An open letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on revising land-based recreational shark fishing regulations

Note: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is holding a public meeting on April 25th which will include the issue of land-based recreational shark fishing. Part of my dissertation research focused on this topic, so I am submitting expert testimony, but since I no longer live in Florida I am submitting it remotely. I am sharing my testimony here. Anyone else who is interested in attending the meeting in person (Fort Lauderdale Marriott on April 25th), or submitting testimony remotely, is free to quote my talking points below if the appropriate references are cited. 

Dear Chair Rivard, Vice Chair Spottswood, Commissioner Kellam, Commissioner Lester, Commissioner Nicklaus, Commissioner Rood, and Commissioner Sole of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC),

My name is Dr. David Shiffman, and I studied land-based shark fishing in Florida as part of my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. This research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Fisheries Research (here’s a link to an open access copy) and covered in major media outlets including National Geographic, Nature, and the Miami Herald. Accordingly, I would like to provide expert testimony for your April 25th public hearing on this topic. Since I no longer reside in Florida I am submitting this testimony remotely. As a conservation biologist who spent years studying harmful practices among some elements of the land-based Florida shark fishing community, I am grateful to see FWC holding a public meeting that includes this important issue, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute.

Overall, the scientific evidence is clear and overwhelming that while many anglers are rule-following and conservation-minded, many common land-based shark fishing practices represent a significant conservation threat to threatened, protected shark species in Florida. Additionally, the evidence is clear and overwhelming that in many cases anglers are breaking existing laws and regulations, and that in some of those cases the anglers are aware that they are breaking the law and are explicitly stating that they don’t care. Finally, the evidence is clear and overwhelming that many of the arguments put forward by land-based anglers in support of the status quo are not argued in good faith, and are intentionally crafted to misrepresent the facts of the situation.

It is obvious to me, and to many expert colleagues with whom I have discussed this issue, that the FWC can and must do more to protect threatened sharks, building off of early successes that made Florida a leader in shark conservation. Specifically, the FWC can and must do more to regulate these harmful practices, enforce clear violations of existing regulations, and educate anglers about these issues. Below I will elaborate on each of these points and propose specific regulatory, enforcement, and public education changes that can be made to protect sharks without significantly infringing on anyone’s rights. I will also counter several common arguments that are put forth by bad actors in the recreational angling community.

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Have you heard the good news about shark populations? Shark population increases are cause for #OceanOptimism

Did you know that some shark populations have declined due to overfishing? Did you know that some once-declined shark populations have recovered? If you’re like my twitter followers, it’s likely that you’ve heard the bad news, but have not heard the good news.

Why does this matter?
It’s important to share bad news so that people know there’s a problem, and that we need to act to solve that problem. However, it’s also important to share good news so that people know that a problem is solvable! This idea was behind the birth of the #OceanOptimism online outreach campaign.

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The time to defend the EPA is now!

Executive Order 13777 created a Regulatory Reform Task Force to oversee the evaluation of existing regulations to make recommendations about potential repeal, replacement, or modification to the Environmental Protection Agency. The dissolution of the EPA would be catastrophic for this country. Fortunately, the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly, and before any recommendations are formally issued, the federal government must seek input from the public. The public comment period ends at midnight on May 15, 2017. You have until then to submit a comment on the value, importance, and benefits of the EPA.

Evaluation of Existing Regulations
Call for Public Comment

 

Our friends at Deep Sea News have done an excellent job extolling the value of the EPA (as have many others from across the internet):

Public Comments are important. They do get read (probably by an intern) and are incorporated into the official federal response. This is a tangible chance to make you voice heard, and Southern Fried Science is here to help. Below is a short template I’ve prepared highlighting the economic and human health benefits of the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the potential consequences of a significant reduction in the EPA’s funding or scope. Feel free to adapt, modify, and use this to help craft your own comment. Personal anecdotes are valuable, so make sure to begin you comment with a short statement about how the EPA has personally impacted or improved your quality of life.

[INCLUDE PERSONAL STATEMENT ABOUT THE VALUE OF THE EPA HERE]

The Environmental Protection Agency provides an essential cornerstone for US economic growth and well-being. Its mandate to ensure that all Americans are protected from significant risks to their health from the environment where they live, learn and work, based on the best available science is essential to the long-term viability of our natural resources, the health of our population, and our continued economic inertia. This includes regulations enforced fairly and effectively for all parts of society, including communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local, and tribal governments. Substantively reducing the scope and effectiveness of the EPA is a short-sighted and partisan-motivated action which will result in the loss of 47 years of bi-partisan supported environmental safeguards, significant increases to the national debt, a dramatic decrease in the viable US workforce, an increase in Medicaid coverage, and reduced quality of life for American citizens while harming the long-term trajectory of the US economy.

Whereas:

  1. Economic growth is tied to the health and well-being of the population. Significant reduction in the EPA’s scope will result in greater environmental health impacts, more severe and persistent environmentally-mediated chronic conditions, greater rates of preventable disease, including cancers, respiratory conditions, and metal poisonings, leading to a decline in the overall health of the US population and resulting in a greater Medicaid burden and decreased workforce capacity.
  2. Increased medical costs related to treating illnesses related to chronic and acute exposure to environmental contaminants will result in enhanced financial hardship, greater treatment-induced bankruptcies, and a significant drain on the US GDP.
  3. Access to clean outdoor environments encourages exercise, increases productivity, and is foundational to the national identity, producing both tangible and intangible benefits and promoting a culture of self-sufficiency.
  4. Significant declines in air and water quality will prompt major economically-influential business leaders in emergent technology and knowledge industries to relocate overseas, exporting environmental harms to the US while redirecting economic gains to more forward-thinking nations.
  5. Healthy natural resources underpin all sectors of the economy; clean air and water is a consistently undervalued resource. Consider the costs of cleanup to return air and water to the necessary status for manufacturing, worker health, and resident safety. New York City’s unfiltered water system shows environmental protections are an order of magnitude less costly than water treatment after contamination.
  6. Creation of the EPA was a bipartisan, popular effort in response to major dangers as a result of lacking environmental regulation (rivers on fire, water supplies poisoned, soils too contaminated for crops, etc). It does our forebears a major disservice to forget their efforts and, more importantly, the motives behind them.
  7. Access to clean, potable water is a human right.

A significant reduction in the scope of the EPA is short-sighted and conducted for partisan goals which do not reflect the values and desires of the American People. Any such reduction is symbolic of a fundamental failure in both vision and leadership by the current administration.

When you’re ready, submit your comment through this docket, under Evaluation of Existing Regulations.

Evaluation of Existing Regulations
Call for Public Comment

 


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Fun Science FRIEDay – Harnessing Synthetic Biology to Fight Ocean Pollution

Plastics, more importantly microplastics, clog our oceans. This phenomena in the ocean has been likened to smog around cities. These plastic particles are dangerous because they can absorb toxins, subsequently be consumed by zooplankton and invertebrates, and bioaccumluate up the food web to fish that are consumed by humans. A study in Nature found that 25 percent of seafood sold contains microplastics! There has been a recent awareness of the unseen harm that exists when plastic pollution in the ocean degrades into microplastics. A report in Environmental Research Letters estimated that “accumulated number of micro plastic particles… ranges from 15 to 51 trillion particles, weighing between 93 and 236 thousand metric tons.” That is cray cray. Despite a better awareness of the impact of microplastics on marine ecology, we still have a poor spatial understanding of microplastics in the ocean. The presence and density of microplastics is determined by trawling the ocean (i.e., researchers go out with a net and physically count the pieces of plastic they pick up). As you can imagine, this is not very effective.

Conceptualization of plastic degrading in the ocean. (Photo credit: Archipelagos Institute)

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The 2016 presidential candidates address ocean issues (sort of).

Finally, after almost a year of silence, we have concrete responses from the leading presidential candidate about ocean health and, in particular, the state of America’s fisheries. Well, sort of.

ScienceDebate.org, a non-partisan science advocacy group, asked the four leading candidates a slew of 20 science-related questions, including the following about ocean health:

“There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?”

sciencedebate.org

Gary Johnson and Donald Trump declined to answer (Johnson declined to answer any question, Trump’s submitted boilerplate copy that makes no mention of the oceans or any ocean issue).

Jill Stein’s succinct response acknowledged the problems that overfishing, climate change, and ocean plastics pose to the oceans, but provides no specific policy recommendations.  Read More

Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Exploration wants to be shared

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.

Read Act II: Transforming the Narrative.

Picture38

Now I want to shift gears and look towards the future, where we’re going, and what tools are available to help us get there. Because the future of ocean outreach, and really the future of ocean conservation, comes down to this one concept: “Exploration wants to be shared”.

Picture2

Sealand courtesy the Daily Beast

The online ocean ecosystem is full of platforms–preexisting tools that allow us to produce, share, broadcast, enhance, and manage our outreach campaigns. Not just the obvious ones like Twitter and Facebook, but more niche tools like Slack, github, Ushahidi, medium, and yes, even PokemonGo, or if you want something a bit more serious, consider R as something that’s not just a statistics package, but a way to share your own software and data with the scientific community.

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Dying for Reason in the Rational Utopia

When Neil deGrasse Tyson proposed his “Rationalia” thought experiment several months ago, I thought is was cute but misguided. Now that he’s doubled down on the concept, I can see exactly why it is such a naively flawed idea. Rationalia would be a disaster for conservation. This short science fiction story illustrates why.


ration

“Oyez, oyez, oyez!  This, the 107th session of the 16th Superior District Court, is hereby gavelled to order. Please be seated.”

Cope Johns remained standing. He surveyed the crowd, an odd assortment of bystanders, tourists, and his few supporters. Chief Justice Carlsson entered the hall, climbed onto his podium, and looked down on the assembled masses. Somewhere amid the crush of bodies, an elderly lawyer took his seat. All eyes turned to him. He timidly rose to his feet.

“Today we hear Dr. Cope Johns, on behalf of the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), versus the Free Republic of Rationalia. Make note that, as evidence suggests that timeliness is required in this decision, we have elected to expedite deliberations. The court has been briefed extensively on this case and requires no additional background. Dr. Johns, your opening statement?”

Cope approached the stand. The bailiff placed his left hand on the near-field ID scanner, confirming his identity. Cope raised his right hand to nothing and swore under his breath.

“Thank you, your honor. The Vaquita is a tiny porpoise that has been on the verge of extinction for the better part of a century. Its only remaining habitat is in the Gulf of Reason, where the Free Republic of Rationalia intends to establish the Lost Lobos tidal energy farm. This farm will displace the Vaquita breeding grounds and will likely drive the species over the brink to extinction.” Read More

A precautionary approach to health, safety, and conservation while 3D printing in the home.

3D printers are awesome.

A Printrbot in the home.

A Printrbot in the home.

That sentiment really shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows this blog. From oceanographic equipment, to farm tools, to just things around the house, over the last year I’ve made 3D printing a standard part of my toolbox.

A conversation last week on Twitter got me thinking again about 3D printers, safety, and disposability. On one hand, by allowing us to fabricate intricate custom parts at home, 3D printers can help us reduce the amount of waste produced and allow us to extend the life of otherwise disposable items. On the other hand, 3D printers produce their own plastic waste, particularly if, like me, you develop a lot of new projects from scratch.

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What the Farm?! Six months of farming podcasts

Six months ago, my buddy Andrew Middleton and I launched What the Farm?! a podcast about small scale farming, by two people at the very beginning of their exploration in self-sufficiency. Small-scale and backyard farming has been one of the subtle themes of Southern Fried Science for years. While on the surface it may seem like practical farming articles have nothing to do with marine science and conservation, the reality is that how we produce food is inextricably linked to the future of our oceans.

As environmentalists, becoming self-sufficient on our own land, with both meat and produce that we have complete control over the chain of custody, from dirt to dishwasher is the ultimate expression of walking the walk. We’re not there yet, but through What the Farm?! we invite you to follow us on our journey.

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Ocean Kickstarter of the Month: Cleaning our oceans one marina at a time.

Update 2: Seabin has moved to Indiegogo. Find them here.

Update: Due to issues with the platform, Seabin has suspended its Kickstarter campaign. We will update if there is a relaunch. 

Seabin Project. An automated rubbish bin that lives in the water of marinas and collects floating rubbish, oil, fuel & detergents 24/7

Seabin Project. Cleaning our oceans one marina at a time.

The accumulation of trash in our oceans is a big deal, and while there are some very good systems designed to remove garbage from local waterways, there is also a plethora of questionable projects as well. Seabin, an automated trash collector that catches floating waste, oil, fuel and detergents from marines and other confined, high traffic waterways, fits squarely in that first group. A small, shore-powered, suction driven system draws floating trash into a container, separates oil, fuel, and detergents, and returns clean seawater back to the marina.

This Mallorca-based team has been developing Seabin for several years, and, by all accounts, have poured their time and savings into validating a functional prototype. They’ve been working with marinas and other ocean-tech groups to develop a system that is simple to use and easy to service by a single operator. While the Seabin currently draws high voltage shore power, they have visions of a future alternative-energy system.

Onward to the Ocean Kickstarter criteria! Read More