorth.org)

Arctic International waters (the donut hole) will soon be ice free in summer, but as yet no fisheries regulations exist to protect it (oceansnorth.org)

In late April, the circumpolar nations also met to try to agree on how to protect and regulate the Arctic fisheries. Prohibiting fishing there would be reasonable, for it will take decades, or longer, for the ecosystem to stabilize as it adapts to the prolonged open water, the warmer temperatures, the increasing acidification, the invasion of Subarctic species particularly through the Bering Strait, and the probable loss of some Arctic species.

Arctic Sea ice is not just shrinking in area, it is thinning rapidly (apl.washington.edu)

Arctic Sea ice is not just shrinking in area, it is thinning rapidly (apl.washington.edu)

Will the international community agree wait to start fishing, or to exploit other resources? If so, that will be a first. What will stop them? The words of the recommendations of the Arctic Council read well. But what is the reality going to be?

International interest and pressure to develop the Arctic is immense. China of course is not the only major player – but it is new to this particular region, and it has become insatiable.

The outcome is increasingly clear. Without its ice, the Arctic has few defenses against ‘business-as-usual’ exploitation.

We’ll see what the Arctic Council will do under its new chair, the Canadian Indigenous politician Leona Aglukkaq. A political pragmatist and realist, Aglukkaq endorses the economic development of the Arctic.

China will be pleased.

Shark Finning Decline?

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Probably everyone knows the sad state of the world’s sharks, and that the indefensible shark fin trade is largely responsible. Just Google shark fin or shark fin statistics – the grim pictures are overwhelming.

Many shark species are considered to be threatened, vulnerable to extinction (slidepoint.net)

Many shark species are considered to be threatened, vulnerable to extinction (slidepoint.net)

Trader in Hong Kong drying shark fins outside his seafood store (scmp.com)

Trader in Hong Kong drying shark fins outside his seafood store (scmp.com)

Shark fin soup may cost $175 (made from dried shark fins that may$700/lb) is another luxury food that became an essential component of any formal Chinese feast, especially weddings, not only in China but in Chinese communities in cities around the world.

Hong Kong is the distribution hub, with half of all total shark fins imported from legal and illegal fisheries everywhere. Because of the unusual cruelty of the fishery, and because so many shark species have declined to dangerously low levels, the criticism of the fishery has become intense.

Shark fins are sent from around the world to Hong Kong for further distribution (kleanindustreis.com

Shark fins are sent from around the world to Hong Kong for further distribution (kleanindustreis.com

Buying and selling shark fins is now illegal in a cluster of US states, mostly west coast. Activists in China have worked hard to discourage the use of shark fin soup, but efforts to reduce the extent of global shark finning seemed to be getting nowhere. The total catch of sharks continued to grow, reaching more than 1.4 million tons in 2010, representing around 100 million sharks per year.

 The total catch of sharks has risen precipitously since 1950 (commons.wikimedia.com).


The total catch of sharks has risen precipitously since 1950 (commons.wikimedia.com0.

But now something has changed. Demand for shark fins in China declined by 75% in 2012 from the previous year, and reports for 2013 indicate a further steep decline.

In a world of seemingly endless bad news, this is good news indeed.

The shark fin traders in Honk Kong are of course upset by the public criticism – enough that many have moved to drying the fins on roof tops where they are not so easily seen by the public.

Activist on a roof-top covered with drying shark fins, hidden from public scrutiny (mission-blue.org)

Activist on a roof top covered with drying shark fins, hidden from public scrutiny (mission-blue.org)

This is reassuring for so many reasons. We may not drive so many shark species to extinction after all. We may cease the horrible practice of cutting off the fins and throwing the remaining huge and often still living body back into the sea.

And we can show ourselves that habits thought to be culturally engrained can change. With enough information, enough evidence, we can stop doing something we should not be doing, and look for less damaging alternatives.

If all this is real, and it seems to be, imagine what other attitudes and beliefs we can change when we have strong evidence before us!