At the human level, cooperation is a way of survival in the Arctic. It’s how indigenous people have not only survived, but thrived, in what are extreme conditions to those of us from the temperate zone of the planet. Scaling up cooperation from families and communities to the level of nation-states is just as important for the Arctic and takes many of the same skills: listening to diverse views, learning from past mistakes, a precautionary approach to changing circumstance and a willingness to compromise.
I saw all these skills in play at a meeting of ten nations last month discussing how potential commercial fishing should be handled in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO), the international waters surrounding the North Pole. This 1.1 million square mile area of ocean has been frozen year round for hundreds of thousands of years. Although still frozen in winter, up to 40% of the CAO has been open water in recent summers. Under international law, such high seas areas are open to commercial fishing unless countries come together to impose rules and management measures. Fishing hasn’t started in the area yet but history teaches that exploratory fishing will push into any untapped ocean, often before scientists have a chance to figure out baseline ecosystem conditions and the size of fish stocks. Scientists tell us this could be especially problematic in the Arctic Ocean where fish like Arctic cod are an essential conduit of life, transforming energy from plankton to the upper trophic level of seabirds, seals, whales and polar bears.
Captain Scott Childress owns and navigates a commercial spear fishing vessel located in Hudson, Florida.
When Ocean Conservancy asked me to join them to visit elected officials on Capitol Hill to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), I was quick to say a resounding “yes,” but a little nervous about my new role.
What the heck would I—a commercial spear fisherman—say to congressmen? As it turned out, quite a lot. I have a unique perspective on fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and on the U.S. law that has served as “tough love” for America’s fisheries.
San Franciso Bay Area Dungeness crabber Captain John Mellor
“We’re like the Giants. We’re your hometown team,” said Captain John Mellor last week as he described the San Francisco Bay Dungeness crab fishing fleet. Capt. Mellor’s pride in his work as a crabber is paired with a love for what he does. But, his feelings are mixed with fear for the future. A West-Coast wide toxic algae bloom shut down the fishery last year, leaving him out of work for five months. Fishermen and researchers are also worried that ocean acidification could represent a looming threat to the fishery that could cause future fishing disruptions.
Bright lights, shops bursting with souvenirs, the laughter of children, the smell of caramel popcorn complete with sunlight sparking rays off the emerald saltwater as America’s largest charter boat fishing fleet bobs in the marina—the “world’s luckiest fishing village” is open for business.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has some exciting news for seabirds: Streamer lines are now required in the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery! Break out the squid and champagne! Ok, just kidding on the champagne, but as a species that often mates for life, the short-tailed albatross knows something about romance.
A couple of weeks ago I went on a mackerel fishing trip out of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 35-year commercial fishing veteran. It was a beautiful day and there was the slightest tinge of autumn out on the Gulf of Mexico, and we quickly caught the day’s order of Spanish and King mackerel. Heading back through John’s Pass I asked my friend, who also fishes for Gulf snapper and grouper, how business has been and without missing a beat he said “The last two years have been the best of my career.”
For nearly three decades, Ocean Conservancy has been fighting to protect red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. The stock was formally declared as overfished in the late 1980s. Despite this long and rocky road, 2015 has been a landmark year for red snapper—the stock continues to rebuild as a result of shared sacrifices and innovative management strategies.
In April 2015, NOAA approved a management measure that will improve conservation and recreational fishing opportunities in the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. This management measure divides the recreational red snapper quota between charter-for-hire and private recreational fishermen (known as ‘sector separation’ because it splits the recreational sector into two sub-sectors).
Sector separation allows fishery managers to develop individually tailored strategies for the needs of the unique charter-for-hire and private recreational components, which in turn will prevent continued catch-limit overages and foster continued rebuilding of this iconic Gulf species.