Overfishing to Blame for Sardine Shortage and Starving Sea Lions
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just announced a lack of Pacific sardines is a “likely contributor” to the “Unusual Mortality Event” (UME) that occurred last year where more than 1,600 California sea lions were found stranded and malnourished along the Southern California coastline. The big story, however, is the one NOAA is not telling us.
NOAA failed to recognize that the sardine fishery had anything to do with the scarcity of sardines and instead is diverting resources and public attention to solely addressing the symptom of the problem by rehabilitating pups and returning them to the wild, without also allocating resources to address the root cause of the problem; continued overfishing.
Pacific sardines are a critically important forage fish that provide the nutrition and fats necessary for nursing California sea lion pups and newly-weaned pups foraging on their own. Although other prey like market squid and rockfish were available, these alone did not provide the adequate nutrition the pups needed. Sardines are a much more energy-rich food source and critical in the diet of nursing sea lions.
Last year an unprecedented number of sea lion pups were admitted to rehabilitation facilities, emaciated, dehydrated and very underweight for their age. The pups were admitted between January and April 2013 with increased strandings documented in California’s Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. Now this year, NOAA is seeing more stranded pups in central and northern California, as well as a higher than average number in Southern California although not as high as last year. NOAA determined, through its investigation of this UME, that “this event was not caused by disease rather by the lack of high quality, close-by food sources for nursing mothers.”
The untold part of this story is the underlying public communication strategy that NOAA uses to justify continued overfishing. In early 2012, top NOAA scientists published a major study warning that the sardine population was collapsing and that fishery managers were repeating the overfishing pattern that occurred during the historic collapse of the sardine fishery in the 1950s which ended the famous Cannery Row era.
NOAA leadership, however, immediately discounted this science, telling the public and managers that no such collapse was occurring. Two years later, in March 2014, NOAA released the latest Pacific sardine stock assessment concluding that the Pacific sardine population has precipitously crashed 74 percent since 2007 with no evidence of recovery. Now NOAA acknowledges that a collapse occurred but attributes it solely to unfavorable environmental conditions. In other words, NOAA’s pattern is to first deny a population collapse while continuing fishing, then once it has collapsed, blame events other than fishing. Sea lions are dying due to starvation and NOAA appears to be addressing it by spending money on rehab, but they are allowing continued overfishing. They are rehabilitating starving sea lions and then putting them back into a sardine starved ocean.
While the sardine population is in part influenced by ocean conditions, it is also highly susceptible to fishing pressures. What we know now is that forage fish stocks like sardines can withstand fishing pressure when they are abundant and productive, but in times of poor ocean conditions, they become extremely vulnerable to overfishing.
The Pacific sardine population declined 1.05 million metric tons between 2007, when it peaked at 1.42 million metric tons, and July 2014, when it is projected to be 369,506 metric tons. Over the same seven year period the fishery removed 715,000 metric tons of sardines. Therefore, while we can only speculate what the decline would have been in the absence of fishing, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the recent seven year decline are attributable directly to fishery removals. In other words, any fishing on sardines right now is overfishing, as the stock is not even replacing itself, much less providing a surplus. The Los Angeles Times reported on the sardine crash in January with evidence that some ocean predators are starving without sardines.
Our federal government employs some of the top marine scientists in the world, including marine mammal and fishery experts. These scientists are finding that sardines are collapsing and that fishing is part of the root cause. Sea lion pups are starving as a direct result of this prey depletion. Rather than following their own scientists’ advice, the decision-makers determining NOAA policy have instead chosen to strategically disregard scientific evidence that may suggest that fishing is impacting the health of our ocean ecosystem. This is concerning on many levels given that recent scientific surveys show the Pacific sardine population is not recovering and sea lions starving on the beach may only be the tip of the iceberg.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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