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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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.

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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.