‘They just pull up everything!’ Chinese fleet raises fears for Galápagos sea life

‘They just pull up everything!’ Chinese fleet raises fears for Galápagos sea life

Seascape: the state of our oceansGalápagos Islands

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/aug/06/chinese-fleet-fishing-galapagos-islands-environment?fbclid=IwAR1m0ux_QLU-rqIe0Oo6lp1AtHvEq8KQWvMgLe8a7kjjm0NxXlgf0mkaXI0

A vast fishing armada off Ecuador’s biodiverse Pacific islands has stirred alarm over ‘indiscriminate’ fishing practicesSeascape: the state of our oceans is supported byAbout this content

Dan Collyns in Lima @yachay_dc

Thu 6 Aug 2020 05.30 EDTLast modified on Thu 6 Aug 2020 11.18 EDT

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The Chinese reefer ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was intercepted inside the Galápagos marine reserve in 2017. It contained about 300 tonnes of mostly sharks, including protected species such as hammerhead and whale shark.
 The Chinese reefer ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was intercepted in the Galápagos marine reserve in 2017 with about 300 tonnes of mostly sharks, including protected species. Photograph: Archivo Parque Nacional Galápagos

Jonathan Green had been tracking a whale shark named Hope across the eastern Pacific for 280 days when the satellite transmissions from a GPS tag on her dorsal fin abruptly stopped.

It was not unusual for the GPS signal to go silent, even for weeks at a time, said Green, a scientist who has been studying the world’s largest fish for three decades in the unique marine ecosystem around the Galápagos Islands.

Alarm over discovery of hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels near Galápagos Islands

 Read more

But then he looked at satellite images in the area where Hope was last tracked – more than a thousand nautical miles west of the islands – and noticed the ocean was being patrolled by hundreds of Chinese fishing boats.

“I began to look into it and found that at the very end of her track she began to speed up,” said Green, co-founder and director of the Galápagos Whale Shark Project.

“It went from one knot to six or seven knots for the last 32 minutes – which is, of course, the speed of a fishing boat,” he said.

The fishing vessels that Green saw on the satellite images are believed to belong to an enormous Chinese-flagged fleet which Ecuadorian authorities last week warned was just outside the Galápagos Islands’ territorial waters.

“I don’t have proof but my hypothesis is that she was caught by vessels from the same fleet which is now situated to the south of the islands,” Green told the Guardian. She is the third GPS-tracked whale shark to have gone missing in the last decade, he added.

The Chinese fleet, numbering more than 200 vessels, is in international waters just outside a maritime border around the Galápagos Islands and also Ecuador’s coastal waters, said Norman Wray, the islands’ governor.

‘The Galápagos Marine Reserve is a place of very great productivity, high biomass but also biodiversity.’
 A female whale shark in the Galápagos archipelago. ‘The Galápagos Marine Reserve is a place of very great productivity, high biomass but also biodiversity.’ Photograph: Simon J Pierce

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Chinese fishing vessels come every year to the seas around the Galápagos, which were declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1978, but this year’s fleet is one of the largest seen in recent years. Of the 248 vessels, 243 are flagged to China including to companies with suspected records of illegal, unreported and unregulated, or IUU, fishing, according to research by C4ADS, a data analysis NGO.

The fleet includes fishing boats and refrigerated container – or reefer – ships to store enormous catches.

Transferring cargo between vessels is prohibited under international maritime law yet the Chinese flotilla has supply and storage ships along with longline and squid fishing boats.

“There are some fleets which don’t seem to abide by any regulations,” said Wray.

One captain of an Ecuadorian tuna boat saw the Chinese fishing boats up close in early July, before the end of the tuna season.

“They just pull up everything!” said the captain, who asked not to be named. “We are obliged to take a biologist aboard who checks our haul; if we catch a shark we have to put it back, but who controls them?”

He recalled navigating through the fleet at night, constantly changing course to avoid boats, as their lights illuminated the sea to attract squid to the surface.

“It was like looking at a city at night,” he said.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2020/08/galapagos_islands_map/giv-3902PwADw3d4ii3F/

The longline fishing boats had up to 500 lines, each with thousands of fishhooks, he estimated, and claimed that some of the vessels would turn off their automatic tracking systems to avoid detection, particularly when operating in protected areas.

Chinese fishing practices first caught the attention of Ecuador in 2017 when its navy seized the Chinese reefer Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 within the Galápagos marine reserve. Inside its containers were 6,000 frozen sharks – including the endangered hammerhead shark and whale shark.

“It was a slaughterhouse,” said Green, describing the images of the cargo hold. “This kind of slaughter is going on on a massive scale in international waters and nobody is witnessing it.”

The seizure prompted protests outside the Chinese embassy in Quito; Ecuador fined the vessel $6m and the 20 Chinese crew-members were later jailed for up to four years for illegal fishing.

The arrival of the latest fleet has also stirred public outrage and a formal complaint by Ecuador as its navy is on alert for any incursion into Ecuadorian waters.

The Chinese embassy in Quito said that China was a “responsible fishing nation” with a “zero-tolerance” attitude towards illegal fishing. It had confirmed with Ecuador’s navy that all the Chinese fishing vessels were operating legally “and don’t represent a threat to anyone”, it said in a statement last month. On Thursday China announced a three-month fishing ban in the high seas west of the marine reserve, but it will not come into force until September.

Roque Sevilla, a former mayor of Quito, who is leading a team in charge of designing a “protection strategy” for the islands, said the fleet practices “indiscriminate fishing – regardless of species or age – which is causing a serious deterioration of the quality of fauna that we will have in our seas”.

Ecuador would establish a corridor of marine reserves with Pacific-facing neighbours Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia to seal off important areas of marine diversity, Sevilla told the Guardian.

Shark finning: why the ocean’s most barbaric practice continues to boom

 Read more

Protecting the Cocos Ridge, an underwater mountain range which connects the Galápagos Islands to mainland Costa Rica, and the Carnegie Ridge which links the archipelago to Ecuador and continental South America, could close off more than 200,000 sq nautical miles of ocean otherwise vulnerable to industrial fishing, he said.

He added Ecuador had called for a diplomatic meeting with Chile, Peru, Colombia and Panama to present a formal protest against China.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“When the Galápagos’s protected area was first created it was cutting edge,” said Matt Rand, director of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy, “but compared to other newer marine protected areas Galápagos is now potentially lacking in size to protect the biodiversity.”

Milton Castillo, the Galápagos Islands’ representative for Ecuador’s human rights ombudsman’s office, said he had asked the prosecutor’s office to inspect the cargo holds of the Chinese ships based on the legal principle of the universal and extraterritorial protection of endangered species.

China’s distant-water fishing fleet is the biggest in the world, with nearly 17,000 vessels – 1,000 of which use “flags of convenience” and are registered in other countries, according to research by the Overseas Development Institute.https://www.youtube.com/embed/Uu5ka0lMZTo?embed_config=%7B%22relatedChannels%22%3A%5B%5D%2C%22adsConfig%22%3A%7B%22adTagParameters%22%3A%7B%22iu%22%3A%22%2F59666047%2Ftheguardian.com%2Fenvironment%2Farticle%2Fng%22%2C%22cust_params%22%3A%22sens%253Df%2526permutive%253D23527%252C24632%252C24663%252C24665%252C24670%252C24655%252C24668%252C26748%252C27872%252C28985%252C24672%252C30130%252C31470%252C24691%252C24675%252C24693%252C33392%252C27631%252C27638%252C29800%252C33143%252C24659%252C24645%252C24630%252C28165%252C24628%252C24641%252C24667%252C24674%252C24689%252C30377%252C27564%252C24606%252C24661%252C25367%252C26822%252C25471%252C26749%252C37344%252C37434%252C43272%2526pv%253Dkdjeomwyvw417kzfu7lw%2526bp%253Ddesktop%2526si%253Df%2526ab%253DSignInGateMainVariant-main-variant-1%252CdotcomRenderingControl-control%252ColdTlsSupportDeprecationControl-control%2526fr%253D10-15%2526cc%253DUS%2526s%253Denvironment%2526rp%253Ddotcom-platform%2526dcre%253Df%2526inskin%253Df%2526urlkw%253Dchinese%252Cfleet%252Cfishing%252Cgalapagos%252Cislands%252Cenvironment%2526rdp%253Df%2526consent_tcfv2%253Dna%2526cmp_interaction%253Dna%2526se%253Dseascape-the-state-of-our-oceans%2526ct%253Darticle%2526co%253Ddan-collyns%2526url%253D%25252Fenvironment%25252F2020%25252Faug%25252F06%25252Fchinese-fleet-fishing-galapagos-islands-environment%2526br%253Df%2526su%253D2%252C3%252C4%252C5%2526edition%253Dus%2526tn%253Dfeatures%2526p%253Dng%2526k%253Dasia-pacific%252Cworld%252Cecuador%252Cchina%252Cfish%252Cenvironment%252Camericas%252Cgalapagos-islands%2526sh%253Dhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fgu.com%25252Fp%25252Feehna%2526pa%253Dt%22%7D%7D%7D&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com&widgetid=1Play Video0:51 Footage shows Chinese fleet vessels transferring cargo in seas near Galápagos – video

The fleet often fishes in the territorial waters of low-income countries, the report said, having depleted fish stocks in domestic waters.

Green said the “explosion of life” created by the confluence of cold and warm ocean currents around the Galápagos Islands is exactly why the Chinese armada is hovering around the archipelago’s waters.

“The Galápagos marine reserve is a place of very great productivity, high biomass but also biodiversity,” he said. The longline fishing technique used by the fleet catch big fish like tuna, but also sharks, rays, turtles and marine mammals like sea lions and dolphins, he added.

“This is not fishing any more, it is simply destroying the resources of our oceans,” Green said. “We should ask whether any nation on this planet has the right to destroy what is common ground.”

A vast fishing armada off Ecuador’s biodiverse Pacific islands has stirred alarm over ‘indiscriminate’ fishing practicesSeascape: the state of our oceans is supported byAbout this content

Dan Collyns in Lima @yachay_dc

Thu 6 Aug 2020 05.30 EDTLast modified on Thu 6 Aug 2020 11.18 EDT

Shares3,875

The Chinese reefer ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was intercepted inside the Galápagos marine reserve in 2017. It contained about 300 tonnes of mostly sharks, including protected species such as hammerhead and whale shark.
 The Chinese reefer ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was intercepted in the Galápagos marine reserve in 2017 with about 300 tonnes of mostly sharks, including protected species. Photograph: Archivo Parque Nacional Galápagos

Jonathan Green had been tracking a whale shark named Hope across the eastern Pacific for 280 days when the satellite transmissions from a GPS tag on her dorsal fin abruptly stopped.

It was not unusual for the GPS signal to go silent, even for weeks at a time, said Green, a scientist who has been studying the world’s largest fish for three decades in the unique marine ecosystem around the Galápagos Islands.

Alarm over discovery of hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels near Galápagos Islands

 Read more

But then he looked at satellite images in the area where Hope was last tracked – more than a thousand nautical miles west of the islands – and noticed the ocean was being patrolled by hundreds of Chinese fishing boats.

“I began to look into it and found that at the very end of her track she began to speed up,” said Green, co-founder and director of the Galápagos Whale Shark Project.

“It went from one knot to six or seven knots for the last 32 minutes – which is, of course, the speed of a fishing boat,” he said.

The fishing vessels that Green saw on the satellite images are believed to belong to an enormous Chinese-flagged fleet which Ecuadorian authorities last week warned was just outside the Galápagos Islands’ territorial waters.

“I don’t have proof but my hypothesis is that she was caught by vessels from the same fleet which is now situated to the south of the islands,” Green told the Guardian. She is the third GPS-tracked whale shark to have gone missing in the last decade, he added.

The Chinese fleet, numbering more than 200 vessels, is in international waters just outside a maritime border around the Galápagos Islands and also Ecuador’s coastal waters, said Norman Wray, the islands’ governor.

‘The Galápagos Marine Reserve is a place of very great productivity, high biomass but also biodiversity.’
 A female whale shark in the Galápagos archipelago. ‘The Galápagos Marine Reserve is a place of very great productivity, high biomass but also biodiversity.’ Photograph: Simon J Pierce

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Chinese fishing vessels come every year to the seas around the Galápagos, which were declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1978, but this year’s fleet is one of the largest seen in recent years. Of the 248 vessels, 243 are flagged to China including to companies with suspected records of illegal, unreported and unregulated, or IUU, fishing, according to research by C4ADS, a data analysis NGO.

The fleet includes fishing boats and refrigerated container – or reefer – ships to store enormous catches.

Transferring cargo between vessels is prohibited under international maritime law yet the Chinese flotilla has supply and storage ships along with longline and squid fishing boats.

“There are some fleets which don’t seem to abide by any regulations,” said Wray.

One captain of an Ecuadorian tuna boat saw the Chinese fishing boats up close in early July, before the end of the tuna season.

“They just pull up everything!” said the captain, who asked not to be named. “We are obliged to take a biologist aboard who checks our haul; if we catch a shark we have to put it back, but who controls them?”

He recalled navigating through the fleet at night, constantly changing course to avoid boats, as their lights illuminated the sea to attract squid to the surface.

“It was like looking at a city at night,” he said.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2020/08/galapagos_islands_map/giv-3902PwADw3d4ii3F/

The longline fishing boats had up to 500 lines, each with thousands of fishhooks, he estimated, and claimed that some of the vessels would turn off their automatic tracking systems to avoid detection, particularly when operating in protected areas.

Chinese fishing practices first caught the attention of Ecuador in 2017 when its navy seized the Chinese reefer Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 within the Galápagos marine reserve. Inside its containers were 6,000 frozen sharks – including the endangered hammerhead shark and whale shark.

“It was a slaughterhouse,” said Green, describing the images of the cargo hold. “This kind of slaughter is going on on a massive scale in international waters and nobody is witnessing it.”

The seizure prompted protests outside the Chinese embassy in Quito; Ecuador fined the vessel $6m and the 20 Chinese crew-members were later jailed for up to four years for illegal fishing.

The arrival of the latest fleet has also stirred public outrage and a formal complaint by Ecuador as its navy is on alert for any incursion into Ecuadorian waters.

The Chinese embassy in Quito said that China was a “responsible fishing nation” with a “zero-tolerance” attitude towards illegal fishing. It had confirmed with Ecuador’s navy that all the Chinese fishing vessels were operating legally “and don’t represent a threat to anyone”, it said in a statement last month. On Thursday China announced a three-month fishing ban in the high seas west of the marine reserve, but it will not come into force until September.

Roque Sevilla, a former mayor of Quito, who is leading a team in charge of designing a “protection strategy” for the islands, said the fleet practices “indiscriminate fishing – regardless of species or age – which is causing a serious deterioration of the quality of fauna that we will have in our seas”.

Ecuador would establish a corridor of marine reserves with Pacific-facing neighbours Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia to seal off important areas of marine diversity, Sevilla told the Guardian.

Shark finning: why the ocean’s most barbaric practice continues to boom

 Read more

Protecting the Cocos Ridge, an underwater mountain range which connects the Galápagos Islands to mainland Costa Rica, and the Carnegie Ridge which links the archipelago to Ecuador and continental South America, could close off more than 200,000 sq nautical miles of ocean otherwise vulnerable to industrial fishing, he said.

He added Ecuador had called for a diplomatic meeting with Chile, Peru, Colombia and Panama to present a formal protest against China.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“When the Galápagos’s protected area was first created it was cutting edge,” said Matt Rand, director of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy, “but compared to other newer marine protected areas Galápagos is now potentially lacking in size to protect the biodiversity.”

Milton Castillo, the Galápagos Islands’ representative for Ecuador’s human rights ombudsman’s office, said he had asked the prosecutor’s office to inspect the cargo holds of the Chinese ships based on the legal principle of the universal and extraterritorial protection of endangered species.

China’s distant-water fishing fleet is the biggest in the world, with nearly 17,000 vessels – 1,000 of which use “flags of convenience” and are registered in other countries, according to research by the Overseas Development Institute.https://www.youtube.com/embed/Uu5ka0lMZTo?embed_config=%7B%22relatedChannels%22%3A%5B%5D%2C%22adsConfig%22%3A%7B%22adTagParameters%22%3A%7B%22iu%22%3A%22%2F59666047%2Ftheguardian.com%2Fenvironment%2Farticle%2Fng%22%2C%22cust_params%22%3A%22sens%253Df%2526permutive%253D23527%252C24632%252C24663%252C24665%252C24670%252C24655%252C24668%252C26748%252C27872%252C28985%252C24672%252C30130%252C31470%252C24691%252C24675%252C24693%252C33392%252C27631%252C27638%252C29800%252C33143%252C24659%252C24645%252C24630%252C28165%252C24628%252C24641%252C24667%252C24674%252C24689%252C30377%252C27564%252C24606%252C24661%252C25367%252C26822%252C25471%252C26749%252C37344%252C37434%252C43272%2526pv%253Dkdjeomwyvw417kzfu7lw%2526bp%253Ddesktop%2526si%253Df%2526ab%253DSignInGateMainVariant-main-variant-1%252CdotcomRenderingControl-control%252ColdTlsSupportDeprecationControl-control%2526fr%253D10-15%2526cc%253DUS%2526s%253Denvironment%2526rp%253Ddotcom-platform%2526dcre%253Df%2526inskin%253Df%2526urlkw%253Dchinese%252Cfleet%252Cfishing%252Cgalapagos%252Cislands%252Cenvironment%2526rdp%253Df%2526consent_tcfv2%253Dna%2526cmp_interaction%253Dna%2526se%253Dseascape-the-state-of-our-oceans%2526ct%253Darticle%2526co%253Ddan-collyns%2526url%253D%25252Fenvironment%25252F2020%25252Faug%25252F06%25252Fchinese-fleet-fishing-galapagos-islands-environment%2526br%253Df%2526su%253D2%252C3%252C4%252C5%2526edition%253Dus%2526tn%253Dfeatures%2526p%253Dng%2526k%253Dasia-pacific%252Cworld%252Cecuador%252Cchina%252Cfish%252Cenvironment%252Camericas%252Cgalapagos-islands%2526sh%253Dhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fgu.com%25252Fp%25252Feehna%2526pa%253Dt%22%7D%7D%7D&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com&widgetid=1Play Video0:51 Footage shows Chinese fleet vessels transferring cargo in seas near Galápagos – video

The fleet often fishes in the territorial waters of low-income countries, the report said, having depleted fish stocks in domestic waters.

Green said the “explosion of life” created by the confluence of cold and warm ocean currents around the Galápagos Islands is exactly why the Chinese armada is hovering around the archipelago’s waters.

“The Galápagos marine reserve is a place of very great productivity, high biomass but also biodiversity,” he said. The longline fishing technique used by the fleet catch big fish like tuna, but also sharks, rays, turtles and marine mammals like sea lions and dolphins, he added.

“This is not fishing any more, it is simply destroying the resources of our oceans,” Green said. “We should ask whether any nation on this planet has the right to destroy what is common ground.”

Alarm over discovery of hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels near Galápagos Islands

The fleet, found just outside a protected zone, raises the prospect of damage to the marine ecosystemSeascape: the state of our oceans is supported byAbout this content

Dan Collyns in Lima @yachay_dc

Mon 27 Jul 2020 20.01 EDTFirst published on Mon 27 Jul 2020 19.42 EDT

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Fishing and tourist boats are anchored in the bay of San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
 Fishing and tourist boats are anchored in the bay of San Cristóbal, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Photograph: Adrian Vasquez/AP

Ecuador has sounded the alarm after its navy discovered a huge fishing fleet of mostly Chinese-flagged vessels some 200 miles from the Galápagos Islands, the archipelago which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

About 260 ships are currently in international waters just outside a 188-mile wide exclusive economic zone around the island, but their presence has already raised the prospect of serious damage to the delicate marine ecosystem, said a former environment minister, Yolanda Kakabadse.

“This fleet’s size and aggressiveness against marine species is a big threat to the balance of species in the Galápagos,” she told the Guardian.

Kakabadse and an ex-mayor of Quito, Roque Sevilla, were on Monday put in charge of designing a “protection strategy” for the islands, which lie 563 miles west of the South American mainland.

Diego the tortoise, father to hundreds and saviour of his species, finally retires

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Chinese fishing vessels come every year to the seas around the Galápagos, which were declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1978, but this year’s fleet is one of the largest seen in recent years.

Sevilla said that diplomatic efforts would be made to request the withdrawal of the Chinese fishing fleet. “Unchecked Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador’s efforts to protect marine life in the Galápagos,” he said.

He added that the team would also seek to enforce international agreements that protect migratory species. The Galápagos marine reserve has one of the world’s greatest concentrations of shark species, including endangered whale and hammerhead varieties.

Kakabadse said efforts would also be made to extend the exclusive economic zone to a 350-mile circumference around the islands which would join up with the Ecuadorian mainland’s economic zone, closing off a corridor of international waters in between the two where the Chinese fleet is currently located.

Shark finning: why the ocean’s most barbaric practice continues to boom

 Read more

Ecuador is also trying to establish a corridor of marine reserves between Pacific-facing neighbours Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia which would seal off important areas of marine diversity, Kakabadse said.

Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, described the archipelago as “one of the richest fishing areas and a seedbed of life for the entire planet”, in a message on Twitter over the weekend.

The Galápagos Islands are renowned for their unique plants and wildlife. Unesco describes the archipelago – visited by a quarter of a million tourists every year – as a “living museum and a showcase for evolution”.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The Ecuadorian navy has been monitoring the fishing fleet since it was spotted last week, according to the country’s defence minister, Oswaldo Jarrín. “We are on alert, [conducting] surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017,” he said.

The 2017 incident he referred to was the capture by the Ecuadorean navy within the Galápagos marine reserve of a Chinese vessel. The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, part of an even larger fleet than the current one, was found to be carrying 300 tonnes of marine wildlife, mostly sharks.

“We were appalled to discover that a massive Chinese industrial fishing fleet is currently off the Galápagos Islands,” said John Hourston, a spokesman for the Blue Planet Society, a NGO which campaigns against overfishing.

Decapitated sea lions keep washing up on Vancouver Island; expert sees a pattern

https://vancouverisland.ctvnews.ca/decapitated-sea-lions-keep-washing-up-on-vancouver-island-expert-sees-a-pattern-1.5003125

Ian HollidayReporter, CTVNewsVancouver.ca

@Ian_Holliday ContactPublished Saturday, June 27, 2020 6:17PM PDTLast Updated Saturday, June 27, 2020 6:59PM PDThttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.392.0_en.html#goog_233142281Volume 90% Disturbing discoveries on Vancouver Island NOW PLAYINGHeadless sea lions are washing up on the shore of Vancouver Island, and marine experts say it’s a deliberate, disgusting act.

VANCOUVER — Headless sea lions have been washing up on Vancouver Island since spring, and a marine mammal expert says it’s likely the animals were deliberately beheaded by humans.

Anna Hall is a marine mammal zoologist at Sea View Marine Sciences. She says photos of the dead pinnipeds suggest a pattern in their injuries.

“To me, this looks intentional, whether it’s by a single person or a group of people,” Hall said. “I sincerely hope that fisheries and oceans canada pursues this case to determine who is doing this and to bring them to justice because this is a violation of federal law.”

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Most of the photos CTV News showed to Hall were taken by Nanaimo resident Deborah Short, who says she’s personally encountered several dead sea lions without heads on the shore between Campbell River and Nanaimo.

Short discovered the first one while walking along the beach at Neck Point Park in Nanaimo.

“I was devastated, completely devastated by it,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that somebody could sever the head of a sea lion … It was shocking to me.”

Soon, though, she learned of another headless sea lion that had been found near Campbell River. And then she started encountering more herself.

In total, she says, she’s aware of five headless sea lions that have washed up on Vancouver Island since March.

“When you see something like that, it moves you,” Short said. “It moves you in a way where you want to find more, and you want to do something about it.”

She reached out to conservation groups, including Sea Shepherd and the Animal Alliance of Canada. The latter organization, she learned, is petitioning against a proposed cull of seals and sea lions on Canada’s west coast.

While there’s no indication that the headless sea lions Short discovered are in any way related to the proposal to cull the local population, she said she’s determined to stop the killing of additional marine mammals.

CTV News Vancouver Island reached out to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and was told the federal agency is looking into the headless sea lion phenomenon.

Hall, the marine mammal zoologist, said at least one of the sea lions Short photographed appears to be a Steller sea lion, which is a species that has a special conservation status under the Species at Risk Act.

She said all marine mammals are also protected from disturbance, injury or harm by clauses in the Fisheries Act.

Hall hopes Fisheries and Oceans Canada will do a necropsy on one of the deceased sea lions to determine its cause of death.

“It’s absolutely horrific and appalling that there’s anybody on this coastline that would feel that this is an appropriate course of action with regard to a marine mammal or any animal at all,” Hall said.RELATED IMAGES

  • Headless sea lions have been washing up on Vancouver Island since spring, and a marine mammal expert says it’s likely the animals were deliberately beheaded by humans. (Photo: Deborah Short)
  • A sea lion soaks up the sun on a jetty near the mouth of the Fraser River in this photo from David Price, submitted through Weather Watch by CTV Vancouver.

‘Selling off the future’: Trump allows fishing in marine monument

Administration opening areas off New England coast up to commercial fishing, a move experts say will hurt the environment

Commercial fishing boats docked in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Commercial fishing boats docked in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photograph: Wayne Parry/AP

Supported by

SEJAbout this content

Published onSat 6 Jun 2020 06.00 EDT
‘Selling off the future’: Trump allows fishing in marine monument

Donald Trump is easing protections for a large marine monument off the coast of New England, opening it to commercial fishing.

But ocean experts caution that the rollback to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monument will hurt the environment and won’t help fishermen who are struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn to find buyers for what they already catch.

“This rollback essentially sells off the future of the ocean and the future of the ecosystem for almost no present economic benefit,” said Miriam Goldstein, the ocean policy director at the Center for American Progress (Cap). “[That’s] why it’s so puzzling to do it at all and even more puzzling that the president is doing it now, in the middle of the pandemic and with police riots going on around the country.”

Trump’s announcement follows several others by the administration to weaken environment rules during the pandemic, including an executive order he signed yesterday to bypass reviews of big infrastructure projects that could threaten public health.

The protected area is about 130 miles from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and it contains endangered right whales and sensitive deep sea corals. It is one of five marine monuments in the country. The other four are in the western Pacific Ocean. After this rollback, less than .1% of the US waters outside the western Pacific Ocean will be protected from commercial fishing, according to an analysis by Cap based on federal data.

“Even fishing done well still has an impact, so for that reason it’s important to have special areas of the ocean set aside. And this has been shown through a lot of science, that it is beneficial to ocean ecosystems, to biodiversity, to threatened and endangered species – and beneficial to those fisheries themselves,” Goldstein said.

Environment groups quickly responded that they plan to sue. The Natural Resources Defense Council is undertaking a similar lawsuit against the administration for opening up two Utah monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, to mining. The Utah monuments and the marine monument were established at the end of the Barack Obama administration.

Goldstein acknowledged that fishermen and aquaculture growers in coastal communities have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn, but she said there are other actions the administration could take that would help.

The US Regional Fishery Management Councils on 29 May sent a letter to the commerce department arguing that “the ban on commercial fishing within Marine national monument waters is a regulatory burden on domestic fisheries”. The group had been making that same argument since 2016.

Rip Cunningham, the conservation editor at Saltwater Sportsman and former chair of the New England Fishery Management Council, criticized the move.

“As a recreational fisherman, it troubles me to see the monument opened to commercial fishing,” Cunningham said. “These are fragile and vulnerable resources, and I am concerned for their future health.”

‘Selling off the future’: Trump allows fishing in marine monument

Administration opening areas off New England coast up to commercial fishing, a move experts say will hurt the environment

Commercial fishing boats docked in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Commercial fishing boats docked in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photograph: Wayne Parry/AP

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Published onSat 6 Jun 2020 06.00 EDT

Donald Trump is easing protections for a large marine monument off the coast of New England, opening it to commercial fishing.

But ocean experts caution that the rollback to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monument will hurt the environment and won’t help fishermen who are struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn to find buyers for what they already catch.

“This rollback essentially sells off the future of the ocean and the future of the ecosystem for almost no present economic benefit,” said Miriam Goldstein, the ocean policy director at the Center for American Progress (Cap). “[That’s] why it’s so puzzling to do it at all and even more puzzling that the president is doing it now, in the middle of the pandemic and with police riots going on around the country.”

Trump’s announcement follows several others by the administration to weaken environment rules during the pandemic, including an executive order he signed yesterday to bypass reviews of big infrastructure projects that could threaten public health.

The president unveiled the decision in Bangor, Maine, at a roundtable discussion with commercial fisheries companies. The White House said Trump’s proclamation would allow commercial fishing within the monument but would not alter its boundaries.

The protected area is about 130 miles from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and it contains endangered right whales and sensitive deep sea corals. It is one of five marine monuments in the country. The other four are in the western Pacific Ocean. After this rollback, less than .1% of the US waters outside the western Pacific Ocean will be protected from commercial fishing, according to an analysis by Cap based on federal data.

“Even fishing done well still has an impact, so for that reason it’s important to have special areas of the ocean set aside. And this has been shown through a lot of science, that it is beneficial to ocean ecosystems, to biodiversity, to threatened and endangered species – and beneficial to those fisheries themselves,” Goldstein said.

Environment groups quickly responded that they plan to sue. The Natural Resources Defense Council is undertaking a similar lawsuit against the administration for opening up two Utah monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, to mining. The Utah monuments and the marine monument were established at the end of the Barack Obama administration.

Goldstein acknowledged that fishermen and aquaculture growers in coastal communities have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn, but she said there are other actions the administration could take that would help.

The US Regional Fishery Management Councils on 29 May sent a letter to the commerce department arguing that “the ban on commercial fishing within Marine national monument waters is a regulatory burden on domestic fisheries”. The group had been making that same argument since 2016.

Rip Cunningham, the conservation editor at Saltwater Sportsman and former chair of the New England Fishery Management Council, criticized the move.

“As a recreational fisherman, it troubles me to see the monument opened to commercial fishing,” Cunningham said. “These are fragile and vulnerable resources, and I am concerned for their future health.”

How ‘dark fishing’ sails below the radar to plunder the oceans

Billions of dollars in illegal and unregulated fish supplies are mixed with legal catches and smuggled into the market.

by

In September last year, the Greenpeace campaign ship Arctic Sunrise was scanning the mid-Atlantic ocean, thousands of kilometres from anywhere. On board, investigators were looking for vessels that were doing their best not to be found.

One of them was Taiwanese fishing boat, the Hung Hwa – a longliner capable of running baited lines more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) in length, targeting mainly tuna species. It had turned off its satellite locator, the Automatic Identification System (AIS).

It had “gone dark”.

A fishing vessel might do that to avoid competition from other boats or to prevent attack by pirates. But often it coincides with a transhipment at sea – the offloading of a fishing boat’s catch onto what is known as a reefer, or a giant refrigerated cargo ship.

The transhipment loophole

Transhipping is the lifeblood of the distant water fishing industry. It allows fishing boats to stay at sea without returning to port for months because they can offload their catch on to what are effectively colossal floating freezers.

As part of the process, the fishing vessels are refuelled and resupplied by the reefers, allowing them to get straight back to doing what they do – catching fish relentlessly.

The problem is that transhipping fish mid-ocean presents a major loophole in monitoring fishing activities.

By offloading at sea, vessels are able to smuggle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) catches into the market by mixing them with legal catches.

This makes it exceedingly difficult to detect fraud or trace a shipment back to the vessel that caught it. It also allows entire fleets to operate out of sight, where they can hide illegal catches and operate without returning to port.

Under the radar

On the bridge of the Arctic Sunrise, the Greenpeace investigators were scrutinising the navigation screens, following the satellite tracks of vessels in their sector of the ocean. Their suspicions were raised when a Taiwan-owned, Panama-registered reefer vessel called the Hsiang Hao, appeared to be sailing slowly in a loitering pattern – effectively circling for several hours.

There was no other vessel present, at least none displaying AIS.

But the next day the Arctic Sunrise intercepted the Hsiang Hao and there, alongside, was the Hung Hwa, still “dark” – not transmitting its satellite location.

If ships turn off their satellite tracking it means no one sees what’s happening out at sea and it makes the high seas a black hole of fishing activity.

SOPHIE COOKE, GREENPEACE

And from the Hung Hwa’s hold, dozens upon dozens of deep-frozen tuna and shark – frosted and steaming in the humid equatorial air – were being hoisted on to the reefer ship.

Greenpeace’s lead investigator, Sophie Cooke, said there are many reasons vessels may not want to appear on satellite.

“Some of them might be legitimate,” she said. “But a lot of the time, it’s because they want to avoid detection or want to go into areas they are not allowed. Or they want to meet up with another vessel at sea and do not want to be seen.”

“If ships turn off their satellite tracking it means no one sees what’s happening out at sea and it makes the high seas a black hole of fishing activity,” Cooke added.

Only for feature on Greenpeace © Tommy Trenchard / Greenpeace
Second mate Helena De Carlos Watts and lead investigator, Sophie Cooke, right, watch the radar screen as the Arctic Sunrise approaches a target vessel in the southern Atlantic ocean [Tommy Trenchard/Greenpeace]

The Investigation

In 2017, Greenpeace set out to understand the scale and misuse of AIS by the global reefer industry. They investigated the movements, behaviour and owner structures of more than 400 reefers identified as being capable of taking part in transhipments at sea.

In the resulting report just published, the investigating team said what was most striking was how much transhipment is happening between fishing vessels that have gone dark because of their involvement in illegal fishing.

“It’s very hard to know the exact amount of IUU fishing activity that’s going on,” said Will McCallum, Greenpeace’s head of oceans, “but what we do know is that transhipment allows vessels to stay far out at sea where they are out of scrutiny, out of mind and out of sight.”

McCallum said they can track exactly where the global fleet of refrigerated cargo vessels is operating.

“For example, we can see they’re in the southwest Atlantic, which is a part of the world where there is very little, to the point of almost no fisheries management for a lot of fishing vessels,” he said.

‘Flags of convenience’

The Greenpeace report highlights how the global fleet of reefers hides behind complex ownership structures and “flags of convenience” that reduce accountability and transparency.

The single most active fleet of reefers involved in transhipments on the high seas is owned by the Greek shipping magnate Thanasis Laskaridis, whose vessels ply the seas the world over, from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific.

Investigators also discovered that because transhipment allows fishing boats to spend months or even years at sea without returning to port, it leaves crews open to abuse. Being so far from scrutiny and the prying eyes of port inspectors for so long raises the possibility that boat owners can effectively enslave their crew.

Many cases have been documented, the report said, of fishermen being forced to work exhausting shifts in unsafe conditions, having their pay withheld and documents confiscated. There are even reports of crew being denied access to clean food and drinking water.

Only for feature on Greenpeace © Tommy Trenchard / Greenpeace
The Arctic Sunrise [Tommy Trenchard/Greenpeace]

Closing gaps in ocean governance

McCallum said the investigation demonstrates the urgent need for greater scrutiny.

“Reefers should have observers on board to track where the catch is coming from and make sure we are not muddying the global supply chains.” The ultimate goal would be for transhipment at sea to be phased out.

There is no question of the severity of the grave assault that is taking place on our oceans and everything that lives in it. Overfishing is wreaking havoc on marine life while threatening the food security and livelihoods of billions of people.

This year will be a significant one for the world – from the crucial climate conference in Glasgow in November to a landmark biodiversity summit in October in China. But, for the Greenpeace oceans team, all eyes right now are on New York in March when maximum effort is being focused on the implementation of a global ocean treaty at a vital UN conference.

“We need a strong ocean treaty,” said McCallum. “We need a single holistic way to manage these international waters, that are so far from land they’re very hard for a single country or group of countries to monitor and regulate. So a global ocean treaty would plug some of the governance gaps that we are seeing at the moment.”

The goal is to ensure 30 percent of the world’s oceans become off-limits to any kind of exploitation – from fishing to deep-sea mining. And that way those far-flung waters that are often home to pristine ecosystems, would be better protected from the fleet that goes dark to pursue and dispatch its catch.

Charges laid in controversial B.C. ‘seal bomb’ incident caught on camera

 WATCH: This video may be disturbing to some viewers. A B.C. fisherman launches a ‘bear banger’ into the water near a pack of sea lions.
A B.C. man filmed throwing a so-called “bear banger” into a raft of sea lions near Hornby Island last spring is facing charges under the Fisheries Act and Explosives Act.

The video, which came to light last March, shows Allen Marsden lighting the fuse on one of the explosive noise-makers and throwing it into the water where a large number of the animals had congregated.

READ MORE: ‘Disturbing’ video of ‘seal bomb’ sparks debate about conflict between fishers, B.C. sea lions

Court records show Marsden facing three charges, related to the disturbance of marine mammals and the use of explosives.

Fisherman criticized for using ‘bear banger’ on sea lions

Fisherman criticized for using ‘bear banger’ on sea lions

The records also indicate an intent to plead guilty.

The video was initially posted to the Facebook group of the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society, a group of First Nations and commercial fishers advocating for a West Coast seal hunt, and drew support from other fishers and condemnation from people who describe the action as cruel.

Many fishers on B.C.’s south coast argue that the sea lion population has exploded in recent years and is devastating the fishery.

READ MORE: Seal meat supper? B.C. group calls for West Coast seal hunt

In a phone interview at the time the video emerged, Marsden told Global News the video was shot while he and his crew were taking samples of herring roe for the fishing industry.

Marsden said there were as many as 500 sea lions in the area, and that the bear banger was not actually effective on the animals, who he described as a danger to his crew.

However the Vancouver Aquarium says the device could cause injury to the sea lions’ face, eyes or jaw along with their hearing.

The aquarium says the area’s sea lion population has not exploded, but rather, has returned to historical levels after decades of aggressive hunting.

Conservationists shot at by poachers during Gulf of California patrol

News
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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