The Blog Aquatic » overfishing News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:44:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 World Leaders Talk Problems and Solutions at the Our Ocean Conference Thu, 19 Jun 2014 20:53:37 +0000 Brett Nolan

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

Secretary of State John Kerry recently hosted the Our Ocean Conference at the Department of State earlier this week. Secretary Kerry invited world leaders, scientists, activists, and ocean lovers to come together to learn more about overfishing, marine debris and ocean acidification. The conference didn’t just focus on the problems of today. Governments, nonprofits and private businesses all offered solutions for tomorrow.

Ocean Conservancy was honored to attend and participate in the conference. Andreas Merkl, our president and CEO, spoke on the panel about marine debris. He echoed the threats plastic poses to marine life and how we can work together to make our seas trash free. Alexis Valauri-Orton, an intern for our ocean acidification program, presented on her travels and how ocean acidification could potentially affect coastal communities all over the world. And I was lucky enough to live tweet all the excitement from the front row of the main room! Below are the major takeaways from the Our Ocean Conference.

The Problems

“It’s our ocean. It’s our responsibility,” said Secretary Kerry when he opened the Conference. It’s a responsibility we haven’t been handling very well. More than three billion people depend on seafood as a major source of protein. However, certain critical species aren’t being fished sustainably. They’re being fished at maximum capacity or being overfished entirely. Bycatch—fish caught unintentionally by fisherman and often discarded—puts threatened and endangered species at further risk.  Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing doesn’t just threaten marine species. It endangers food security for billions of people.

Roughly 80 percent of ocean trash originates on land and the bulk of that is made up of plastic. Trash can be swept into ocean currents and end up in areas with high concentrations of plastics called gyres. The plastic threat goes even deeper than what we can see. Plastic degrades into micro pieces where it can be accidentally consumed by marine life and seabirds.

The chemistry of our ocean is changing. It is absorbing excess amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This phenomenon is acidifying ocean water. Ocean acidification threatens shellfish, coral and other marine species. An acidifying ocean’s impact doesn’t stop there though. People whose livelihoods depend on shellfish and tourism are at risk of losing everything due to ocean acidification.

The Solutions

It’s clear that inaction is not an option. Luckily, this conference seems to be a catalyst for ocean change. More than $1.8 billion was promised from various attendees to protect the ocean.

President Barack Obama promised to take steps to create a marine protected area bigger than the state of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean. The federal government will work with stakeholders to develop the exact boundaries, but the area will focus around expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. This is expected to protect threatened sea turtles and two dozen types of marine mammals. President Obama also tasked federal agencies to come up with a comprehensive plan to combat illegal fishing.

The United States pledged an investment of more than $9 million over three years in ocean acidification research.

Borge Brende, the foreign minister of Norway, pledged more than $150 million to sustainable fishing around the world on behalf of his country.

Kenred Dorsett from The Bahamas pledged that his country will expand their marine protected areas to cover at least 10 percent of its near-shore marine environment.

Actor and environmentalist, Leonardo DiCaprio, promised to invest $7 million for ocean conservation efforts through his foundation.

Foreign minister of Chile, Hugo Munoz, invited the attendees of the Our Ocean Conference 2014 to his country for next year’s global ocean conference.

There’s even more YOU can do though. You can help by pledging to the skip the straw or by volunteering to clean up your local beaches and shorelines. Please also join us in thanking President Obama and Secretary Kerry for protecting our ocean.

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10 Key Facts About Red Snapper Mon, 20 May 2013 20:30:01 +0000 Ellen Bolen

Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) are one of the Gulf of Mexico’s signature fish.  They are extremely popular among recreational fishermen and a prized offering at restaurants and seafood markets, as well as a top predator in the Gulf ecosystem. Recently there has been a great deal of debate about the health and management of this important fish. Ocean Conservancy, along with Pew Charitable Trusts, has released a report about the law that is saving American fisheries, including red snapper. Here are few handy facts about this iconic fish:

  1. Red snapper can grow to about 40 inches, weigh up to 50 pounds and live more than 50 years.
  2. Red snapper begin to reproduce when they are about two years old, spawning from May to October along rocky ledges or coral reefs.
  3. Fertilized eggs float on the surface and hatch within a day. Only a month later, the young fish settle out of the water column in shallow waters, and as they get older, they move to structured habitat where they will mature and eventually move to the deeper waters of the Gulf.
  4. Bigger, older red snappers produce many more eggs than young ones. One 24-inch female red snapper (about 8 years old) produces as many fish as 212 17-inch females (about 5 years old) Most red snapper caught in the Gulf today are only between four and six years old.
  5. Economically, red snapper are among the most valuable fish in the Gulf. In 2011, commercial fishermen from the five Gulf states landed more than 3.2 million pounds of red snapper, sold dockside for $11.5 million.
  6. They are also tasty! There are more than one million recipes for red snapper online.
  7. Sport fishermen love to pursue them as well. In 2011, 3.1 million recreational anglers took more than 22 million fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico targeting red snapper and other species. These fishing trips are a boon to the local economy.
  8. Red snapper have been severely overfished in the Gulf but are now on their way back. The Gulf snapper population reached its low point the late 1980s, but since then science based and effective management and favorable conditions for reproduction have put the red snapper on the road to recovery. Since 2009 catch limits for snapper have steadily increased.
  9. There is a science-based plan in place to rebuild red snapper to healthier levels. It is working but will take time. If implemented properly, management agencies hope to restore the population to sustainable levels by 2032.
  10. This is the tough part. The population is recovering so people are seeing more and bigger fish in the water and in places they haven’t been seen in decades, making the fish easier to catch. This leads to higher catch rates and more fish being removed during a typical day of open recreational season for red snapper. Science-based limits critical to the successes we’ve seen are thus get reached faster resulting in shorter recreational fishing seasons.  This has been compared to taking antibiotics when you are sick—you’ll start to feel better in a few days, but if you stop taking the medicine too soon you run the risk of undoing the progress you’ve made and could get sick again.

Read the story of red snapper from a fisherman’s perspective in our new report.  And here is an update on policy affecting red snapper in the Gulf.

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Praise for Science Champion, NOAA Chief Dr. Jane Lubchenco Wed, 12 Dec 2012 16:10:44 +0000 Janis Searles Jones

Dr. Lubchenco (left) with Ellen Bolen, Ocean Conservancy’s Associate Director of Government Relations. Credit: NOAA

Dr. Jane Lubchenco announced today she is stepping down as administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

We want to thank Dr. Jane Lubchenco for her tireless work to promote science, conservation and cooperation in all her efforts to ensure a healthy ocean. As the head of NOAA, she has led a forward-looking agency determined to preserve the ocean for generations to come.  We are confident she will remain a strong voice for science and conservation.

Ever a teacher, Dr. Lubchenco has been one of the most steadfast champions of science and the need for scientists to become solutions-oriented at a time when restoring scientific integrity is an urgent priority for the country. Under her leadership, NOAA renewed its focus on key ocean issues like ending overfishing, reducing marine debris, protecting the Arctic and tackling climate change and ocean acidification.

Dr. Lubchenco and NOAA were quick to respond to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring that the Gulf region, including the marine ecosystem, is restored. She was also instrumental in the creation and follow-through of President Obama’s historic National Ocean Policy Executive Order, which created a set of commonsense principles to protect important marine habitat, help clean up our nation’s beaches, and foster emerging industries and jobs.

We wish Dr. Lubchenco well in her new endeavors, and we hope that NOAA, and the rest of the federal government, follows her lead with a cooperative, scientific and ecosystem-based view to solving some of the planet’s biggest challenges. That also means it’s more important than ever that Congress provide NOAA the resources it needs. Superstorm Sandy was the most recent lesson in why NOAA is crucial — their tools, services and information can help us make better decisions to save lives and reduce the risks and costs of future disasters.

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A Jellyfish Sandwich? No Thanks! Stopping Overfishing to Prevent the End of Fish Wed, 26 Sep 2012 18:06:44 +0000 Libby Fetherston

© alles-schlumpf

I don’t like to see red on a map. It usually means something bad: a hurricane warning, the decline of Arctic sea ice, or as this map shows, the amount of overfishing in 1950 and 2006. Did you click on that overfishing link and check it out? Pretty red right?

Overfishing is bad for fishermen who want to enjoy fishing today, tomorrow, and years from now. Without stable fish populations, there will be shorter or nonexistent fishing seasons – a huge blow to recreational and commercial fishing and the jobs/industry they support. If we don’t end overfishing, then, like Washington Post reporter Brad Plumer says, it’ll be “lumpy jellyfish sandwiches for everyone.”

The good news is that we have, and can continue, to erase the red from that 2006 map. And according to a NOAA’s fisheries report that provides a snapshot of the amount of fish brought back to the docks in 2011, US seafood landings have reached a 17-year high. Some of the success of ending overfishing is because the Nation’s fisheries conservation and management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) is working and is increasing the size and number of fish in the ocean.

We still have a long way to go here in the Gulf of Mexico where I live, and we must remember that we are still learning about the impacts of the BP oil disaster. Long-term monitoring and research must be implemented to take the pulse of the Gulf in order to ensure full recovery of all of the Gulf’s resources. (You can read more about Ocean Conservancy’s new Menu for Marine Restoration that provides a road map to securing sustainable fisheries.)

And even though we still have a long way to go, we are showing signs of much-needed success, so let’s not put “lumpy jellyfish” on the menu just yet.

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5 Questions with Marine Scientist Ellen Prager on Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime Thu, 05 Jul 2012 13:18:59 +0000 Catherine Fox

A male jawfish with a mouthful of eggs. Photo by Steven Kovacs.

Ellen Prager, formerly chief scientist for the world’s only underwater ocean research station in Key Largo, Florida, knows a lot about the ocean and the species that call it home. But even she learned some surprising new facts while writing her latest book, “Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans’ Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter.

We talked to Prager about this provocative new book and the surprises she found during her research.

1. How did you land on the title for your book?

Originally I was going to focus on wacky creatures as a hook—and why they matter to society. In talking to colleagues and digging into academic journals, however, three very enticing and consistent themes emerged. First, slime: Many animals in the ocean use mucous in some form, maybe for defense or as a net to catch food or to travel faster. Second, sex: Many strange behaviors have evolved over millions of years so organisms can reproduce successfully in the ocean.

And finally, I didn’t realize the breadth and diversity of marine life used in the search for new drugs or as models for biomedical research until I did the research for the book. So I revised the title.

2. From the cuttlefish and orgies of 40,000 participants to the self-martyrdom of the male blanket octopus in the name of love, which creature from the book is your nominee for most surprising sex partner in the sea?

It’s hard to choose just one! Take the anglerfish, where the males are much smaller than females. The whole mission of a male’s life seems to be to search out and find a female for an everlasting kiss. Basically, he bites onto her body, fuses to her and becomes a sperm-producing parasite.

3. With all of your expertise, did anything surprise you in the course of your

Dr. Ellen Prager gives readers an intriguing look below the surface in her newest book.


Lots! Like the fact that there is so much we just don’t know. We are still discovering many creatures for the first time—and even for those we’ve previously identified, there is still much to learn. For instance, scientist Roger Hanlon has long been working on cephalopods and camouflage. He and his colleagues discovered that octopuses and squid are colorblind, so how exactly do they have this incredible ability to change color to match their surroundings? He suspects they have color sensors in their skin, but has yet to figure it out. There are many fascinating stories like that.

4.  You explain so many benefits we gain from ocean life; which are foremost in your mind these days?

I would say two, and the first is food. Several billion people across the world rely on the ocean for a major source of the protein in their diet. And we have more and more people on Earth. The ocean is not going to be able to sustain the demand. I worry about overfishing and also the human health crisis that could occur if we continue to overfish our oceans.

Secondly, most people don’t know that the ocean is the frontier for the discovery of new pharmaceuticals that fight all sorts of diseases. And ocean life helps us understand human physiology. I was really struck when researching the book that almost every ocean environment has some creature being looked at for biomedical or biotech benefits.

5.  Is there one particular threat to the denizens of the deep that you wish more people knew about?

I can’t say there’s a ”worst”; for me, there’s a “top five.” Number one is climate change. The issue of accelerated seawater-warming and ocean acidification together is a double whammy. The others are pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and invasive species. For the big picture, we need to work on climate change. Locally, I think marine debris, pollution and overfishing are really important.

6. Would you share three ways we can help protect the sea’s oddest creatures—and all the others?

  • Be a voice for the ocean. That means contact your political representatives at the local, state or national level and tell them to do more to protect the ocean.
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Pirate Fishing Bill Could Help U.S. Fishermen Protect Their Booty Wed, 20 Jun 2012 16:05:02 +0000 Ellen Bolen

See below to learn how to make your own pirate fish. Credit: Digitprop.

A hearing was held yesterday on a bill being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee that could improve protections for fish across the globe and for fishermen here in the United States.

The bill, HR 4100, would strengthen enforcement mechanisms to stop illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing – also known as pirate fishing. While this term may conjure up an image of Captain Hook or Treasure Island, pirate fishing poses a serious threat to global fisheries and could jeopardize the successes we have made in U.S. fisheries.

You may be surprised to learn that up to 20 percent of all fish caught worldwide are taken illegally or in unregulated waters – that’s one in every five fish caught. This bill would strengthen the ability of the United States to combat this problem.

This also calls attention to our ongoing need to conserve and sustainably manage our fisheries, but these efforts must be coupled with support for the law that established our commitment as a nation to end overfishing.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act was written to ensure that there will be healthy fish populations for generations to enjoy and has successfully ended overfishing on most species by using science-based decision-making.

It doesn’t make sense to improve conservation in some ways while simultaneously trying to weaken other protections in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. With bipartisan support over three decades, this legislation has stood the test of time and continues to restore fish populations and the well-being of fishing communities.

We must build on the progress we’ve already made toward ending overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks by standing behind this important law and allowing it to continue working.

Pirate fishing is a serious problem.  But if you want to make your own paper pirate fish like the one pictured, check this out!

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Fish Populations Making Comeback, NOAA Report Says Tue, 22 May 2012 13:30:34 +0000 Ellen Bolen

Coho salmon are one of six populations of fish that NOAA has officially declared rebuilt in 2011. Credit: Soggydan Flickr stream

With a lot of hard work, a new trend is beginning to emerge for America’s fisheries: Good news.

A new report from NOAA shows that six populations of fish have been officially declared rebuilt in 2011, bringing that total number to 27. Fifty-one others are in process of rebuilding, while six are having plans put together now.

Of the 258 marine fish populations managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, only 36 are currently subject to overfishing. Forty-five are overfished, but due to the precise (read: weird) nature of fishery science, a fish population can be considered overfished while recovering.

Gulf red snapper is the perfect example. Its numbers have rebounded greatly over the past 2+ years, and its allowable catch levels have increased in a benefit to everyone involved, but it is still designated as overfished.

That will change as soon as scientists determine the population has fully recovered from decades of overfishing and depletion — a timeline the fishery management plan estimates to be around 2032. Recovery is ongoing, but full population restoration takes more time.

That’s a lot of numbers but what does it all mean? In short, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working. We have laws on how wild marine fish are to be harvested: specifically Magnuson-Stevens (MSA).

The goal is to catch the fish we need for food and recreational while still preserving enough to ensure future generations. MSA added real teeth to management, set specific dates when plans needed to be put in place by regulators for overfished stocks, and set 2012 as the year overfishing must end.

The news from NOAA shows that it worked and continues to work. And while nothing — least of all MSA — is perfect, to repeal and/or water it down now would be snapping defeat from the jaws of victory.

Magnuson is working. Let it work.

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