The Blog Aquatic » fish News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 22 Dec 2014 12:49:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 5 Reasons You Depend on Healthy Fisheries Fri, 21 Nov 2014 18:20:55 +0000 Ellen Bolen

Happy World Fisheries Day! Today we celebrate the fish and fishermen who are vital to a healthy ocean and thriving coastal economies. Whether we live near the water or not, we all depend on healthy fish populations for a healthy ocean and economy.

Fish are truly amazing – coming in all different shapes and sizes and living in nearly every corner of the ocean.

In honor of World Fisheries Day, we’re paying tribute to our gilled friends of the sea. Here are five fin-tastic ways that we all depend on healthy fish populations:

1) Healthy fish create a healthy environment.
We all know that little fish are eaten by big fish, and big fish are eaten by bigger fish—all the way up the food chain. But fish can serve other roles in their environment, too. In some instances, fish literally shape the environment around them. Fish contribute nutrients to their local ecosystems—helping algae and seagrasses to grow and become abundant for all ocean critters to feast upon.

2) Healthy fish support a strong economy.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2013 report on the status of Fisheries of the United States, 11 million anglers took 71 million recreational fishing trips and commercial fishermen brought in a total of $5.5 billion in revenue to the United States!

3) Healthy fish feed hungry people.
Do you enjoy a good sushi dinner? So do lots of other people. The United States is the world’s third largest consumer of seafood after China and Japan. With such a taste for seafood, it’s important that we carefully manage our fisheries so future generations can enjoy it too!

4) Healthy fish attract sightseers.
Fishing is isn’t the only industry contributing to a healthy economy. Scuba divers, snorkelers and other recreationists bring in lots of money to coastal communities’ tourism industries.

5) Healthy fish make healthy people.
Believe it or not, fish are an important part of our medical industry. While 77% of fish caught in the commercial sector was used for human consumption, fish are used for more than just food.  An ocean commission report lists chemicals and biological materials from marine organisms now in use or development, including 10 anti-cancer drugs, drugs to fight inflammation, fungus, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria and dengue.

Ocean Conservancy has worked for more than 22 years to support sustainable U.S. fisheries. Thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the United States has made great strides in rebuilding domestic stocks and ending overfishing in U.S. waters.

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Fishues: NOAA’s 2013 Report on Fisheries of the United States Mon, 03 Nov 2014 14:00:16 +0000 Robyn Albritton

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their 2013 report on the status of Fisheries of the United States. This annual report from the National Marine Fisheries Service is a critical survey of United States recreational and commercial fisheries, and is important for tracking changes on the water. The past few years have seen major successes in ending overfishing and rebuilding U.S. fish stocks. This is due in part to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which the law that protects and promotes sustainability of fisheries in the U.S. Check out some fun fish facts below!

  • Big catch: Last year, commercial fishermen caught an astounding 9.9 billion pounds of fish. That’s 31 pounds of fish per person in the United States!
  • Eat up: Of the fish brought in by the commercial sector, 77% was used for human consumption. Doesn’t take a brain sturgeon to realize that we love our seafood.
  • Don’t forget to feed Fido: 15% of fish caught last year was used to feed animals in the U.S.
  • You’re shore to love this: Commercial fishermen brought in a total of $5.5 billion in revenue to the United States economy. That would buy you approximately 1.1 billion bags of goldfish snack crackers.
  • Go fish: In 2013, 11 million anglers took 71 million recreational fishing trips. We bet they had a whale of a good time!
  • Brrrrr: Dutch Harbor, Alaska is the most productive commercial fishing port in the country, bringing in a whopping 753 million pounds of fish. Thinking about moving? They get an average of 91 inches of snow and 221 inches of rain each year.
  • Don’t be crabby: Blue crab landings decreased by 36% from 2012. Don’t worry – the fishery still brought in 134 million pounds of crab!
  • And the bronze goes to…: The U.S. is the world’s third largest consumer of seafood! China and Japan took gold and silver, respectively.
  • Aw, shucks: Oyster aquaculture brought in an impressive $136 million in revenue last year!
  • Don’t run a-wave! For more fishy facts, check out the 2013 Fisheries of the United States Report.
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What’s Lurking in the Ocean’s Depths? Wed, 29 Oct 2014 17:00:53 +0000 Brett Nolan

Trick or treating in the ocean can be a matter of life or death. Meet four ocean creatures who might just surprise you!

Vampire Squid

You’ve no doubt heard of the famous vampire bat, but did you know that there’s a vampire squid? Don’t worry. It won’t fly out of the ocean to suck your blood. These cephalopods don’t even spray ink like other squids. They produce a bioluminescent mucus cloud that can glow for up to 10 minutes. They were given their names due to their blood red eyes, which can also look blue depending the lighting. Their bodies definitely reflect the gothic nature of vampires by being black or red. A web like material connects their tentacles. They can even envelop their bodies in their tentacles and webbing to shield themselves from predators.

Vampire squids live in really cold depths of the ocean with very little oxygen. This makes them far less threatening to humans than their name suggests. In order to conserve energy, they simply drift along the ocean currents and only eat dead plankton and fecal matter. Instead of fangs, vampire squids eat with their beaks.

Goblin Shark

The goblin shark is an incredibly amazing and terrifying shark. Males can grow up to 8 feet long and females can be up to 11 feet in length. They’re often a pale white color with blue fins. Their most distinctive feature is their jaws. Unlike your jaws that move up and down, their jaws can project from their mouths like the movie Alien! Goblin sharks locate their prey by using electroreceptors in the nose. Because these sharks inhabit the dark ocean depths, fishermen can sleep well at night, knowing that only a few have ever been caught.

Their range is suspected to be very wide. These bottom dwellers have been documented in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

Smallspine Spookfish

The smallspine spookfish, lives in the deep ocean. As their name suggests, they’re pale white like ghosts and have an elongated snout, which can track prey with sensory nerve endings. In fact, they sort of resemble the ghost dog from the Nightmare Before Christmas! Not many have been seen or documented because they live in extreme depths, like more than a mile below the ocean’s surface. As if they weren’t scary cool already, they also have a venomous spine. Unfortunately not much else is known about them, so they’re a regular fish of mystery.

Giant Devil Ray

The devil ray isn’t as scary as it sounds. They’re not actually named for their devilish behavior, but rather from the fins on top of their heads that resemble devil horns. The only way they might scare you is if you see a large dark shape in the water before you realize what it is! They often sport dark colors on the top of their bodies and are typically white on the bottom half. They swim using their pectoral fins, flapping them almost like wings. Giant devil rays are really gentle giants. They only feed on plankton and small fishes.

The only truly devilish thing about them is that they’re endangered. By-catch is a major threat to this species. Since they spend a lot of time close to the surface, ocean traffic and oil spills also pose serious threats to these gentle giants.

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Beyond Nemo: How Are Dory and Bruce Doing? Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:00:34 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson

Photo: Matthew Potenski

Traditional fishery management has been a lot like the movie Finding Nemo, where fishery managers focus on the life of a single species of fish. But, as we saw in the movie, single species of fish do not live alone; they depend on habitat like anemones, they encounter predators like Bruce, and there are human impacts such as removing fish from reefs. Our current management system often fails to consider the bigger picture: the habitats that ocean wildlife require at each stage of life, their roles as predator and prey (Bruce’s attitude on fish as ‘friends not food’ doesn’t really hold true in the ocean), the natural variations in populations in different places and at different times, such as sea turtle migrations, and of course the critical and varied impacts of humans—climate change, pollution, ocean acidification, cultural uses, and demands for food and recreation.

In short, we need an ecosystem approach—a modern, big-picture system that maintains the overall health of the ocean ecosystem by explicitly considering the above. Ensuring the long-term viability of fish populations and communities that depend on them requires a greater focus on the fitness and resilience of the ecosystems that support productive fisheries.

The good news is that U.S. fishery managers are recognizing the need to consider the whole ecosystem. A new report by the NOAA Science Advisory Board takes stock of the shift toward ecosystem-based fishery management across the nation. The report found that the use of ecosystem science in fishery management varies greatly by region, and the last several years have proven to be a time of experimentation in the ecosystem approach. We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.

For example, the Pacific Fishery Management Council—one of eight regional bodies who assist the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in developing and executing plans for managing fishing under the Magnuson-Stevens Act—has developed a Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the west coast. It establishes a comprehensive foundation for considering the condition of the California Current Ecosystem in fishery planning and management, and sets an example for modernizing fisheries management across the globe.

Similarly, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is embarking upon the development of a Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Bering Sea. Previously, the council developed a Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Aleutian Islands.

This new report is more important and timely than ever. The Ocean faces significant and numerous stressors, such as the impacts of global climate change, ocean acidification, invasive species, oil and shipping contaminants, and degraded water quality from land based pollution. The impacts of these stressors are becoming more apparent, demonstrating that a broader approach to management is required to ensure ocean ecosystems can support healthy fish populations and the people that depend on them into the future.

In addition to canvassing the existing state of ecosystem-based fishery management practices across the nation, the report also made recommendations for paving the way to an ecosystem approach:

  • Sharing is caring – There is much to be learned across Councils and regions. Opportunities to learn from others on science, analysis, and approach help everyone.
  • Invest in more than counting fish – Tools that help managers evaluate trade-offs, science that couples the social, economic, and ecologic, and next-generation ecosystem modeling are all needed.
  • Continue U.S. leadership – Export our growing success with ecosystem-based methods to other nations and to multi-national Regional Fishery Management Organizations.

An ecosystem approach isn’t easy. If it was, managers would have adopted it years ago. It is necessary though, and—as this report demonstrates—possible. There is no silver bullet or technological solution that can make it happen tomorrow, but there are proven ways to get there and it’s great to see NOAA stopping to check the map and compass.

We aren’t there yet, but we’re in the jet stream.

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Help is on the Way for the Nassau Grouper Thu, 04 Sep 2014 14:44:06 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson

The Nassau grouper can be found all over the Americas, but it’s facing extinction in nearly all of its habitats.  After years of hard work and outreach, the U.S. government is stepping up to the plate to help this critically important species. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has announced that the Nassau grouper will be protected under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species.

Nassau grouper are large reef dwelling fish, historically found in the Western North Atlantic from Bermuda, Florida, Bahamas, Yucatan Peninsula, and throughout the Caribbean to southern Brazil, including coral reef habitats in the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast to North Carolina. However, the species is imperiled due to human exploitation and inadequate regulatory protection. The primary threat to Nassau grouper is overfishing from gill nets, long-lines, bottom trawls, and other fishing activities, both intentionally and as by-catch. Despite a fishing ban in U.S. waters for decades, Nassau grouper are commercially extinct in the U.S.

Federal ESA listing is a tool of last resort. Ideally, species would never get to the low point of needing ESA protection. However, ESA listing will provide tools that can aid this species’ survival and recovery. We commend NMFS for taking action.

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Stop Congress from Fishing for Trouble Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:00:35 +0000 Ellen Bolen

© Wesley Hitt / Alamy

We’ve made incredible progress in reversing overfishing. This has been good for both the environment and jobs in fishing. Through smart fishery legislation, we’ve been able to bring back fish populations that were crashing due to years of overfishing.

But all of our progress is about to be destroyed! In the House of Representatives, Rep. Hastings (R-WA) is working to reverse the very legislation that has brought our ocean and fishermen such success. Rep. Hastings is trying to pass legislation that would create a new law that would allow overfishing and would eliminate deadlines to rebuild fish populations.

We can’t let this happen. Decades of progress will be reversed if this new legislation is passed. Will you help protect our ocean from overfishing?

Please take action today and tell your Congressional Representative to vote NO to Rep. Hastings’ legislation when it comes to the floor.

Healthy fish populations are essential to ocean ecosystems and to the local economies that depend on them. Please take action today! Together, we can truly make a difference.

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Fishermen and Scientists Work Together to Track Sick Fish Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:22:59 +0000 Alexis Baldera

University of South Florida Professor Steven Murawski began studying diseases in fin fishes after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill when Gulf of Mexico fishermen began reporting a surge in fish with visible lesions. Credit: C-Image. Caption from

Fishermen are on the water every day, which means they are often the first to notice when something changes. After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we heard reports from fishermen that they were catching more fish with lesions than they had ever seen before. Immediately after hearing these reports, Dr. Jim Cowan at LSU began investigating the frequency, location and cause of the reported lesions. Many other scientists have collected data on this same issue, and last week a group from the University of South Florida published the first round of results in a scientific journal.

Through extensive study, the scientists ruled out other potential causes, such as pathogens or oceanographic conditions, and concluded that the BP oil disaster is the likely cause of the fish lesions. Oil has a distinct chemical signature that allows scientists to differentiate between different origins, and contamination in the sick fish was a better match to oil from BP’s Macondo well than any other source.

For the Gulf, studies that help us understand the lingering impacts of the BP oil disaster are critical to achieving recovery. They are also a reminder that we cannot close the door on studying the effects of the disaster or the impact of our restoration efforts until we are certain the job is complete. The results of the USF study are only the beginning of this story about how fish were impacted by the BP oil disaster. In order to achieve complete recovery, we need long-term research on how lesions and other oil impacts affect the survival and reproduction of fish, how their populations are responding to habitat and water quality restoration efforts, and what that means for the fishermen who first identified the problem.

Location of sampling stations and the percent of skin lesions per station for June–August 2011. The percent of skin lesions at a station is indicated as follows: white circles = 0%, red graduated circles = 0.1–2.0%, 2.1–4.0%, 4.1–6.0%, and >6.0% (from smallest to largest). The gray shading is the cumulative distribution of surface oil occurring during the duration of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) event. Map credit: Murawski et al., 2014

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