Archive for January, 2012
LITTLE FISH, BIG INDUSTRY: Proposed Restrictions on the Menhaden Industry Threaten Atlantic Coastal Economies
Just as scientists note the complex interdependence of species in the natural world, economists note a similar kind of interdependence at work with industries, communities, and livelihoods. With so much already on the line during these trying times, menhaden policies based on disputed, inconclusive ecological theories could yield devastating impacts on this economic web of life.
With an economy struggling to regain equilibrium, governments at all levels have adopted policies aimed at triggering a resurgence in job growth and economic stimulus. Unfortunately, the prospect of some new policies may create more challenging conditions for one important industry based on a small and prolific fish – the Atlantic menhaden.
Most Americans know little about menhaden, an oily fish more likely to be found in their medicine cabinets than on their dinner plates. Prized as one of the main sources for fish oil and fish meal, menhaden are also found in hundreds of household items, from margarine to pet food to salad dressing. The fish also make great bait for crabbers and lobstermen. All told, the resource supports thousands of jobs – directly and indirectly – and generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually, in effect, representing a significant path towards improving the country’s dour economic circumstances.
But this path may become fraught with obstruction, which largely stems from disagreement about the sustainability of the fish and mounting pressure on the regulatory authority that oversees its management. Lauded as a victory for environmental and recreational angling groups who have long dismayed of commercial menhaden fishing, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a deliberative body of representatives from all 15 Atlantic coast states, recently voted to set new “safe harvest” limits on menhaden. Before they are implemented, the ASMFC Menhaden Board – a committee comprised of state fisheries professionals and political appointees – will need to determine the regulations that will achieve these newly approved goals. The question is: will they implement policies that cause economic harm to the industry and, consequently, the myriad jobs and communities that rely on it?
Read the rest of the article on Saving Seafood.
Making Sure NOAA Stays Strong During Federal Reorganization
By Michael Conathan | Director of Ocean Policy
On January 13, President Barack Obama announced his plan to implement a sweeping reorganization of the Department of Commerce by consolidating six agencies involved in trade and economic competitiveness. One unintended consequence of this reshuffling is that by redesigning the Commerce Department, we now must find a home for the agency that comprised more than 60 percent of its budget—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, our nation’s primary ocean research agency.
In a December 2010 report, “A Focus on Competitiveness,” John Podesta, Sarah Rosen Wartell, and Jitinder Kohli detailed why President Obama’s proposed restructuring makes sense for America. But it’s worth taking a closer look at how such a move would affect NOAA and in turn affect how we manage our oceans.
The president’s plan would relocate NOAA to the Department of the Interior. In his remarks, President Obama went so far as to suggest that the Department of the Interior was a “more sensible place” for NOAA, and that it only ended up at Commerce at its inception in 1970 because then-President Richard Nixon was feuding with then-Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickle, who had publicly criticized President Nixon’s handling of the Vietnam War.
While this storied example of Beltway pettiness has circulated among ocean policy wonks for years, the reality is rather more complex. In fact, when NOAA was established in 1970, 80 percent of its budget and more than two-thirds of its employees came from the Environmental Science Services Administration—an agency that included the Weather Bureau, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, and Environmental Data Services—which was already housed at the Department of Commerce.
Since the announcement, many environmental groups have decried the move as potentially compromising NOAA’s scientific integrity by shifting the agency to a department that has developed a reputation for being industry friendly. Certainly, degradation of NOAA’s science-first attitude is to be avoided at all costs. Yet there is no reason the agency’s mission can’t be maintained under the auspices of Interior provided the agency retains its structural integrity and its budgetary clout.
By Richard Gaines | Staff Writer
Commercial and recreational fishing interests today announced plans for a March 21 mass demonstration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to energize the push for amending the law that directs the regulation of America’s fisheries, a little more than two years after the 2010 “United We Fish” rally turned up the national heat on regulatory and enforcement issues.
The 2012 “Keep Fishermen Fishing” rally was announced this morning in a release that focuses on the organizers’ foes — “a handful of mega-foundations and the anti-fishing ENGOs (environmental non-government organizations) they support to drive fishermen off the water.”
To do that, demonstration organizers contend, nonprofit giants such as Environmental Defense Fund have influenced the government to misinterpret the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries and Conservation Act, which was amended significantly in 1996 and 2006.
Since the first mass rally, which drew as many as 5,000 participants on Feb. 23, 2010, the fisheries policies of the Obama administration — embodied by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who came to office from academia and a board of director’s post with EDF, have produced fierce resistance on the water and in Congress to the green-government power bloc.
Among the changes sought is the flexibility of time frames for rebuilding stocks, rather than clamping down fishing limits organizers say unduly harm the industry and fishing communities.
Read the rest of the article on Gloucester Times.
Written by Christina Rexrode | AP Business Reporter
Americans are finding some surprises lurking in U.S. government information about where the food they eat comes from.
One food revelation came when low levels of a fungicide that isn’t approved in the U.S. were discovered in some orange juice sold here. It was then revealed that Brazil, where the fungicide-laced juice originated, produces a good portion of the orange pulpy stuff Americans drink.
While the former may have sent prices for orange juice for delivery in March down 5.3 percent last week, the latter came as a bombshell to some “Buy American” supporters.
Overall, America’s insatiable desire to chomp on overseas food has been growing. About 16.8 percent of the food that Americans eat is imported from other countries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up from 11.3 percent two decades ago. Here are some other facts:
Not all juices are treated the same. About 99 percent of the grapefruit juice Americans drink is produced on U.S. soil, while about a quarter of the orange juice is imported; more than 40 percent of that is from Brazil.
About half of the fresh fruit Americans eat comes from elsewhere. That’s more than double the amount in 1975.
Some 86 percent of the shrimp, salmon, tilapia and other fish and shellfish Americans eat comes from other countries. That’s up from about 56 percent in 1990.
Read the rest of the story from Associated Press.
Turning the Corner on Ending Overfishing 2012 – Annual Catch Limits Now in Place for Most Federal Fisheries
Everyone – commercial and recreational fishermen, NGOs, Councils, Congress and NOAA – knew it would be a heavy lift to put accountability measures and catch limits in place for all federally managed fisheries. Five years ago this week the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act reauthorization was signed into law and required just that – catch limits for all federally managed fisheries. Well, 2012 is here and we are almost fully over the goal line. Yes, there are a few stragglers, but I can report that all federal fisheries will have catch limits in place in time for the 2012 fishing season.
Signed into law on January 12, 2007, the reauthorized Act called for all federal fisheries to be managed under annual catch limits and enforced through accountability measures by the end of 2011. Over the last five years, NOAA Fisheries, fishermen, the councils, our partner organizations, the science community and many others have been actively engaged and dedicated to achieving this goal.
Reaching this milestone represents a historic achievement and I want to particularly recognize the tremendous amount of effort and sacrifice on the part of our nation’s fishermen and fishing communities to get us here. Catch limits and accountability measures to rebuild stocks and ensure sustainable fisheries represent a collective investment in the future of fishing. And while these benefits will accrue for generations to come, in many cases they do require short-term cost. In addition to fishermen around the country, our eight Regional Fishery Management Councils deserve special recognition. Finally, the men and women of NOAA must also be recognized for their unflagging commitment to this effort and hard work in helping the nation turn the corner in our efforts to end overfishing and rebuild stocks.
Bold goals are difficult, and we all have weathered challenges, controversy and economic difficulties in pursuit of this one. But even as we stand here today with so much work behind us, we know that ending overfishing is not something that is accomplished as a discrete end point. Rather, it is a step in an ongoing and evolutionary process. The science and management of federal fisheries will continue to evolve, change and strengthen to support the needs of our commercial and recreational fisheries and our coastal and ocean resources.
As we begin 2012 and a new leg of this journey, I invite you to reflect on the importance of our collective accomplishment and the strength it provides us to move forward and tackle other issues still in front of us. Some current challenges include working to further refine our management approaches to better meet the needs of fishermen and coastal communities, building on our world class science to better understand trends in fish populations and ecosystem considerations, and taking stronger steps to preserve protected resources like endangered species and marine mammals. Other challenges on the horizon include addressing habitat loss, pollution and environmental change and their effects on our living marine resources. We also must continue to deal with global challenges like pirate fishing.
We have come a long way since 1976 when our nation’s fisheries were being decimated by uncontrolled overfishing by foreign fleets. Thirty-five years later, we now stand at a point in history when the U.S. model of fisheries management has evolved to become an international guidepost for sustainable fishery practices. Still, we have much work ahead. So, on behalf of NOAA Fisheries, I’m proud to congratulate all of you who have been dedicated to achieving this goal and thank you for your involvement and dedication to helping evolve and build the science-based management that has become the signature of U.S. fisheries.
Eric C. Schwaab, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries
By Juliet Eilperin | Enviromental Reporter
In an effort to sustain commercial and recreational fishing for the next several decades, the United States this year will become the first country to impose catch limits for every species it manages, from Alaskan pollock to Caribbean queen conch.
Although the policy has attracted scant attention outside the community of those who fish in America and the officials who regulate them, it marks an important shift in a pursuit that has helped define the country since its founding.
Unlike most recent environmental policy debates, which have divided neatly along party lines, this one is about a policy that was forged under President George W. Bush and finalized with President Obama’s backing.
“It’s something that’s arguably first in the world,” said Eric Schwaab, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “It’s a huge accomplishment for the country.”
Five years ago, Bush signed a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which dates to the mid-1970s and governs all fishing in U.S. waters. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers joined environmental groups, some fishing interests and scientists to insert language in the law requiring each fishery to have annual catch limits in place by the end of 2011 to end overfishing.
Although NOAA didn’t meet the law’s Dec. 31 deadline — it has finalized 40 of the 46 fishery management plans that cover all federally managed stocks — officials said they are confident that they will have annual catch limits in place by the time the 2012 fishing year begins for all species. (The timing varies depending on the fish, with some seasons starting May 1 or later.) Some fish, such as mahi-mahi and the prize game fish wahoo in the southeast Atlantic, will have catch limits for the first time.
Read the rest of the story on the Washington Post.
Written by Ed Zieralski | Outdoors Reporter
Ocean fishermen who fish waters off Southern California and Mexico are about to be hit with a double whammy, the likes of which no one has ever seen.
In the U.S., a network of fishing closures in the South Coast Region from Point Conception in Santa Barbara to the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego take effect Jan. 1. But even before that, anglers who fish in Mexican waters are likely to see increased fees for a required visa to fish in Mexico. The visa will be required in addition to a Mexican fishing license or permit.
Mexico City officials are expected to announce soon some sweeping new regulations regarding visas for foreign fishermen who visit Mexican waters.
American officials and representatives have been working the past two months to clarify what additional fees fishermen will need to pay to keep fishing in Mexico, and word Thursday was that an announcement is imminent. The information is expected to spell out the fees and documents necessary to fish in Mexican waters. An official with the Sportfishing Association of California, which represents passenger sport boats in Southern California, confirmed that news is expected very soon.
In addition to those extra costs to fish Mexico, ocean anglers also are facing the start of the Marine Life Protection Act’s South Coast fishing closures, set to take effect Jan. 1. Combine those new marine reserves that prohibit fishing with the regularly-scheduled, two-month closure for rockfish, also on Jan. 1, and that’s going to reduce further the fishing grounds. The rockfish closure makes it a triple whammy.
Read the rest of the story on the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Written by Mike Lee | Science-and-Environment Reporter
Hotly contested fishing restrictions take effect across Southern California waters on Sunday, when stretches of ocean offshore of La Jolla, Point Loma and elsewhere will be closed to harvest.
New and expanded sanctuaries were designed to improve marine life and coastal ecosystems, but there’s sharp disagreement about how well they will work.
That debate has spurred a multimillion-dollar network of research projects designed to look across several species and types of habitats — an initiative that includes an unusual alliance between lobstermen and San Diego scientists.
Despite harvesters’ dislike of no-fishing rules, some of them are helping tag tens of thousands of lobsters in the expanded reserve system so their growth and movement patterns can be tracked.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to establish a good baseline,” said Rodger Healy, president of the California Lobster and Trap Fishermen’s Association, who is based in Dana Point. “It seems like it’s working. Hopefully, this is something that is going to be a template for the future.”
Like many other recreational and commercial fishermen, Healy distrusted the reserve-setting process, which started in Southern California three years ago and included several emotionally charged public meetings. Ocean “users” said the process was rigged against them, while conservation groups urged larger off-limits zones.
In the end, the state Fish and Game Commission adopted 52 marine protected areas and special closures that cover roughly 354 square miles of state waters. That’s about 15 percent of the nearshore region from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Efforts by some anglers to invalidate the process in court so far have failed, leaving lobstermen such as San Diego-based Shad Catarius to fret about their livelihoods. He figures he’ll lose a third of his income when traps are outlawed in customary harvest spots and open zones become more crowded.
“Instead of there being 100 traps in an area, you could have 200 or 300 traps,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of tempers out there.”
Read the rest of the story on the San Diego Union-Tribune.