By Mikey Jane Moran
"There are no cod left in Cape Cod," said a New England chef with a shrug of his shoulders. And he really means no cod. The salty docks of Gloucester, Massachusetts—once the hub of American fishing culture, bustling with wind-blown fishermen hauling nets full of squirming fish—is nearly deserted.
Due to decades of overfishing, coupled with warming oceans, fish counts within New England's cod fisheries have dwindled to 3 to 4 percent of their historic levels, according to National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates. Populations are facing collapse.
Sacred Cod follows the stories of the people whose way of life is disappearing along with the fish. Fishermen are selling their boats, coast-side industry is drying up and coastal towns once rich with heritage lie abandoned. What was a $118 million fishing industry in the 1990s is now a $9 million industry.
"You may be shaking the hand of the last ice man in Gloucester," said one lonely businessman featured in Sacred Cod. Fewer fishermen, after all, translate to less demand for ice. "We sell more T-shirts than ice."
The documentary details how last-ditch government fishing bans have fomented a culture of mistrust between the scientific community and those fishermen who rely on full nets to support their families. Now, all are in a race to find a compromise before the Gulf of Maine becomes a ghost coast. The documentary portrays climate change not as a looming problem but as a reality shaping lives and communities in the here and now.
David Abel, environment reporter for the Boston Globe and one among a team of filmmakers behind Sacred Cod, has been documenting the cod population collapse since it was first on the horizon, tracing the nuanced problem it has become. We spoke with him about the documentary and about his hopes for the future of cod.
Mikey Jane Moran: You've poured years of research into this topic. Why cod?
David Abel: Cod itself is this iconic species. A wooden replica of the fish hangs from the rafters of the [Massachusetts] state house—it's a symbol of what brought Europeans to the states. It's what sustained the pilgrims when they first moved here and built New England into one of the wealthiest places on the planet. And [the industry's] collapse has caused tremendous hardship for many fishermen.
While Sacred Cod never loses its environmental message, its storytelling stems primarily from the perspective of the fishermen. Why this approach?
We wanted to make people understand there are tangible, human consequences to changes in our environment and to decisions made by government agencies like NOAA. Efforts to regulate things like fisheries in some cases have very meaningful impact on people. We have seen a dramatic collapse in this once incredibly abundant fishery and that collapse has led to hundreds of fishermen losing their jobs. We thought it was important to connect the environmental concerns with the human concerns.
This is an issue of the commons—it impacts everyone. Yet, the two sides are at odds. What is the hope for a compromise?
Everyone's hope, no matter where they stand, is that the fishery rebounds. If you ask scientists and bureaucrats, they hope that surveys are wrong and that the data somehow is flawed. But in repeated surveys, the data seems to be borne out that cod have declined substantially. Scientists and regulators are not trying to make fishermen miserable. There is an argument for trying to reduce the pressure on cod so hopefully, one day, they can rebound, as we are seeing in other places, like Newfoundland, Canada.
The hope is that fishermen and federal regulators recognize the benefits of protecting the fisheries and protecting the fishermen. Trying to find a way to create a sustainable fishery is vital to the health of the ecosystem and the health of the community.
The documentary ends on a somewhat happy note. Are you optimistic about the state of cod in New England?
I don't think it has a happy ending as much as an offer of hope and a recognition that things can change. If we really commit to creating sustainable fisheries—by creating rules that are sensible and that work—a fishery that has been decimated can rebound. Not all endings have to be apocalyptic.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.