Conservationists shot at by poachers during Gulf of California patrol

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The Sea Shepherd vessel Sharpie. The Sea Shepherd vessel Sharpie. SEA SHEPHERD CONSERVATION SOCIETY

The vessel was on a mission to protect the endangered vaquita marina porpoise

Four fishing skiffs known as pangas approached the M/V Sharpie and began to chase it at full speed just after 10:00 a.m., Sea Shepherd said in a statement.

At least two shots fired from the pangas landed in the water near the Sea Shepherd vessel but it was not hit. There were no injuries among the conservationists on board nor the officials from the navy, Federal Police and Environmental Protection Agency (Profepa) who accompanied them.

The incident occurred in an area of the upper Gulf of California known as a “critical zone” because several vaquitas have been sighted there.

In response to the attack, the captain of the Sharpie carried out anti-piracy procedures, which included the use of water cannons.

The Sharpie activates water cannons as one of the attacking boats lies nearby.
The Sharpie activates water cannons as one of the attacking boats lies nearby. SEA SHEPHERD CONSERVATION SOCIETY

“This just shows how aggressive the poachers are here,” said Captain Jacqueline Le Duc.

“It proves to us that they are armed and that we need to take every panga that we come across seriously, because we have no idea what they are capable of,” she said.

Profepa condemned the attack in a statement and said that it would cooperate with investigations to bring the perpetrators to justice. It also said that it would continue to collaborate with Sea Shepherd and security forces in the effort to protect the environment.

Experts estimate that there are only between six and 19 vaquitas left in the Gulf of California, the only place in the world they live.

The attack on Saturday occurred in the same area where Sea Shepherd found a dead vaquita trapped in a net last March. Profepa said that the vaquita was in a state of advanced decomposition but had stab wounds consistent with the cutting of the net in which the animal was entangled.

Sea Shepherd has been collaborating with Mexican authorities for six years to remove gillnets from the Gulf of California.

Desperate to protect the fat profits they make from selling totoaba on the black market, poachers have resorted to violence in the past.

The Sea Shepherd vessel M/V Farley Mowat was attacked last January by crew members on more than 50 skiffs, who threw rocks and molotov cocktails at the ship, breaking its windows and causing its hull to catch fire.

The same vessel was ambushed and boarded by poachers earlier the same month, the United States-based marine conservation organization said.

The deadly ‘ghost gear’ which haunts seas and coastlines

Minke whaleImage copyrightSMASS ORKNEY
Image captionA pregnant minke whale was found tangled in a fishing net in Orkney in October last year

More than half a million tonnes of fishing gear is estimated to be lost or abandoned every year in the world’s seas and oceans. Some of it entangles and kills wildlife at sea and on shore.

Conservationists call it “ghost gear”.

It includes fishing nets, long lines, fish traps and lobster pots left drifting at sea usually after being accidentally lost from fishing grounds or boats, or discarded in an emergency such as in a storm.

“Fishing gear is designed to trap marine organisms, and it can continue to do so long after the gear is lost or discarded in the ocean,” says Joel Baziuk of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI).

“When lost fishing gear keeps catching fish after its intended lifespan, it is called ghost fishing.”

Dead whaleImage copyrightKAREN MUNRO
Image captionThe whale’s body came ashore near Scrabster

He said ghost gear was the most harmful form of debris to marine life because of the risk of entanglement or entrapment.

GGGI estimates at least 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear are lost or abandoned every year.

The hotspots include the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia and Hawaii in the Pacific.

Joel says: “Ghost gear is a problem anywhere fishing takes place, and that includes Scotland.”

Seal pup in netImage copyrightDAVID YARDLEY
Image captionThis five-week-old grey seal pup was successfully rescued after getting entangled in a plastic net
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The risks this marine pollution poses to wildlife include entanglement, when animals get wrapped up in rope and other gear.

In Scotland, the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (Smass), which investigates marine animal deaths, recorded 12 entanglement cases in 2019.

They included a pregnant whale found dead and tangled in a fishing net in Orkney in October. The net was jammed in the animal’s baleen, the filter-feeder system inside its mouth.

In May, a humpback whale entangled in fishing gear washed up dead close to Scrabster, near Thurso on the north Caithness coast.

The previous month, another humpback whale was found to have been entangled in rope for “weeks, if not months” before it drowned off the East Lothian coast near Tyningham.

What are the other risks?

Rope found in whale's stomachImage copyrightSMASS
Image captionA 100kg “litter ball” was found in the stomach of whale that washed up in Harris

Entanglement is not the only threat posed to whales.

A sperm whale that died after stranding on the Isle of Harris in November had a 100kg “litter ball” in its stomach.

Fishing nets, rope, packing straps, bags and plastic cups were among the items discovered in a compacted mass during an investigation by Smass.

Seals have also been caught up in nets and ropes, though there have been successful rescues of these animals, including the saving of a five-week-old grey seal pup entangled in a plastic net on Lewis.

A hotline run by British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) has received 47 reports of entangled seals this year in Britain. Some of the animals were lucky and were rescued, or managed to free themselves.

Stag with fishing gear in antlersImage copyrightSNH
Image captionA stag on the Isle of Rum with fishing gear caught in its antlers

Other ghost gear victims include animals that forage on shorelines.

In 2017, stags on the Isle of Rum were found with fishing gear caught in their antlers. Two of the animals died after becoming snarled up together in discarded fishing rope, while another stag was photographed with an orange buoy and rope balled up in its antlers.

Even tiny fragments of ghost gear is a risk, say conservationists.

Noel Hawkins, of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas project, says: “Some of the small stuff can be as devastating to wildlife as many seabirds swallow it thinking it is fish eggs or food.

“They choke on it and even use it as nest material, which endangers chicks.”

What is being done?

BDMLR volunteers rescuing a young minke whaleImage copyrightBDMLR
Image captionBDMLR volunteers rescuing a young minke whale

Scotland is playing its part in a global effort to tackle ghost gear.

In a GGGI project, divers from the Ghost Fishing UK initiative have carried out underwater clean-ups in Orkney.

BDMLR, meanwhile, is part of the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (Sea), a coalition of conservation groups, rescue teams and fishermen.

The coalition is seeking to find best practices to avoid entanglements and the most effective responses to any incidents.

This year the alliance trained 20 people working in the fishing industry throughout Scotland in how to help disentangle animals.

And there have been success stories. In October, BDMLR helped to free a humpback from fishing ropes in Orkney.

New technology, such as prawn creels that can be lowered into the sea and returned to the surface without the need of ropes is also being trialled.

What else is happening in Scotland?

Summer Isles rubbishImage copyrightSWT
Image captionWhile tonnes of marine litter is cleared from Scotland’s shores, conservationists warn much more remains floating out to sea

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation says the fishing industry across Europe is “actively engaged” with the issue of discarded gear.

“Very little” fishing equipment is lost at sea by the Scottish fleet, according to the federation’s chief executive Elspeth Macdonald.

She says: “Trawl nets are expensive, which means that skippers try to get as much use as possible out of them, and put them ashore to be mended when required.

“The bulk of the ghost gear found in the Scottish sector is monofilament netting used by French and Spanish gill netters and longliners on the west coast.”

There is also an effort to clean up ghost gear that washes up on Scotland’s shores.

Summer Isles rubbishImage copyrightSWT
Image captionRubbish collected from beaches in the Summer Isles being loaded on to a boat for disposal
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In the north west Highlands, Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas project has been setting up beach clean stations in remote locations.

The stations are large pallet boxes with litter pickers and bags attached and members of the public walking along the beaches are encourage to use the stations to gather up any litter they find.

The project’s Noel Hawkins says: “One of these just north of Ullapool at Dun Canna beach has taken in over tonne of rubbish alone.”

In July, tonnes of rubbish was removed from the Summer Isles in the north west Highlands in another of the project’s clean-ups.

Fishing ropes and nets were among the other items gathered in a clean-up

But Noel says: “It is worth remembering that some estimates think only 3 to 5% of rubbish actually comes ashore though.

“There is still a lot more out there.”

All images are subject to copyright.

More on this story

  • Pregnant whale found tangled in ‘ghost gear’ in Orkney
    8 October 2019
  • Whale washes up near Scrabster entangled in fishing gear
    30 May 2019
  • Dead whale was tangled in rope in East Lothian for ‘months’
    25 April 2019
  • Stags on Rum found tangled in discarded fishing gear
    23 May 2018

“The biggest environmental story that no one knows about”: The recovery of groundfish off the West Coast

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-biggest-environmental-story-that-no-one-knows-about-the-recovery-of-groundfish-off-the-west-coast/

Warrenton, Oregon —  A rare environmental success story is unfolding in waters off the U.S. West Coast.

The ban devastated fishermen, but on January 1, regulators will reopen an area roughly three times the size of Rhode Island off Oregon and California to groundfish bottom trawling — all with the approval of environmental groups that were once the industry’s biggest foes.

Rockfish Rebound
This December 2019 photo shows an aurora rockfish at a processing facility in Warrenton, Oregon. GILLIAN FLACCUS / AP

The rapid turnaround is made even more unique by the collaboration between the fishermen and environmentalists who spent years refining a long-term fishing plan that will continue to resuscitate the groundfish industry while permanently protecting thousands of square miles of reefs and coral beds that benefit the overfished species.

Now, the fishermen who see their livelihood returning must solve another piece of the puzzle: drumming up consumer demand for fish that haven’t been in grocery stores or on menus for a generation.

“It’s really a conservation home run,” said Shems Jud, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s ocean program. “The recovery is decades ahead of schedule. It’s the biggest environmental story that no one knows about.”

The process also netted a win for conservationists concerned about the future of extreme deepwater habitats where bottom trawlers currently don’t go. A tract of ocean the size of New Mexico with waters up to 2.1 miles deep will be off-limits to bottom-trawling to protect deep-sea corals and sponges just now being discovered.

“Not all fishermen are rapers of the environment. When you hear the word ‘trawler,’ very often that’s associated with destruction of the sea and pillaging,” said Kevin Dunn, whose trawler Iron Lady was featured in a Whole Foods television commercial about sustainable fishing.

A unique history

Groundfish is a catch-all term that refers to dozens of species that live or on, or near, the bottom of the Pacific off the West Coast. Trawling vessels drag weighted nets to scoop up as many fish as possible, but that can also damage critical rocky underwater habitat.

The groundfish fishery hasn’t always struggled. Starting in 1976, the federal government subsidized the construction of domestic fishing vessels to lock down U.S. interests in West Coast waters, and by the 1980s, that investment paid off. Bottom trawling was booming, with 500 vessels in California, Oregon and Washington hauling in 200 million pounds of non-whiting groundfish a year. Unlike Dungeness crab and salmon, groundfish could be harvested year-round, providing an economic backbone for ports.

But in the late 1990s, scientists began to sound the alarm about dwindling fish stocks.

Rockfish Rebound
A worker prepares to dump a bucket of fish onto a conveyor belt for sorting after the fish were unloaded from a bottom trawler containing rockfish and other groundfish species in Warrenton, Oregon.GILLIAN FLACCUS / AP

Just nine of the more than 90 groundfish species were in trouble, but because of the way bottom trawlers fished – indiscriminately hauling up millions of pounds of whatever their nets encountered – regulators began focus on bottom trawling. Multiple species of rockfish, slow-growing creatures with spiny fins and colorful names like canary, darksplotched and yellow eye, were the hardest hit.

“We really wiped out the industry for a number of years,” Pettinger said. “To get those things up and going again is not easy.”

In 2011, trawlers were assigned quotas for how many of each species they could catch. If they went over, they had to buy quota from other fishermen in a system reminiscent of a carbon cap-and-trade model. Mandatory independent observers, paid by the trawlers, accompanied the vessels and hand-counted their haul.

Fishermen quickly learned to avoid areas heavy in off-limits species and began innovating to net fewer banned fish.

Collaboration pays off

Surveys soon showed groundfish rebounding – in some cases, 50 years faster than predicted – and accidental trawling of overfished species fell by 80%. The Marine Stewardship Council certified 13 species in the fishery as sustainable in 2014, and five more followed last year.

As the quota system’s success became apparent, environmentalists and trawlers began to talk. Regulators would soon revisit the trawling rules, and the two sides wanted a voice.

They met more than 30 times, slowly building trust as they crafted a proposal. Trawlers brought maps developed over generations, alerted environmentalists to reefs they didn’t know about, and even shared proprietary tow paths.

Last year, regulators approved a plan to reopen the 17-year-old Rockfish Conservation Area off Oregon and California, while banning future trawling in extreme-depth waters and making off-limits some habitat dubbed essential to fish reproduction, including a large area off Southern California.

“A fair number of fishermen thought it was a good deal and if it was going to happen, it was better for them to participate than not,” said Tom Libby, a fish processor who was instrumental in crafting the agreement. “It’s right up there with the best and most rewarding things in my career — and I’ve been at it 50 years.”

Some groups, like Oceana, wanted even more protections from bottom trawling, which it calls the “most damaging fishing method to seafloor habitats off the West Coast.” In a news release, the group emphasized that the agreement it did get safeguards 90 percent of the seafloor in U.S. waters off the West Coast.

Now, efforts to revive demand

Even so, with fragile species rebounding, trawlers could harvest as much as 120 million pounds a year, but there’s only demand for about half that much. That’s because groundfish have been replaced in stores by farmed, foreign species like tilapia.

A trade association called Positively Groundfish is trying to change that by touring food festivals and culinary trade shows, evangelizing to chefs and seafood buyers about the industry’s rebound and newfound sustainability. They give out samples, too.

“We are treating this almost like a new product for which you have to build awareness — but we do have a great story,” said Jana Hennig, the association’s executive director. “People are so surprised to hear that not everything is lost, that not everything is doom and gloom, but that it’s possible that you can manage a fishery so well that it actually bounces back to abundance.

Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment Joins Efforts with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

 

As part of a campaign to protect the Cocos Island UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society partnered with Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment to collect and transport 34 tons of marine pollution, illegal shark finning long lines, and other confiscated fishing gear, which had been accumulating on the remote volcanic island of Cocos for over 25 years.

For a one-time project, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society removed over 1700 miles (2800 kilometers) of nylon monofilament fishing line from Cocos Island and shipped it to Aquafil to be transformed into ECONYL® regenerated nylon, which is used for carpet flooring and fashion items.

Island Del Coco National Park is home to many marine ecosystems that provide universal importance. The Costa Rican thermal dome off the coast of the Cocos Island gives 7% of biodiversity to the world. Thanks to this one-time collaboration, harmful marine debris was recovered from the ocean and is set to be transformed into a high performing material that can have a second life in new products.

“It is not just about sending a boat to the island and bring the trash to the mainland, it is to do the whole work,” stated Costa Rica’s Minister of the Environment Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, concluding “this is an achievement we are very proud of, and above all, we are very grateful for the support we received.”

“Plastics are a serious threat to marine ecosystems. Removing illegal nylon fishing gear from such a pristine environment, repurposing the material and ensuring it will not be used to kill sharks again is a big step in protecting sharks and the Tropical Eastern Pacific marine environment, which Cocos Island is part of,” said Captain Paul Watson. Adding, “This is a very important migration route for sharks and Sea Shepherd’s commitment to protect sharks and their habitats is a holistic one, tackling Illegal targeting of sharks by longline and overseeing the proper disposal of the fishing gear, by ensuring a chain of custody from the high seas to the recycling facility.”

ECONYL® nylon is obtained through the regeneration process of nylon waste and reduces the global warming impact of nylon by up to 80 percent compared with material generated from oil. Aquafil, the Italian company that invented ECONYL®, brings new purpose to waste materials that would otherwise pollute the world’s landfills and oceans.

Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society


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Dumped fishing gear is biggest plastic polluter in ocean, finds report

https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/06/dumped-fishing-gear-is-biggest-plastic-polluter-in-ocean-finds-report?fbclid=IwAR1h_HPV6ferfDXKjvILXpctxAEh-Rl9DrO0WyMd8MhtjR14x1xmV-IOwwA

Greenpeace calls for global action over nets, lines and traps that are deadly for marine life

Tue 5 Nov 2019 19.01 EST

Lost and abandoned fishing gear which is deadly to marine life makes up the majority of large plastic pollution in the oceans, according to a report by Greenpeace.

More than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses.

The report, which draws on the most up-to-date research on “ghost gear” polluting the oceans, calls for international action to stop the plastic pollution, which is deadly for marine wildlife.

About 300 sea turtles were found dead as a result of entanglement in ghost gear off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, last year. And in October, a pregnant whale was found entangled in ghost gear off the Orkney coast. The fishing gear was jammed in the animal’s baleen, the filter-feeder system inside its mouth, and scientists said the net would have hugely impaired the minke whale’s feeding and movement.

Louisa Casson, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Ghost gear is a major source of ocean plastic pollution and it affects marine life in the UK as much as anywhere else.

“The UK’s waters do not exist in a vacuum as oceans have no borders. The world’s governments must take action to protect our global oceans, and hold the under-regulated fishing industry to account for its dangerous waste. This should start with a strong global ocean treaty being agreed at the United Nations next year.”

The report said abandoned fishing gear was particularly deadly. “Nets and lines can pose a threat to wildlife for years or decades, ensnaring everything from small fish and crustaceans to endangered turtles, seabirds and even whales,” it said.

“Spreading throughout the ocean on tides and currents, lost and discarded fishing gear is now drifting to Arctic coastlines, washing up on remote Pacific islands, entangled on coral reefs and littering the deep seafloor.”

Ghost gear is estimated to make up 10% of ocean plastic pollution but forms the majority of large plastic littering the waters. One study found that as much as 70% (by weight) of macroplastics (in excess of 20cm) found floating on the surface of the ocean was fishing related.

A recent study of the “great Pacific garbage patch”, an area of plastic accumulation in the north Pacific, estimated that it contained 42,000 tonnes of megaplastics, of which 86% was fishing nets.

Another expedition to the south Pacific found an estimated 18 tonnes of plastic debris on a 2.5km stretch of beach on the uninhabited Henderson Island and it was reportedly accumulating at a rate of several thousand pieces per day. In a collection of 6 tonnes of garbage, an estimated 60% originated from industrial fisheries.

Greenpeace said ghost gear was particularly prevalent from illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, but overcrowded fisheries also contributed to the problem. “Poor regulation and slow political progress in creating ocean sanctuaries that are off-limits to industrial fishing allow this problem to exist and persist,” the report said.

Greenpeace is calling for the UN treaty to provide a comprehensive framework for marine protection, paving the way for a global network of ocean sanctuaries covering 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

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Federal judge renews ban on gillnet fishing in Nantucket area to protect whales

By  Oct. 29, 2019 17:43 GMT

A federal judge in Washington, DC, on Monday ruled that the US’ National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) violated the Endangered Species Act, Magnuson Stevens Act, and other federal laws when it removed a roughly 20-year-old ban last year on gillnet fishing within a 3,000 square mile area south and east of the Massachusetts island Nantucket.

US District Court judge James Boasberg has renewed the ban in order to protect North Atlantic right whales, the Boston Globe reports. He said, in his 32-page ruling, that his decision was “not a close call” and quoted Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”.

“Demonstrating that ‘there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men’ … humans have brought the North Atlantic right whale to the brink of extinction,” he wrote.

Boasberg’s ruling does not apply to the scallop industry, which will be allowed to continue using its dredging equipment in the area, as it has not been found to harm the marine mammals.

The ruling echoed concerns laid out in a recent whistleblower complaint that suggested NMFS misrepresented the views of its own scientists to justify the action, the newspaper noted.

The agency had argued that it wasn’t required to conduct a deeper review and consult with all of its branches, though Boasberg disagreed.

NMFS’ “duty was clear,” he wrote in his opinion. Once scientists in the agency make “the determination that its action ‘may affect’ a listed species, it is without discretion to avoid consultation with the expert agency as to the effects of the action on the listed species. The court cannot excuse this breach.”

Fraser, Pitt river seal hunt proposed in Lower Mainland

First Nations say fishing affected, DFO reviewing

There is a growing call for First Nations communities to be able to harvest seals and sea lions along the Fraser and Pitt Rivers for profit.

Thomas Sewid, with the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society, believes that a pinniped harvest is needed in order to save salmon stocks that are being depleted by the animals. Seals, sea lions and walruses, with flippers, are considered pinnipeds.

“Since the 1980s, the seal and sea lion population in British Columbia have exploded,” said Sewid.

“They are just decimating our salmon stocks. And then you factor in the low returns we’re getting this year,” said Sewid, adding that it’s a disaster.

RELATED: Scientists warn of ecosystem consequences for proposed B.C. seal hunt

He would like to see Fisheries and Oceans Canada allow First Nations communities to harvest and sell seal and sea lion products, “to help protect their salmon, sturgeon, trout, steelhead and everything else they are decimating.”

Sewid said that while under the First Nations food, social, ceremonial fishery, many communities have the right to harvest seals and sea lions, they are not allowed to sell the meat, barter it or trade with it.

“What we need is to get licensed,” said Sewid.

Once licensed, Sewid wants to see bands get authorization to close down parts of the river to the public for a certain period to allow hunters in high-visibility vests to remove the seals, although the method by which the seals would be killed hasn’t been confirmed.

“We want people with high-vis vests and radios and cellphone communication to cordon off the area, because First Nations are going to go in and remove the seals and sea lions,” said Sewid.

On Wednesday, hereditary Chief Roy Jones Jr. from the Haida First Nation approached the DFO to demand that they be allowed to sell seal products.

Sewid says there is plenty of interest from industries for seal or sea lion meat, oil, blubber and fur. The oil, he says, can be used in the pharmaceutical industry for lotions and pills for the high Omega 3 content, furs can be used for art and tourism industries, the meat can be used in the pet food industry and, he believes the high-end restaurant market would be interested in the meat as well.

He says it will be a sustainable and viable industry for communities lining the rivers.

Katzie Chief Grace Cunningham says there is an issue with seals impacting the harvest.

“I believe the largest population of seals are obviously in the ocean but when they are in our river they certainly affect our fishing endeavours,” she said.

She says the band has noticed it more in years like this year because of the depleted salmon run.

“We’re not able to get out as often as we would like or need to harvest our own and our fishers have to battle the seals to salvage their catch. The seals literally pull fish out of our nets, half eaten and or simply ruin the flesh,” she continued.

Katzie fisheries manager and councillor Rick Bailey said the issue is how to harvest the animals safely.

“Back in my grandfather’s day they used to just go out with a .22 and shoot them because there was nobody around. They used to get $5 per nose and they would just turn it into the Department of Fisheries in New Westminster and they would pay them in cash and they would go and buy groceries,” he said.

Now, added Bailey, there is too much activity on the river so that shooting the animals is not an option.

He has been trying to design a harpoon that can be safely used like a crossbow.

“Something to do it in a safe and humane way,” he said.

RELATED: Seal attacks kayakers off northern Vancouver Island

Bailey agrees with Sewid that the seal population has exploded.

“When we’re out fishing, we run our boats slow now because of the cost of fuel. You look out the window and the seals are swimming right beside you. Then as soon as you throw your net out they are just patrolling back and forth along the net picking out anything that they can get,” he said.

He compares the situation to a habituated bear. They are not feeding them but whenever they go fishing the seals and sea lions are out there robbing their nets.

Leri Davies with Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed that the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society submitted a proposal to commercially hunt pinnipeds under the New and Emerging Fisheries Policy.

Davies said the DFO takes an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries and oceans management to ensure that the best science is reflected, in consideration of the role seals play in a healthy aquatic ecosystem.

Seals and sea lions are an important food source for transient killer whales, also known as Biggs killer whales, Davies said by e-mail. This population of killer whale has been listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act since 2003, she said.

She did say the DFO is reviewing the Pinniped Society’s proposal that has already resulted in several rounds of feedback. And consultations with academic experts in Canada and the U.S. will be ongoing.

Danny Gerak who runs the Pitt River Lodge, says seals are not the problem for declining salmon populations.

“They have been feeding on the salmon for thousands of years. Before we got here and there were lots of salmon,” said Gerak by email from the lodge.

He says the problem is people who are destroying salmon habitat, over fishing, polluting the rivers and streams, killing the spawning grounds with jet boats, allowing disease from fish farms and sea lice and allowing the Japanese and other countries to fish B.C. sockeye on the high seas.

“They’re the least of our problem,” he said.

Sewid says if the government doesn’t back a seal or sea lion harvest they are going to announce a First Nations cull on the entire coast.

“To hell with government. We’ll let them drag us off to court and we’ll prove, like we always do in Supreme Court that we win the dice roll with a 96 per cent success ratio,” he said.

A pregnant harbor seal was shot in the head and lost an eye. Now she’s going home.

The seal was shot through the head near the San Juan Islands during a fishing derby. She and her unborn seal pup are lucky to be alive.

A pregnant seal, now without its left eye after being shot with a pellet gun, is heading home to the San Juan Islands Sunday after successful surgery and nearly a month of recovery away from the sea.

A fisherman shot the seal through the head near the Sucia Islands late last month, and the creature only endured the initial trauma of the ordeal through luck and quick emergency care.

The feisty one-eyed seal, who goes by “19-0120” among staff caring for her at the PAWS Wildlife Center, is expected to survive her reintroduction to the wild.

Her plight highlights rising tensions between fishermen and federally protected pinnipeds — seals and sea lions — in the Pacific Northwest, as both compete for their catch of fish.

Suspect identified

The harbor seal was shot during a fishing derby, according to Jennifer Olson, the Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for San Juan County.

Deputies with the San Juan County Sheriff’s office, along with a border patrol agent, were the first to reach the seal the afternoon of the shooting on Jan. 26.

“We received a call that somebody was out shooting a seal with a pellet gun,” said Zac Reimer, the office’s undersheriff. “Another person, who was also fishing, observed this happening right in front of them and gave us a call right away.”

Reimer said the person who reported the shooting was close enough to capture video of the events.

When deputies arrived, the suspect’s boat was still there and the seal was “bobbing around, not acting like a healthy harbor seal,” Reimer said. “It just appeared stunned.”

The animal was so listless that deputies were able to get a rope around the creature and haul it onto their 26-foot patrol boat.

No one was arrested at the scene, but deputies were able to talk to witnesses, take photographs and collect evidence, Reimer said. A 40-year-old man is suspected in the shooting, he said. The man’s boat had remained there with several other people onboard.

“Since we were already on marine patrol, we were able to just go right up to the boats and talk to everybody,” Reimer said.

The evidence is in the hands of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s law-enforcement branch, which is investigating and could pursue federal charges. Violations of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act can result in fines of up to $28,520 along with up to one year of imprisonment.

A rare case of survival

Washington state once financed a bounty hunting program that encouraged people to kill harbor seals in an effort to bolster fishermen’s catch, according to the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife.

With the program’s end in 1960 and the passage of the federal protection act 12 years later, the population of harbor seals began to multiply many times over.

But the recovery of pinnipeds has also spurred an increase in salmon consumption by the creatures, according to a 2017 paper published in Scientific Reports. In 1975, harbor seals ate an estimated 3.5 million chinook salmon. In 2015, that figure rose to 27.4 million chinook, most of them juveniles.

Conflict with people fishing has increased, too.

“There’s certainly frustration out there, at the slow recovery of salmon, and these animals are using those resources that we also rely on,” said Michael Milstein, a NOAA spokesperson.

Researchers examined pinniped stranding data in the Pacific Northwest from 1991 to 2016 in a recent Aquatic Mammals Journal article.

Strandings — when a pinniped comes ashore dead or is alive and unable to return to the water without help — began to rise in the early 2000s, a trend driven, in part, by a rise in the animals being shot, according to the data.

In 25 years of study, 896 harbor seals were found to have been stranded after interacting with people. More than 21 percent of those seals were shot.

Meanwhile, dead sea lions, with bullet holes, have been washing up across Puget Sound shores.

The Whale Museum, where Olson works as a data specialist, tracks marine-mammal strandings in San Juan County.

Since 1980, the museum has counted 39 confirmed cases in which pinnipeds were shot. Most of the cases are identified in necropsies.

“To have a live seal survive the gunshot wound where there’s time to help them, that’s what makes this case rare,” Olson said.

‘Cross our fingers and hope’

Soon after the shooting, the deputies brought the struggling seal to Olson, who loaded the animal into a crate and drove her to the Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on San Juan Island.

“She was moving. I could tell she was alive,” Olson said. But after “giving her a small tap on her back, there was absolutely no response.”

Olson could see entry and exit wounds. Blood and pus were leaking out of the creature’s head, she said. She worried the seal could have suffered brain damage.

Once the seal arrived at Wolf Hollow, Penny Harner, a staff rehabilitator began to treat the “lethargic” animal.

“Basically, all we could do the first night was get some fluids in her, get some medications on board and cross our fingers and hope for the night,” Harner said.

But the next morning, when she flipped the lights, the 128-pound creature stirred and began to look around with her good eye.

When Harner entered the room to treat the seal, “she did what a typical seal would, which was lunge.”

Wolf Hollow staff typically work with injured or orphaned seal pups, but not strong, muscular adults. During treatments, it took four staffers, clad in protective gear, to hold the animal down for medication.

“She gave me a ride around the room at times,” said Harner, who was in charge of using her knees to control the seal’s flippers.

When a veterinarian visited the rehabilitation center, it was clear that the pellet wound, just above the seal’s bugged-out and bloodshot left eye, would require surgery.

Nearly a week after she was shot, the seal was taken in an animal ambulance to the PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, which treats hundreds of species of injured wild animals.

As snow fell on Seattle on Feb. 4, veterinarians, surgeons and other helpers crowded into a small room that looks like a shabby doctor’s office for surgery. Earlier, an X-ray showed tiny metal fragments of the pellet lodged inside her head, and also a surprise — the seal was pregnant. The scan had revealed the curvature of a tiny spine, rib cage and skull growing inside.

While the seal remained under anesthetic, two surgeons began their work, as the others monitored the animal’s blood pressure, breathing and heartbeat.

The surgeons carved out the damaged tissue, severed the seal’s optic nerve and removed her eye. Then, they scored the seal’s eyelids and sutured them to one another so the skin would heal together.

“It’s a bloody surgery,” said wildlife veterinarian Nicki Rosenhagen, but the seal fared well.

PAWS staffers placed the seal’s eyeball, and some extra tissue, in a plastic gelato container. “We do a lot of educational talks,” Rosenhagen explained.

The pregnant seal has had a smooth recovery, Rosenhagen said. The seal arrived to PAWS plump, strong and healthy, aside from the gunshot wound. The surgical site has been healing well and there’s no evidence of infection. She’s been swimming. And her behavior has been “appropriately aggressive” — normal for a seal and a good indication that no brain damage occurred.

‘Super lucky’ and headed home

On Sunday morning, as long as a blood test comes back clean, PAWS naturalist Jeff Brown will help load the pregnant seal into a giant dog kennel, secure her in the bed of a pickup truck and haul her home.

He’s scouted two locations for a beach release, one in the Sucia Islands and another on San Juan Island with easier access, in case a storm stirs.

By the afternoon, a crew will unload the kennel and release the seal back to her home.

The veterinarians expect the seal to adapt to hunting with one eye and give her good prospects to survive. The baby should also be fine, Rosenhagen said. A radiologist who examined the X-ray said she saw no evidence of fetal death, despite the mother’s ordeal.

“She got super lucky,” Rosenhagen said, “if getting shot in the head is lucky.”

Why So Many People Hate Cormorants 

https://www.animalalliance.ca/news/

The late American poet-philosopher Maya Angelou said: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”

I think it’s a safe bet that the quote, and Angelou, are both unknown to newly elected Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who once said: “If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.” His ignorance in that case was in reference to possibly Canada’s most famous, easily recognized living writer (and a resident of the city whose mayor was Ford’s own brother and who Ford, as a councillor, was helping to govern), Margaret Atwood. She had corrected Ford’s absurd assertion that his ward contained more libraries than Tim Horton’s coffee shops.

That level of ignorance is no virtue. If I may quote Angelou once more: “ <https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1567235> The root cause of all the problems we have in the world today is ignorance of course. But most, polarization.”

To the “populist” politicians and their “base”, their core supporters, it is not what is factual, but what you feel, what your intuition, your “gut”, tells you, that counts.

And in answering the question posed at by the title of this blog, it is important to first understand that hate, ignorance and polarization are not only handmaidens (all puns intended) of each other but exactly what Ford’s plan to wipe out Double-crested Cormorants in Ontario, encompasses. He indeed polarizes.

The issue is that, as is the inclination of authoritarian political leaders, without consultation Ford has proposed a series of Draconian legislative steps that will greatly damage Ontario’s environment, and wildlife, in various ways.

This includes a plan to re-define the Double-crested Cormorant as a “game” bird, with an open season that lasts from March 15 to December 31, and no limit on “possession”.

For the first time in Canadian game management, hunted birds won’t have to be utilized as food. Any hunter with the correct small game hunting license could legally kill well over 13,000 birds per year. At that rate it would take only about 18 hunters to eliminate all the cormorants in the Great Lakes basin in a single year, and with a very few more able to eliminate the species from the entire province. No one hunter could kill that many, but then, while hunters’ numbers are in precipitous decline, there are still a many times more than enough to again eliminate the species in most of Ontario.

In an excellent commentary published by The Toronto Star on December 10, 2018 (see: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/12/10/why-are-cormorants-in-progressive-conservatives-crosshairs.html) political commentator par excellence, Thomas Walkom, asks a similar, related question, why are cormorants in the crosshairs of Doug Ford’s party, the provincial Progressive Conservatives?

Having a majority in provincial parliament, Ford and his party has free rein to enact regressive laws. The party is neither conservative nor progressive, but they can do what they want, so why do they want to kill cormorants and cause horrific suffering and deaths to their orphaned nestlings? What game species is deliberately and legally shot when it has dependent young? Why hate cormorants?

While the answer to the uninformed minds of Ford’s base would simply be “because cormorants eat all the fish”, meaning fish otherwise available to both sport and commercial anglers, as is well known by those who actually study cormorant diets, it is wrong. I think that inaccurate belief is only part of the answer.

But it is not quite what Walkom asked. We’ll get to that.

There is often excessive antipathy toward predators, seen by the environmentally illiterate as competitors for what we humans need or want. Among fish-eating species, seals, sealions, porpoises and other cetaceans, sharks and other mammals have been scapegoated – blamed for declines in commercially “harvested” fish stocks. Among native Ontario birds, Ospreys, pelicans, herons, Belted Kingfishers, loons, grebes, mergansers and other species have, at various times, been targeted for organized killing. They are all now protected, to varying degrees, in response to increasing understanding of basic ecological principles.

But none evoke as much sheer detestation as cormorants; they really are hated, to an irrational, visceral degree, by a significant minority of people. It is not all that unusual, especially for people who lived prior to about the mid-twentieth century, before there was much knowledge about wildlife population dynamics and predator-prey interrelationships and the importance of apex predators to biodiversity, to want to kill all predators. And a few species, like wolves, can still too often arouse such levels of irrational fear and hatred.

It has been suggested that some of the excoriation directed against cormorants reflects deep-seated bigotry of the worse kind. The theory points to the fact that cormorants were once called nigger goose in some quarters (you can imagine which) and to a situation in Australia, where there are two small cormorant species very similar in size, shape and diets, but one is black and white while the other is all black, the latter being far less tolerated than the former. Other black birds, such as crows, grackles and starlings, also seem to attract disproportionate dislike, where they dare to be common. “Black” is, as people in support of civil rights have been known to observe, seen as negative, the colour that depends on an absence of light, thus the antheses to what light represents, as symbolized in the word, “enlightenment”, or in religious texts associating light with grace, goodness and God. White pelicans, which eat more fish per bird than any cormorant (because they are bigger; they need more) are, like swans and egrets, more fondly considered.

Maybe, but that didn’t stop assailants from killing both cormorants and American White Pelicans at a mutual nesting colony Manitoba, stomping on eggs and babies, and has not prevented demonization of Mute Swans and Snow Geese, both white.

The “blackness” theory is all too speculative for me and I think the answer is simpler, although not entirely simplistic.

To help understand the hatred, we need a little history.

The species was twice reduced to virtually endangered status in Ontario. The first reduction happened, I theorize, hot on the heels of colonization by European “settlers”. They carried with them guns and a combination of fear and ignorance about the wilderness, which was to be tamed and conquered. Because of their devotion to their nesting duties cormorants are extremely vulnerable to persecution. It’s inconceivable that they would be found from Alaska to Florida and the West Indies, and from Newfoundland to California and Mexico, and yet be absent from the largest source of fresh water fish in the world, quite near the centre of that vast range. As mostly European “pioneers” filled the land, cormorants, and a vast number of other wildlife species, gave way. Cormorants were easily destroyed.

Following the end of the War of 1812, commercial fisheries began in the Great Lakes and no cormorant nest site would have been safe from persecution, happening before qualified naturalists arrived on the scene to record the presence of nesting birds. This led to the oddly absurd belief that cormorants therefore were never present!

But they were, and there are indications of them nesting in Sandusky Bay, Ohio, which is part of Lake Erie, late into the 19th Century. By the time qualified observations were being made, direct evidence of Great Lakes nesting was scarce to absent, east of Lake of the Woods, until some were found in Lake Superior in 1913, where locals said they had nested all along.

The “official” version is that from there they spread eastward, reaching Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River by 1945.

On its website Environment Canada says, “Historically, it is thought that the Double-crested Cormorant did not nest in the Great Lakes. Archaeological excavations in aboriginal settlements have not shown any evidence of the bird. Although cormorants have nested in Lake of the Woods (in northwestern Ontario) for hundreds of years, the first suspected nesting on the Great Lakes did not occur until 1913, at the far western end of Lake Superior. From there colonies spread eastward to Lake Nipigon in the 1920s, to Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in the early 1930s and finally to Lakes Ontario and Erie in the late 1930s (Figure 1: Cormorants first nested on Lake Superior in 1913, and spread eastward to Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River By 1945.”

Environment Canada’s website ignores any evidence contrary to what it says and misstates that there is no archeological evidence of the bird in the Great Lakes prior to then. That is simply not true (their bones have, in fact, been found in kitchen middens – remains of animals eaten by native peoples centuries ago, albeit not often; they are not good to eat) but it promotes the idea that the bird did not historically occur in the Great Lakes, and thus is an intruder, an “invader”, an immigrant, as it were.

Then Minister of what was at the time called the Ministry of Natural Resources, David Ramsay, said, in 2004, that the cormorants were not native, but an “invasive” species. Again, that is not remotely true. That ridiculous claim has since been dropped by the provincial government although it seems still to be believed by some who so thoughtlessly hate cormorants.

Following the end of WWII, DDT was introduced into the environment with disastrous results, as the pesticide bioaccumulated up the food chain, to render several fish-eating bird species unable to produce viable eggs. The same Environment Canada website is probably far more accurate in saying, “The cormorant disappeared as a nesting bird on Lakes Michigan and Superior and only about ten pairs remained on Lake Ontario.”

However, by 1973, recovery was well underway, again.

And there is what is a significant part of the real origin of fear and hatred directed against Double-crested Cormorants. The ecological niche that cormorants occupy was already there, and in fact had increased. Cormorants tend to eat coarse fish species that are abundant, and several such species had newly entered the ecosystem, including the herring-like Alewife, a truly invasive species.

I saw my first cormorants, as a kid, in 1957, and the beach I was standing near, at Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Lake Ontario, was covered in rotting piles of dead Alewives. Alewives’ food consists of plankton and other tiny organisms at or near the base of food chains upon which larger fish depend, along with small fish and other organisms of various other species, including the young of species of interest to anglers.

Alewives spawn at the same time cormorants are feeding, and spawning Alewives are an ideal size for cormorants. As cormorant numbers went up, on average the number of dead and rotting Alewives on the beaches went down, and the kinds of fish that anglers pursue had more food, to their benefit. The return of the cormorants was good news indicating environmental healing.

No one now alive was around when cormorants were here prior to nearly vanishing at the end of the 19th century, and few if anyone alive would recall their growing numbers prior to World War II. Thus, the perception is that the “normal” number of cormorants is what is remembered from our youth, which in many lakes and rivers, would be none at all.

Thus the “norm” to such folks is not what a healthy ecosystem looks like, cormorants, fish and all, but what it looks like when a key species, the cormorant, is endangered or absent. Add to that, a lack of understanding that in naturally evolved predator-prey relationships, prey population size determines how many predators there are, not the other way around.

Currently most water that cormorants could occupy lacks them; most fish cormorants could eat don’t get eaten by them; most islands and headlands where cormorants might nest, they don’t.

However, when and where they do occur, they may do so in large numbers. They are a species that is very “social” and that tends to occur in large concentrations. Large numbers of wildlife is not a sight anyone alive today is used to seeing. We might read about the vast numbers of wildlife that greeted the first European settlers, but we have no memory of them. The vast seabird breeding colonies, the schools of cod so thick they impeded the progress of ships, the massive herds of bison whose sheer weight shook the earth, the unimaginably enormous numbers of Passenger Pigeons eclipsing the sun, the wide flocks of migrating Eskimo Curlews and other shorebirds, the expanses of caribou across the tundra, numbers of deer, bear, moose, waterfowl…and cormorants…gone now, many, including some that were once the most numerous, are extinct, extirpated or endangered.

But some do recover. When a species does occur, even locally, in large numbers, it tends to be perceived as an anomaly, an abomination, an affront to our own self-important domination of an environment we still want to control, to dominate. The number of people in the Greater Toronto Area is more than the number of Double-crested Cormorants continent-wide, and yet Premier Ford thinks there are “too many”.

There is also the “squeamish factor”. With our cellophane-wrapped meat and air-conditioned or gas-heated homes and the support of unprecedented technologies upon which we have rapidly become dependent, we are isolated from the true nature, the texture, the essence of life and life processes. The concentrations of excrement that are so normal and typical a part of any concentration of any species, our own included when modern plumbing is not to be had, offends us. The un-sanitized world is just too “dirty”, it can smell unpleasant; the reality of life and death is disagreeable and disturbing, dangers lurk…an unwelcome intrusion into our technologically barricaded womb of equanimity.

But while I think all of that goes into explaining hatred of cormorants, where it exists, it does not answer Thomas Walkom’s more probing question: why are cormorants in the crosshairs of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives?

The key to the answer is, I believe, embedded in the question. Crosshairs is a reference to shooters, and while we don’t have the “gun culture” to be found in the U.S., it is not entirely missing. Whereas our southern neighbours have the National Rifle Association, the NRA, a major political force down there, in Ontario we have the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, OFAH. Both organizations share a problem and do so with the respective governments of the jurisdictions in which they operate and with various business interests.

That problem is a precipitous decline in hunters. Hunters pay license fees that go into government coffers, and membership fees and donations that fund the NRA and OFAH and payments to outfitters, and equipment suppliers such as gun, ammo and hunting gear producers and retailers. It’s a symbiotic relationship of intertwined and interdependent interests.

I can’t think that the more knowledgeable of OFAH’s advisors really are as ignorant of ecology as their anti-cormorant indicates, but they know they depend on the hook and bullet fraternity for