The Blog Aquatic » ecosystems News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Moving Toward the Future of Fisheries Management Fri, 10 May 2013 15:30:00 +0000 Greg Helms

Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) hunting Pacific Sardines (Sardinops sagax) Pacific / California / USA (Monterey Bay Aquarium)

In Ocean Conservancy and Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report “The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries”, we make three key recommendations about how to improve the already vital law that governs our nation’s fisheries:

  • Minimize the habitat damage and bycatch of indiscriminate fishing.
  • Ensure that adequate forage fish are in the water to feed the larger ecosystem
  • Promote ecosystem-based fisheries management

That’s why we were so excited when the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council) recently reached a long-awaited milestone in transitioning toward an ecosystem-based approach to managing seafood harvest.  The Council’s adoption of a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP) establishes not only a comprehensive foundation for considering the condition of the California Current Ecosystem  in harvest planning and management, but sets a leading example for modernizing fisheries management across the globe.

How is ecosystem-based management different?  Instead of focusing on an individual ocean issues or species, the strategy shifts to the entire ecosystems in which such species or concerns exist.  So decision-makers then consider the habitats that ocean wildlife require at each stage of life, their roles as predator and prey, the natural variations in populations in different places and at different times, and of course the critical role played by humans—climate change, ocean acidification, demands for food and recreation, etc.

Until now, managing the vast and life-giving harvest of seafood from the world’s oceans has followed a species-specific approach. This has contributed to well-known and tragic consequences, such as collapsed fisheries and the communities that depended on them.

The Fisheries Ecosystem Plan adopted last month gives the Pacific Fisheries Council a dramatically more comprehensive and useful suite of information to consider when making decisions on fisheries policy.  The plan rests on a description of Pacific ecosystem dynamics that affect, and are affected by, Council harvest policy. It also establishes a set of initiatives to gather and assess additional ecosystem data for to use in future management decisions.  Critically, they can guide Council policy within individual fishery Management Plans and also inform effects and tradeoffs between them.  Initiative #1 will develop data and tools for use in managing the food base for Pacific fisheries – called “forage fish”, an essential ecosystem component, and assist in prohibiting fishing for currently unmanaged species of forage fish.  The Council will discuss this critical preventative measure in June.

Though the Fisheries Ecosystem Plan is informational for now, meaning it holds only advisory power, it is a critical step in establishing a foundation for truly ecosystem-based management.  The real effect of the plan will flow from its ecosystem initiatives, and action on the Forage Initiative in June will reveal how much early stock the Council is putting into its important new ecosystem plan.

These first steps taken in the Pacific region will hopefully serve as early indicators for the rest of the country as we work to promote and improve fisheries management.  Read more about the Law That’s Saving American Fisheries here.

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Too Close for Comfort–Map Shows Sensitive Areas Near Latest Tragic Gulf Rig Blast Wed, 21 Nov 2012 17:45:36 +0000 Stan Senner

Ocean Conservancy Map of important ecological areas near the recent rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico

Less than 24 hours after the US Government announced historic criminal fines for BP’s activities leading up to and following the BP oil disaster, an explosion on a production platform about 25 miles south of Grand Isle, LA left several workers injured, one man dead and another missing. The owner of the rig, Black Elk Energy, announced today that they were calling off the search for the missing worker.

This tragic event is a somber reminder that accidents can and do happen despite our best efforts to prevent them. Whether in the Gulf of Mexico or the Chukchi Sea (off Alaska’s Arctic coast), fossil fuel extraction carries risks to the workers as well as to sensitive environmental resources.

When an event like the explosion on the Black Elk rig occurs, it is natural and appropriate  to focus first on the well-being of those involved in a tragedy and then on the recovery and restoration of our natural resources, but it is critical to remember that we must also ensure that we are better prepared for the accidents and disasters that will inevitably occur.

In the wake of the BP oil disaster in 2010, President Barack Obama established the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Commission’s task was to identify the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and to make recommendations to guard against, and mitigate the impact of, any oil spills associated with offshore drilling in the future. You can read the report here.

The Commission delivered the report in January of 2011, and made a series of recommendations to improve oil spill response planning, as well as safety recommendations, and suggested policy and funding changes.

Not satisfied with issuing a report that collects dust on a shelf, several members of the Commission went on to form a group known as Oil Spill Commission ACTION. This group issued a report card in April of 2012 that graded the oil and gas industry, regulators and elected officials on their progress towards implementing the recommendations of the commission.  Grades ranged from a B for “Improving Safety and Environmental Protections” to a D for Congress for failing to provide adequate resources.

When incidents like rig explosions occur, the government and the regulated entity (like BP or Black Elk Energy) use pre-existing response plans to address the threat and mitigate damage. Every coastal area also has what is known as an Area Contingency Plan (or ACP), which is developed by a wide-range of agencies like the US Coast Guard and local officials. One of the critical pieces of the ACP is the identification of environmentally sensitive areas and a plan for how to protect them. As you can see from the map created by Matt Love, a conservation biologist at Ocean Conservancy, the area surrounding the Black Elk Energy rig has many important ecological values, including providing important habitat for developing menhaden eggs and larvae.

We must not lose sight of how oil and gas companies, regulatory agencies and legislators are progressing with implementation of the recommendations of the Oil Spill Commission. We must also track their efforts to identify and protect environmentally sensitive areas, whether in the Gulf or in the Arctic. Accidents are going to happen, but we can work to reduce the risk of disasters if we commit to preparing for them instead of always betting that we can avoid a worst-case scenario.

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