Jordan Nikoloyuk is the Sustainable Fisheries Coordinator of the Ecology Action Centre, a membership-based community environmental organization based in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Marine Issues Committee of the EAC was founded in 1995 after the collapse of the Atlantic Canadian groundfish stocks and works towards conserving and protecting marine ecosystems and maintaining sustainable fisheries and vibrant coastal communities.
As part of its sustainable seafood work and through its Friends of Hector campaign - www.friendsofhector.org - the EAC has participated in many Marine Stewardship Council assessments for Atlantic Canadian fisheries and encouraged retailers to support certified fisheries. Jordan has written this guest post to share his recent experiences with a certification that has left the EAC and other conservation organizations wondering whether seafood certification can contribute to sustainable fisheries management in the long term, or if the conflict between keeping an eco-label rigorous on the one hand and expanding its market appeal on the other is just too difficult to manage. What do you think?
The best way to buy seafood responsibly is to read a sustainable seafood guide and ask your retailer the two big questions: where is this from and how was it caught? When getting these answers is tough, many people turn to eco-certifications and labelling. Despite some increasingly controversial certifications, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is considered to be the most trusted and reliable label, but how many unsustainable fishery certifications will it take to ruin this credibility?
Last week, after lengthy and widespread opposition, the MSC approved certification of the Atlantic Canadian longline swordfish fishery, which catches 100,000 sharks and 1,400 endangered sea turtles every year. The Ecology Action Centre spent almost two years working to oppose this greenwashing. Now we are left asking: how can we promote sustainable fisheries with organizations the size of the MSC working against us? When a definition of sustainability is so weak that it lets the status quo continue, can this be seen as an effective ‘market-driven solution’?
Continue reading Guest post: Swordfish, certifications, and sustainable seafood
John Shepherd once said that counting fish is like counting trees, except that fish move and you can’t see them because they’re underwater. This is true with sharks as well. It’s basically impossible to know how many sharks there are. Fortunately, a variety of methods exist that can be used to determine population trends. In other words, even if we can’t know how many sharks there are, we can tell if there are more or less than there used to be. Presented here are brief descriptions of some of these methods and the conclusions of major shark conservation studies that used them. Though no one method is perfect, the fact that so many different methods have such similar conclusions is quite telling.
Continue reading How severe are shark population decreases, and how do we know?
WhySharksMatter and a whale shark at the Georgia Aquarium
The world’s largest shark eats only plankton, couldn’t bite a human if it wanted to, and is one of the few sharks that could be reasonably described as beautiful. Globally, SCUBA divers pay an estimated $50 million each year for the chance to swim with these incredible fish. Their long migrations through international waters makes international cooperation necessary to protect them, which is particularly important because the 30 years it can take for these animals to reach reproductive maturity means that populations will take a long time to recover if they are overexploited. They’re listed by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group as Vulnerable globally. Between their charismatic nature, their inability to harm humans, and their value to ecotourism, it should be easy to convince governments to protect whale sharks *, making two recent reports all the more shocking.
Continue reading Bad news for whale sharks: The world’s largest fish are being killed for bait and billboards
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, via the National Marine Fisheries Service historic collection
A press release circulating on Twitter, which claims that a “deadly expansion” of a California fishery will negatively affect critically endangered leatherback sea turtles, has been making waves in the marine conservation and fisheries communities, inspiring a series of interesting discussions. Is it better to buy US-caught seafood with some bycatch than foreign-caught seafood from fleets with less strict environmental regulations? Is the current “Pacific leatherback conservation area”, a large region of the ocean where no fishing is allowed, too much of a restriction on U.S. fisheries? Can there be a balance between fisheries and conservation? I invited Jonathan Gonzalez, a California graphic designer with a strong interest in marine conservation issues, to write a guest post about the swordfish fishery in question. You can follow him on Twitter here, and he’s happy to answer your questions about this issue in the comments section of this post. In addition to his graphic design work, Jonathan has served as the assistant director of the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal center, and has worked with the California Shark Coalition to gather support from fishermen for the state’s recent ban on shark fins.
by Jonathan Gonzalez
Fisheries are complicated and often misunderstood. We often see conflicting information about what fish we should or should not eat and we see general statements about certain gear types that over simplify an extremely complex issue. But don’t be discouraged, learning about fisheries can be very fun and can lead to eating seafood with confidence, free of any guilt or confusion. One particular fishery I want to talk about that is not only complicated, but in my opinion it is California’s most misunderstood fishery. I’m talking about the drift gillnet (DGN) fishery for swordfish and common thresher sharks (CTS). Swordfish, CTS and mako sharks caught in Hawaiian set longlines are also landed in California, but I am not going to talk about that here. I am going to focus on the DGN fishery because this fishery has been in the headlines a bit lately because of recent motions that were voted on at a Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) meeting. Here is a press release you may have seen that in my opinion is full of factual errors and a few downright slanderous statements. I’m not going to point them all out and I’m not going to try to tell you what to do. Instead I am going to give you some background about the fishery and provide you with information that will hopefully help you to make an informed decision for yourself. Continue reading Good intentions and negative transfer effects: A guest post about the California swordfish fishery
Image taken from the South Florida shark fishing club online forum. Photographer undisclosed. I have blocked out the angler's face to protect his identity
Update: The angler who originally caught the shark has responded. Please see below.
On February 5th, while standing on a beach in Miami, a fisherman caught a 14 foot great hammerhead shark. According to his account, ”we had it beached within an hour of hooking it. The fish weighed too much her girth was huge. Just the 2 of us wasn’t enough to get it out of the water….We snapped some pictures with our dying camera, measured it at 170 inches and spent the next hour walking back and forth with HER reviving her…it swam off slow and steady”
While this might appear to be a simple case of catch-and-release recreational fishing, it is not. My lab and I are supporters of sustainable catch and release fishing. However, it is important to note that since January 1, 2012, great hammerheads (an IUCN Red List Endangered species) have been a protected species in Florida state waters and have additional legal protections. The Florida code indicates that:
“(1) No person shall harvest, possess, land, purchase, sell, or exchange any or any part of these species:
…(k) Great hammerhead – Sphyrna mokarran.
…(3) “Harvest” means the catching or taking of a marine organism by any means whatsoever, followed by a reduction of such organism to possession. Marine organisms that are caught but immediately returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed are not harvested”
…(5) “Land,” when used in connection with the harvest of marine organisms, means the physical act of bringing the harvested organism ashore” Florida code section 68B-44 (Emphasis mine)
In this incident, the shark was brought ashore. We can infer from the statement “the fish weighed too much her girth was huge. Just the 2 of us wasn’t enough to get it out of the water” that the fisherman attempted to pull it all the way out of the water, but was unable to do so (an important legal distinction) . Instead, he ended up beaching it, bringing it so far out that it could not move or breathe. The angler did not immediately release the animal. According to the angler’s account, it was measured and photographed prior to the attempt to resuscitate it. The shark was not released alive and unharmed. By the angler’s own admission, it took over an hour of resuscitation before the animal was able to even swim away slowly.
Continue reading Florida angler catches (and likely kills) Endangered great hammerhead shark
Photo credit: study author Pascal Geraghty, New South Wales Department of Primary Industry
Last week, a team of 10 Australian scientists announced that they had found the world’s first “shark hybrids”, offspring of individuals from two different shark species which had interbred. During a routine survey of Australian marine life, 57 sharks were found that physically resembled one species of shark, but had genetic markers inconsistent with that species. Subsequent genetic investigation revealed that these 57 animals were hybrids between common blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Australian blacktip sharks (C. tilstoni).
Some of these hybrids were “F1″, meaning that one parents was a common blacktip and one was an Australian blacktip. Others were “B+”(backcrossed), which means that one parent was a common blacktip/Australian blacktip hybrid, and the other was a “purebreed” of one of those two species. According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Jess Morgan of the University of Queensland, ”our genetic marker tells us that these hybrids are ‘at least’ F1, and that these animals are reproductively viable and can produce an F2…the hybrids may be generations past F2 but the existing genetic markers can’t distinguish how many generations past the second cross have occurred.”
Continue reading What hybrid sharks mean (and don’t mean) for climate change and evolution: fact-checking the media coverage
Caribbean reef shark, Bimini. Photo credit: David Shiffman
2011 was a relatively good year for sharks and rays. Presented below, in no particular order, are ten important shark conservation stories from the past year.
1. Shark sanctuaries. The world gained several new shark sanctuaries, areas where shark fishing is banned, in 2011. Nations creating new shark sanctuaries include Honduras (~92,000 square miles), the Bahamas (~240,000 square miles), Marshall Islands/Guam/Palau (a regional partnership protecting almost 2 million square miles). Numerous concerns about enforcing rules in these huge areas, as well as concerns about potential loopholes in the policies, exist among conservation scientists.
2. Fin bans. These laws ban the possession, trade, or sale of shark fins within the boundaries of a city, state/territory, or country. In 2011, Hawaii’s first-in-the-US fin ban took effect, and a few other US states (California, Washington, and Oregon) passed similar laws. There is an ongoing debate in the shark conservation community about whether blanket bans on finning are better than promoting best practices (i.e. more sustainable shark fishing techniques). Additionally, some are concerned that we aren’t focusing enough on other threats to sharks like bycatch and habitat destruction.
Continue reading The top 10 shark conservation stories of 2011
Image from nero.NOAA.gov
Last August, two petitions were sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service from three conservation organizations (the Animal Welfare Institute, WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals). The petitions (available in their entirety here) requested that four species of skate be listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, and requested that critical habitat for these species be designated and appropriately protected. These species are the thorny skate, barndoor skate, winter skate, and smooth skate.
Due to both a directed fishery (skate wings are used for lobster trap bait, and also for food for a primarily-overseas market that includes Europe) and bycatch in bottom fisheries , Northwest Atlantic populations of these species have experienced serious declines in recent years. While some skate species have rebounded (for reasons that are not entirely clear), The thorny skate remains particularly threatened- the IUCN Red List considers the subpopulation off the Northeastern U.S. coast to be Critically Endangered. It is illegal for U.S. fishermen to keep thorny skates they catch (and has been since 2004), but they are commonly taken as bycatch in fisheries for the other skates and groundfish.
Yesterday, the National Marine Fisheries Service formally responded to the petition (thorny skate and other skates), and the news isn’t good for skates:
“After reviewing the information contained in the petition and information readily available in our files, we conclude that the petition fails to present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action concerning barndoor, smooth and/or winter skate may be warranted…We find that the petitions do not present substantial scientific information indicating the petitioned actions may be warranted. Accordingly, we will not initiate a review of the status of thorny skate at this time.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service listed several reasons why they believe these skates should not be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Continue reading National Marine Fisheries Service rejects petition to list 4 skate species under Endangered Species Act
Bluefin Tuna. Public Domain NOAA
Why are we still killing Bluefin Tuna? This question has resonated through the ocean blogosphere recently, as various experts weigh the issues surrounding overfishing and wonder why, when we know how limited the Bluefin Tuna populations are, and how precipitously they’ve declined in the last decade, do they demand record-breaking prices able to support an industry that must range further afield to chase that last, lonely fish? Other conservation writers discuss the recent extinction of not one, but two, rhinoceros species and ponder the fate of large terrestrial mammals. Knowing how rare these rhinoceroses were, why did they continue to be poached? Where does this demand come from?
Continue reading Bluefin Tuna, Big Game Hunters, and the Conservation Vortex
Photo credit: David Shiffman (Georgia Aquarium)
A few weeks after they were listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, giant manta rays (Manta birostris) have received major international legal protection. The Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) just agreed to list giant mantas on Appendix 1 and II of CMS at their tri-annual meeting in Bergen, Norway. An Appendix I listing requires that any of the 116 CMS Party nations who have giant manta rays in their waters to protect them along with their habitat, while an Appendix II listing encourages global and regional cooperation. This proposal was introduced by Ecuador, and was supported by the European Union, United States, Australia, Senegal, Madagascar, Mozambique, Chile, and Uruguay. This year’s host country, Norway, also supported the proposal and proposed discussing the reef manta (Manta alfredi) at the next CMS meeting in 2014.
“We are elated that the CMS Parties have embraced Ecuador’s proposal for protecting the magnificent and exceptionally vulnerable giant manta ray,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “CMS is an excellent vehicle for facilitating much needed national and international safeguards for this wide-ranging, globally threatened species and its key habitats.”
Giant mantas (the giant is appropriate as they can grow more than 7 meters across) are the target of directed fisheries for their gill rakers, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Their large size, predictable movement patterns, and relatively slow swimming speed makes them easy to catch, while many of their widely-distributed subpopulations number only a few hundred individuals. A listing under CMS appendices I and II is a welcome first step in the conservation of these gentle giants.