Unsustainable Seafood: A New Crackdown on Illegal Fishing
When people talk about illegal trafficking in wildlife, the glistening merchandise laid out on crushed ice in the supermarket seafood counter—from salmon to king crab—probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But 90 percent of U.S. seafood is imported, and according to a new study in the journal Marine Policy, as much as one-third of that is caught illegally or without proper documentation.
The technical term is IUU fishing, for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. But such improbable allies as Greenpeace and Republican members of the U.S. Senate now refer to it as “pirate fishing.” And it ensnares seafood companies, supermarkets and consumers alike in a trade that is arguably as problematic as trafficking in elephant tusks, rhino horns and tiger bones.
Among the egregious violations, according to the study: up to 40 percent of tuna imported to the U.S. from Thailand is illegal or unreported, followed by up to 45 percent of pollock imports from China, and 70 percent of salmon imports. (Both species are likely to have been caught in Russian waters, but transshipped at sea and processed in China.) Wild-caught shrimp from Mexico, Indonesia and Ecuador are also more likely to be illegal, and some illegal wild-caught shrimp may be disguised as farmed shrimp.
In recent months, government agencies and international maritime regulators have begun taking counter-measures to stop the illegal trade. Late last month, the European Union (EU) banned the importation of fish from Belize, Cambodia and Guinea, alleging that those nations either sold flags of convenience—registrations having nothing to do with the location of the actual owners—or otherwise failed to cooperate in efforts to stop illegal fishing. The EU also issued “yellow card” warnings to Curaçao, Ghana and South Korea.
The U.S., which has lagged behind Europe on the illegal imports issue, also acted early this month, with the U.S. Senate approving four treaties aimed at limiting illegal fish imports. The most important of them was the “port state measures” agreement, under which 11 coastal nations have committed to keep foreign vessels suspected of illegal fishing out of their ports. That treaty still requires approval by 14 other countries, meaning it will be several years before it takes effect.
Finally, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in December approved a requirement that every fishing vessel of 100 tons or larger have an identifying number, like the vehicle identification number on a car. Freighters already have IMO numbers, which stay with them from the laying of the keel to the scrapyard. Extending that system to fishing vessels will make it harder to disguise an illegal catch by simply swapping a vessel around to different companies or different flags of convenience, says Tony Long, director of the Ending Illegal Fishing Project for the Pew Charitable Trusts. It will also close a loophole that has made it convenient to use fishing vessels in drug deals, gun running and other criminal activities.
Long characterizes the permanent identifying number and the closing of ports to certain vessels as two of the three major steps needed to reduce the illegal trade. But the third step—creating a worldwide vessel monitoring system to track where and when vessels are fishing—will be more challenging.
Vessel monitoring systems (or VMS) already exist in some fisheries, says Long, but “global VMS would be a significant step forward.” Most ships already have Automated Information Systems, which give out critical data to nearby ships like name, course and speed. But fishing vessels sometimes turn them off when working in illegal waters. Transshipping an illegal catch at sea to other vessels is also a common strategy, to disguise it as legal. A global system using satellites would make that sort of cheating harder to disguise.
“Now all the effort goes into chasing the bad guys,” says Long. “You spend 80 or 90 percent of your time trying to get the 10 or 20 percent who are misbehaving. We want a system where people who follow the legal standards, and haven’t transshipped at sea, can do business smoothly. It’s all about transparency.” On the other hand, if a non-complying vessel “comes in with its hold full of fish, and it gets turned away form port after port, it costs them money. It’s all about reversing the burden.”
The ultimate goal, says Long, “is to put in place a system where retailers can say what boat caught what fish and where. It’s impossible today, but it’s not impossible.” His group is now working on “traceability” with supermarket chains, including Metro Group. He also hopes to enlist bankers and insurance companies in ensuring that the vessels they finance or insure are not engaged in pirate fishing.
In the absence of ocean-to-dinner plate accountability, the study in Marine Policy about pervasive illegality in the imported seafood market adds a new layer of confusion for seafood consumers. Numerous studies using DNA barcoding have already demonstrated that seafood being sold in the U.S. commonly does not come from the species on the label—with rockfish often substituted for red snapper, or mako shark for swordfish. Concern about the disappearance of cod and other once-common species has also recently led many consumers to tailor their purchases according to sustainability ratings, like the ones from the Marine Stewardship Council or the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But the Marine Policy study makes it apparent that fish varieties we thought were sustainably caught may in fact be contraband.
All this matters, of course, mainly because of the likely effect on the fisheries themselves. About 85 percent of all commercial fisheries are now being exploited up to or beyond their biological limits, according to Tony J. Pitcher, a fisheries researcher at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of the new study. Not being able to account for illegal fishing, much less stop it, makes it impossible to figure out what a sustainable legal catch should be. Beyond that, illegal fishing vessels tend to flout limitations on the type of gear, the fishing methods, or the locations where they work, often resulting in a major death toll for dolphins, turtles, sharks and other bycatch.
For instance, small skiffs operating gill nets to catch shrimp off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula are, according to the new study, “the leading cause of death for the vaquita, a small porpoise endemic to the Gulf of California that is widely cited as the most endangered mammal in the world with a population of only around 200 individuals.”
The illegal trade can also have dire consequences for law-abiding fishermen. In 2012, for instance, the illegal harvest of king crab from Russia not only outweighed the entire catch from Alaska, but U.S. fishermen complained that it drove down their prices by 25 percent. So far in this century, that single Russian fishery has cost U.S. fishermen an estimated $560 million. Experts have put the global cost of illegal fishing at $10-$23.5 billion a year.
The heavy participation of informants in the new study in Marine Policy suggests that the fishing industry may be ready for increased transparency. “There were a surprising number of people within the industry who were uncomfortable about being involved in illegal trade,” says Pitcher. That’s partly out of concern for the future of fisheries.
“The retailers all have the same problem,” said lead author Pramod Ganapathiraju. “They say, ‘I’m getting 20,000 tons of snapper from Indonesia. I’m not sure what I’ll get five, or 10 or 20 years down the line because there are so many countries fishing there and so little control of illegal fishing. But I don’t have any alternative place to get those fish.’”
Ganapathiraju says consumers can play a major role by asking retailers to display the country of origin for the seafood they sell, and by inquiring about whether the retailer can document the legality of the catch. In the U.S., buying from domestic, or even local, suppliers is also helpful, since U.S. fisheries are managed more sustainably than in most other countries.
“You know the vessel doing the catching, or it’s easily traceable. It’s more like a farmers market.”
Finally, he says, the U.S. government needs to increase its workforce for monitoring seafood imports at major ports. Seafood arriving by shipping container deserves special scrutiny, because dealers often use legal imports to disguise illegal ones in the same container. Importers and retailers will become more careful about the origin of the seafood they sell, says Ganapathiraju, as the likelihood increases that they will be caught and held liable for breaking the law, knowingly or otherwise.
In 2011, for instance, federal agents raided a leading seafood company in Seattle and seized 112 tons of king crab illegally harvested in Russia. Though it did not admit guilt, Harbor Seafood ultimately forfeited $2.75 million for its role in the transaction. In another case, the U.S. actually sent proprietors of a Georgia-based fishing business to jail in 2004 for illegally harvesting South African rock lobster over a 14-year-period. Last year, after a decade of appeals in that case, a U.S. judge for the first time ordered the payment of restitution to a foreign government. The culprits, who have fled the country, now face a $29 million payment to the government of South Africa.
That kind of enforcement could ultimately make the open seas seem far less open, and pirate fishing the modern-day equivalent of a hanging offense.
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A weather research station on a bluff overlooking the sea is closing down because of the climate crisis.
The National Weather Service (NWS) station in Chatham, Massachusetts was evacuated March 31 over concerns the entire operation would topple into the ocean.
"We had to say goodbye to the site because of where we are located at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, we're adjacent to a bluff that overlooks the ocean," Boston NWS meteorologist Andy Nash told WHDH at the time. "We had to close and cease operations there because that bluff has significantly eroded."
Chatham is located on the elbow of Cape Cod, a land mass extending out into the Atlantic Ocean that has been reshaped and eroded by waves and tides over tens of thousands of years, The Guardian explained. However, sea level rise and extreme weather caused by the climate crisis have sped that change along.
"It's an extremely dynamic environment, which is obviously a problem if you are building permanent infrastructure here," Andrew Ashton, an associate scientist at Cape-Cod based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told The Guardian. "We are putting our foot on the accelerator to make the environment even more dynamic."
This was the case with the Chatham weather station. It used to be protected from the drop into the ocean by about 100 feet of land. However, storm action in 2020 alone washed away as much as six feet of land a day.
"We'd know[n] for a long time there was erosion but the pace of it caught everyone by surprise," Nash told The Guardian. "We felt we had maybe another 10 years but then we started losing a foot of a bluff a week and realized we didn't have years, we had just a few months. We were a couple of storms from a very big problem."
The Chatham station was part of a network of 92 NWS stations that monitor temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction and other data in the upper atmosphere, The Cape Cod Chronicle explained. The stations send up radiosondes attached to weather balloons twice a day to help with weather research and prediction. The Chatham station, which had been observing this ritual for the past half a century, sent up its last balloon the morning of March 31.
"We're going to miss the observations," Nash told The Cape Cod Chronicle. "It gives us a snapshot, a profile of the atmosphere when the balloons go up."
The station was officially decommissioned April 1, and the two buildings on the site will be demolished sometime this month. The NWS is looking for a new location in southeastern New England. In the meantime, forecasters will rely on data from stations in New York and Maine.
Nash said the leavetaking was bittersweet, but inevitable.
"[M]other nature is evicting us," he told The Cape Cod Chronicle.
By Douglas Broom
- If online deliveries continue with fossil-fuel trucks, emissions will increase by a third.
- So cities in the Netherlands will allow only emission-free delivery vehicles after 2025.
- The government is giving delivery firms cash help to buy or lease electric vehicles.
- The bans will save 1 megaton of CO2 every year by 2030.
Cities in the Netherlands want to make their air cleaner by banning fossil fuel delivery vehicles from urban areas from 2025.
"Now that we are spending more time at home, we are noticing the large number of delivery vans and lorries driving through cities," said Netherlands environment minister Stientje van Veldhoven, announcing plans to ban all but zero-emission deliveries in 14 cities.
"The agreements we are setting down will ensure that it will be a matter of course that within a few years, supermarket shelves will be stocked, waste will be collected, and packages will arrive on time, yet without any exhaust fumes and CO2 emissions," she added.
She expects 30 cities to announce zero emission urban logistics by this summer. City councils must give four years' notice before imposing bans as part of government plans for emission-free road traffic by 2050. The city bans aim to save 1 megaton of CO2 each year by 2030.
Help to Change
To encourage transport organizations to go carbon-free, the government is offering grants of more than US$5,900 to help businesses buy or lease electric vehicles. There will be additional measures to help small businesses make the change.
The Netherlands claims it is the first country in the world to give its cities the freedom to implement zero-emission zones. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht already have "milieuzones" where some types of vehicles are banned.
Tilburg, one of the first wave of cities imposing the Dutch ban, will not allow fossil-fuelled vehicles on streets within its outer ring road and plans to roll out a network of city-wide electric vehicle charging stations before the ban comes into effect in 2025.
"Such initiatives are imperative to improve air quality. The transport of the future must be emission-free, sustainable, and clean," said Tilburg city alderman Oscar Dusschooten.
Europe Takes Action
Research by Renault shows that many other European cities are heading in the same direction as the Netherlands, starting with Low Emission Zones of which Germany's "Umweltzone" were pioneers. More than 100 communes in Italy have introduced "Zonas a traffico limitato."
Madrid's "zona de baja emisión" bans diesel vehicles built before 2006 and petrol vehicles from before 2000 from central areas of the city. Barcelona has similar restrictions and the law will require all towns of more than 50,000 inhabitants to follow suit.
Perhaps the most stringent restrictions apply in London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which charges trucks and large vehicles up to US$137 a day to enter the central area if they do not comply with Euro 6 emissions standards. From October, the ULEZ is being expanded.
Cities are responsible for around 75% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use, according to the green thinktank REN21 - and much of these come from transport. Globally, transport accounts for 24% of world CO2 emissions.
The Rise of Online Shopping
Part of the reason for traffic in urban areas is the increase in delivery vehicles, as online shopping continues to grow. Retailer ecommerce sales are expected to pass $5billion in 2022, according to eMarketer.
The World Economic Forum's report The Future of the Last-Mile Ecosystem, published in January 2020, estimates that e-commerce will increase the number of delivery vehicles on the roads of the world's 100 largest cities by 36% by 2030.
If all those vehicles burn fossil fuels, the report says emissions will increase by 32%. But switching to all-electric delivery vehicles would cut emissions by 30% from current levels as well as reducing costs by 25%, the report says.
Other solutions explored in the report include introducing goods trams to handle deliveries alongside their passenger-carrying counterparts and increased use of parcel lockers to reduce the number of doorstep deliveries.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
The bill, SB467, would have prohibited fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction. It would also have banned oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school, hospital or other residential facility. The bill originally set the fracking ban for 2027, but amended it to 2035, The AP reported.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed," State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), one of the bill's two introducers, told the Los Angeles Times. "California really has not done what it needs to do in terms of addressing the oil problem. We have communities that are suffering right now, and the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act."
The bill was introduced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign a fracking ban if it passed the legislature, though his administration has continued to issue permits in the meantime, Forbes reported. Newsom has also spoken in favor of a buffer zone between oil and gas extraction and places where people live and learn, according to the Los Angeles Times. The latter is a major environmental justice issue, as fossil fuel production is more likely to be located near Black and Latinx communities.
Urban lawmakers who want California to lead on the climate crisis supported the bill, while inland lawmakers in oil-rich areas concerned about jobs opposed it. The oil and gas industry and trade unions also opposed the bill.
This opposition meant the bill failed to get the five votes it needed to move beyond the Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee. Only four senators approved it, while Democrat Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton joined two Republicans to oppose it, and two other Democrats abstained.
Eggman argued that the bill would have forced California to rely on oil extracted in other states.
"We're still going to use it, but we're going to use it from places that produce it less safely," Eggman told The AP. She also said that she supported the transition away from fossil fuels, but thought the bill jumped the gun. "I don't think we're quite there yet, and this bill assumes that we are," she added.
Historically, California has been a major U.S. oil producer. Its output peaked in 1986 at 1.1 million barrels a day, just below Texas and Alaska, according to Forbes. However, production has declined since then making it the seventh-most oil-producing state.
Still, California's fossil fuel industry is at odds with state attempts to position itself as a climate leader.
"There is a large stain on California's climate record, and that is oil," Wiener said Tuesday, according to The AP.
Wiener and Democrat co-introducer Sen. Monique Limón from Santa Barbara vowed to keep fighting.
"While we saw this effort defeated today, this issue isn't going away," they wrote in a joint statement. "We'll continue to fight for aggressive climate action, against harmful drilling, and for the health of our communities."
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By Brett Wilkins
As world leaders prepare for this November's United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland, a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission reveals that the world's wealthiest 5% were responsible for well over a third of all global emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
The report, Changing Our Ways: Behavior Change and the Climate Crisis, found that nearly half the growth in absolute global emissions was caused by the world's richest 10%, with the most affluent 5% alone contributing 37%.
"In the year when the UK hosts COP26, and while the government continues to reward some of Britain's biggest polluters through tax credits, the commission report shows why this is precisely the wrong way to meet the UK's climate targets," the report's introduction states.
The authors of the report urge United Kingdom policymakers to focus on this so-called "polluter elite" in an effort to persuade wealthy people to adopt more sustainable behavior, while providing "affordable, available low-carbon alternatives to poorer households."
The report found that the "polluter elite" must make "dramatic" lifestyle changes in order to meet the UK's goal — based on the Paris climate agreement's preferential objective — of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
In addition to highlighting previous recommendations — including reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and switching to electric vehicles and solar power — the report recommends that policymakers take the following steps:
- Implement frequent flyer levies;
- Enact bans on selling and promoting SUVs and other high polluting vehicles;
- Reverse the UK's recent move to cut green grants for homes and electric cars; and
- Build just transitions by supporting electric public transport and community energy schemes.
"We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions," Peter Newell, a Sussex University professor and lead author of the report, told the BBC.
"These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most, and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they're well insulated or not," said Newell. "They're also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to."
Newell said that wealthy people "simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV, that's still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place."
"Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air," Newell added. "But these schemes are highly contentious and they're not proven over time."
The report concludes that "we are all on a journey and the final destination is as yet unclear. There are many contradictory road maps about where we might want to get to and how, based on different theories of value and premised on diverse values."
"Promisingly, we have brought about positive change before, and there are at least some positive signs that there is an appetite to do what is necessary to live differently but well on the planet we call home," it states.
The new report follows a September 2020 Oxfam International study that revealed the wealthiest 1% of the world's population is responsible for emitting more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50% of humanity combined.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Paul Brown
It may come as a surprise to realize that a plant struggling for survival in a harsh environment is also doing its bit to save the planet from the threats of the rapidly changing climate. But that's what Mexico's cactuses are managing to do.
Research published in the journal The Science of Nature shows that desert soils supporting a high density of cactus contain large quantities of stored bio-minerals (minerals produced by living organisms), formed by the action of the plants in extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Not only that. Cactuses can also be harvested, processed and turned into a form of leather used to make fashion accessories like purses and wallets.
These two attributes have been turned into a successful business by a Mexican/American company, CACTO. It claims to be the first "carbon negative fashion company in the Americas" − in other words, its activities remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it creates in making and marketing its products.
No Animals Involved
This is a bold claim in an industry struggling with its poor environmental record. According to McKinsey and Co. the worldwide fashion industry emits about the same amount of greenhouse gases as France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. But CACTO gives Mexico's cactuses special treatment.
CACTO's products are vegan and so allow a growing class of consumers to buy leather objects that are made without any animal products.
The research into the ability of cactus to extract carbon from the atmosphere and store it was carried out on one cactus species, the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), which can grow to 40 feet.
It is native to the Sonoran desert in Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, and shares with all other cactus varieties the same abilities for dealing with carbon. This has proved a bonus for CACTO because cactuses are the most numerous plants in Mexico.
CACTO's plantations are organic, fed by rainwater, free of herbicides and pesticides, and renewable, and after the ears, or leaves; of the cactus are harvested, the plant grows a replacement in six to eight months. This regeneration allows repeat harvesting. The leaves are then sun-dried to avoid using any electricity. The company's products (available only in green or black) are on sale in more than 100 countries.
CACTO was founded by Jesus Chavez, a climate campaigner, and was designed to have sustainability as a guiding principle at the core of its operation. The entire production cycle is closely monitored by its staff, from the sourcing of materials to production, packaging, distribution and shipping.
Through a partnership with a Swiss non-profit organisation, On a Mission, CACTO says its staff have measured and offset 150% of its CO2 emissions through sustainable reforestation worldwide.
The measurement and offsetting process will take place every six months for the next 10 years. Through several emergent partnerships, the company says it aims to offset at least 1000% of the emissions it generates by the end of 2021.
Jesus Chavez said: "If we want to succeed in reaching net zero carbon emissions well before 2050 and avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we must all work in concert in whatever capacity we are able to.
"Industries across the board need to benefit from existing technology and offsetting programs to become carbon-negative, and to invest in new research and innovation to reach that goal faster. The decisions we make this decade will determine the fate of humanity for centuries to come. It is up to us now."
He said customers around the world wanted alternatives to materials that increased pollution and to unethical manufacturing processes.
CACTO hopes to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to make clear what has been evident to specialists for decades, that decoupling emissions from economic growth is not only feasible, but is the smartest, fastest and most responsible way to grow. Mexico's cactuses bear a heavy responsibility on their ears − or leaves − or branches.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.