Posts Tagged overfishing

Feb 1 2016

Fishing Not to Blame for Sea Lion Deaths

Complex, proactive management efforts have been in place for decades to prevent overfishing in California, efforts are working.

Buellton, California (PRWEB) February 01, 2016

Recent media accounts report how sea lion pups are stranding on shore and dying in record numbers because there aren’t enough sardines and anchovies – sea lions’ favorite food – to support their growing population. For example, the Orange County Register, even after acknowledging the cyclical nature of the ocean and marine species, points to overfishing as the problem. (see story here).

“While it seems all too common these days to blame the ocean’s woes on overfishing, the truth is far different in California. Fortunately, we do have an accurate picture. It’s a graph that shows natural sardine booms and busts for the past 1,400 years,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director for the California Wetfish Producers Association. “Oceanic core samples were extracted from an anaerobic trench in the Santa Barbara Channel and study findings were reported by Dr. Tim Baumgartner and others in a 1992 California Cooperative Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) report. The study correlated alternating periods of sardine and anchovy population recruitments and collapses related to warm and cold water oceanic cycles. Sardines tend to favor warm water cycles while anchovy favor cold.

“It’s important to note that most collapses in this timeframe occurred when there was virtually no commercial fishing. The great fluctuations experienced by sardines and anchovies have been known for a long time to be part of a natural cycle,” said Pleschner-Steele.

Fishery scientists can confirm that the recent sardine decline was not the result of overfishing. The less than 8,000 tons of sardine harvested in California in 2014 were still below the federally mandated overfishing limit.

When sardines began returning to abundance in the 1980s, they became perhaps the best-managed fishery in the world – the poster fish for effective ecosystem-based management. The current harvest control rule – established 17 years ago and updated in 2014 with more precautionary science – sets a strict harvest guideline every year that considers ocean conditions and automatically reduces the catch limit as the biomass declines.

Since federal management began in 2000, the sardine biomass estimate has declined more than 70 percent from the 2006 high of 1.3 million mt, and harvest limits have fallen from 152,564 mt in 2007 to a U.S. catch target of 23,293 mt in 2014 – an 85 percent decline. In 2015, the estimated sardine biomass fell below the established “cutoff,” the biomass level above which sardine fishing is allowed, and the directed fishery was closed. This is a perfect example of our fishery management at work to prevent overfishing.

Compare this to the 1940s and ’50s when the fishery harvest averaged 43 percent or more of the standing sardine stock with little regulatory oversight and no limit on the annual catch. The historic sardine fishery collapse devastated Monterey’s Cannery Row.

But that was nearly 70 years ago. The current sardine fishery harvest is less than a quarter of the rate observed during the historical sardine collapse. The current harvest regulations leave close to 90 percent of sardines in the ocean as forage for marine life.

As for anchovy, harvests have actually averaged less than 8,000 tons annually over the last 14 years. Reports often cite a new study alleging a recent anchovy “collapse,” but the study period stopped in 2011 and excluded nearshore egg and larval data where young anchovies always live and spawn. In fact, field surveys in 2015 recorded recruitment of sardine and anchovy larvae and juveniles as “the highest ever” in Central California and relatively high in Southern California. Fishermen in both Monterey and Southern California attest to the abundance of anchovy and sardine along the coast.

“Complex, proactive management efforts have been in place for decades to prevent overfishing in California, efforts are working,” said Pleschner-Steele.


About the California Wetfish Producers Association
The California Wetfish Producers Association is a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources. More info at

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Jan 23 2016



January 22, 2016—The following is commentary from Michel J. Kaiser of Bangor University and David Agnew of the Marine Stewardship Council concerning the recently published article, Catch Reconstructions Reveal that Global Marine Fisheries Catches are Higher than Reported and Declining” by Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller in Nature.

A new paper led by Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia that found global catch data, as reported to the FAO, to be significantly lower than the true catch numbers. “Global fish catches are falling three times faster than official UN figures suggest, according to a landmark new study, with overfishing to blame.”

400 researches spent the last decade accumulating missing global catch data from small-scale fisheries, sport fisheries, illegal fishing activity and fish discarded at sea, which FAO statistics, “rarely include.”

“Our results indicate that the decline is very strong and is not due to countries fishing less. It is due to countries having fished too much and having exhausted one fishery after another,” Pauly says.

Despite these findings, Pauly doesn’t expect countries to realize the need to rebuild stocks, primarily because the pressures to continue current fishing effort are too strong in the developing world. But this study will allow researchers to see the true problems more clearly and hopefully inform policy makers accordingly.

Comment by Michel J. Kaiser, Bangor University, @MicheljKaiser

Catch and stock status are two distinct measurement tools for evaluating a fishery, and suggesting inconsistent catch data is a definitive gauge of fishery health is an unreasonable indictment of the stock assessment process. Pauly and Zeller surmise that declining catches since 1996 could be a sign of fishery collapse. While they do acknowledge management changes as another possible factor, the context is misleading and important management efforts are not represented. The moratorium on cod landings is a good example – zero cod landings in the Northwest Atlantic does not mean there are zero cod in the water. Such distinctions are not apparent in the analysis.

Another key consideration missing from this paper is varying management capacity. European fisheries are managed more effectively and provide more complete data than Indian Ocean fisheries, for example. A study that aggregates global landings data is suspect because indeed landings data from loosely managed fisheries are suspect.

Finally the author’s estimated catch seems to mirror that of the official FAO catch data, ironically proving its legitimacy. “Official” FAO data is not considered to be completely accurate, but rather a proportionate depiction of global trends. Pauly’s trend line is almost identical, just shifted up the y axis, and thus fails to significantly alter our perception of global fisheries.

Michel J. Kaiser is a Professor of Marine Conservation Ecology at Bangor University. Find him on twitter here.

Comment by David Agnew, Director of Standards, Marine Stewardship Council

The analysis of such a massive amount of data is a monumental task, and I suspect that the broad conclusions are correct. However, as is usual with these sorts of analyses, when one gets to a level of detail where the actual assumptions can be examined, in an area in which one is knowledgeable, it is difficult to follow all the arguments.  The Antarctic catches “reconstruction” apparently is based on one Fisheries Centre report (2015 Volume 23 Number 1) and a paper on fishing down ecosystems (Polar Record; Ainley and Pauly 2014). The only “reconstruction” appears to be the addition of IUU and discard data, all of which are scrupulously reported by CCAMLR anyway, so they are not unknown. But there is an apparent 100,000 t “unreported” catch in the reconstruction in Figure 3, Atlantic, Antarctic (48). This cannot include the Falklands (part of the Fisheries Centre paper) and it is of a size that could only be an alleged misreporting of krill catch in 2009. This is perhaps an oblique reference to concerns that CCAMLR has had in the past about conversion factors applied to krill products, or perhaps unseen (net-impact) mortality, but neither of these elements have been substantiated, nor referenced in the supporting documentation that I have seen (although I could not access the polar record paper).

The paper does not go into much detail on these reasons for the observed declines in catches and discards, except to attribute it to both reductions in fishing mortality attendant on management action to reduce mortality and generate sustainability, and some reference to declines in areas that are not managed. It is noteworthy that the peak of the industrial catches – in the late 1990s/early 2000s – coincidentally aligns with the start of the recovery of many well managed stocks. This point of recovery has been documented previously (Costello et al 2012Rosenberg et al 2006; Gutierrez et al 2012) and particularly relates to the recovery of large numbers of stocks in the north Pacific, the north Atlantic and around Australia and New Zealand, and mostly to stocks that are assessed by analytical models. For stocks that need to begin recovery plans to achieve sustainability, this most often entails an overall reduction in fishing effort, which would be reflected in the reductions in catches seen here. So, one could attribute some of the decline in industrial catch in these regions to a correct management response to rebuild stocks to a sustainable status, although I have not directly analyzed the evidence for this. This is therefore a positive outcome worth reporting.

The above-reported inflection point is also coincident with the launch of the MSC’s sustainability standard. These standards have now been used to assess almost 300 fisheries, and have generated environmental improvements in most of them (MSC 2015). Stock sustainability is part of the requirements of the standard, and previous analyses (Gutierrez et al 2012Agnew et al 2012) have shown that certified fisheries have improved their stock status and achieved sustainability at a higher rate than uncertified fisheries. The MSC program does not claim responsibility for the turn-around in global stocks, but along with other actions – such as those taken by global bodies such as FAO, by national administrations, and by industry and non-Governmental Organisations – it can claim to have provided a significant incentive for fisheries to become, and then remain, certified.

David Agnew is the Director of Standards at the Marine Stewardship Council, the largest fishery sustainability ecolabel in the world. You can follow MSC on twitter.

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Nov 4 2015

Hilborn Says Newsweek Article “May Set a New Record for Factual Errors”

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News

November 3, 2015

Dr. Ray Hilborn, Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, takes issue with Newsweek’s August 9, 2015 article “Our Taste for ‘Aquatic Bushmeat’ Is Killing the Sea” and its bleak picture of the state of worldwide seafood.

The article quotes Dr. Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist at NOAA and now a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

The article incorrectly claimed that 90 percent of global stocks had been removed in the last half-century and that 90 percent of the worlds stocks were unsustainably harvested. The latter statement was corrected to 29 percent after CFOOD staff pointed out the error.

CFOOD is a coalition of fisheries scientists from around the world who are correcting inaccuracies about stock abundance, management measures, and global ocean status. They back up their corrections with scientific data. Their website lists myths “that won’t go away” and corrects them. For example, there are summaries of global stock assessments that show that stocks will not collapse by 2048, 70 percent of the world’s fish are not overfished, and we are not fishing down the food chain, among others.

Newsweek writer Douglas Main referred to a 2003 report that estimated large fish populations (three species of tuna) had crashed worldwide based primarily on catch per unit of effort, now considered a biased metric to gauge abundance.

The 2003 report was repeatedly refuted in subsequent scientific papers. By 2011, a correct estimate of 28.8 percent of fish stocks were considered fished at a biologically unsustainable level.

“The graph below shows the trend in the number of stocks overfished according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,” wrote Hilborn. It shows that after rising steeply between 1970 and 1990, the rate of increase in overfishing rapidly declined, and total overfishing is now stands at 28.8% of global stocks.

Hilborn pointed out that Newsweek’s article repeated the often rebutted statement that 90 percent of the large fish of the ocean were gone by 1980.

“Yet again the author and Dr. Earle don’t seem to have read the scientific literature or have conducted any due diligence with respect to the facts in the article. Certainly those stocks declined from 1950 to 2005 but they were mostly not overfished and the declines were a natural part of newly developing fisheries,” says Hilborn.

“In fact, in many places of the world overfishing is disappearing and stocks are increasing. Cod in most of the North Atlantic are coming back, and Atlantic bluefin tuna is increasing rapidly.

“The idea that on the whole global fisheries are not sustainably managed is out and out wrong,” Hillborn wrote. “In many places such as North America, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, and Norway fisheries are sustainably managed.”

Overfishing that has occurred is now declining in many countries including the European Union members, Chile, Peru, South African, Japan and Argentina.

“Certainly there are many fisheries in the world that need better management, but we must understand where and why some stocks are overfished and this requires good science,” Hilborn said.

Earle admonished people who don’t think about what kind of fish they eat or where it is from. “This kind of traceability is hard to achieve,” Hilborn points out, especially in areas where regulations are lax and fishing is strong, such as parts of Asia and Africa.

“Dr. Earle is an advocate for minimizing human impacts on the ocean but and has frequently argued that we should not fish at all. This is despite the fact that fish provide essential nutrition and employment for many of the world’s poorest people.

“The challenge is to assure that all of the worlds fisheries are sustainable and totally incorrect statements are no help in achieving this goal,” Hilborn said.


Oct 7 2015

Researchers Keep Missing Picture on Sardines, Where there is a 1400 Year History of Boom and Bust

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News

In an article in International Business Times (August 5, 2015), Aditya Tejas quoted researcher Malin Pinsky in his recently published paper that claims smaller, faster-growing fish like sardines and anchovies are more vulnerable to population collapses than larger fish.

“Climate variations or natural boom-and-bust cycles contribute to population fluctuation in small fast-growing fish, ” Pinsky said, “but when they are not overfished, our data showed that their populations didn’t have any more tendency to collapse than other fish. ” He called these findings counterintuitive because the opposite dynamic holds true on land: “Mice thrive while lions, tigers and elephants are endangered, ” he said.

While it’s common these days to blame the ocean’s woes on overfishing, the truth is Pinsky’s conclusions don’t paint a complete picture. Fortunately, we do have an accurate picture and it’s definitely better than the proverbial thousand words.

The picture is a graph (adapted from Baumgartner et al in CalCOFI Reports 1992, attached) that shows sardine booms and busts for the past 1,400 years. The data were extracted from an anaerobic trench in the Santa Barbara Channel which correlated sardine and anchovy recoveries and collapses with oceanic cycles.

(Click on Image for larger Version)

It’s important to note that most of sardine collapses in this timeframe occurred when there was virtually no commercial fishing. The best science now attributes great fluctuations and collapses experienced by sardines to be part of a natural cycle.

“Pinsky has never been a terrestrial biologist or naturalist or he would have known that small rodents have boom and bust cycles brought about by combinations of environmental conditions and the mice’s early maturity and high fecundity rates, ” says Dr. Richard Parrish, an expert in population dynamics now retired from the National Marine Fisheries Service, .

“All fish stocks show boom and bust cycles in recruitment unrelated to fishing, ” says Dr. Ray Hilborn, internationally respected fisheries scientist from the University of Washington. “Sardines in particular have been shown to have very great fluctuations and collapses long before commercial fishing. Fast growing, short-lived species will be much more likely to decline to a level called “collapse” when recruitment fluctuates because they are short lived — longer lived species won’t decline as much. ”

As a further poke in the eye to the truth, Pinsky cites sardines off the coast of Southern California as a species that has seen fluctuations for thousands of years, but “not at the levels that they’ve experienced in recent decades due to overfishing. ”

Again, this simply is not true.

Since the fishery reopened in 1987, Pacific sardines have been perhaps the best-managed fishery in the world – the poster fish for effective ecosystem-based management. The current harvest control rule, updated to be even more precautionary in 2014, sets a strict harvest guideline that considers ocean conditions and automatically reduces the catch limit as the biomass declines.

If the temperature is cold – which scientists believe hampers sardine recruitment – the harvest is reduced. And if the population size declines, both the harvest rate and the allowable catch will automatically decrease, and directed fishing will be stopped entirely when biomass declines below 150,000 mt.

In fact, the current sardine harvest rule is actually more precautionary than the original rule it replaced. It does this by producing an average long-term population size at 75 percent of the unfished size, leaving even more fish in the water, vs. 67 percent in the original rule. The original harvest rule reduced the minimum harvest rate to 5 percent during cold periods. The present has a minimum rate of 0 percent during cold periods.

Compare this to the 1940s and ’50s when the fishery harvest averaged 43 percent or more of the standing sardine stock with little regulatory oversight and no limit on the annual catch. This, coupled with unfavorable ocean conditions, culminated in the historic sardine fishery collapse that devastated Monterey’s Cannery Row.

But that was nearly 70 years ago, not “recent decades. ” Our current fishery harvest is less than a quarter of the rate observed during that historical sardine collapse.

As a scientist, Pinsky should be aware of the complex, proactive management efforts that have been in place for decades to prevent overfishing in California and the west coast. He should also be aware of the data from Baumgartner that contradicts his faulty conclusions.

D. B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources.

Copyright © 2015

Apr 22 2015

Ray Hilborn: Analysis Shows California Sardine Decline Not Caused by Too High Harvest Rate

Posted with permission from SEAFOODNEWS — Please do not repost without permission.

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [SeafoodNews]  (Commentary) by  Ray Hilborn April 22, 2015


Two items in the last weeks fisheries news have again caused a lot of media and NGO interest forage fish. First was publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of a paper entitled “Fishing amplifies forage fish population collapses” and the second was the closure of the fishery for California sardine.  Oceana in particular argued that overfishing is part of the cause of the sardine decline and the take home message from the PNAS paper seems to support this because it showed that in the years preceding a “collapse” fishing pressure was unusually high.

However what the PNAS paper failed to highlight was the real cause of forage fish declines.  Forage fish abundance is driven primarily by the birth and survival of juvenile fish producing what is called “recruitment”.  Forage fish declines are almost always caused by declines in recruitment,  declines that often happen when stocks are large and fishing pressure low.  The typical scenario for a stock collapse is (1) recruitment declines at a time of high abundance, (2) abundance then begins to decline as fewer young fish enters the population, (3)  the catch declines more slowly than abundance so the harvest rate increases, and then (4) the population reaches a critical level that was called “collapsed” in the PNAS paper.


Looking back at the years preceding collapse it appears that the collapse was caused by high fishing pressure, when in reality it was caused by a natural decline in recruitment that occurred several years earlier and was not caused by fishing.

The decline of California sardines did not follow this pattern, because the harvest control rule has reduced harvest as the stock declined,  and as fisheries management practices have improved this is now standard practice.  The average harvest rate for California sardines has only been 10% per year for the last 10 years, compared to a natural mortality rate of over 30% per year.  Even if there had been no fishing the decline in California sardine would have been almost exactly the same.

In many historical forage fish declines fishing pressure was much higher, often well over 50% of the population was taken each year and as the PNAS paper highlighted, this kind of fishing pressure does amplify the decline.  However many fisheries agencies have learned from this experience and not only keep fishing pressure much lower than in the past, but reduce it more rapidly when recruitment declines.

So the lesson from the most recent decline of California sardine is we have to adapt to the natural fluctuations that nature provides.  Yes, sea lions and birds will suffer when their food declines, but this has been happening for thousands of years long before industrial fishing.  With good fisheries management as is now practiced in the U.S. and elsewhere forage fish declines will not be caused by fishing.

Ray Hilborn is a Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington specializing in natural resource management and conservation.  He is one of the most respected experts on marine fishery population dynamics in the world.

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Dec 9 2014

At Asia-Pacific summit, Kerry gives wrong advice for world’s fisheries


Environmental sustainability was one of the top concerns at the mid-November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing, as shown by the potentially groundbreaking climate agreement reached between the United States and China. The fate of the world’s oceans, from issues ranging from climate change to overfishing, was also in the spotlight, being mentioned by Secretary of State John Kerry as one of many challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, the solutions we’re focusing on are not enough to solve the problems that our marine environments face.

The APEC summit is the most recent instance in which the US has touted the expansion of marine preserves as a tonic for global overfishing, especially as climate change and ocean acidification threaten to radically alter our ocean ecosystems. This past September, the Administration created the largest marine reserve in the world when it expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, moving this strategy to the forefront of our international ocean policy. Secretary Kerry hailed this development as “critical” at the summit, going on to note, “most of the fisheries of the world are overfished.”

But Secretary Kerry gets some key facts wrong here. For one, most of the fisheries of the world are not overfished. In 2014, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) placed that number at 29 percent, and reported that approximately 70 percent of the stocks that they assessed were being fished within biologically sustainable levels. If the U.S. is going to promote sustainability worldwide, it should acknowledge current management successes.

And more importantly, these Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) aren’t sufficient to solve some of the most pressing issues affecting our oceans, despite our nation’s recent enthusiasm for promoting them.

MPAs are certainly very useful for certain conservation goals. They can protect vulnerable habitats like coral reefs as well as benefit some species of fish that make those habitats their home. But their widespread adoption presents several challenges and raises several concerns. The biggest issue is that—especially in the developing world—people still need to fish. It’s a valuable source of employment, and an even more valuable source of protein. The FAO estimated that in 2011, 2.3 billion people relied on fish as a significant source of animal protein. A shift from seafood to other, land-based food sources like meat and agriculture may actually increase greenhouse emissions and pollution, making these threats to our oceans even worse.

MPAs are also a much more limited tool than currently acknowledged. They do little to help certain stocks of highly migratory fish, like tuna, which don’t remain in any closed area long enough to reap much of the benefits. Even stocks that stay in one place might not benefit for long. With climate change putting increasing pressure on stocks to migrate from their traditional territories to cooler waters, the spatial limitations of an MPA are a poor fit for the habitat changes that are likely to occur. Similarly, MPAs provide little protection against the increasingly prominent effects of ocean acidification. Effectively dealing with these growing climate problems is going to require a long-term strategy that is simply outside the reach of fisheries management.

Fishing isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, and a global conservation strategy that’s too reliant on keeping fishermen out of an ever-expanding set of ocean reserves has some obvious political, economic, and practical limits. Adopting more sustainable management measures for some of the world’s largest fisheries, many of them in APEC member countries, would likely have a much greater impact.

So what’s the best way to address the problem of overfishing and prepare for climate change? We need to promote a combination of strategies at the international level that have worked so well in some of the world’s best managed fisheries, such as New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, and here in the United States. When effectively implemented, measures like limiting the size of fish that can be caught, controlling how much fish is caught, and restricting the ways in which fish can be caught all produce effects similar to those seen in successful MPAs. They also have the benefit of sustaining fishing economies and maintaining fish as a viable source of food.

No conservation measures, whether on climate, or pollution, or overfishing, can be sustainable in the long-term unless they confront economic and political realities. Promoting better fishing, rather than simply displacing or banning it all together, is far more likely to win support among the developing world, which can’t afford to sacrifice a critical way of life.

Hilborn is professor of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences at the University of Washington and the author of Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know by Oxford University Press. Rothschild is dean emeritus of the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology. Cadrin is the immediate past president of the American Institute of Fisheries Research Biologists. Lassen is the founder and president of Ocean Trust.

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Sep 3 2014

In massive nod to success of West Coast industry and managers, Monterey Aquarium upgrades 21 species

Copyright © 2014 – Posted with permission from SEAFOODNEWS.COM

SEAFOODNEWS.COM by John Sackton – Sept 3, 2014

In a massive nod to the success of US fishery managers, Monterey Bay Aquarium has upgraded its consumer guide on 21 west coast groundfish and rockfish species.

It now says all of these species – including sable fish, many species of rockfish sold as snapper in California, the various species of flatfish and other bottom trawl fish including Dover sole, petrale sole, starry flounder and sand dabs,  are rated either ‘best choice’ or ‘good alternative’.
“This is one of the great success stories about ecological and economic recovery of a commercially important fishery,” said Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science, and chief conservation officer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Although Monterey Bay calls this “the most dramatic turnaround to date’, it actually reflects business as usual for the US fishery management system.
The West Coast groundfish fisheries were declared an economic disaster early in 2000, when landings and fishing income plummeted.  Many species were listed as being overfished, and in some cases bycatch limits on types of rockfish came down to virtually single fish.
“The turnaround in such a short time is unprecedented,” said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of the Seafood Watch program. “Fishermen, federal agencies and our environmental colleagues have put so much effort into groundfish recovery, and now we’re seeing the results of their work.”

In fact, the credit should go to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, NMFS, and the industry that worked with them, along with the rationalization program that allowed for effort reductions to make the fishery more economically viable.
Although the Aquarium as an NGO credits the changes to the Magnuson act in 2006, actually the seeds of the recovery were planted much earlier.  The West coast and Alaska fisheries operated with hard TAC’s long before they became mandatory across the entire U.S.

Like other US fisheries management success stories, the recovery of West Coast groundfish and rockfish species relies on two primary principles that have been fully embraced by the seafood industry:
*scientifically set quotas for the total allowable catch, and
*comprehensive bycatch management based on industry formed cooperatives and real time bycatch reporting.

A third factor, beyond anyone’s control, has been the favorable environmental conditions on the West Coast that have allowed for stock recovery once the other two actions were in place.

Unfortunately, where the environmental conditions move against a fishery – as is happening in New England cod, the best fisheries science in the world cannot speed up a recovery.  However, fish history is replete with many species suffering declines to near zero abundance, and then recovering sharply as conditions improve.   Haddock in New England is a prime example, with the biomass recovering to levels not seen seen in 40 years.

In future articles we will document more about how this recovery took place, and the hard work that went into it.  But like the rooster who thought he caused the sun to rise, it is important for buyers to recognize that the rooster – in this case the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch – is announcing an event that was brought about through scientific management  and industry cooperation and discipline.

That is why for the seafood industry, it is great to have the recognition, whether it be MSC or the Aquarium or other recommend lists, but just like the rooster and the sunrise, the accolades are for the work we’ve already done, they are not the cause of the success.

John Sackton, Editor And Publisher 1-781-861-1441
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Copyright © 2014

Aug 24 2014

D.B. Pleschner: California’s ports, fishermen rely on healthy wetfish fisheries

Despite gloomy predictions of El Niño and the broader impact of climate change on the ocean and planet, California’s historic wetfish fisheries carry on — still the foundation of California’s fishing economy.

More than 150 years ago, Chinese fishermen rowed Monterey Bay at night in sampans, with baskets of burning fat pine on the bow used as torches to attract market squid, which fishermen harvested with round-haul nets.

This was the modest beginning of California’s “wetfish” industry. The immigrant Asian, Italian, Slavic and other nationalities of fishermen who came to America introduced new fishing methods. Around the turn of the 20th century, Sicilian immigrants to Monterey brought their lampara nets, another type of round-haul net, and launched what would become the largest fishery in the western hemisphere — California’s famed sardine industry, popularized in our collective conscience by John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”

It was the plentiful schools of fish — especially sardines that stretch from the Gulf of California to Alaska — that provided opportunity for generations of enterprising fishing families to prosper. The complex of fisheries that makes up California’s wetfish industry, including mackerel and anchovy as well as squid and sardines, helped to build the ports of Monterey and San Pedro, as well as San Diego and San Francisco. Wetfish, now called coastal pelagic species (CPS), have contributed the lion’s share of California’s commercial catch since before the turn of the 20th century.

Even back then fishermen recognized that a sustainable fishery was good for both fisherman and fish. That’s why over the decades fishing interests have supported marine protections based on sound science and have contributed significantly to cooperative research. That tradition continues today.

In fact, today coastal pelagic fisheries in California like squid and sardines are managed with strict quotas as well as numerous time and area closures, including a statewide network of no-take marine reserves. Fishermen are allowed to harvest only a small percentage of the overall fish population. Current regulations require that at least 75 percent of CPS finfish must stay in the ocean to ensure a resilient core biomass, and the sardine protection rate is even higher at about 90 percent.

In addition, squid fishing is closed on weekends (squid live less than a year and die after spawning). And about 30 percent of squid spawning grounds are also closed in reserves.

What’s more, to preserve the quality of the catch, fishermen typically fish day trips near the ports. This makes California’s CPS fisheries among the most efficient and “greenest” fisheries on the planet with one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world. For example, wetfish fisheries can produce 2,000 pounds of protein for only six gallons of diesel fuel. This highlights the importance of California wetfish to California.

Beyond history, culture and sustainability, California’s CPS fisheries contribute essential revenue into local port communities. Wetfish fisheries are an important part of California’s fishing economy and squid is California’s most valuable fishery. Statewide, these fisheries represent more than 80 percent of all landings and close to 40 percent of dockside value of all fisheries in the Golden State!

CPS_thmbdownload/view PDF infographic


D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit created to promote sustainable wetfish resources.


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Jul 8 2014

Unraveling the Mystery of the Great White Shark

Sharks have swarmed the media this summer and it’s not even Shark Week yet.

This undated photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a great white shark encountered off the coast of Massachusetts. The white shark population has grown about 42 percent in the western North Atlantic Ocean since its predicted lowest point around 1990, according to a new study.

A great white shark swims off the coast of Massachusetts. Studies show the predators’ population is returning to the waters in great numbers.


When men are caught taking selfies with a great white shark right outside of New York City, you know something’s a little fishy.

Fisherman Steve Fernandez said he and his friends were not far from 116th Street when they caught a baby white shark. They took pictures before releasing it back into the water about a mile off Rockaway Beach June 22, Fernandez told the New York Post.

“As soon as we saw it, there’s no mistaking it. It’s basically a miniature version of the shark you seen in the movie ‘Jaws,’” he said.

This wasn’t the only great white shark caught swimming just a little too close to the Big Apple.

In another recent spotting, a photographer used a drone to film a young great white greeting paddle boarders in Manhattan Beach in June. But a recent study provides some insight into these occurrences: After years of decline, the great white shark population is finally on the rise.
The study, conducted by researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published June 11 by PLOS ONE, analyzed shark records from 1800 to 2010 and found the abundance of great whites has increased about 42 percent in the northwest Atlantic Ocean since its predicted lowest point around 1990, according to lead author Tobey Curtis.

Curtis tells U.S. News researchers think there may be a white shark nursery in the waters off New York, which could explain why the city seems to be a hangout spot for young sharks. Conservation efforts are largely to thank for the predators’ return over the past couple of decades, he adds.

But while the great white shark population is rising, other shark populations are dropping, Curtis says. Their decline is partly due to lack of conservation efforts, but some species also fall victim to fisherman more easily than white sharks because they are less resilient. Larger white sharks are able to escape and survive nets and hooks more easily than other sharks, such as hammerheads, he says.

A separate study published by PLOS ONE in June suggests the great white shark population is also surging in California waters.

The recent research contradicted a previous study published in the journal Biology Letters suggesting there were only 219 mature and sub-adult white sharks in “central California” and only about 438 in the entire eastern North Pacific Ocean. After finding such low numbers, the researchers tried to get the sharks protected under the Endangered Species Act, which would help prevent the species from being traded, sold, captured or disrupted, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

The newest research published in PLOS ONE suggests there are actually 2,400 white sharks just in California waters, meaning that the species is not in danger of extinction.

“That we found these sharks are doing OK, better than OK, is a real positive in light of the fact that other shark populations are not necessarily doing as well,” George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and the study’s head author, told The Los Angeles Times.

This September 18, 2012, photo provided by OCEARCH shows scientists tagging a great white shark named Mary Lee off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The shark was tracked south to the Florida coast but as of Thursday, January 31, 2013, was again off Long Island, N.Y. OCEARCH, a nonprofit group that studies sharks and other large marine species, says little is known about the migration patterns of great whites.

This September 18, 2012, photo provided by OCEARCH shows scientists tagging a great white shark named Mary Lee off Cape Cod, Mass.

Among the great white sharks dominating the waters is a 14-foot, 2,300-pound fish dubbed “Katharine” by the scientists who are tracking her, reported ABC News.

Greg Skomal, a program manager and senior biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, says Katharine is one of 39 great white sharks he and other researchers are watching in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sharks like Katharine, who was tagged off Cape Cod last August, provide critical information about great whites’ breeding habits so people can learn how to protect them, says Chris Fischer, another one of the scientists tracking her.

Skomal says they began the study in 2009 and for a while they believed they had figured out the sharks’ migratory pattern: In the summers, they moved north and in winters, back down south.

But some, like Katharine, have broken this rule: Instead of moving north this summer, Katharine traveled to the Gulf of Mexico. Skomal says roughly 25 percent to 30 percent of the great white sharks they are tracking have more complex behaviors and follow more dynamic movements than once thought.

But before Katharine starting heading toward Texas, another shark – not a great white – left its mark in Galveston. Tooth marks lined the upper part of 14-year-old Mikaela Medina’s back after a shark bit her on June 8. She didn’t feel the pain, she told KHOU-TV, but went to shore to have her mother take a look.

“I just felt like something bumped into my back,” she said.

One day later, a 16-year-old boy was reportedly bitten by a shark at Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware.

According to the International Shark Attack File, directed by Burgess at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Texas and Delaware are not common states for shark attacks. Of the 47 unprovoked attacks in the U.S. last year, almost half occurred in Florida. Most of the others took place in Hawaii and South Carolina, according to the research.

Despite the odd locations of the attacks, Burgess says there seem to be fewer attacks worldwide this year compared to last year.

He says there have been 26 attacks so far this year, with two fatalities, one in South Africa and one in Australia. Sixteen of the attacks were in the U.S., with no fatalities. The ratio of attacks each year is low compared to the amount of times humans and sharks are near one another.

Humans and sharks are actually very close to each other on a regular basis, says Burgess.

“Certainly anyone whose spent any time in the sea, just recreationally in the surf zone, has been within 10 or 15 feet of a shark at some point in their lifetime,” he says.

At any given time, “hundreds or perhaps thousands” of people are that close to a shark, he adds.

In fact, statistics show that sharks have a lot more to fear than humans do.

Burgess says humans are killing about up to 37 million sharks per year, while sharks only kill around four or five humans each year. Most sharks are dying when fisheries aiming for another type of fish catch them by mistake and have to throw them overboard, he says.

However, Burgess warns that if people do not learn more about shark safety, the number of shark attacks on humans are sure to increase. Naturally, a larger population, increased tourism and water activities means more bites, even if the shark population remains the same, he says.

In this undated photo provided by the University of California, Davis, a white shark investigates a fake seal decoy used by UC Davis researchers in the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco. They are the most feared predator in the ocean, but the state of California thinks great white sharks might need a little protecting of their own. On Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, the Fish and Game Commission will consider advancing the candidacy of the giant sharks to the California Endangered Species list.

A recent study shows the shark population is growing in California waters, contradicting previous research.

Humans are not a normal part of a shark’s diet, he says, but sharks can mistake people for fish in certain situations.

One way of avoiding an unexpected encounter is to stay in a group. Sharks, like other predators, look for the weak stragglers in the pack who linger behind, and tend to attack prey that looks to be alone, Burgess says.

And if your parents have ever told you not to take a midnight swim in the ocean, they were right. Sharks feed the most from dusk until dawn – and you don’t want to end up being a midnight snack.

The last bit of advice Burgess provides is to ditch your rings and bracelets before hitting the waves. To sharks, shiny jewelry can look like fish scales, reflecting light as you move in the water. Burgess urges people to remember that, when they enter the ocean, it’s like entering the wilderness. Most people don’t think about it, he says, but they are invading other species’ territory.

“Can you imagine walking into the Serengeti in your bikini, barefoot and not worrying about the big animals that can do you harm?” he asks.

Still, he adds, the ocean is a “pretty nice host.”

“Although we wander in their naked and stupid, most of us come out just fine,” he says.


Original story:

Dec 24 2013

California fishers say quota system is all wet

The skipper of a fishing boat that has trawled Monterey Harbor for decades says he’s been docked since spring, unable to earn a living.

Jiri Nozicka says a federal quota system enacted to protect both fish and the commercial fishing industry has problems that he can’t navigate.

“How do I plan anything?” he asked, recently standing on the deck of the San Giovanni. “I can’t. It’s impossible.”

He’s not alone in criticizing the “catch shares” system and calling for changes. Commercial fishers, industry experts and government officials are among those who say that while fish populations are recovering, too few people in California are benefiting from that rebound in part because there aren’t enough qualified monitors to oversee the program.

“Financially, I can only say that multiple trips have been cancelled due to a lack of availability of these monitors, millions of pounds of fish have not been caught, processed and sold to markets and this is a loss of millions of dollars,” said Michael Lucas, president of North Coast Fisheries Inc., in a letter to federal regulators.

After Pacific Coast groundfish populations dropped dramatically in 2000 a federal economic disaster was declared, leading to the strict new quota system. The goal was to boost populations of black cod and dover sole and to revive the flagging industry.

Read the full article here.