By Emily Petsko
Update, Nov. 7: Brazilian authorities named a Greek-flagged vessel as the culprit of the oil spill, but backtracked on Wednesday when they announced that four other suspected tankers were also being investigated. Three of the crude-carrying vessels are owned by Greek companies, and the fourth suspect is owned by a Belgian company, according to Reuters.
Update, Nov. 4: Brazilian and international media are now reporting that fragments of oil have reached the Abrolhos Marine National Park. This story is still developing.
One by one, the golden beaches in northeastern Brazil have begun to turn black. Thick clumps of oil have been washing ashore since late August, killing marine animals, threatening the livelihoods of coastal communities and tainting 2,500 kilometers of coastline spanning nine Brazilian states. Once-pristine beaches now look like something resembling a Rorschach inkblot test. And the complex root systems of carbon sink mangrove forests have become polluted mazes.
This oil spill is one of the largest environmental disasters in Brazil's recorded history — and for months, no one knew where it was coming from. The Brazilian government has responded with delayed action and defensiveness, first blaming neighboring Venezuela for the spill while also suggesting that Greenpeace was somehow involved. President Jair Bolsonaro's tactic is familiar: He previously accused environmental groups of setting fires in the Amazon rainforest, without any supporting evidence.
Brazilian investigators now say that a Greek-flagged vessel hauling Venezuelan oil is the culprit, according to the latest reports. The ship reportedly spilled oil 700 kilometers from Brazil's coast in late July while traveling to Singapore.
"There is strong evidence that the company, the captain and the vessel's crew failed to communicate with authorities about the oil spill/release of the crude oil in the Atlantic Ocean," prosecutors said, according to The Guardian.
While the mystery appears to have been solved, this environmental crisis is far from remedied. It took exactly 41 days for Bolsonaro's administration to enact a national plan from 2013 that specifically outlines how to address large oil spills in Brazilian waters.
Ademilson Zamboni, vice president of Oceana Brazil, said the government must apply the plan while also investigating the source of the spill, calling the incident "very serious." Some fear that the oil could soon reach the country's largest coral reef, located within the Abrolhos Marine National Park. The Abrolhos region is home to the largest biodiversity in the South Atlantic.
A colorful coral within the Abrolhos Marine National Park. Shutterstock / Leo Francini
A report released by the Brazilian Navy says that over 1,000 tons of oil have already been removed from beaches in the region. Without a coordinated federal response, citizens have had no choice but to take action themselves, putting their own health at risk. Volunteers, some in their bare feet, have been using shovels and their gloved hands to scoop and remove oil deposits. In one striking photograph, a 13-year-old boy, coated in oil and wearing a plastic garbage bag, is seen wading through waist-high waters off the coast of Pernambuco. He said he and his relatives had just wanted to help.
Volunteers remove oil from Jardim de Alah Beach in the state of Bahia. Shutterstock / Joa Souza
The problem extends far beyond the shore, too. "It is easy to clean up oil from beaches, but not from mangroves and rocky shores," Zamboni says. "And the longer it remains in these places, the worse the damage it causes. The main problem is that we do not know how much oil is yet to arrive. And it may last a long time."
This is exactly the type of disaster that Oceana and its allies have worked hard to prevent. Just weeks ago, environmental advocates successfully convinced companies that the risk of drilling for oil off the coast of Bahia, a state in northeastern Brazil, was too high. When the government attempted to auction off four oil fields near the Abrolhos Marine National Park, the would-be bidders fell silent. Oil industry analyst Adriano Pires told the Associated Press that companies "didn't want to get themselves in the middle of an environmental mess."
A dead turtle on a beach in the Brazilian state of Ceará. © OCEANA / José Machado
Drilling in that area has been averted for now, but the fight continues to stop offshore drilling in Brazil and many other countries where Oceana works. Spills such as the one now coating Brazil's coast — and approaching the very area just spared from drilling — also prove that other steps must be taken to protect our oceans.
Better transparency at sea, for example, could help identify the individual ships responsible for oil spills. "If vessel tracking — useful for both fishing and oil — were in place all over the world, we could have more clear information," Zamboni says.
But until that happens, and until the Brazilian government takes decisive action to stem the spill, once-beautiful beaches will continue to turn black.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Oceana.
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By Emily Petsko
For many, the end of October evokes images of falling leaves or Halloween's ghosts and ghouls. But those of us focused on oceans also know October as National Seafood Month.
Oceana works to save the oceans and feed the world, and we can't do that without sustainable seafood. We help our oceans thrive by promoting fishery policies that follow science-based quotas, reduce bycatch, put an end to overfishing and protect fragile habitats. These tactics not only help marine life flourish — a win in its own right — but also ensure that our oceans can continue to nourish the people who need it most.
Seafood is an indispensable part of many people's diets, livelihoods and cultural traditions. This is especially true for populations that don't have access to an alternate source of healthy, affordable protein. In recognition of National Seafood Month, here are five ways that seafood can sustain and support communities around the world.
1. Seafood can provide a healthy source of protein to a growing population.
Right now, 821 million people around the world are living in hunger. This problem isn't likely to disappear anytime soon, especially with the population projected to grow by 2 billion people over the next 30 years. But by ensuring that fisheries are managed sustainably, and within scientifically sound parameters, we can restore ocean abundance and put enough fish in our waters to feed a sizable portion of the planet. If we look after our oceans properly and avoid overexploiting their resources, they could provide a nutritious meal every day for 1 billion people.
2. Seafood could fill the micronutrient void that exists in many developing countries.
Enough fish are caught in many developing countries to nourish their populations, and yet malnutrition remains a persistent problem. How can this be? A team of researchers, including Oceana Science Advisor Dr. Eddie Allison, found that the fish being caught in tropical countries are chock full of important micronutrients — including calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, omega-3 and vitamin A — but they don't always end up on local people's plates. That's because much of the catch is exported, sometimes for the sole purpose of being churned into fishmeal and fed to carnivorous farmed fish like salmon, which are ultimately consumed by people in higher-income countries.
This has consequences for both local people and the economy. "A lack of fish-derived nutrients has been found to have a large effect on public health, notably infant mortality and hence GDP," Oceana Board Member and fisheries scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly wrote in a response to the study, which was led by Dr. Christina Hicks. That's why, when we consider the benefits of seafood, it's important to also consider who has access to those benefits.
3. Seafood tends to be a low-carbon food, so it reduces the strain on the environment.
Compared to land-based animal proteins like beef and pork, wild-caught seafood has a significantly lower carbon footprint (as long as it's not being carted around the planet by plane). Plus, it requires virtually no fresh water or arable land to harvest it. At a time when concerns over habitat destruction and climate change are growing, it's more vital than ever to rethink our global food systems.
A recent report from the High Level Panel for A Sustainable Ocean Economy suggested that climate change could be mitigated, in part, by shifting global diets towards plant- and ocean-based options. "Food from the sea, produced using best practices, can (with some notable exceptions) have some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein produced of all protein sources," the panel wrote.
4. The fishing sector provides jobs to millions of people — half of whom are women.
Women and children fish in Pemba, Mozambique. © OCEANA / Ana de la Torriente
Roughly 120 million people work in capture fisheries around the world. Over 95% of those people live in developing countries, and nearly half of them are women. Although fishing is typically viewed as a "masculine" occupation, many women make a living by spearing octopus, digging for clams, diving for abalone and packing and processing seafood. This industry is particularly important in small island nations. In Palau and Seychelles, for instance, 10% to 50% of their GDPs may be derived from fisheries, according to Forbes.
5. Fisheries are vital to many Indigenous coastal communities.
Indigenous peoples eat roughly 2 percent of all the seafood caught annually around the world, according to a 2016 study written by Dr. Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor and co-authored by Dr. Pauly. Considering that Indigenous groups comprise just 5% of the global population, their seafood consumption works out to be 15 times higher than that of non-Indigenous peoples.
So what exactly does this mean? As the study's authors put it: "Marine resources are crucial to the continued existence of coastal Indigenous peoples, and their needs must be explicitly incorporated into management policies." Canada's revamped Fisheries Act, which was championed by Oceana and our allies, is a good example of how this can be achieved. The new version of the Act recognizes Indigenous knowledge and states that the Minster of Fisheries and Oceans has a duty to consider any adverse effects that decisions may have on Indigenous peoples.
Fish at a market in Punta Gorda, Belize. © OCEANA / A. Ellis
From coastal communities to octopus fishers to people living in the tropics, it's clear that millions of people around the world depend on abundant oceans. Of course, when we talk about the benefits of seafood, sustainability is an important caveat. Overfishing and destructive fishing methods are still ravaging marine habitats, rendering them less capable of providing for people's nutritional needs in the future. That's why, when you select a fish from a restaurant or your local supermarket's seafood counter, it's important to check the source. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a helpful tool called Seafood Watch that simplifies the process.
Want to learn more about how Oceana is helping to save the oceans and feed the world? Visit their campaign page here.
Reposted with permission from our media partner Oceana.
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By installing solar panels, homeowners can curb their dependence on traditional utilities, reducing their monthly electric bills while also minimizing their environmental impact. Of course, solar energy is more viable in some places than in others; it's best suited for homeowners who live in areas that get ample sun exposure. And the Lone Star State is certainly on that list.
In fact, a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, shows that Texas installed the second-most solar in 2020 and the most in the first quarter of 2021. And some municipalities have gone especially heavy on solar power. So, what are the top cities for solar in Texas? Let's find out if your city made our top 10 list.
Top 10 Cities for Solar in Texas
To rank the top cities for solar in Texas, the EcoWatch team took into account reports furnished by the SEIA, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's solar irradiance maps, and Environment America's most recent Shining Cities report among other data points.
Based on our findings, these we've determined the following cities to be Texas' top 10 solar energy hubs:
- San Antonio
- El Paso
- Fort Worth
- Round Rock
San Antonio is a sun-soaked city, so it makes sense that local home and business owners have invested heavily in harnessing the sun's power. We rate San Antonio as No. 1 among the top cities for solar in Texas, and there's plenty of evidence to back that up. In terms of total installed solar capacity, San Antonio ranks first in the state and fifth in the nation, according to Environment America. (First in the nation? Los Angeles.) It also boasts more than 50 watts of solar energy per person, one of just 38 cities in the nation to earn this distinction.
The Austin community is well-known for environmental activism and advocacy, and with residents' investments in solar energy, they're really putting their money where their mouth is. Like San Antonio, Austin boasts more than 50 watts of solar energy per person.
Thanks to its average of 302 days of sunshine annually, El Paso is nicknamed the "Sun City" — and it's taking advantage of its weather with over 54 MW of solar capacity installed. A lot of this comes down to significant solar installations built into the city's municipal infrastructure, including solar arrays on the main library and other government buildings.
A sprawling metropolitan area with ample exposure to sunlight, Houston has an impressive commitment to solar power. In terms of total installed solar energy capacity, the city is in the top 20 for the entire nation, falling just behind New Orleans and just in front of Boston in Environment America's latest Shining Cities report.
Fort Worth is home to some of the state's top solar companies, making it easy and relatively affordable for local homeowners to make the jump to solar power. The general Dallas-Fort Worth area tends to be a standout solar power hub, both at state and national levels.
Likewise, Dallas boasts an impressive level of solar investment. In the Shining Cities report of the nation's most prolific solar builders, Dallas ranks at No. 43 in the nation, just behind Cincinnati.
Located north of Dallas, Plano is in prime "Sun Belt" position. The city boasts a solid (and growing) solar infrastructure, earning it a place on our list. According to NREL's solar irradiance maps, Plano has some of the highest potential for residential roof-mounted solar power generation in the state.
This central Texas town just north of Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. As the population expands, so does its commitment to clean, renewable energy. NREL maps show Round Rock is located in a part of the state with above-average annual solar power generation potential and a high number of buildings suitable for solar installation.
Though it's not as sizable as some of the other municipalities on our list, Bruceville-Eddy has a surprisingly robust solar infrastructure, allowing homeowners to harness the renewable energy of the sun. In fact, in the latest Shining Cities report, Bruceville-Eddy was reported as No. 1 in the state for per capita photovoltaic solar installation.
Rounding out our list is Tyler, located east of Dallas near the Texas-Louisiana border. Homes in Tyler represent a not-insignificant portion of the state's solar energy potential, according to NREL. The area has a high number of solar-suitable buildings and high roof-mounted solar potential in terms of both capacity and generation.
Where Solar Panels Work Best
There are a few different factors that can make a city particularly well-suited for solar energy. One is exposure to sunlight; consistent, year-round solar exposure is common throughout Texas, which explains why the Lone Star State has so many major solar-producing and solar-ready hubs.
Average Texas Electricity Costs
Another factor to consider? High energy costs. As a general rule, when local electrical costs are higher, the value of solar power increases. By contrast, if electrical costs are already low, the benefits of going solar tend to be more modest.
In 2019, the average monthly electric bill in Texas was just over $134, according to the EIA. This is considerably higher than surrounding states, including Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The relatively high cost of electrical power makes Texas well-positioned for maximum solar benefits. Also note that the average monthly electric consumption was 1,140 kWh; again, this is higher than in neighboring states.
Texas Solar Tax Incentives
One reason some cities stand out over others for solar installations is that local utility companies offer rebates to help with the cost of solar panels. In addition to the federal tax rebate, which we'll explain in a moment, Texas homeowners should to aware of the following incentives:
|Solar Energy Incentive||Details|
|Statewide Property Tax Incentive||State law includes a property tax exemption for solar installations. Basically, this means installing solar panels increases the value of a home without increasing property taxes.|
|City-Specific Utility Incentives||Local utilities offer additional savings opportunities to residents of many cities across the state.|
Net Metering in Texas
Net metering programs allow solar users to take any excess energy their panels produce and sell it back to a local utility company. Currently, there is no statewide net-metering program in Texas, though some municipalities offer it to local utility users.
Homeowners are encouraged to check with their utility companies to see if they can get energy credits for any surplus solar energy they feed back into the electrical grid. Most of the best solar companies in Texas will also help you identify and apply for any tax breaks and rebates you're eligible for.
Federal Solar Tax Credits
As for federal programs, there is currently a 26% tax credit available for homeowners who install solar panels before 2023. In 2023, that incentive is set to lower to 22%, and it is scheduled to drop off completely in 2024.
Texas Solar Regulations
Statewide regulations also play a part in how and where Texans can install residential solar panel systems.
One regulation relevant to solar installation is Texas HB-362, which states that homeowners associations cannot ban solar panels within their community outright. However, homeowners must still go through their HOA's normal architecture review approvals process.
The Texas Property Code gives HOAs some specific grounds on which they can prohibit homeowners from installing solar panels, including:
- Instances where the solar installation is a threat to health or safety
- Installations that impede on public property or common areas
- Installations that extend higher than the roofline
- Installations that are ground-mounted but extend above the fence line
Final Thoughts: Top Cities for Solar in Texas
Did your city make our list of the 10 top cities for solar energy in Texas? If you want to raise your area's solar profile, one of the best ways is to install a solar panel system on your roof. You can also contact your local and state legislators to urge for ambitious city- and statewide renewable energy goals that will drive Texas toward more solar power in the future.
By Amy McDermott
Canned tuna is a staple in my pantry, and probably in yours. Americans and Europeans buy more of the squat little cans than anyone else, importing almost a million tons in 2018. Supermarkets carry at least 20 brands.
Yet, the fish we buy for $1.50 also dominates headlines as a creature in crisis because some tunas are badly overfished. It's natural to wonder if any canned option is a sustainable choice.
Pick one with "pole and line" scrawled across its side for fish without a side of guilt, said Adam Baske, who specializes in tuna policy for the International Pole & Line Foundation or IPNLF, in London.
Pole and line refers to an ancient, artisanal fishing method that supplies about 10 percent of the world's canned tuna today, mostly from the western and central Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. It doesn't have the bycatch issues plaguing other gears, that accidentally snare and kill millions of tons of marine life every year, and it's more labor intensive, meaning it creates more jobs.
Reel Good Fish
Trot around a supermarket, and sooner or later, you'll pass a wall of tuna cans. Grab one that says pole and line and feel yourself transported from the fluorescently-lit grocery aisle to the breezy waves of the tropics.
Fifteen fishermen stand shoulder to shoulder on a fishing boat, each holding a long pole, strung with a line and lure. They cast into an ocean simmering with tuna, and jerk fish out of the water one by one, flinging them into the back of the boat.
"Tuna just start flying through the air," Baske said. "It's exhilarating, it's thrilling."
Since the fishermen catch one tuna at a time, and pull them onto the boat right away, there's little chance to hook unintended sharks, sea turtles and diving seabirds. The few that do bite fishermen's hooks are set free before they drown.
Compared to other fishing methods, like longlines and drift gillnets that can discard more than half of their catch, pole and line is much cleaner. It hooks 1 to 2 percent bycatch in the western and central Pacific, the largest tuna fishery in the world, said Peter Williams, a fisheries scientist with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community or SPC, a regional development organization in New Caledonia. In the Maldives, pole-and-line bycatch is less than 1 percent.
That's one reason the gear is so sustainable—another is the type of tuna it hooks.
Of the seven commercially-important tuna species (albacore, bigeye, skipjack, yellowfin, Atlantic bluefin, Pacific bluefin and southern bluefin), pole and line catches mostly skipjack, and some albacore, both of which have largely healthy stocks. It's the most sustainable method catching the most sustainable tunas.
Yellowfin and bigeye are also canned, but their populations are overfished in some parts of the world, so they're not such great choices. And then there are the bluefins, the major tunas to avoid. All three bluefin species are threatened, and two are endangered or critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. Bluefin are huge, powerful, lightning fast and driven to the brink by their popularity in sushi. You're unlikely to find them in the canned aisle.
Choosing a simple can of tuna can be daunting when you consider where the fish was caught, the status of wild stocks and which gear landed dinner. Wouldn't it be nice to have a simple answer? Tuna won't let you off the hook so easily, but a little digging turns up some straightforward takeaways.
Finding "pole and line" on the side of the can is the most instructive marker. In the Maldives, this kind of fishing dates back centuries, and remains the country's most important fishery, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
"Unlike a lot of other places in the world, being a fisherman is a great job in the Maldives," Baske said. "People are proud to be fishermen and want their sons to be fishermen. The fishery provides quite a bit." Most of the pole-and-line-caught skipjack in U.S. supermarkets comes from 15 to 20-man operations in places like the Maldives, Baske explained.
Maldivians eat a pound of fish a day on average, the highest per capita consumption in the world. Seventy-one percent of the population's protein comes from fish, and every other staple food is imported.
Other Pacific countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands also depend on tuna for food, said Williams of SPC. "Most of the catch from these countries are from small-scale artisanal fisheries," he said, making tuna key to their food security.
The circles on the map above, from IPNLF, represent pole-and-line fisheries around the world. Color corresponds to size, with green fisheries landing less than 4,999 tons per year, orange between 5,000 and 49,999 tons, and blue weighing in at more than 50,000 tons annually. Only the Maldives, Indonesia and Japan are blue.
The Old Ways
Despite its benefits, pole and line is antiquated compared to industrial gears. Of the 2.5 million metric tons of tuna (worth $5.84 billion) hoisted from the western and central Pacific Ocean in 2017, just 6 percent came from pole and line, a historic low driven by the rise of more efficient gears in the 1960s.
Purse seiners now catch the vast majority of skipjack in the region: 79 percent in 2017. They're much more efficient than pole and line, catching 50 to 100 times the tuna in a single encircling, purse-shaped net, Baske said.
Dead bycatch from purse seiners averages between 1 and 5 percent around the world, depending if and how fishermen attract tuna to the area. While that's dramatically lower than gillnets or longliners, and only a tiny fraction are sharks (less than 0.5 percent by weight), vulnerable silky sharks are disproportionately affected. They are a slow-breeding, fish-eating species that hunt near the nets and account for more than 90 percent of purse seine shark bycatch. A quarter of all the silkies caught worldwide die in the purse seine fisheries of the western and central Pacific, according to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.
The silky shark's predicament has some parallels to threats dolphins faced a few decades ago. If you bought tuna in the 1990s, you probably know the dolphin-safe label: a small, round badge guaranteeing dolphins didn't die in the fishing process. Millions drowned back then, herded into nets with yellowfin. Laws changed in the intervening years, and today the vast majority of canned tuna sold in the United States is dolphin-safe, a certification enforced by NOAA Fisheries. Tuna should still have a dolphin-safe label today, but almost all of the canned brands do.
Silky sharks don't have a label on tuna cans, nor do the sea turtles, seals or albatrosses dying in droves in industrial fishing gear. The side of the can is your best guide today.
Buying pole-and-line-caught tuna supports sustainable fishing around the world. Here, Arnold Baranutu and Dennis Manuel display their catch, hooked by pole and line, in Bitung, Indonesia. IPNLF
Look for clearly-labeled skipjack or albacore, marked pole-and-line-caught. The safest bet is the cleanest method, even if pole and line supplies a tiny fraction of the tuna on grocer's shelves.
"I don't think it's necessarily realistic to say it will supply all of the world," Baske said. But artisanal fisheries that catch tuna one at a time, he said, "can, and should, make up a bigger part of the global supply chain."
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By Joshua Learn
Sharks, rays and chimaeras are some of the most threatened fish in the world. More than 50 percent of species in the Arabian Sea are at elevated risk of extinction due to coastal development, overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction. According to an expansive new study, spanning more than a dozen countries, species like sawfish are particularly hard hit with extinction or local extirpation.
"Populations have significantly declined," said Julia Spaet, a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge University and a coauthor of the new study, published recently in Fish and Fisheries. Unregulated fishing and habitat degradation are largely to blame, she said, exacerbated by limited political will and regional capacity to address the problem. The new study's conclusions are based on data from fishing markets in countries around the Arabian Sea, including India, Iran, Pakistan, Oman, Yemen, Somalia and Sri Lanka.
David Ebert, director of the Pacific Shark Research Center at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, and another coauthor of the study, added that sharks in the Arabian Sea area are particularly important, because many species only live there.
The new research is part of a larger effort by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to reassess population trends for sharks, rays and chimaeras globally. Regional experts met in February 2017 to review the numbers and species of sharks caught and brought into fish markets in the region.
They found that more than 50 percent of sharks (78 of 153 species in the region) face an elevated risk of extinction, a significantly higher proportion than in other areas of the world with regional assessments. Only the Mediterranean has numbers approaching the Arabian Sea's.
Sawfish, which are actually rays, giant guitarfish and hammerheads are some of the species in the worst trouble.
Ebert said sawfish are threatened by a combination of incidental fishing and development in the coastal mangrove areas where they live. Development destroys their habitat and degrades it through pollution and increased noise. The rays are also particularly susceptible to tangling in nets intended for other species, because their snouts are prickly, long rostrums, which can easily snag. Once caught, Ebert said, sawfish are prized for their fins, which fishermen cut off and sell to the shark fin market.
"The fins are very valuable," Ebert said, adding that while fishing boats don't necessarily target sawfish, they may refocus their efforts on landing more if they find an abundant area.
Shaili Johri, a marine biology researcher at San Diego State University in California who was not involved in the study, said that species like sawfish, which live in shallower waters, are often the most heavily exploited by fishing communities as they are easier to catch.
Gone for Good
While Elbert doesn't like to throw around the word "extinct," nobody's seen the Pondicherry shark for about four decades, he said. The tentacled butterfly ray and Red Sea torpedo ray are elusive too, each evading scientists for decades in some part of their former range.
But Ebert stresses that it's possible some are still out there. Monitoring of sharks, rays and chimaeras is so poor around the Arabian Sea that it's hard to be sure. Scientists thought some chimaeras, like sicklefin ghost sharks, were rare, until they started turning up in recent records. Torpedo rays range into politically-unstable and dangerous areas, which makes them hard to consistently monitor. The new study's lead author, Rima Jabado, founder and lead scientist of the Gulf Elasmo Project—a shark research and conservation organization in the United Arab Emirates—recently described the first specimen of the Ganges shark seen in a decade, in a separate study published in The Journal of Fish Biology. But Ganges sharks look a lot like bull sharks, so they could have been around and mistaken for bulls all this time.
Improving local knowledge is key to understanding the local trends. In some areas, markets only record whether catches are sharks or rays, without specifying the species. Elbert said better identification guides for the local agents who monitor these markets is critical.
As coastal species like sawfish disappear, fishermen look to deeper waters. "Most of the coastal species, or species that are found in shallower waters, are really extremely endangered," said Johri at San Diego State. "As you go towards the deeper water, you see more species that are near-threatened or of least concern. They have a low level of threat."
Not all species are doing badly. Kitefin sharks, finback catsharks and ground sharks are among a handful of least threatened species, according to the study. But overall, Johri said, this new study highlights "the need for urgent and increased conservation efforts in the Arabian Seas region, an area with the highest density of threatened shark and ray species."
She hopes more conservation effort is focused on the region. Today, it's relatively overlooked, she said, considering the grave extinction threat in the area. With weak enforcement and oversight, overfishing runs rampant, and fishing fleets are turning to desperate measures, she said, like attaching huge nets to dozens of boats and driving at high speeds through whole areas, so virtually nothing can escape.
"They catch everything in there, and they separate it out at the shore and sell it," she said.
If these practices and other indiscriminate methods continue, the situation will worsen both for conservation and fishing. "If we keep doing this, we are not only jeopardizing these species," Johri said, "but they are also jeopardizing their own trade."
Sawfishes are the most threatened family in the Arabian Sea and surrounding waters, while hound sharks are least threatened. Figure 4. Troubled waters: Threats and extinction risk of the sharks, rays and chimaeras of the Arabian Sea and adjacent waters; Fish and Fisheries
By Amy McDermott
Last week, the White House released the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a dire warning on climate change risks and impacts across the U.S. The report does not mince words. In 29 chapters and five appendices, it outlines grave threats to life, livelihoods, national security and the U.S. economy, caused by sea level rise, extreme temperatures, severe storms, fires, flooding and other climatic changes.
"Earth's climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities," is its first sentence.
Oceans have a dedicated chapter, which is neither warm, nor fuzzy. Yearly losses could total hundreds of billions of dollars by century's end, it concludes, and cutting emissions is the only way to avoid the worst of it. Here are the main takeaways for the oceans, paraphrased and condensed for brevity.
1. Ocean Ecosystems Are Changing
Greenhouse gas emissions do three big things to seawater: They make it warmer, more acidic and less oxygenated. The combo packs a punch for undersea ecosystems, where changing temperatures and chemistry make some places less livable for marine life.
Critters that can adapt, do. But plenty can't keep up with the way-too-fast pace of change. The result is widespread restructuring of underwater habitats, especially near the tropics and poles, where a few hardy species are thriving, and many more are moving (or dying) out.
More than 123 million people (39 percent of the population) live in U.S. coastal counties, where they depend on healthy oceans for jobs, storm protection and recreation. When those habitats are compromised, so are their benefits.
2. Fisheries and Fishermen Are at Risk
Ocean warming makes fisheries harder to manage.
As temperatures change, commercially-important fish are changing too, sometimes relocating north or south, or into deeper, cooler waters. All the reshuffling makes fishing less predictable, and more of a financial gamble for fishermen.
In every region except Alaska, fishermen will lose the gamble as catches plummet by as much as 47 percent in tropical Hawaii and the Gulf of Mexico. Alaska and the Bering Sea could see surges in fishing potential, but the reshuffle will hurt U.S. fisheries more than it helps.
3. Extreme Events Will Intensify
Abrupt heat waves and cold snaps are one symptom of the temperature variability that characterizes climate change. Such sudden, concentrated doses of heat or cold can magnify climate effects that are still subtle today, offering a preview of the new normal in 50 to 100 years. Extremes of acidity or deoxygenation, too, can offer a window into the future.
Consider, for example, 2015's West Coast ocean heat wave and subsequent toxic algal bloom. The algae made Dungeness crabs unsafe to eat, shuttering the fishery in a closure that was ultimately declared a federal disaster. Fishermen can expect more algae as temperatures climb.
Extreme events can motivate change, and anticipating extremes can buy time for fishermen to adapt. But, the report says, there is no substitute for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Magnus Larsson / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Rachel Kaufman
Humans produce hundreds of millions of tons of plastic every year. As much as 12.7 million metric tons of it ends up in the ocean, where it can transport pathogens, or be mistaken for food by hungry animals.
Some is visible to the naked eye—but not all plastic pollution is obvious.
The ocean is full of microplastics 5 millimeters or smaller, about the size of a pencil eraser. At those small sizes, it can be difficult to identify where the plastic came from. Was that tiny chunk part of a water bottle or a fishing lure?
A new project at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, aims to find out. Knowing what types of plastics are most common in the ocean could help prevent the pollution in the first place.
More than 60 percent of the debris swirling through the oceans is plastic. But plastics are not all the same. They're made of different chemical building blocks and have different densities. Plastic bags are made of polyethylene, margarine tubs are made of polypropylene. Both are lighter than seawater, so those plastics float. Other plastics are heavier, so they can be found deeper in the water column or sink to the bottom.
It's not just their densities that are different. Different plastics absorb contaminants and disease-causing microbes differently and can have different toxic effects. Knowing which types are most prevalent in what parts of the ocean, "will help us find out what is polluting the environment," said Ashok Deshpande, a research chemist at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center whose team is among the first to chemically identify ocean plastics using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The technique identifies materials based on their component parts, with the goal to create a reference library of plastics, so that scientists can identify contaminants when they're found.
Armando da Costa Duarte, a chemist at University of Aveiro, Portugal, who co-edited an academic book on chemistry and microplastics that included a chapter on mass spectrometry, said that the method is "relatively new" for ocean plastic, but that others have been working toward it. It is "a well-established method of analysis that can bring complementary information" to other techniques for chemically identifying plastic, he said by email.
It's another tool in scientists' toolbox to figure out just what's out there—and what to do about it.
So far, the NOAA project has identified various plastics from the Gulf of Mexico and beaches in Hawaii, Alaska and New Jersey. Nigel Lascelles, a NOAA Educational Partnership Program scholar, worked on the initial analyses.
The team successfully identified all but one of the scraps of collected plastic, and then some—the researchers also detected toxins like phthalates, commonly used to soften some plastics, flame retardants and—no joke—cannabidiol, a naturally occurring component of cannabis. "I don't know how that would be on plastic," Lascelles said.
Next, the team plans to examine the contents of a sea turtle's stomach and samples from seabirds that ate microplastics. The chemical analysis could help identify which plastics wildlife are consuming most often. The NOAA scientists are also hoping to determine the origin of ocean microplastics by looking at additives. "Products used for human consumption may not have additives like flame retardants," Deshpande said, which could help differentiate a tossed soda bottle from an industrial component like an aircraft interior.
The work is more urgent than ever, with research showing upwards of 236,000 metric tons of microplastic particles floating on the surface of the ocean, a tiny fraction of all the plastic out there. Sea life eats a lot of it. A recent study found that baby sea turtles are dying by ingesting tiny pieces of plastic that cause intestinal blockage or nutritional deficiency. Another study, from 2017, found that small fish like anchovies are eating microplastic but possibly surviving long enough to be eaten by larger predators. That's a problem since plastics—and their associated chemical contaminants—could build up in the bodies of larger fish. Knowing more about where the plastics came from and what they are made of can help improve habitat management for fish and other marine life.
What remains clear is that when it comes to plastics in the ocean, our knowledge is just scratching the surface. "What science has analyzed so far," Deshpande said, "is a fraction of the total plastic waste into the ocean."
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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."
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
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
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