Ocean Conservation Still at Risk Despite Backtrack on NOAA Mission Change
By Andrew Rosenberg
Following recent press attention to a presentation by the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) on new directions for the agency, Adm. Tim Gallaudet quickly backtracked and stated that the mission would not fundamentally change.
That's a good thing, but there are other signals coming out of the Trump administration that point to a real change in priorities at NOAA and other agencies. Some of those I pointed out earlier this week. Here I want to turn to some of the specific priorities the admiral discussed in his presentation. One of the highlighted strategic priorities related to reducing our trade deficit in seafood. The president has spoken of trade deficits as if the U.S. is losing money if we have a deficit, but most economists don't see it that way.
With regard to seafood, the U.S. imports about 90 percent of the seafood we consume. That means we have a substantial trade deficit in seafood. On the other hand, American businesses from retailers to restaurants make a lot of money from seafood products, well beyond the imported value. They are able to market a much wider range of products and at a range of prices for a food source that generally contributes to a healthy diet. And, the production of U.S. seafood products has made huge strides toward sustainability. That progress was hard fought, and hard won for the industry and government acting in the public interest.
So what are the priorities for the Trump administration? Here is the slide the admiral presented. As someone who has spent much of my career in ocean science and fisheries management, several things jump out at me.
The first is "Permit Fishing in Marine Monuments" within 90 days. That will do absolutely nothing to address the seafood trade deficit, because literally it will allow access for 11 boats across the two monuments, but it will substantially undermine conservation because those few boats can do a lot of damage to fragile reefs and seamounts. And will send a broad, negative, signal to the U.S. and the rest of the world that the U.S. is backing away from protecting marine ecosystems particularly in offshore areas. And that will happen just at the time when the rest of the world is beginning to finally negotiate a new agreement for the conservation of the high seas.
Secondly, and no less important, the slide says that NOAA will reach 50 deregulatory actions in the next 30 days. Since virtually all of the regulatory work of NOAA is on fisheries, marine mammals and endangered species, this says to me that the agency will be in rapid retreat on actions that are conserving marine ecosystems. I was formerly the deputy director of NOAA Fisheries. I know for a fact that there is not some large number of useless regulations just lying around. I also know that the only way for fishing businesses and communities to be successful is if overfishing is ended and the ocean is healthy. So deregulation means we will stop protecting marine resources. Greater exploitation will result, and less sustainable oceans. There really isn't another way to interpret this.
Then there are some truly puzzling items on the list, such as "Propose Vessel Financing Rule." If that means reducing subsidies for fishing capacity, that's good. If it means re-introducing federal financing, tax breaks and loan guarantees for new fishing vessels it is exactly the wrong way to go. The taxpayers have spent millions to reduce fishing capacity in an effort to end overfishing and recover depleted stocks. I sincerely hope we are not going to reverse that direction now.
And then, there are several potentially concerning points related to expanding marine fish farming or aquaculture. Release a plan, host a summit, provide grants. All of that seems OK, but the goal on subsequent slides is to increase aquaculture production threefold in ten years. On its face that may be OK, but it depends on how, where and when. It doesn't say. Aquaculture may be a good way to produce more seafood, but requires large inputs of wild caught fish to feed the farmed fish—and that fish meal is largely imported. And it requires for various forms of cage culture, exclusive use of ocean space. That creates its own challenges in resolving competing uses, because the U.S. ocean is a busy place with lots of different users. And finally, it requires strict care to ensure that issues of contamination of wild stocks, disease, waste, chemical use and other issues are dealt with up front to ensure sustainability. As with all animal culture there are challenges. Is NOAA going to address those? In just 180 days?
There are other priorities that seem to suggest that NOAA will reduce protections for endangered species ("ESA streamlining rule") and protections for marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico ("Marine Mammal Protection Rule for Gulf Energy Development") that also worry me greatly.
Ocean conservation, like democracy, cannot be taken for granted—you have to work at it. We need to watch how things develop at NOAA very closely and be ready to raise our voices again if the conservation part of the NOAA mission gets short shrift. Congress needs to demand answers to the real direction for NOAA programs and how the money they have appropriated is being spent. Scientists need to scrutinize the proposals and how well they are supported by scientific evidence. And concerned people everywhere should be continuing to speak out, in their communities and to their elected officials as well as NOAA regional officials about the need to safeguard the public interest. That's NOAA's job.
Trump Isolates U.S. on Climate, Ocean Plastics and Trade Following Contentious G7 Summit https://t.co/WQcnS6IoGx… https://t.co/lwla9we3fE— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1528719132.0
Andrew Rosenberg is the director of the UCS Center for Science and Democracy.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>