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Sardine Fishing Banned in Pacific Northwest as Stocks Hit Historic Low

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Sardine Fishing Banned in Pacific Northwest as Stocks Hit Historic Low

Regulators from the U.S. Pacific Fishery Management Council have banned sardine fishing off California, Oregon and Washington to allow the struggling species to recover.

Sardine stocks are at historic lows and might get worse.

This is the second year in a row that the West coast fishing regulatory body was forced to take this action. Ominously, as The Oregonion pointed out, the council might have to continue the ban for years to come since there are less than 65,000 metric tons of adult sardines in the ocean this year, according to federal estimates. Under West coast fishery rules, sardine fishing must cease when adult stocks dip below 150,000 metric tons.

The council writes that sardines were once "the most abundant fish species in the California current" which runs from Oregon to Baja California. Reuters, however, reported that Pacific sardine numbers have plummeted 90 percent since 2007.

Sardine stocks are at historic lows and might get worse, according to The Maritime Exclusive, "The sardine fishery closure is the second in as many years; it was closed mid-season last year due to low stocks, but it has since fallen further, and is expected to be down by 30 percent over last year by summer."

The council is also considering the full closure of coho and chinook salmon fisheries off Washington state's coast for the first since 1994.

There could be a number of culprits behind the region's shrinking sardine numbers, including climate change, natural population ebbs and flows or overfishing. The mysterious “blob” of warm water that's 4°C warmer than the surrounding Pacific is also suspect.

Geoff Shester, a campaign director for Oceana, blames overfishing. “It’s a broken system when you allow the fishing fleet to allot 40 percent of their catch to sardines and label it as ‘bycatch’ even when the fishery is closed,” he told The Maritime Exclusive. “It’s perfectly legal under the current system.”

The little sardine has a big role in the oceanic food chain. The disappearance of the high-fat, high-calorie fish species—namely sardines and anchovies—has been pegged as the reason why so many starving sea lions have been stranded along Southern California’s coast in recent years. Instead, sea lions have had to settle for less nourishing food sources, such as rockfish and market squid.

Last year, more than 3,000 sea lions were found stranded on Southern California beaches, a number higher than the previous five years combined. As of last week, there have been at least 375 sea lion strandings in 2016. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries West Coast/Flickr

As EcoWatch reported, the number of U.S. domestic fishing stocks listed as overfished or threatened by overfishing declined to the fewest number since 1997, according to the 2014 Status of U.S. Fisheries report to Congress from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“The progress that has been made toward eliminating overfishing in U.S. waters is encouraging and a testament to the effectiveness of our federal fisheries policy, the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” said Greenpeace oceans campaign director John Hocevar. “However, we still have a long way to go before we can rest on our laurels. Too little attention has been paid to protecting the habitat that sustains fish and other types of marine life, and too much industrial fishing relies on methods that are overly destructive. Bycatch remains a serious problem for many fisheries, sometimes with major implications for whales, sea turtles, and other protected species.”

Hocevar cited some specific areas where improvement was needed, such as holding U.S. fisheries that operate outside federal waters, which includes most U.S. tuna fishing operations, to higher standards to reduce bycatch and let tuna populations rebuild. He also said that traceability needs to be improved, and fraud and mislabeling reduced, to increase public awareness about how seafood was caught. He seconded Sobeck’s reference to the need to address the danger of climate change-driven changes to the oceans’ ecosystems.

“As we are seeing with the collapse of the sardine population off the California coast, intentionally reducing fish populations by 60 percent or more can make them much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Hocevar. “We need to factor in the uncertainty associated with climate change, and use a more precautionary approach to setting catch levels and managing for healthy ecosystems.”

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Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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