Democratic attorneys general from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York filed a motion on Thursday to intervene in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by several conservation groups and South Carolina coastal communities.
These seismic surveys will expose marine life to repeated sound blasts louder than 160 decibels, according to a press release from Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who is leading the coalition.
What's more, the release noted, these tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas, which will harm coastal and marine resources should a leak occur.
"Seismic testing will have dangerous consequences for hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, including endangered species," Frosh said in the press release. "While the administration continues to place the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of our precious natural resources, attorneys general up and down the Atlantic coast will continue to fight these and other efforts to open the waters off our shores to drilling for oil and gas."
Diane Hoskins, campaign director for Oceana, one of the nine conservation groups suing the Trump administration, applauded Thursday's motion from the AGs.
"These attorneys general are standing up for their states, their way of life and their coastal economies," Hoskins said in an emailed statement to EcoWatch. "Putting our oceans, marine life and coastal economies at risk for dirty and dangerous offshore drilling is wrong and we are not backing down. Seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic defies law, science and common sense. They acted unlawfully and we're going to stop it. Oceana is pleased so many states are joining this critical fight."
Last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued five Incidental Harassment Authorizations that permit companies to use airgun blasting in waters off the Atlantic coast.
"Seismic testing is the first step toward economically devastating oil spills and climate disasters like flooding u… https://t.co/3yzgFlYsvK— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543597813.0
During these seismic surveys, ships fire blasts of air to the bottom of the sea every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or months at a time to map the contours of the ocean floor in search of oil and gas deposits. The loud, continuous and far-reaching noise can damage the hearing and potentially disorientate and kill marine life, displace fish, devastate zooplankton and cause whales to beach. Blasting can also impact commercial and recreational fishing by decreasing catch rates.
"The federal government's decision is flat-out wrong, and offshore drilling will harm our pristine coast and the residents and industries that rely on it," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday at a news conference, as quoted by CBS. "Now it is also clear the (Trump) administration is willing to harm over 300,000 marine mammals, even endangered species, in pursuit of its fossil fuel agenda."
- Seismic Blasting Devastates Ocean's Most Vital Organisms ›
- Huge Victory: Seismic Blasting Is Halted in Atlantic Ocean - EcoWatch ›
Despite vehement opposition from communities, businesses and lawmakers along the Atlantic coast, the National Marine Fisheries Service on Friday is expected to issue five permits, or Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHA), that allow deafening seismic surveys to search for offshore oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean.
During the seismic surveys, ships fire blasts of air to the bottom of the sea every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or months at a time to map the contours of the ocean floor. The loud, continuous and far-reaching noise can damage the hearing and potentially disorientate and kill marine life, displace fish, devastate zooplankton and cause whales to beach. Blasting can also impact commercial and recreational fishing by decreasing catch rates.
Seismic Testing Is Torturing Marine Life www.youtube.com
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), who is poised to assume the chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee in January, blasted the Trump administration's approval of the permits.
"Seismic testing risks injuring and killing critically endangered species, severely disrupting economically important fisheries, and threatening the Jersey shore," Pallone said on his website. "An environmentally sound coast is critical to New Jersey's economy and it is very possible that seismic testing could lead to oil and gas drilling off our coast—threatening public health, coastal communities, and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Members from both sides of the aisle will work tirelessly to fight this reckless decision by the Trump administration."
BREAKING: Trump administration approves seismic testing permits for the Atlantic Coast. Seismic testing is both dan… https://t.co/mU4UjazW5k— Rep. Frank Pallone (@Rep. Frank Pallone)1543590070.0
Environmental organizations were outraged at the news and vowed to fight the action.
"Just one week after issuing dire warnings on the catastrophic fallout of climate change to come, the Trump Administration is opening our coastlines to for-profit companies to prospect for oil and gas—and is willing to sacrifice marine life, our coastal communities and fisheries in the process," said Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement provided to EcoWatch.
"This is the first step towards drilling and scientists warn that seismic activity alone could drive the endangered North Atlantic right whale to extinction. We'll stand with citizens, coastal businesses, scientists, lawmakers, and commercial and recreational fishermen who oppose seismic blasting, and we will fight this illegal action," Jasny added.
North Atlantic Right Whale Population Dips Below 450 After 'Deadliest Year' Since Whaling Era https://t.co/2XFXL2yu0z @environmentca— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1507338049.0
Seismic airgun blasting has been proposed within the same main range of imperiled North Atlantic right whales. According to Bloomberg, the IHAs will block surveys during the calving season for the critically endangered species.
The companies that won the permits are: TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. Asa; Schlumberger Ltd. subsidiary; WesternGeco Ltd., CGG Services US Inc.; Spectrum Geo Inc.; and a unit of ION Geophysical Corp.
The five companies still must secure permits from the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before they can start, but those are expected under President Donald Trump's plans for "energy dominance," Bloomberg reported.
Seismic data has not been gathered in the mid- and south-Atlantic regions, from northern Florida to Delaware, for at least 30 years. In January 2017, the Obama administration denied six permits to conduct seismic surveys, concluding that airgun blasting was too risky.
But Trump signed an executive order in April 2017 to aggressively expand offshore drilling in America's publicly-held coastal waters. The order also called for a "streamlined permitting approach for privately funded seismic data research and collection."
Greenpeace USA climate director Janet Redman condemned the Trump administration's anticipated approval of seismic blasting in the Atlantic.
"This is exactly how you push climate change past the point of no return," Redman said in a press release. "The Interior Department can still stop this madness, but they need to hear from every single person who is worried about climate change and every leader in Congress who claims to care about the future. Seismic testing is the first step toward economically devastating oil spills and climate disasters like flooding up and down the Atlantic coast. Stopping seismic testing is a must."
The U.S. government released a report that warned climate change could kill thousands of Americans each year and sl… https://t.co/hV9Me7Imgu— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543333511.0
Lawyers with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) were similarly outraged by the news, noting that more than 200 local governments along the Eastern Seaboard have passed resolutions against offshore drilling and seismic testing. At least a dozen states have voiced opposition to offshore drilling.
"Permitting seismic blasting in the South Atlantic is completely out of touch with Southeast communities, business leaders, and elected officials who have consistently and overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling and the seismic blasting that precedes it," said Catherine Wannamaker, an SELC senior attorney, in a press release. "Seismic surveys not only pave the way for offshore drilling that no one wants here, but they also endanger whales, dolphins, and fisheries, and threaten coastal economies. Communities up and down the coast have made clear they do not support seismic blasting in the Atlantic, and they will continue to fight the Trump administration turning its back on them."
Following today's announcement, Oceana launched a new interactive map that displays near real-time activity of apparent seismic vessels in the so-called "Blast Zone." Anyone can use the "We're Watching" map, which uses the technology of Global Fishing Watch, to track the vessels.
"If these companies are allowed to begin seismic airgun blasting, our map gives the public near real-time access to the precise locations of vessels so that they know when, where and if these activities begin off our coast," Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, said in a provided statement. "This interactive map is a powerful tool in the fight to protect Atlantic communities from offshore drilling."
The red outline on the map refers to the "Blast Zone"—the area at risk of new seismic airgun blasting.Oceana
Note: This post has been updated to include Oceana's map and statement.
- Seismic Blasting Devastates Ocean's Most Vital Organisms ›
- Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence - EcoWatch ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Amy McDermott
Eels and anchovies don't look or act much alike. One is sinuous and shy, the other a bright flash of silver in a school of thousands. Yet the two fish are cousins, both loaded with zinc.
Related fish species—like eels and anchovies—have similar nutritional value, according to a new study in Nature Communications. Two fish can be wildly different on the outside but surprisingly similar on the inside, if they're close on the tree of life.
"There's a shared evolutionary history in the ocean," said food security scientist Bapu Vaitla, who co-led the new study at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, with evolutionary biologist David Collar at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
Turns out, shared evolutionary history is a road map to the patterns of vitamins and minerals fanned through the tissues of fish worldwide. That's a juicy tidbit for researchers studying the links between fish and human health. The specific blend of nutrients in a fish determines how people are nourished when they eat that species.
More than 3 billion people depend on fish for about one-fifth of the animal protein they eat. It's a staple food in dozens of countries, that offers calories, protein, fats and essential micronutrients like iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin A.
Not all fish are the same, though. Cod is much lower in zinc than anchovies, while salmon and trout are fattier than flatfishes, and higher in vitamin D than mackerels. Each species has its characteristic mix of nutrients.
Knowing that mix tells scientists how fish nourish people. It's valuable information, but not cheap or easy work.
Analyzing the nutrient content of one tissue sample costs several hundred to several thousand dollars, said Oceana science adviser Chris Golden, who heads the Harvard research group responsible for the new study. It takes multiple samples, sometimes collected around the world, to build a complete nutrient profile for a species.
Nutrient profiles do exist for hundreds of fish species, but thousands are nutritionally important, Vaitla said. "We couldn't collect samples all over the world, so we needed to predict nutrient content somehow."
The species people eat can say a lot about global health. Oceana / Jon Dee
A Living Mosaic
The oceans are a patchwork of unevenly distributed nutrients. Vaitla and his research partners expected that fish with similar lifestyles, that develop in similar conditions and habitats, would probably be exposed to similar challenges and opportunities, and so be nutritionally alike.
But when the scientists looked across 371 food fish species, they found that body size, preferred habitat and other lifestyle characteristics were not good predictors of nutritional similarity. Instead, genetic relatedness turned out to be key.
"It's not totally unsurprising," said marine ecologist William Cheung of the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, who was not involved in the new study. Evolutionary relationships click as predictors of nutrition, he said. "Sometimes in science, when someone tells you the answer, you think, ah yes, that's true, that makes sense."
Yet, Cheung said, if he had undertaken the same research, he would've tested lifestyle characteristics first, too. He and Vaitla were both surprised that body size, habitat and other lifestyle characteristics didn't seem to play a role. Vaitla hasn't ruled them out. Repeating the study with more species of fish, he said, could reveal a pattern between lifestyle characteristics and nutrition in the future.
Food for Thought
That related fish are nutritionally similar may not be surprising, but it is useful. Scientists can now predict the vitamin and mineral content of fish species without tissue samples, based instead on their evolutionary relationships.
Predictions could come in especially handy now, as many marine species relocate in response to global change. As they move, they carry their distinct mix of vitamins and minerals with them, exposing fishermen and coastal people to a new mix of nutrients in the fish they eat. When new species move in, they may have different nutritional value from the old staples, exposing communities to risk of malnutrition.
"When we're worried about things like climate change or pollution or overfishing and how its affecting human health, the question amounts to knowing the nutrient landscape out there and how these environmental changes alter that landscape," Vaitla said. "If we're able to know that, we can say things like climate change will impact the availability of iron to this extent, and for these people."
To avoid anticipated risks, communities might curb commercial fishing or set aside marine protected zones, Vaitla said. But first, they need a way to see what's coming. "Evolutionary history," he said, "gives us a shortcut to paint the nutrient landscape out there."
By Joshua Learn
Whether southern resident killer whales, North Atlantic right whales or Maui's dolphins, a handful of cetacean species are facing the prospect of a slow-motion extinction they can't breed their way out of.
It's easy to point the finger at humans, either directly or indirectly, for causing the crisis. But each of these species is dealing with a unique set of problems including boat strikes, bycatch where they become unintentionally entangled in fishing gear, low food supply and toxic chemicals.
"They are all anthropogenic issues, but they're all very different issues," said Renee Albertson, a cetacean biologist at the Marine Mammal Institute of Oregon State University in Newport.
One major, and shared, obstacle in their path to possible recovery: a slow reproduction cycle.
"If you can't reproduce effectively or efficiently, that's just going to make the problem worse," Albertson said, adding that slow breeding in these long-lived animals is "hard to overcome" by species also suffering from a variety of challenges to survival.
Long lives and slow breeding mean that, some of these species could go extinct within a decade, though it might take others a couple human generations.
A Bevy of Problems
Many cetaceans face challenges. But for a handful of species or populations, the situation has become particularly dire.
The decline of southern resident killer whales in the inland waters around Washington state and southern British Columbia, is still partly a mystery. The population is now at a 30-year low likely due to a combination of problems, including increased noise and overcrowding from boat traffic, and an influx of toxic chemicals in their aquatic ecosystem.
Another major concern is the drop in the chinook salmon the orcas depend on, prompted in part by overfishing and the damming of fresh waterways that the fish need for spawning, according to Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, a postdoctoral researcher at the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
She said that southern residents are down to around 74 individuals, with the population losing a critical newborn this past summer. "That is the lowest it has been since 1975, following the large capture of killer whales for marine theme parks like Sea World," Meyer-Gutbrod said.
On the East Coast, ship strikes in U.S. and Canadian waters may have been responsible for some of the 17 North Atlantic right whales known to have died in 2017. The population did not breed a single calf over the winter season of 2017 to 2018. Only 451 individuals remained as of late 2016.
17 Critically Endangered Right #Whales Died in 2017—The Time for Systemic Change Is Now @EcoWatch @… https://t.co/K5sUieMFq5— WildAid (@WildAid)1514838060.0
"It's almost a cliche to talk about how tough things are getting," said Sean Brillant, a senior conservation biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation who works with North Atlantic right whales. According to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, adult females could number less than 35 by 2067.
"We'll certainly be around to watch these things go extinct," he said.
Off the coast of New Zealand's North Island, Maui's dolphins are down to a few dozen individuals, due in part to entanglement with fishing nets and trawling equipment. Vaquita porpoises in the Gulf of California number less than 30 individuals, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and could be as low as 12. Many experts say vaquitas are almost certainly doomed at this point, due to bycatch from illegal fishing. "The vaquita is just something we've ultimately failed at," Albertson said.
Other cetaceans with slow birth rates, like sperm whales and Bryde's whale, also face problems in the world's oceans, Brillant said, but many of them are hard to find and track in the deep oceans.
A Slow Response
Scott Baker, a whale and dolphin researcher and associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, said the problem many cetaceans face began centuries ago, with large-scale whaling. He added that North Atlantic right whales have yet to recover from the decimation of those times, for example.
But some species have managed remarkable recoveries. Meyer-Gutbrod pointed to Eastern Pacific gray whales, which have doubled in numbers in the past 50 years, she said. Albertson said she's seen huge increases in the populations of humpbacks in the western Antarctic Peninsula, partly due to warming waters from climate change.
The legacy of whaling still haunts many species. Some, like humpbacks in the western Antarctic, breed quickly. Relatively fast reproduction has sped their recovery, scientists say.Napong Suttivilai / Oceana
The major difference is that these whales reproduce relatively quickly, giving birth to a new calf every one to two years, compared to every three to four years, on average, for North Atlantic right whales or southern resident orcas, Albertson said.
Hope on the Horizon
While slow breeding is a significant challenge, the good news is that some of these whales are long-lived, meaning they have more time to reproduce. Brillant said the failure with right whales and southern residents is in managing human activity. Better instituted laws and regulations, he said, could offer a chance at recovery.
Twelve out of the 17 right whale deaths last year were in Canadian waters. In part, Meyer-Gutbrod said this was due to an "unexpected habitat shift" into the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence, which lacked protections to protect whales from ship strikes or fishing gear.
But Canada responded very quickly, she added, reducing fishing gear in the water, requiring large ships to slow down in whale areas and rerouting others. "Fishing and shipping regulations are very effective in reducing mortalities and giving the species a chance to recover," she said, but noted that these regulations can also negatively affect fishing and shipping industries. "Therefore, maintaining adequate protections for this species is an ongoing political battle."
Many cetaceans in trouble are slow-breeding and long-lived, but Brillant stresses that their slow reproduction is not the ultimate problem. "I almost wonder if we fall into the danger of trying to find the most convenient excuse for why these animals are having a hard time," he said.
North Atlantic right whales' low reproductive rates, for example, might actually be a secondary effect of the stress of living close to people in the U.S. Northeast and Canada, Brillant said. The whales' southern counterparts in the Mid-Atlantic live off a quieter, less populous coast, and have higher birth rates, he said.
While long-lived species may have a better chance at recovery down the road, their slow birth rates make success difficult to track. It can take decades to tell if conservation measures are successful. "If we stop killing right whales tomorrow, we won't be able to measure if that had an effect on the population for 10 years," Brillant said.
"The next generation will know whether we made the right choices."
The "New Plastics Economy Global Commitment," spearheaded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was "cautiously welcomed" by some environmental groups, who say the initiative does not go far enough to halt the planet's mounting plastic crisis.
The pledge was signed by more than 250 businesses, governments and other organizations around the world, under a vision of eliminating unnecessary and problematic plastics, as well as building a circular economy for the material. It sets a 2025 target to make 100 percent of all plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable or compostable.
The announcement was officially unveiled at the start of the fifth-annual Our Ocean Conference in Bali, Indonesia. The signatories—which also include L'Oreal, Walmart, PepsiCo, SC Johnson, plastics producers Amcor and Novamont, the governments of Austin, Texas, the UK, Chile and more—will report on their progress annually. Their targets will be reviewed every 18 months and will become increasingly ambitious over time.
Today we announce the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. Over 250 businesses, governments and other organisati… https://t.co/f7S0emusdY— New Plastics Economy (@New Plastics Economy)1540799271.0
In a press release, UNEP head Erik Solheim called the global commitment "the most ambitious set of targets we have seen yet in the fight to beat plastics pollution."
The commitment is supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and is endorsed by the World Economic Forum and The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents about 400 retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, and 40 universities, institutions and academics.
"This Global Commitment is a step-change we urgently need in order to move from a linear to a circular economy. We want to act and lead by example. We will do our part to ensure that none of our packaging, including plastics, ends up in the natural environment," Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider said in a press release emailed to EcoWatch.
Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Danone were recently identified as some of the world's biggest producers of plastic trash in global cleanups and brand audits organized by Greenpeace and the Break Free From Plastic movement.
"While elements of the EMF Global Commitment are moving in the right direction, the problem is that companies are given the flexibility to continue prioritizing recycling over reduction and reuse," Greenpeace Indonesia global project leader Ahmad Ashov said in a statement provided to EcoWatch. "Corporations are not required to set actual targets to reduce the total amount of single-use plastics they are churning out. They can simply continue with business as usual after signing the commitment."
"Our recent report 'A Crisis of Convenience,' reveals that 11 of the largest consumer goods companies' current plans allow them to increase their use of single-use plastics and none have set clear elimination or reduction targets," Ashov added.
Greenpeace is calling on the signatories to deliver on all of the following actions:
- Set ambitious and accountable targets to reduce single-use plastics.
- Act immediately to eliminate excessive and problematic plastic packaging.
- Prioritize investment in reuse and alternative delivery systems.
- Embrace transparency and report annually on their plastic footprint.
Oceana similarly said that "recycling and vague promises are not enough to solve the plastics crisis."
"I hesitate to even call today's corporate announcements a step in the right direction. Plastic pollution has grown into a major global crisis for our oceans, and it threatens our health. To have an impact, these companies must reduce the amount of single-use plastic at the source—in the factory—before it gets to consumers," Oceana chief policy officer Jacqueline Savitz said in an emailed statement.
"It's not rocket science," Savitz continued. "Our grandparents lived without plastic and these companies must discontinue their unnecessary use of plastic. Every company that signed the declaration should commit to a meaningful, time-bound and specific percent-reduction of the amount of plastic it is putting into the market, and to find alternative ways to package and deliver its products. A circular economy is a nice utopian idea, but this crisis is unfolding today, and we need to see meaningful commitments to end the plastics crisis these companies have created."
Pavan Sukhdev, the president of WWF International, commented that "the plastics crisis can only be solved with the combined efforts of all key players in the system."
"WWF therefore endorses the The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment as we consider it an important step forward to join the efforts of businesses and governments around the world towards system-wide solutions," Sukhdev concluded.
The Complex and Frustrating Reality of #Recycling #Plastic https://t.co/biv2TMR4WI @PlasticPollutes @PlasticOceans— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1540616418.0
By Allison Guy
When Hugo Arancibia Farías was a child, his mother, like most mothers in central Chile, visited the weekly market to buy common hake, a white-fleshed relative of cod. She usually served it fried, Arancibia recalled with relish. "It was very cheap," he said, "and very popular."
Nowadays, hake is more expensive than beef. "It is too much for a family," said Arancibia, a fisheries biologist at the University of Concepción in central Chile. The reason is simple economics: The scarcer a resource, the more expensive. After a devastating population crash in the mid-2000s, Chile's once-common hake have yet to recover.
After years of blaming the collapse on an influx of predatory squid, Arancibia said, fisheries officials recently wised up to the real culprit: a vast tide of illegal fishing, much of it from artisanal fishers. If the illegal hake catch can't be reined in, experts say, Chile stands to lose its most important artisanal fishery, a cultural touchstone—and a pretty tasty fried fish.
Smaller Fish to Fry
Common hake, called merluza in Spanish, is to Chile what cod was to New England. But unlike hulking cod, hake's not much to look at, at least not anymore.
In the seafood market in Caleta Portales, a fish landing site in the central Chilean city of Valparaiso, hake are the little guys heaped among monstrous cusk eels and seabream as big and flat as dinner plates. The little hake have skinny, tapering bodies, big heads and bugged eyes—the result of gas expansion as the fish were yanked up quickly from ocean depths.
Hake weren't always so runty. They used to be bigger at maturity, by several centimeters. But nowadays, because of overfishing, there aren't many big fish left. Most hake in Chilean waters are juveniles, and the adults are getting smaller as they race to reproduce before they're caught.
The first ripples of overfishing stirred in the 1990s, as Chile poured its national energies into economic growth after the end of a two-decade military dictatorship. Fisheries policies encouraged the rapid expansion of an industrial, export-oriented fleet, with little thought to sustainability. "The attitude was to produce, to exploit, to overexploit," Arancibia said.
The free-for-all didn't last. In 2001, the government reigned in overfishing with a quota system, which set annual catch limits for hake, but unevenly split the number between industrial and artisanal fishing groups.
At first, it seemed like the quotas might work. In 2002, officials estimated that 1.55 million metric tons of hake swam in Chile's seas, a sharp jump from 600,000 metric tons the year before. An optimistic quota was set. But the next survey, in 2004, found just 270,000 tons of hake—20 percent of the fish's historical abundance.
"It was catastrophic," Arancibia said.
The missing million tons of hake, fisheries officials and many scientists said, had been sucked down by burgeoning populations of Humboldt squid, an abundant open-ocean predator that can weigh up to 90 pounds. Arancibia rejects that line of reasoning. The squid's other prey—mackerel, sardines, anchovies—hadn't plummeted along with hake. He places the blame solely on overfishing.
Since then, hake have barely improved, although you wouldn't know it by government catch limits. Fisheries officials upped the fish's quota in 2014, and again in 2017, turning a blind eye to the continued overfishing.
Small Boats, Big Woes
Hake is far from the only fish in trouble in Chile. Of the country's 43 fisheries, around half are struggling, with nine depleted or collapsed. To address this, Chile passed a sweeping fisheries law in 2012, which was implemented the following year.
"Quotas were cut in half from one day to the next, but the number of artisanal fishermen stayed the same," said Liesbeth van der Meer, the head of Oceana in Chile, who worked in the fisheries sector for 6 years. Restrictions on fishing might have been good for the hake if the law hadn't caused widespread resentment among small-scale fishers, or if its rules had been enforced.
Shockwaves from the quota cuts rippled up and down the coast. Politically powerful artisanal unions in places like Caleta Portales historically used strikes and protests to get their quotas upped. But the new fisheries law stipulated that quotas could only be set and changed by a scientific committee. Other fishers from smaller "caletas"—the beaches or docks where fish are offloaded—felt bewildered by seemingly sudden and unfair rules.
The quotas weren't divided evenly, either. Chile's 92,000 artisanal fishermen got 40 percent of the country's total catch. The industrial fleet, which is owned by just seven wealthy families, took the remaining 60 percent.
The law also carved up coastal waters into restricted blocks for each caleta. Fishermen from these beaches or docks had traditionally shared their fishing grounds during times of scarcity, said Eugenia Orgaz, a fisherwoman who's been netting hake and other species since the 1970s.
Orgaz lives in Caleta Horcon, a fishing village an hour north of Valparaiso, where draught horses are still used to haul boats from the water. But with the 2012 restrictions, the traditional spirit of cooperation suffered, Orgaz said. She suspects that big industry is trying to destroy fishers like her.
Eugenia Orgaz, on the far right, has been fishing since the 1970s. Claudia Pool / Oceana
Take It to the Limit
Orgaz respects hake catch limits and the yearly September closures for hake spawning, but other fishers are less scrupulous. Because hake remains Chile's most important artisanal fishery, many small-scale fishermen face a choice between earning money and breaking the law.
Given weak law enforcement and low fines for breaking the rules, it's not surprising that many choose the latter. While the artisanal fleet is assigned 40 percent of the hake quota, Arancibia estimates that they're landing 75 to 77 percent of the total catch.
"Illegal fishing sinks any recovery plans we have," van der Meer said. "It's gotten out of hand." Oceana is calling for better monitoring of illegal fishing in Chile, extending hake's closed season from one month to three and increasing the fish's minimum legal catch size.
Small-scale fishermen do share some responsibility for hake's sorry state, said Oscar Espinoza, the president of Chile's National Organization of Artisanal Fishers. But he has a different outlook on how to bring back his country's favorite fish.
Middlemen buy most artisanal hake, taking a big chunk of fishermen's potential profit, Espinoza said. They should be cut out of the supply chain, so fishermen can sell directly to restaurants, grocers and consumers. Chileans need to demand legal hake too, Espinoza added. Because illegal fish is cheaper, it creates unfair competition between fishermen who follow the rules and those who don't.
Espinoza would also like to see industrial hake fishing eliminated. Artisanal fishers have exclusive access to the zone from the shore out to 5 nautical miles; after that, they must compete with the industrial fleet. Their sophisticated gear and high catch levels are "in no way comparable" to those of their small-scale counterparts, Espinoza said. For him, the industrial fleet is "nearly totally" responsible for the hake crash.
After a collapse that's stretched on close to two decades, Arancibia doesn't have much faith in new laws. "We must change the culture of the fishers," he said. He declined to guess how. "It's an issue for the sociologists, the anthropologists," he said.
Arancibia might actually get his wish for a culture change, although not in a way that's likely to make anyone happy. The artisanal fleet is graying. Young people are lured away by better-paid, safer and more stable jobs.
Most fishers are in their 50s and 60s, a recent survey found, and don't want their kids to follow in their footsteps. Orgaz shares this outlook. She's happy that her son, who works in construction, didn't pursue the family business. "Your children don't belong to you," she said.
Chile's common hake are several centimeters shorter at maturity than they once were. Mauricio Altamirano / Oceana
As for Orgaz, she hopes to keep fishing until she dies. With her, and fishers like her, the traditions around hake and other native seafoods might disappear too.
By Allison Guy
When Carlos Castro was young, he didn't plan on following his dad and granddad into fishing. Like a lot of teenagers in the 1970s, Castro dreamt of kung fu. Bruce Lee was more his style than the family business.
Castro swam laps to shape up back then, dodging boats in the bracingly cold bay of Valparaiso, a port city in central Chile. Forty years later, he still plies those waters, driving one of the boats he used to swim past. Castro, a youthful 56 in white trainers and Nike gear, became a fisherman after all.
Every morning, Castro unloads his catch at Caleta Membrillo, a fishing dock in Valparaiso's iconic port. The waterfront there is lined with seafood restaurants and a fish market that buzzes with activity beginning well before dawn. This city may look like a mecca for local, artisanal seafood, but looks can deceive.
In truth, Chileans don't eat much wild fish from Chile anymore. Even in Valparaiso's waterfront restaurants, there's no guarantee that what you're eating was locally caught, let alone within a day's boat trip of the city.
A small but growing locavore movement is changing things little by little, and reviving Chile's long-neglected ties to native seafood. After decades of decline, renewed interest in responsible, boat-to-plate seafood could be a game changer for the country's struggling artisanal fishers.
Valparaiso sprawls across the hills behind Caleta Membrillo's dock. Allison Guy / Oceana
Up a steep hill overlooking Valparaiso's bay, snapshots of local fishers, including Castro, decorate the walls of the new restaurant Tres Peces, or Three Fish. One warm March evening, curious diners trickled in during the restaurant's soft opening.
Meyling Tang, one of Tres Peces' three owners, spoke over appetizers of sea urchin, octopus and pebre, Chiles' ubiquitous salsa-like condiment, here peppered with diced bull kelp. The inspiration for the restaurant was simple, she said. "There was nowhere good to eat seafood in Valparaiso."
Tres Peces serves fish from 40 artisanal fishing cooperatives across Chile, and guarantees a market for the less-popular species that wholesale buyers often turn down. In turn, the restaurant gets top-quality products that haven't been subject to Chile's notoriously unsanitary and crime-ridden supply chain.
It's risky to open a restaurant that only sells seafood from small-scale Chilean fishers, Tang admitted. For a country that has more sea than land, wild seafood is surprisingly unpopular in Chile.
The country has 4,200 kilometers (approximately 2,610 miles) of coastline, and is the fifth-most productive fishing country in the world. Chileans, however, eat just 13 kilos (approximately 29 pounds) of seafood a year, 7 kilos below the global average. Most fish, wild or farmed, is exported, or is ground up as feed supplements for the country's enormous salmon farms. Imported tilapia has supplanted native hake as a favorite fish for Chileans.
It wasn't always like this. Chileans have rich culinary traditions centered on the hundred-plus edible species in the nation's waters, from seaweed and snow crab to "piure," a bottom-dwelling invertebrate that looks like a cross between a human heart and a moss-covered rock.
Overfishing takes a big share of the blame for the drop-off in wild seafood consumption. As hake and other popular species declined, their prices shot up. Availability is also an issue. Outside of coastal towns and specialized seafood markets, it can be hard to find any fish that didn't come from a farm.
Tang and her colleagues at Tres Peces are longtime advocates for sustainable small-scale fishing in Chile. The foundation they work with, Cocinamar, supports sustainable fishing and seafood consumption. "The restaurant was a chance for us to put our money where our mouth is," she said. It also serves as a community space.
Fishermen like Castro come to give talks about their lives. Events bring free local seafood to Valaparaiso's streets. It's a chance not just to connect diners to the source of their seafood, but to deepen fishermen's pride in their work. Tres Peces is "not only a restaurant," Tang said. "We teach about responsible fishing. We tell stories."
For Gustavo Sandoval, a chef from Puerto Varas in southern Chile, the biggest hurtle to a local seafood movement is public perception. There are plenty of affordable Chilean fish that go ignored. A lack of promotion and education, Sandoval explained, means that people think fish is prohibitively expensive.
Sandoval is no stranger to promoting Chile's fish. He's a mainstay in local and national seafood fairs, and appeared four times on the cooking show Reyes del Mar, or Kings of the Sea, on the Chilean public television station TVN. Next year, Sandoval plans to open a sea-focused sandwich shop, with most of the fish sourced from artisanal Chilean fishers.
All the fish-focused effort from chefs across Chile is having an effect, Sandoval thinks. Things are changing, he said, but slowly.
Piure, true to its looks, can be an acquired taste. Claudio Almarza / Oceana
The Imitation Game
As of late May, things had changed in at least one place. Tres Peces was open full-time and business was brisk. A critic for the prominent newspaper La Tercera called it one of the year's best new restaurants.
Promisingly, other chefs had approached Tres Peces asking for its seafood suppliers—a trade secret Tang was happy to share. "With one restaurant, you can't make a change," she said. "We're just a pilot. We hope others will copy us."
Since Tres Peces opened, Castro has seen an important change too. He used to go home after selling his morning's catch. Now, he has a second shift delivering to Tres Peces and other restaurants in Valparaiso. The extra work means he's earning a better and more stable living.
There's still a long way to go. Fish populations are slipping, Castro said, and artisanal fishermen feel squeezed by Chile's wealthy industrial fishers, who have larger, more powerful ships and a bigger share of the country's fish quota. Young people by and large have turned away from a life at sea, leaving older fishers worried for the future of their way of life.
But becoming a bit of a local fishing celebrity has given Castro a fresh outlook on his work. He's not a kung fu master, but there are some perks to the job. He loves the sea and the contact with nature, he said. "Every day is an adventure."
Hand-gathered bull kelp, or cochayuyu, is a traditional ingredient in stews and salads. Claudio Almarza / Oceana
On World Animal Day, we celebrate all the furry, scaly, winged and finned creatures that inhabit our planet.
On this international day of action, participants aim to "raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe," according to organizers at the UK-based charity Naturewatch Foundation. The occasion was first celebrated in 1925 and is observed annually on Oct. 4.
Roughly 1,000 World Animal Day events, including educational workshops, adoptions, marches and fundraisers, will be held across 100 countries. Folks around the world are also making pledges, such as using cruelty-free products or going vegetarian or vegan to help make a positive difference.
At EcoWatch, animal conservation is a major priority. Animals not only inspire wonder and awe, but as important parts to the ecosystems they inhabit, biodiversity loss puts the environment and human well-being at risk.
The following list shows some of our most popular animal-related content in the past year. These five stories highlight the threats faced by creatures great and small, from pollinator deaths to "trophy" hunting. On a positive note, the list features conservation success stories, brave feats of activism and includes ways you can help protect animals in your everyday life.
1. EPA Considers Allowing Bee-Killing Pesticide to Be Sprayed on 165 Million Acres of U.S. Farmland. This Dec. 2017 article by the Center for Biological Diversity reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had considered allowing the bee-killing pesticide thiamethoxam to be sprayed on the most widely grown crops in the U.S. This harmful neonicotinoid pesticide has long been known to pose serious harm to bee populations, as well as birds of all sizes and aquatic invertebrates.
- What you can do to help: The Xerces Society, a non-profit invertebrate conservation society you should consider supporting, has a number of recommendations to protect pollinators from neonicotinoids, from avoiding pesticide use around your home and asking your local nursery to stop selling the products.
2. Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise. A census of mountain gorillas showed that their population rose from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016, thanks to dedicated conservation efforts. The mountain gorilla subspecies is the only great ape known to be increasing in number.
- What you can do to help: The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund recommends asking your lawmakers to continue to support the Great Ape Conservation Fund, as well as recycling cell phones and electronics, as they contain metals that are mined from gorilla habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The fund also suggests looking for sustainable palm oil, wood and other eco-friendly products, as gorilla forest habitats in Asia are being deforested for their resources.
3. Father and Son Charged With Killing Mother Bear and 'Shrieking' Cubs in Den. In April, a father and son from Palmer, Alaska shot and killed a mother black bear and her two "shrieking" newborn cubs in their den. The hunt took place on state land but the topic of trophy hunting has reignited under the Trump administration, which is proposing to overturn an Obama-era rule that protects iconic predators in Alaska's national preserves. The plan would allow hunters to go to den sites to shoot bear cubs and wolf pups, lure and kill bears over bait, hunt bears with dogs and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou.
- What you can do to help: The proposed rule, which is posted in the federal register, is still accepting comments until 11:59 p.m. EST on Nov. 5, 2018. Make your voice heard!
4. Notorious Toothfish Poacher Arrested by Liberian Coast Guard, Assisted by Sea Shepherd. In March, an infamous Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish poaching vessel was arrested in Liberia with the assistance of Sea Shepherd, a marine conservation group.
- What you can do to help: Donate to Sea Shepherd, which has been patrolling the high seas and enforcing conservation law worldwide for more than 40 years. There are countless other non-profits such as Ocean Conservancy, Oceana and Surfrider Foundation that help protect our oceans and save the lives of aquatic life, dolphins, seals, whales and fish.
5. House Republicans Launch Extinction Bills to Cripple Endangered Species Act. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives initiated yet another attack on the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity reported that the move was among the 75-plus legislative attacks that have been launched against the Endangered Species Act ever since Trump took office—and more than 300 since 2011, when Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives.
- What you can do to help: The Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Nixon in 1973, is one of the most successful wildlife conservation laws in the world. More than 99 percent of species covered under the law have been saved from extinction. Protect the law from becoming extinct itself by telling Congress that you support the law and oppose any efforts to weaken it. You can also sign these petitions from Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
By Amy McDermott
At the height of the Alaskan summer, a troupe of students hiked up the middle of a shallow creek. Undergraduates and grads from the University of Washington, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Kamchatka State Technical University in eastern Russia carried handheld clickers to count the multitudes of salmon thrashing upstream to spawn. Some of the students spoke English, others Russian, but they all came to see salmon: fish that their two countries share.
Five species—sockeye, coho, pink, chum and chinook salmon—live in the freezing ocean between the U.S. and Russia, and swim up rivers in both countries to reproduce. Even though some fish spawn in Alaska and others in the Far East, they ultimately seed the same stock in the Bering Sea. It sits at the top of the North Pacific, the largest, most valuable and most abundant wild Pacific salmon fishery in the world.
Salmon are enormously economically important to both Russia and the U.S. They contributed $406 million to Alaska in 2016, according to the state's Department of Fish and Game. And in Kamchatka, salmon in the Kol Refuge pull in $981 thousand to $3.7 million annually, with ecosystem services from the fish and their habitat estimated at $784 million to $2.38 billion, according to the Wild Salmon Center in Portland, Oregon.
Despite so much on the line, Russia and the U.S. rarely coordinate management efforts and research is largely siloed, said fisheries ecologist Megan McPhee, an associate professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. "Because of the language barrier," she said, "there's a lot of research that goes on without the other side knowing about it."
That's where the students come in. From June through August, budding fisheries scientists from both sides of the Pacific live and study at a rustic field camp near Bristol Bay. It's part of a summer field course, taught jointly by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Washington and Kamchatka State Technical University, and championed by the World Wildlife Fund in Anchorage. Hiking up creeks to count salmon is one way to learn the ropes, and to lay the foundation for future collaboration.
"The idea is to build greater understanding of the similarities and differences in management on both sides of the Bering Sea," McPhee said. It's "an opportunity to learn from each other."
Students and professors walk Hansen Creek, a tributary of Lake Aleknagik near Bristol Bay, to count and measure living and dead salmon.John Simeone on behalf of WWF
Mind the Gap
There is plenty to learn on both sides.
"The Russians have a lot to offer," said Milo Adkison, a fisheries professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks who teaches the field course. "They're excellent naturalists and do a lot of research on salmon," which is often complimentary to research in the U.S., he said. For instance, Russian scientists were the first to realize that steelhead and rainbow trout can interbreed, even though steelhead spend their adult lives at sea, while rainbow trout live in fresh water.
Russia, too, might learn from Alaska's model of salmon management. Bristol Bay saw the largest sockeye salmon run in its 125-year commercial fishing history this summer. "I'd argue that means our methodology is pretty successful," said biologist Tim Sands, who manages the salmon fishery on the west side of Bristol Bay. "I think a lot of people look to the way we do things here, because it's working."
When students come over from Kamchatka, they also get an education in Alaska's salmon culture, which borders on obsession. Salmon festivals punctuate the summer, and fish motifs feature heavily in local art. "Obviously it's a source of food and income," McPhee said, "but I think it's also tied up in the identity of many Alaskans."
The same is not true across the Bering Sea, she said, where salmon are less of a touchstone, likely because Kamchatka was historically a Soviet military outpost, and even today people tend to keep to the city. Yet, coastal far-eastern Russians and Alaskans face parallel challenges. They both have abundant salmon habitats threatened by mineral and fossil fuel development, and they're both limited by the language barrier. The hope for Russian and North American students is a future that embraces their common ground.
Elena Zhelezniakova, an undergraduate at Kamchatka State, encircled by sockeye (top). The fish swim up Hansen Creek in summer. John Simeone on behalf of WWF
The University of Washington and University of Alaska have offered field courses near Bristol Bay for years. But it's only since 2016, with the help of funding from the World Wildlife Fund, that they've brought in students from Kamchatka. A handful have spent summer weeks living in bunk houses, attending lectures and field trips and working through homework assignments with U.S. peers.
Biologist Sands, who oversees the local salmon fishery, occasionally guest lectures for the field course, but isn't formally affiliated with the program. He sees potential for students to learn from one another, and one day, to build better fisheries. "We do things the way we do things, and we don't necessarily change," Sands said. "But when you interact with professionals from other places … you can get ideas about how maybe we could do something a little different."
Students from both countries can be shy at first, especially with language skills, said John Simeone with the World Wildlife Fund in Anchorage. Walls crumble as they work through homework assignments and shared meals, he said. "Early on the barriers seem hard, and by the end they're hugging each other and sad to see each other go."
The hope is that friendships evolve into professional collaborations, as participants grow into leaders of salmon conservation. McPhee and a professor from Kamchatka are already joining forces on an educational curriculum that includes the most important salmon studies from both sides of the Bering Sea.
For students hiking Alaska's shallow creeks, their pant legs sopping, the summer was an immersive education. Salmon was just one part of it. Knowingly or not, they were also laying the foundation to bridge the divide across the Bering Sea.
Students wade into a pool of the creek, which can be as shallow as ankle deep, to count and measure living and dead salmon.John Simeone on behalf of WWF
By Amy McDermott
Picture someone fishing, and a woman probably doesn't come to mind. Men are the face of fisheries work, even though women are its backbone in much of the world.
That's more than unfair. Excluding women overlooks half the workforce, and all the fish and shellfish they pull out of the water. Ignoring such a sizable chunk of fishing sets communities up to overexploit their resources, according to a 2006 study from the University of British Columbia. It's a recipe for overfishing and ocean depletion.
In the Tuvalu Islands, for example, a government initiative to restore edible sea snails failed because it only consulted men. Women also harvest the snails, and continued collecting them as usual, unknowingly trouncing the restoration effort.
Female fishers have deep knowledge of the seafoods they catch and the rhythms of the beaches where they work, often passed down matriarchal lines. They have strong incentives to manage natural resources sustainably, experts say, but first they need a seat at the table.
This scene in Mozambique is familiar in small-scale fisheries around the world, where women walk the shallows with nets or poles, catching fish and mollusks. OCEANA / Ana de la Torriente
Pull Up a Chair
A glut of factors conspire to silence women in fisheries. Overt sexism is part of the problem, but sometimes exclusion is subtler. It can come down to definitions of fishing.
Around the world, men and women often catch seafood in gender-specific ways. Men tend to work in deeper water with specialized fishing gears, while women walk the shallows catching fish and shellfish at low tide, according to a 2013 study. Traditionally, men's work was considered fishing, the study said, while women were marginalized as collectors or gatherers.
Reasons for fishing also split along gendered lines. Women often work to feed their families, while men focus on lucrative species to sell, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
In societies where women manage the home and children, they may not have time to come to male-organized meetings, even if they are technically allowed, according to a study by economist Bina Agarwal at the University of Manchester, England. Social norms can also keep women quiet, in deference to men, if they do attend meetings.
In southwest Madagascar, for example, women walk the reef flats at low tide, collecting octopus with spears or rebar, while men dive for larger octopus and more valuable species in deeper water. Eighty-six percent of women harvest octopus, compared to 31 percent of men. Yet men, especially elders, dominate decision-making for the octopus fishery in village meetings, according to a 2013 study by the UK-based marine conservation group Blue Ventures.
"While some women do attend these meetings," authors Kame Westerman and Sophie Benbow of Blue Ventures wrote, "most do not have the time, desire, or support of their husbands and families."
Domestic demands pull women into fishing, and ironically, also lock them out of decision-making.
Those same household responsibilities also make women good stewards of their environment, Agarwal wrote, because they depend on natural resources day-in and day-out. In the rural forests of Gujarat, India, for example, women collect firewood daily for household chores and cooking. Men cut timber more sporadically. They can wait longer for felled trees to grow back.
It's women, villagers told Agarwal in 1995, who can't afford a depleted environment.
Preparing fish in Fiji, where women often catch dinner Amy McDermott
Lifting All Voices
Fisheries management is better when women are included. At the most basic level, that's because women are half the population. No decision reflects a community's reality without them.
Empowering projects are underway around the world.
In the Pacific Islands, Fiji's Ministry of Fisheries hosted a national forum last year to recognize and empower female fishers. A second meeting convened this May, where some women said they now raise concerns in village meetings.
In Sri Lanka, a project empowering women to restore badly-damaged mangrove habitats aims to bolster fisheries fringing the island. More than 7,000 women across 1,500 poor coastal villages trained to plant and tend mangrove saplings, in return for small loans at low interest to start their own businesses. The women keep an eye out for illegal clearing, which they report as part of the program. Empowering women as stewards of the mangroves aims to restore the forests, which provide critical nursery habitat for the island's subsistence fisheries, but have been largely cut down for development.
Efforts like these chip away at inequity, though progress toward fairness is slow. Women remain largely voiceless in fisheries in much of the world. Think how the oceans might change, what potential, if women were free to unleash theirs.
Collecting shells on Bantayan Island, the Philippines. Empowering women in fisheries management, experts say, is one way to safeguard abundant oceans. Candeze Mongaya
New Seafood Sustainability Report Ranks 15 Foodservice Companies https://t.co/O4dT39sriL @BusinessGreen @GreenCollarGuy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508880009.0
By Amy Mcdermott
Wars are coming. They will begin with fish. Or so it would seem, as swirling schools of little bass and other seafood species dart across political lines this century.
Fish will cross unprecedented political boundaries by 2100 because of climate change, according to a recent study in the journal Science. Seventy or more countries will share new fisheries in the next 80 years, the study found, as fish relocate in response to ocean warming. Schools that once swam off a single nation will straddle two, sprawling across political borders they didn't cross before.
Countries will learn to share quickly or fight.
"When fish move across political boundaries, we're not good at sharing initially, or even for decades," said Malin Pinsky, an ecologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey and Oceana science advisor, who led the recent study. "That causes conflict to erupt."
Fights over fisheries are nothing new. French scallop fishermen lobbed rocks and smoke bombs at British boats off the Coast of Normandy last month: the latest in their 15-year battle over scallops (with tensions dating back at least 200 years). Iceland, Norway and the European Union have such bad blood over mackerel that Iceland withdrew its bid to join the EU in 2015. The U.S. and Canada are forever beefing over cod. But the speed and scale of change this century is unprecedented, experts say, and could have resounding political and environmental aftershocks.
"These problems might start in fisheries, but they often spill out beyond fisheries as well," Pinsky said. Bickering about fish has been a top cause of armed conflict since World War II. Consider the headline-making row between French and British fishermen last month, whose anger boiled down to disagreement about who can fish where. It's a spark that can ignite militarization when maritime borders are poorly defined, and countries are competing for a limited resource, according to one analysis.
If those countries get grabby, they can overexploit the fishery. Imagine two people facing a delicious piece of cake, Pinsky said, each suspicious that the other won't share. Both will lunge and "eat as much as they can, quickly," he explained. "In some ways, that's what's happening with fish."
Future feuds seem likely, but fish wars aren't guaranteed. Looking across countries that have shared well in the past, and countries that haven't, patterns of good behavior do emerge. Trust, cooperation and smart planning point the way to a less conflicted future.
Build Trust Early
Sharing seems like standard good behavior. Indeed, people—and governments—can be great sharers, with a little time to warm up to the idea.
Consider the Pacific island nations of Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the Federated States of Micronesia: eight tiny countries that cooperatively manage the largest tuna fishery in the world. "They've built trust amongst each other over 30 years," said Kate Barclay, a marine social scientist at Australia's University of Technology Sydney.
Trust pays dividends in a complex cap-and-trade scheme for the region's skipjack tuna. It works like this: Every year, all eight countries agree how many days, total, commercial skipjack fishing will be allowed in all their waters. That's the whole pie, of which each country gets a slice—an allocation of days, which they can sell to foreign vessels for single-day fishing access, typically at a cost of $10,000 to $14,000 each, said lawyer Transform Aqorau, who pioneered the management system.
Trust comes into play because skipjack tuna don't hang out around every island every year, meaning some countries will sell out of fishing days, while others won't. In this system, the islands that sell out of days first just buy unused days from their neighbors. So even though the fish are unevenly spread in the water, everyone profits.
"There's been a great appreciation for a long time, by these small island nations, that they need to work together to achieve their mutual ends," said fisheries scientist Johann Bell of the University of Wollongong, Australia, and of Conservation International. Licensing fees paid by foreign fleets can account for as much as 80 percent of government revenue, he explained, "so they've got a huge stake in this."
And because there's a cap on fishing days available—the whole pie for all the islands—skipjack aren't overfished. Of course, there is some quibbling between countries over their allocation of days, Aqorau said, but overall, it's a successful system.
More countries will confront the question of sharing this century. The Pacific Islands are managing well, because they built trust early. At the broadest level, Rutgers' Pinsky said, avoiding fish wars "is about building trust before there's a crisis."
Don't Benefit at a Neighbor's Expense
Knowing that skipjack migrate, "the Pacific Islands could have said OK, well it's the luck of the draw, boys," Bell said. "If it's in your country you make a lot of money that year. If not, you don't."
Instead, small neighboring nations worked together to their mutual gain.
Thousands of miles north, in the considerably colder waters of the Barents Sea, Russia and Norway cooperatively manage another migratory fish: cod. While cod may be the poster child of overfishing in North America, it's thriving across the Atlantic.
Barents management worked where North America's failed, because Russia and Norway follow science-based catch limits set by a joint fisheries commission, wrote biologist John Waldman of Queens College New York, in Yale 360. The United States and Canada, on the other hand, managed cod independently in most places. The two countries just lunged for it.
Today in the Barents Sea, whether cod fishermen are Russian or Norwegian, they're free to fish off either country. When cod migrate, fishermen can follow. Neighbors don't shut each other out to get ahead.
Common decency may seem motivation enough, but altruism isn't necessarily a good foundation for policy, points out sustainability scientist Jessica Spijkers, a co-author of the recent Science study and doctoral student with the Stockholm Resilience Center and James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. Selfless ideals don't hold up well, she said, when a country's people are desperate, or in crisis.
For Norway, Russia and the Pacific Islands, playing nice benefits their neighbors. But more importantly, cooperation benefits themselves, more than going it alone. Lofty ideals might bring some countries to the table, but self-interest keeps them there. It's when neighbors feel stepped on that sharing breaks down.
Think Like a Fish: Without Borders
There are no walls in the ocean. Fish swim freely. Managing them as though they adhere to political lines sometimes doesn't work.
North American cod were overfished, for example, in part because Canada and the United States generally managed their fish separately on either side of the border. Overfishing is easy when one country has total control, Waldman said. Whereas, when two countries share responsibility, one side always keeps an eye on the other. In the Barents Sea, by contrast, cod are managed as one regional population. The same is true for skipjack in the Pacific.
Managing wild fish like, well, wild fish, makes a lot of sense, said Stockholm's Spijkers, but expanding management to international, regional scales is also challenging. One way to do it, she said, would be to create one international fishing fleet, that targets all the commercial species in a region. Then divide up that catch by country.
"Fish are so regional, I would say the fleet should be as well," Spijkers said. "That would be just brilliant."
Other resources, like rivers and forests also span borders, and in general, countries are better at sharing those than they are at sharing fish, Spijkers said. Part of the reason fisheries still cause such conflict is because the oceans are huge, hard to study and until recently, fish were considered an infinite resource. That Wild West mentality is finally changing, she said, and none too soon, as fish relocate this century.
"Shifts will happen. It's a reality, at least according to the models," Spijkers said. "It's time to start thinking about what we can really do, before these things erupt and become gridlock."
- Assessing Seafood Retailers' Progress Helps Consumers and Industry ›
- For Thousands of Peruvian Families, the Road Out of Poverty Is ... ›
By Amy McDermott
Behind the scenes at the California Academy of Sciences, baby potbellied seahorses roamed a tall, bubbling tank. They used their prehensile tails to cling to seagrass and to one another. The babies were small and slim as a finger, but as adults, they'd grow that eponymous potbelly, and wobble about, on display in the Academy's Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco.
When a keeper approached the tank, the youngsters rushed to the glass, then swam up to the surface, expecting a meal. These fish were living the good life.
They were the lucky ones.
Worldwide, seahorses are in trouble, threatened by habitat loss, and sold in a massive global trade. Scientists say this can't go on, or seahorses will severely decline. But existing conservation efforts may not be enough to save them.
Researchers estimate that 37 million seahorses are taken from shallow, lush coastal waters every year, mostly ensnared by indiscriminate fishing gear. Southeast Asia and West Africa are the main regions exporting them. More than half of captured seahorses end up dead, dried and sold internationally for use in traditional medicines thought to boost virility and even cure impotence. A small percent are plunked into home aquariums, or sold as kitschy souvenirs.
Twelve seahorse species are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, one step down from endangered. An additional 17 species are understudied, and listed as "data deficient." Two are endangered.
In 2002, an international treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, responded to mounting concerns by tightening trade restrictions on all 44 species of seahorse. But scientists say that existing measures don't go far enough.
In the decade after the restrictions took effect, tens of millions of seahorses still died worldwide because of nonselective fishing. Millions were still sold around the world. Between 2005 and 2015, the U.S. imported roughly 140,000 live, wild-caught seahorses through Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle alone, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.
To make matters worse, many of the fishing methods to catch seahorses also destroy their habitats. Overfishing is just one part of a much larger issue. Despite legal protection, life keeps getting harder for these unusual fish.
Researchers measure dried seahorses from shops in Viet Nam. Hoang Do Huu / Project Seahorse
A Beastly Problem
Victor Cheng leaned across his office desk, in a small business park, in San Jose, California. He poured over a thick Chinese medical encyclopedia, hunting for "hai ma" or seahorse.
Cheng, a graduate of UC Berkeley and UCLA, practices traditional Chinese medicine in California, and at Shuguang Hospital in Shanghai. When he found "seahorse" in the encyclopedia, he translated the entry. The first records of their medical use appeared about 2,000 years ago, he read, in a Daoist tome, the Baopuzi. They are typically soaked in alcohol, or boiled as a tea, to ostensibly increase sperm count and activity.
While Chinese medicine has a two thousand-year history with seahorses, Cheng said that today, they "are far from commonly used herbs." Seahorses are used recreationally and superstitiously, he said. "I don't even think they stock them in major hospitals in China."
That's not to say that seahorse doesn't work, Cheng added. But they are a folk remedy, like a supplement from a vitamin store. A doctor would prescribe something more potent, like seal's penis, he said.
Despite the seahorse's folk status, traditional medicine still fuels the majority of global demand. To understand why, consider the size of China's population, and its health care system, Cheng said. China is home to more than one billion people. Imagine if just 1 percent bought a single seahorse every year. That would still add up to 14 million animals.
And folk remedies, while sometimes suspect, remain popular because health care is especially unpleasant in China. To make social services affordable, doctors are paid very little. "That doesn't attract top talent to the industry," Cheng said. Rather than visit a doctor they don't trust, rural people head for prestigious (and crowded) urban hospitals, to see a physician with a good reputation, he said. They can wait in long lines for hours, even sleeping on the floor, before being seen. Locally available treatments, like seahorses, are an appealing alternative.
But medical demand isn't the whole story. The problem is much bigger, researchers say. Because, it turns out, most seahorses aren't caught on purpose.
These seahorses, imported from Thailand and photographed in Hong Kong, sell for $70 (left) and $80 (right) per 50 grams. That's roughly $4 to $6 per animal in this case, estimated Lily Stanton of Project Seahorse.Anita Wan Hong / Project Seahorse
The Wrong Catch
Most fishermen don't set out to supply the traditional medicine market. They snare seahorses accidentally, using indiscriminate trawl nets, gill nets and crab traps, while angling for other creatures, said marine scientist Sarah Foster of the conservation group Project Seahorse. Bycatch would be thrown away as trash fish if not for medicinal demand.
"So even if we weren't using seahorses, they would still be caught and killed," Foster said. That makes it unfair to blame traditional medicine for seahorse declines, she added. "It's the overexploitation by non-selective fishing gear that's the problem."
Bycatch hurts seahorses both directly and indirectly: It kills millions a year, while destructive fishing gear damages their habitat by mangling fragile ecosystems, Foster said. The weighted trawl nets that snag these fish also rip up the seabed, along with the grasses, rocks and corals that seahorses cling to.
Perhaps most insidiously, bycatch keeps wild seahorses cheap — at least for now. Fishermen can sell them for very little. They'd otherwise be thrown away, after all. Prices are marked up as seahorses move from local ports to distributors, and into herbal shops worldwide. And as these animals become rarer, demand may drive the cost up further, meaning they'll just get more expensive.
Boxes of loose tea, bags of roots and other natural products line the shelves of herbal shops in San Francisco's Chinatown. Bins of animal and plant-based products are filed neatly beneath glass counters. Dried seahorses used to be common. You could buy them by the scoopful.
Nowadays, questions about seahorses are met with hesitation or silence. Seahorses are gone — or at least, less visible — in Bay Area markets.
Importers now need special permits to sell any non-native species, so shop owners have a much harder time stocking their shelves with seahorses legally. The permits, which have been required since seahorses were listed on the treaty CITES in 2002, certify that any species for sale were caught without harming wild populations, meaning herbal shops can't sell bycatch anymore.
Following permitting requirements, most of the major exporting countries banned seahorse trade. Thailand, the biggest producer, voluntarily suspended its exports in 2016. Ninety-six percent of the global trade is now illegal.
"A decline in reported trade looks like a good thing on paper," Foster said. "But that does not reflect what's really happening." Between 20 and 25 million dead, dried seahorses are still moving across borders every year, she estimated, largely from the same countries as before. Trade bans forced the industry underground, but it's still massive.
"Now we're talking about illegal wildlife trade," Foster said. Desiccated seahorses have a long shelf life and are easy to hide in suitcases. They're shipped illegally, so they don't have permits, making the black market much harder to track.
But even if the trade bans had worked, seahorses would still be dying in droves, because most are killed unintentionally by fishing gear. Regardless if seahorses are traded legally or illegally, Foster said, "what matters is how many are coming out of the water."
More selective fishing gear is one broad solution. "They need to stop trawling," Foster said. "We need much more of the ocean set aside, where these gears are not being used."
As conservationists push for long-term international solutions, aquariums, zoos and private businesses are exploring another option: captive breeding. Learning to farm seahorses, breeders say, offers a glimmer of hope for their future in the wild.
Ninety-six percent of the international trade is now illegal, but seahorses are still sold widely on the black market. Hoang Do Huu / Project Seahorse
Farming the Future
Today, most imported seahorses are wild-caught. But alternatives, like captive breeding, do exist. Farming is especially promising for the pet and aquarium trades, where captive-bred specimens gained popularity after wild ones became harder to buy.
The baby potbellied seahorses that crowded the glass at the California Academy of Sciences, for example, were born and raised in captivity thousands of miles from their native Australia.
Steven Yong sat behind the scenes at the Cal Academy, in a bright conference room framed by sleek, sliding-glass doors. Yong is the Studbook Keeper and Species Survival Program Coordinator for lined seahorses, native to the Eastern Seaboard. It's his job to know the pedigrees kept in every American Association of Zoos and Aquariums facility, and to play matchmaker by recommending which lineages should breed.
Seahorses, he said, are challenging to rear in captivity, because babies, called fry, rarely survive to adulthood. "Tiny fry need tiny food," he said. In lieu of fish flakes, most aquariums feed their seahorses brine shrimp, which are small and relatively inexpensive, but offer limited nutrition. Facilities like the Academy are growing other live food options, to mimic the dietary diversity seahorses get in the wild.
Captive breeding is one promising way ahead for seahorses, but it may not be enough. Peter Vanbillemont / Guylian Seahorses of the World
While aquariums "try to limit our wild collections," Yong said, breeding programs are still far behind those for land animals or even freshwater fish. Scientists don't know enough about many wild populations to bring them into an aquarium setting. But some day, aquarists like Yong hope to breed imperiled seahorses, so they aren't taken from the ocean.
Across the Pacific in Hawaii, Australia and Sri Lanka, seahorse farms have already cropped up. Carol Cozzi-Schmarr has raised seahorses in Kona, Hawaii, since 1998. Her farm, Ocean Rider, supplies 30 species to the pet trade and for global conservation.
"We did it to provide an alternative to taking seahorses out of the ocean," she said. "If we weren't preserving the species, no one would ever see them again." Today, Schmarr said Ocean Rider is large enough to supply the pet trade with thousands of seahorses a year.
Even so, captive breeding is unlikely to be widespread or cost-effective enough to supply the much-larger traditional medicine market, Project Seahorse's Foster cautioned. Schmarr, Foster and Yong emphasized the whole picture of bycatch, lingering market demand and habitat loss as a tangled, wicked problem. Yong questioned if captive breeding can ever really put a dent in seahorse woes. "They still have so many pressures that are causing their decline in the wild," he said.
Until fishing changes, farming won't be enough.
The seahorse trade may have moved underground, but demand, bycatch and habitat loss continue to threaten these whimsical fish.Luc Eeckhart / Guylian Seahorses of the World
The baby potbellied seahorses in San Francisco were a minority—most seahorses aren't so lucky. If global trends continue, some species could disappear from the wild entirely; museums might be the last places to see these charismatic little fish. Captive breeding and farming may help, but imagine, despite the vastness of the oceans, the last of their kind all born behind glass.
- Giraffe Parts Sold Across U.S. Despite Plummeting Wild Populations ›
- Sydney's Endangered Seahorses Find Protection in Underwater Hotels - EcoWatch ›