Ocean Currents » sustainable fisheries http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:00:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Manliest Catch: The Lack of Women in Fisheries and Why Diversity Makes Us Stronger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/09/manliest-catch-the-lack-of-women-in-fisheries-and-why-diversity-makes-us-stronger/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/09/manliest-catch-the-lack-of-women-in-fisheries-and-why-diversity-makes-us-stronger/#comments Thu, 09 Mar 2017 14:00:06 +0000 Corey Ridings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13873

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating stand out #WomeninConservtion all week long. Here, Corey Ridings, a Policy Analyst with our Sustainable Fisheries team, reflects on the representation of women in fisheries management

Our ocean fish populations are managed in a unique system where stakeholders take a lead role in crafting management strategies. But historical patterns have resulted in significant underrepresentation of women in this process.

America’s federal fisheries are largely managed by a group of stakeholder councils that include 116 voting members across eight regions. The original vision for this system, outlined in 1976 by Congress, was bold and idealistic: directly include those with local interests and regional experience in the management process. Membership includes state managers, federal agency representatives and stakeholders nominated by state Governors and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce.

While this politicized system has its successes and failures, for better or worse it is a rare example of the public managing its own natural resource. However, in reality, most Councils do not look like the public they represent and serve: less than one in five members are women, and almost all are socially-identified as white.

This lack of diversity is not limited to the Council meeting room, but is also common on the decks of commercial fishing boats across the country. Of 185,263 commercial fishermen in federal fisheries, we can list nearly all the women by name. Exclusion isn’t just a matter or physical ability, but in many cases is based solely on cultural norms.

This is not just a hypothetical issue for me–I have experienced it firsthand. As an observer in the Alaskan groundfish fleet, I had the rare opportunity to live and work on a commercial vessel. I loved it. The raw beauty of the ocean, the Alaskan landscape, the pain of physical labor and the extreme isolation that is almost impossible to find today. I’ve also worked in fisheries policy, first in Congress and now as an advocate for sustainable fisheries. While the opposite of isolation, it is a joy to work with scientists, managers and industry representatives who have devoted their lives to sustainable fisheries.

That’s why this matters. American fishing communities need governance that supports them and the stocks they fish for, and a healthy ecosystem that sustains both. To do this requires using more than fifty percent of your talent pool and allowing in women. If Seahawks coach Pete Carroll left half of his team on the bench, he’d never win.

On the West Coast we’re seeing a “graying of the fleet,” where the average age is likely above fifty and young fishermen are few and far between, and this trend is mirrored in other regions. American fisheries are among the strongest in the world, largely due to laws that keep fish stocks at healthy levels and protect the environment, but this achievement was hard-won over decades of lessons learned from overfishing and the consequent harm to communities and the environment. Today’s management success is fraught and regionalized, especially in the face of climate change.

It’s time to include women. Opening up our fishing fleet to nearly twice as many more people who can bring creativity and a fresh approach could fundamentally improve the way we fish and eat seafood. Bringing more women into the meeting room does the same; studies have shown the benefit of women in governance. Among them, women are more democratic in their governance style with increased emphasis on consensus building and collaboration.

The economic case for including women is obvious, but as an American the case for equality is even more important to me. Diversity in our fisheries will only make us stronger.

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Recreational Fishing: Protecting a Way of Life http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/recreational-fishing-protecting-a-way-of-life/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/recreational-fishing-protecting-a-way-of-life/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 17:00:54 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12832

By Dennis McKay

All my life, I’ve measured the “good life” with days on the water fishing. Escaping work, shunning worry and forgoing the pressures of daily life to enjoy the elemental world of water, weather and a fish has defined the happiest moments of my life. Actually, it’s a natural inheritance since my family has called Alabama and these Gulf waters home for several hundred years.

As with any natural inheritance, I tend to be protective of my roots. Supporting my protective bent, the United States has some of the best fisheries management practices in the world. The overall law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, is effective because it is implemented using science-based rules, such as annual catch limits and rebuilding timelines, as currently defined by National Standard 1 (NS1). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is responsible for establishing and assessing these rules, and the nation’s eight regional fisheries management councils are mandated to execute them.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, overfishing was so out of control that there were days it was hard to catch a decent sized fish. The fish were small because the vast majority were immature because fishermen from every sector, commercial and recreational, were catching the mature fish more quickly than the juveniles could recruit into the fishery. Frankly, for me it was depressing. I knew what the Gulf was capable of producing, but it was heartbreaking to think that in our rush to enjoy fishing we had nearly destroyed the things we love. The Gulf’s depleted fish stocks were a wake-up call for me, and the MSA provided the opportunity to correct the Gulf’s overfishing trend.

Since 2006, with the MSA’s newest reauthorization containing the explicit mandate to rebuild the nation’s fisheries with the NS1 science-based tools, recreational and commercial fishermen alike have sacrificed and worked with fisheries managers and scientists to halt overfishing, allowing over 30 fish stocks to rebound in the last ten years to sustainable, rebuilt levels.

For example, consider the Gulf’s iconic red snapper. In 2007, fisheries managers had to set the annual catch limit of red snapper at 5,000,000 pounds because the fish stock was decimated. The commercial and charter-for-hire fleets put their heads down and partnered with managers and scientists and worked within the MSA’s inherent flexibility and the Council process to develop fishery management plans that complied with NS1, while working with the sector’s respective fishing styles.

As a result of this hard work, today the catch limit is at 14,000,000 pounds. In other words, in only eight years commercial and recreational fishermen, by embracing NS1, are now allowed to catch almost three times the weight of fish, while continuing to rebuild the red snapper population.

The NS1 successes are not confined to the Gulf’s red snapper, though. Using NS1’s science-based information to make sound management decisions for the Gulf’s fisheries has created more successes across the board. Indeed, NS1 has restored several popular Gulf fish species including: red grouper, gag grouper, yellowtail snapper and king mackerel.

Given the Gulf’s successes, it’s ludicrous that in the next few weeks NOAA Fisheries is contemplating weakening NS1 by relaxing the science-based tools that have proven successful for red snapper and countless other species of fish. Why in heaven’s name would NOAA pick apart an effective management approach that has restored such a high-value resource as our fisheries?

NOAA Fisheries is planning to alter NS1 by replacing strong, science-based rules with weak guidelines that allow fisheries managers to delay ending overfishing by several years, even when managers know overfishing is occurring. The new rules also propose removing the MSA’s oversight of requiring the Secretary of Commerce to review all stock rebuilding plans to determine if they were making progress. Under the new rule, the Secretary is only required to determine if the fishery management plan is being implemented as intended, not necessarily if the fish stock is, or is not improving.

As a recreational fisherman I don’t make my livelihood by fishing. I don’t work as a charter boat captain; I don’t market fish. But NS1 has protected my natural inheritance and way of life. And in the Gulf, heritage runs deep. Thanks to NS1, red snapper have not only increased in number and size, but they have begun to return to fishing grounds in mid- and southern Florida waters where they have not been seen in decades, returning back to me and others the Southern ways of life our Grandfathers enjoyed and instilled in us.

So my children and their children can enjoy and experience their natural inheritances and the Gulf’s way of life, please tell President Obama to protect sustainable fisheries management and defeat the changes proposed for NS1.

Dennis McKay is recreational fisherman in East-Central Alabama.

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The House Draft Fisheries Bill Doesn’t Add Up http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/02/27/the-house-draft-fisheries-bill-doesnt-add-up/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/02/27/the-house-draft-fisheries-bill-doesnt-add-up/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 14:00:37 +0000 Ellen Bolen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7583

Photo: Sara Thomas

In elementary school, we learned through basic math that 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 x 2 = 4. As we grew up, math became more complicated with different variables and formulas, but we always knew that 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 x 2 = 4. Fisheries math is not all that different.

Each year, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use fishery math and science to determine how many fish can be removed from fisheries in a sustainable manner, and the number of fish that can be removed is called the annual catch limit (ACL). If species fall below a level that is sustainable, managers put in a rebuilding plan – a roadmap to rebuild the stock to a healthy level.

Counting fish clearly isn’t nearly as easy as Dr. Seuss made it out to be (one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish), but the simple equation of “science-based annual catch limits + adequate rebuilding timelines = healthy and sustainable fisheries” is generally accepted among members of the fishing community. No matter which way we frame it, science-based catch limits and adequate rebuilding timelines are key components to keep our fisheries healthy and the fishing industry in business.

But this equation is in jeopardy, and so are fish populations.

On Friday, Feb. 28, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the primary law governing our nation’s fisheries. A draft bill proposed by Chairman Doc Hastings, however, would alter the formula that we know is working for our fisheries.

The Hastings proposal would subtract out some of the science-based provisions that have led to success on the water while adding in several exemptions to promote short-term economic gains. This equation does not equal success for our fisheries, coastal communities or the long-term viability of the fishing industry.

Overall, the reauthorization of the MSA + the Hastings language = The Empty Oceans Act.

Some may think that this equation is a bold statement, but all you have to do is look at the numbers in the draft language to realize that it’s true:

  • 5 – The number of years the draft bill would allow overfishing to occur
  • 3 – The number of fisheries that are exempted from applying ACLs
  • 4 –  The number of other environmental laws that are affected by Chairman Hastings’ draft by placing the interests of the fishing industry over those of endangered species, sensitive habitat and the environment
  • 5 – Exemptions to the successful rebuilding provisions in the House draft bill that regional fisheries management councils can use to delay rebuilding
  • 7 – The number of types of data – collected with taxpayer dollars on a public resource – not available to the public
  • 30 – The number of pages of Chairman Hastings’ draft bill it took to roll back almost 20 years of progress, including:
    • 32 fish stocks that have been fully rebuilt due to the reauthorization provisions in current law
    • 20 fish stocks that are no longer experiencing overfishing since 2007 due to science-based ACLs, a cornerstone of sustainable fisheries
    • 0 – The number of ways the draft bill builds upon the successful formula for sustainable fisheries and improves fisheries management

These numbers just don’t add up to successful and sustainable fisheries. These numbers add up to depleted fisheries and long-term economic consequences for fishermen and coastal communities. We don’t need to subtract from the law. We need to add provisions to help us manage fisheries in a dynamic and changing ocean.

All these numbers add up to are empty nets.

Take action and tell your members of Congress to reject the proposed language drafted by Hastings in order to protect our nation’s fisheries.

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Red Snapper Numbers Go Up In More Ways Than One http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/15/red-snapper-numbers-go-up-in-more-ways-than-one/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/15/red-snapper-numbers-go-up-in-more-ways-than-one/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2013 17:16:37 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6292 Fisherman loads red snapper into buckets

Credit: Tom McCann / Ocean Conservancy

UPDATE (July 17, 2013): Success! The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has voted to raise this year’s catch limit for red snapper from 8.46 to 11 million pounds due to the successful rebuilding of this iconic species. This action marks a historic moment in the management of the red snapper fishery, as catch levels are the highest they’ve been in 25 years.

Read more about this decision here.

Original post (July 15, 2013):

It’s summer in the Gulf of Mexico, and another recreational red snapper fishing season has come and gone too quickly. Usually at this time of year, anglers and fishery managers are taking stock of what was caught in the short snapper opening and wondering what the limit will be next year. The answer will come sooner than usual.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is holding an emergency meeting this week to decide how many more red snapper can be caught this year. A science panel recently announced that an increase is possible, and now managers need to settle the questions of how much and by when?

The good news is that the red snapper population is on the rise and soon the catch limit will be too. The law governing our nation’s fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, has rebuilt a record number of fish populations around the country, and red snapper is one of the most visible success stories.

As recently as 2005, the red snapper population was fished down to 3 percent of its historic abundance, and catch limits were reduced to allow recovery. Just eight years later, fishermen are reporting better fishing and larger fish, and scientists have confirmed red snapper is on the road to recovery.

Because red snapper was reduced so low, we have a long way to go to achieve full restoration of the population. So the trick this week is to set a responsible catch limit increase—Ocean Conservancy is recommending between 11 and 11.9 million pounds—to keep up the progress that has already been made while allowing additional fishing opportunities for commercial and recreational participants.

Keeping the increase to a responsible level benefits everyone. Recreational fishermen will be able to catch more fish and get a more stable fishing season, helping to support tourism and local economies for both the short and long term. Commercial fishing will benefit for years to come as the population continues to rebound and provide stable and secure harvests into the future. And for the general public, especially seafood-lovers, responsible limits demonstrate a long-term commitment to the recovery and sustainability of Gulf fisheries—and the food and recreation they provide us all.

Red snapper is an iconic Gulf species, and economically is among the most valuable fish so its long-term recovery and health should be our first priority. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster still represents a great source of uncertainty for the region’s fisheries, and making the right choices is more important now than ever as we do not yet know the extent to which the disaster affected red snapper and the things they rely on as a food source.

For now, the good news is that snapper is rebounding and the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working. Now it’s up to fishery managers to make a responsible decision on the catch limit to help ensure the good news continues.

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Let the Sun Continue to Shine on Fishery Management http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/12/let-the-sun-continue-to-shine-on-fishery-management/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/12/let-the-sun-continue-to-shine-on-fishery-management/#comments Tue, 12 Mar 2013 22:39:52 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5130

Sunrise over fishing boat docks in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Bethany Kraft / Ocean Conservancy

Sunshine Week is upon us! Sunshine week  (March 10-16) is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

Governing in the sunshine is especially important for sustainably managing our nation’s fishery resources. Every year, fishery managers make decisions about how to manage fish populations, and they rely on input from fishermen, scientists, community groups and others to help make smart choices. Information gathered on the water about what fish are caught, where they are caught, and interactions with other ocean wildlife is essential for the public to understand how fish populations are being managed and how those decisions affect ocean ecosystems. Access to this information is necessary for everyone, including fishermen, to participate effectively in the management process, and to ensure that our fisheries are managed responsibly and sustainably for the benefit of present and future generations.

However, public access to fishery management information is currently being threatened. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is considering sweeping changes to its rule regarding confidentiality of information under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Unfortunately, it’s the opposite of governing in the sunshine. The proposed changes would unnecessarily stifle public participation in the management of public trust ocean resources, including depleted fish populations and protected species. The proposed rule would take the unprecedented and unwarranted leap from protecting personal privacies to withholding basic required information from the owners of the resource: the public. As currently written, the proposed rule could make nearly all essential fisheries data inaccessible to the public, and would prohibit access to critical information that forms the fundamental basis for fishery management decisions. The rule is still pending.

Our nation’s ocean wildlife and fish are public trust resources managed on all of our behalf by NMFS. These resources belong to the American public, and the entire nation has a stake in the jobs and revenues generated from them. U.S. fish populations alone support hundreds of thousands of jobs in the tourism, fishing and seafood industries. Commercial and recreational fishing generates $183 billion per year for the U.S. economy and supports more than 1.5 million full and part-time jobs. Moreover, millions of taxpayer dollars are invested each year in fisheries management including the collection of data by professional observers on fishing vessels. As noted by the Sunlight Foundation, this rule change would restrict access to information from publicly-funded fisheries observer programs, which are funded to the tune of some $40 million each year.

NMFS should withdraw this flawed proposal and replace it with one that ensures public access to fisheries information. The desire to streamline the federal fisheries data processing system is laudable, but the proposed rule presents an unjustified expanded cloak of secrecy that could undermine transparency and stifle public participation. In honor of Sunshine Week, we must continue to urge NMFS to preserve public access to fishery management information as the law intends. A new proposal must preserve transparency, participation and collaboration so that researchers, scientists and members of the public can contribute to the successful management of our nation’s publicly owned ocean resources.


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Making Waves as Ocean Conservancy’s New President and CEO http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/02/04/making-waves-as-ocean-conservancys-new-president-and-ceo/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/02/04/making-waves-as-ocean-conservancys-new-president-and-ceo/#comments Mon, 04 Feb 2013 12:00:34 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4448 Andreas Merkl

Photo: Paolo Vescia / Ocean Conservancy

As is the case with many career paths, my journey toward joining Ocean Conservancy as President and CEO is a long and circuitous one, and it begins with a childhood spent playing along the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany. Inspired by the post-war environmental awakening in industrial northern Germany, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to conservation.

When I graduated from high school, my father gave me 3,000 Deutsche Marks and told me to leave out of the front door of the house and return at the back door, taking the long way around. As naïve as it sounds, I started my “walkabout” in the United States by sticking my thumb in the air outside the arrivals terminal of New York City’s JFK airport and eventually hitchhiked my way across the country.

I ended up finding a more permanent home in San Francisco, where I’ve spent nearly four decades working in environmental conservation and natural resource management. That is, until last month, when I made one more long-distance move—this time to settle in Washington, D.C., and begin making some waves at an organization I’ve long admired.

Today is my first day at the helm, and I’m inspired and honored to be leading efforts to tackle the ocean’s biggest challenges. Ocean Conservancy had a banner year in 2012, and I hope to learn from those victories and build on them.

Last year, Ocean Conservancy helped protect polar bears, seals and walruses by pushing for a timeout on oil and gas activity in the Arctic. We completed the nation’s first statewide network of marine parks in California, and helped pass the RESTORE Act, which will direct much-needed funds toward restoring the marshes, fisheries and habitats of the Gulf of Mexico.

As always, Ocean Conservancy mobilized volunteers all over the world to clean debris from beaches and waterways during the International Coastal Cleanup. But in 2012, we did even more in our work toward trash free seas, including the launch of a mobile app, Rippl™, to help consumers make wise choices to reduce their impact on the ocean.

In the last year and over the last four decades, Ocean Conservancy has made great strides in finding solutions to problems that face the ocean. But our work is far from over.

We must continue to protect and restore ecosystems in the Arctic, the Gulf of Mexico and along the Pacific Coast; promote productive and sustainable fisheries; fight for trash free seas; ensure comprehensive ocean planning; and begin critical work to address increasing acidity levels in the ocean. This is a world-class platform for growth.

The ocean is at the very center of the central challenge of our time: how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us. In every aspect of this challenge—food, energy, climate and protection of our natural resources—our ability to manage our impacts on the ocean will make the crucial difference in sustaining the resources that we need to survive.

Ocean Conservancy should be at the very center of these issues. We cannot afford to stand still as threats to our ocean increase and the window to preserve the functionality, resiliency and vitality of the ocean closes.

As CEO, I pledge to redouble Ocean Conservancy’s efforts to foster new ideas and embrace an invigorated spirit to tackle the ocean’s biggest challenges with science-based solutions.

I am fortunate to be working with such a great team of colleagues, partners and friends worldwide to help shape a sustainable ocean future. I am confident that together we will continue our legacy of success for years to come.

I invite you to join me in this commitment to fight for a healthy, thriving ocean. I plan on making some waves. How about you?


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