Human being and fish can coexist peacefully

… or at least that seems to be what Australia’s Opposition leader thinks would happen if he stopped the expansion of marine protected areas in Australian waters:

In a policy aimed at marginal Queensland seats, Mr Abbott said a Coalition government would ”immediately suspend the marine protection process which is threatening the livelihoods of many people in the fishing industry and many people in the tourism industry”.

”All of us want to see appropriate environmental protection, but man and nature have to live together,” Mr Abbott said as he toured the seat of Dawson, in Mackay, which is held by Labor by 2.6 per cent.

Citing “Real action to protect our marine environments and fishing communities” , Mr Abbott wants to balance environmental protection with economic growth by first suspending the marine protected area process. But doesn’t tourism in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park  generate billions of dollars for the Australian economy annually?

The GBRMP re-zoning that resulted in an increase in strict protection from 4.5% to over 30% was of course intiated under the previous Howard government, and undertaken through a comprehensive research and consultation process. According to Mr Abbott, things have  gone awry since then, although so far the details on this are scanty.

Coalition policy would require consideration of peer reviewed scientific evidence of threats to marine biodiversity before future decisions are made about marine park establishment:

“We would not be interested in just putting lines on maps. If there’s something out there that needs to be protected, if it’s iconic and needs protection, we’d want to see the science and that science would have to be peer-reviewed.”

Fortunately, there is already a lot out there to suggest that the marine environment is under threat, fishing kills fish and that marine parks have benefits for biodiversity and maintaining fish stocks. Conservation planning software used world wide, and developed in Queensland, is used to assist in the creation of marine parks  in a way that seeks to achieve protection for biodiversity while balancing socio-economic objectives.  The science is light years ahead of lines on maps (although, this can be helpful as part of the community consultation process).

It’s encouraging to see the high regard that Mr Abbott places upon peer reviewed science on this issue, so for someone who gets his ‘facts’ about climate change from Heaven + Earth, perhaps a bit of consistency wouldn’t go astray?

Somali pirates and roving banditry

Resilience Science just ran a post on a recent AP story that highlights the link between Somali pirates and recovering fish stocks in the region. Basically, increases in pirate activity has scared off the roving bandits –  fishing fleets from mainly from South Korea, Japan and EU – that have previously been exploiting the rich fishing grounds in the region.

Fishermen and sportsmen say they’ve been catching more fish than ever. Howard Lawrence-Brown, who owns Kenya Deep Sea Fishing, said fishing stocks over the last year have been up “enormously — across all species.”

“We had the best marlin season ever last year,” said Lawrence-Brown, who owns Kenya Deep Sea Fishing. “The only explanation is that somebody is not targeting them somewhere. … There’s definitely no question about it, the lack of commercial fishing has made a difference.”

I’m personally not convinced that overexploited fish stocks can recover on such short time-scales, but this is an interesting hypothesis. The story reiterates another interesting facet of the Somali pirate problem: that this phenomenon actually began as a way to protect Somali fishing grounds from foreign fleets. From another, earlier story from Time magazine

Ever since a civil war brought down Somalia’s last functional government in 1991, the country’s 3,330 km (2,000 miles) of coastline — the longest in continental Africa — has been pillaged by foreign vessels. A United Nations report in 2006 said that, in the absence of the country’s at one time serviceable coastguard, Somali waters have become the site of an international “free for all,” with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country’s own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen. According to another U.N. report, an estimated $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the country’s coastline each year. “In any context,” says Gustavo Carvalho, a London-based researcher with Global Witness, an environmental NGO, “that is a staggering sum.”

In the face of this, impoverished Somalis living by the sea have been forced over the years to defend their own fishing expeditions out of ports such as Eyl, Kismayo and Harardhere — all now considered to be pirate dens. Somali fishermen, whose industry was always small-scale, lacked the advanced boats and technologies of their interloping competitors, and also complained of being shot at by foreign fishermen with water cannons and firearms. “The first pirate gangs emerged in the ’90s to protect against foreign trawlers,” says Peter Lehr, lecturer in terrorism studies at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews and editor of Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism. The names of existing pirate fleets, such as the National Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia or Somali Marines, are testament to the pirates’ initial motivations.

Overfishing – now in a cineplex nearby


Just thought I’d flag a movie thats just started doing the rounds in cinema theatres in the UK and the U.S (and I’m guessing the DVD-release should follow once its done the festival rounds). “The End of the Line” examines the imminent extinction of bluefin tuna, tackles the impact on marine life resulting in huge overpopulation of jellyfish and investigates the profound implications of a future world with no fish. It also aims to do for overfishing what the “Inconvenient Truth” did for climate change. Although in all fairness, Ted Danson is no Al Gore. Watching the trailer did get me excited (well that, and depressed in light of the HUGE problems facing global fish stocks) as many of the big name marine ecologists and fisheries biologists dealing with the problem of overexploited fish stocks seem to be involved: Daniel Pauly and Boris Worm to name a few.

Bablelgum has some short, related episodes (and some fun interviews and behind the scenes stuff) that you can watch for free.

Where have all the big fish gone? Part II: A case study from the Florida Keys

Following on from two great posts by John and Albert on Carribean reef fish decline and coral collapse, I thought it’d be worth posting these visually stunning images from a recent publication by Loren McClenechan, titled “Documenting Loss of Large Trophy Fish from the Florida Keys with Historical Photographs“. Through analysis of historical photographs in the Florida Keys, Loren managed to piece together a convicing history of recreational fishing trends over the past half century. Large fish really were more abundant in bygone days: the average fish size caught in 2007 was a tiny 2.3kg, compared with 19.9kg in 1957, and that the average length of sharks declined by more than 50% in the same period. In this case though, a picture really is worth a thousand words.




Early 1980's



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A world without fish – what would it take?


A Sea Change – Imagine a World Without Fish” is a recently released documentary film about ocean acidification, the little-known ugly sister of global warming. The film website explains it “… aims not only to educate viewers about the science of our rapidly-changing oceans, but also to engage them on accessible terms.”
The full film was shown to the European Geosciences Union 2009 conference on 27 April 2009, a podcast of which is available here. After a 2 minute introduction, the film lasts for 19 minutes followed by an illuminating question and answer session.

Caribbean fish decline in the wake of coral collapse?

A new study in Current Biology (some really interesting coral related stuff being published there lately) by Michelle Paddack and colleagues (Paddack et al 2009) documents a region-wide decline in reef associated fish in the Caribbean. The authors conducted a meta-analysis on a substantial amount of fisheries-independent, time-series data on Caribbean fish densities. Fish densities seem to have been pretty stable from the mid-50s until the mid-90s, to then exhibit significant negative rates of change during the past 10 years. What is striking is the generality of the decline that has occured the past decade, across the whole region (see figure below)


Recorded declines in fish densities across five Caribbean sub-regions 1996-2007

Differences in fished and non-fished species were non-significant. This leads the authors to speculate that fishing is not the main driver of these changes (although certainly it plays a part). Rather, as has been documented in the western Indian Ocean, these changes in fish communities could be a response to the substantial losses of coral cover which have occurred in the Caribbean the past decades. A wicked problem, primarily for managers and communities dependent on fisheries, is that changes in fish communities seem to manifest themselves as a form of “degradation debt” – that is, there is a substantial time-lag between changes in the underlying benthic community and the response of fish communities.