The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
On World Tuna Day, Let’s Fix Oversight of Tropical Species
By Rachel Hopkins
Tropical tuna species—skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tunas—are important economic assets for coastal communities across the globe, and even far from the ocean they are a favorite on supermarket shelves and in sushi bars. These three species—together worth close to $40 billion annually at the final point of sale—prompted eight Pacific island countries to launch World Tuna Day on May 2, 2011. In 2016, the UN officially adopted the date to highlight the importance of sustainable tuna management.
Despite that designation, however, concern for the future of these fish continues. Through the increased use of fish aggregating devices (FADs)—man-made floating rafts that attract fish in the open ocean—over the past three decades, purse seine fleets have seen dramatic increases in skipjack catch. But this has come at a cost to bigeye and yellowfin populations. Because FADs attract juvenile bigeye and yellowfin in addition to skipjack, increased skipjack fishing on FADs has resulted in fewer bigeye and yellowfin surviving to adulthood, which means fewer of those species in the water for crews fishing with other gear, such as longlines and pole and line.
Further, the international bodies tasked with protecting bigeye and yellowfin fisheries also manage skipjack, and they have been reluctant to adopt measures to reduce the impact of FAD fishing on bigeye and yellowfin populations out of fear those measures would hurt the skipjack industry.
The result has essentially been a years-long stalemate, the consequences of which are being borne out around the globe, in part because managers are also debating how much to restrict fishing with purse seine nets and longlines. The population of bigeye in the Pacific, which also faces pressure from longliners catching adult fish, has been decreasing and scientists recommend against further increases in fishing mortality. Atlantic bigeye populations are already experiencing overfishing, and scientists consider both Atlantic bigeye and yellowfin to be overfished. Bigeye have just a 38 percent chance of recovery by 2028, according to an analysis based on 2016 catch levels. Yet, due to insufficient controls by international managers, catch of both Atlantic stocks exceeded the agreed quotas in 2016.
Materials that can make up FADs are piled on the deck of a purse seine vessel in Micronesia.The Pew Charitable Trusts
Urgent Changes Needed
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the body responsible for managing tropical tunas in the Atlantic Ocean, is on the hook to adopt a new tropical tuna measure, including a revised recovery plan for Atlantic bigeye, at its annual meeting in November. To be successful, ICCAT's new measure must:
- Set the Atlantic bigeye quota at a level that will give the stock at least a 70 percent chance of recovery by 2028 and ensure that the total catch, from both major and minor harvesters, does not exceed the overall quota.
- Take steps to reduce juvenile Atlantic bigeye and yellowfin catch via FAD management reform, including by reducing the number of FADs that may be deployed and the amount of purse seine fishing effort allowed on tuna schools associated with FADs.
- Ensure that ICCAT managers develop a more transparent and proactive approach to management—through a modernized approach known as a "management procedure," in which managers agree in advance on the goals for a fish stock and harvesting rules to ensure the goals are met—for tropical tunas, which will return the stocks to healthy levels or keep them there, over the long term. ICCAT needs to make sufficient progress this year to meet its agreed 2020 deadline to adopt management procedures for tropical tuna stocks.
In the western and central Pacific Ocean, tropical tunas are managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The bigeye population there is doing better than in the Atlantic but has declined, and FADs are still proliferating at an alarming rate. WCPFC has catch limits for bigeye for the fleets of major longline harvesting nations and prohibits purse seiners from fishing on FADs for a period every year. Despite that, the purse seine fleets fishing on FADs may be catching as much as four times the number of bigeye as the longline fleets, and data suggest that a more effective way of managing the purse seine impact on bigeye would be to agree on a science-based limit on the number of times vessels can fish on FADs.
To better understand and thus regulate the level of FAD use, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement—eight countries that are members of the WCPFC and in whose waters more than 90 percent of FAD fishing in the commission's purview occurs—are using satellite technology to better track the devices. But to ensure sustainability of the bigeye/tropical tuna fisheries across the western and central Pacific, the WCPFC must:
- Take steps to ensure that the longline and purse seine catch of bigeye is within the limits advised by scientists and, in the purse seine fishery, replace the FAD closure with science-based limits on the number of times vessels can fish on the devices.
- Make progress on developing a harvest strategy for western and central Pacific bigeye in order to adopt a full strategy by 2021, with the goal of keeping the population at a sustainable level over the long term, with little risk of the stock falling into the danger zone.
This World Tuna Day, managers in the Pacific and Atlantic must take immediate action to help ensure the long-term sustainability of tropical tuna fisheries or continue to let shortsighted economic and political pressures determine their actions. Doing the right thing now would benefit the fish, and all who rely on them, far into the future.
Rachel Hopkins is acting director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' global tuna conservation campaign.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tropical forests globally are being lost at a rate of 61,000 square miles a year. And despite conservation efforts, the global rate of loss is accelerating. In 2016 it reached a 15-year high, with 114,000 square miles cleared.
At the same time, many countries are pledging to restore large swaths of forests. The Bonn Challenge, a global initiative launched in 2011, calls for national commitments to restore 580,000 square miles of the world's deforested and degraded land by 2020. In 2014 the New York Declaration on Forests increased this goal to 1.35 million square miles, an area about twice the size of Alaska, by 2030.
By Cheryl Leahy
Do you think almond milk comes from a cow named Almond? Or that almonds lactate? The dairy industry thinks you do, and that's what it's telling the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
For years, the dairy industry has been flexing its lobbying muscle, pressuring states and the federal government to restrict plant-based companies from using terms like "milk" on their labels, citing consumer confusion.
By Jeremy Deaton
A driver planning to make the trek from Denver to Salt Lake City can look forward to an eight-hour trip across some of the most beautiful parts of the country, long stretches with nary a town in sight. The fastest route would take her along I-80 through southern Wyoming. For 300 miles between Laramie and Evanston, she would see, according to a rough estimate, no fewer than 40 gas stations where she could fuel up her car. But if she were driving an electric vehicle, she would see just four charging stations where she could recharge her battery.
Fire Continues at Texas Petrochemical Plant as Company's History of Violations Gets Renewed Scrutiny
By Andrea Germanos
A petrochemical plant near Houston continued to burn for a second day on Monday, raising questions about the quality and safety of the air.
The Deer Park facility is owned by Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC), which said the fire broke out at roughly 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Seven tanks are involved, the company said, and they contain naptha, xylene, "gas blend stocks" and "base oil."
"It's going to have to burn out at the tank," Ray Russell, communications officer for Channel Industries Mutual Aid, which is aiding the response effort, said at a news conference. It could take "probably two days" for that to happen, he added.
The hillsides dyed orange with poppies may look like something out of a dream, but for the Southern California town of Lake Elsinore, that dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
The town of 66,000 people was inundated with around 50,000 tourists coming to snap pictures of the golden poppies growing in Walker Canyon as part of a superbloom of wildfires caused by an unusually wet winter, BBC News reported. The visitors trampled flowers and caused hours of traffic, The Guardian reported.
A controversial pesticide test that would have resulted in the deaths of 36 beagles has been stopped, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the company behind the test announced Monday. The announcement comes less than a week after HSUS made the test public when it released the results of an investigation into animal testing at Charles River Laboratories in Michigan.
"We have immediately ended the study that was the subject of attention last week and will make every effort to rehome the animals that were part of the study," Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDupont, said in a statement announcing its decision.