False Killer Whales, Truly at Risk from Pacific Longlines

Dr. Andy Read is a marine mammologist and Duke Univeristy Marine Lab professor. He’s also part of a team of experts that convened last week in Honolulu. The new Take Reduction Team (TRT) is assessing the high mortality rate of false killer whales in the Pacific longline fishery.  The team’s assessment is long overdue.

Thanks to the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, the TRT is legally mandated. Its implementation does not meant that it is too late to mitigate our affects on this population. Afterall, the Pacific longline fishery is use to being highly regulated. To its credit, it has adopted a suite of bycatch reducing technologies that have proven to minimize the take of threatened species (ie. side setting and streamers to reduce albatross take).  But the recent drop in this distinct poplulation is truly shocking; from more than 500 in 1989, only 100 individuals remain. Our behavioral changes will have to be significant.

If you’re equally as shocked, read on: http://honoluluweekly.com/cover/2010/02/truth-or-consequences/

I was recently in Honolulu at the longline fishery’s main market. I snapped this photo of Sean Martin, my guide around the market. He is the owner of several longline fishing boats, president of the Hawaii Longline Association, to which the owners of all of Hawaii’s 125 longliners belong, and co-owner with Jim Cook, another past Wespac chairman, of Pacific Ocean Producers, the Pacific’s biggest fisheries-supply company.

Sean’s on the TRT as well and has a lot to lose. The longliners, Hawaii’s largest commercial fishery, bring in about $60 million a year.

Alaskan King salmon fishery collapses


Must be global warming… (just kidding, but it could be).   From todays NYT:


MARSHALL, Alaska — Just a few years ago, king salmon played an outsize role in villages along the Yukon River. Fishing provided meaningful income, fed families throughout the year, and kept alive long-held traditions of Yup’ik Eskimos and Athabascan Indians.

But this year, a total ban on commercial fishing for king salmon on the river in Alaska has strained poor communities and stripped the prized Yukon fish off menus in the lower 48 states. Unprecedented restrictions on subsistence fishing have left freezers and smokehouses half-full and hastened a shift away from a tradition of spending summers at fish camps along the river.

“This year, fishing is not really worth it,” said Aloysius Coffee, a commercial fisherman in Marshall who used to support his family and pay for new boats and snow machines with fishing income.

At a kitchen table cluttered with cigarettes and store-bought food, Mr. Coffee said he fished for the less valuable chum salmon this summer but spent all his earnings on permits and gasoline. “You got to sit there and count your checkbook, how much you’re going to spend each day,” he said.

The cause of the weak runs, which began several years ago, remains unclear. But managers of the small king salmon fishery suspect changes in ocean conditions are mostly to blame, and they warn that it may be years before the salmon return to the Yukon Riverin large numbers.

Salmon are among the most determined of nature’s creatures. Born in fresh water, the fish spend much of their lives in the ocean before fighting their way upriver to spawn and die in the streams of their birth.

While most salmon populations in the lower 48 states have been in trouble for decades, thanks to dam-building and other habitat disruptions, populations in Alaska have generally remained healthy. The state supplies about 40 percent of the world’s wild salmon, and the Marine Stewardship Council has certified Alaska’s salmon fisheries as sustainable. (In the global market, sales of farmed salmon surpassed those of wild salmon in the late 1990s.)

For decades, runs of king, or chinook, salmon — the largest and most valuable of Alaska’s five salmon species — were generally strong and dependable on the Yukon River. But the run crashed in the late 1990s, and the annual migrations upriver have varied widely since then. “You can’t depend on it any more,” said Steve Hayes, who manages the fishery for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Officials with that department and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, which jointly manage the fishery, say variations in ocean conditions related to climate change or natural cycles are probably the main cause of the weak salmon runs. Certain runs of chinook salmon in California and Oregon have been weak as well in recent years, with ocean conditions also suspected.

In Alaska, fishermen also blame the Bering Sea pollock fishing fleet, which scoops up tens of thousands of king salmon each year as accidental by-catch. The first hard cap on salmon by-catch is supposed to take effect in 2011, but the cap is not tough enough to satisfy Yukon River fishermen.

The Yukon River fishery accounts for a small fraction of the state’s commercial salmon harvest. But the fish themselves are considered among the best in the world, prized for the extraordinary amount of fat they put on before migrating from the Bering Sea to spawning grounds in Alaska and Canada, a voyage of 2,000 miles in some cases.

Most commercial fishing is done on the Yukon River delta, where mountains disappear and the river branches into fingers on its way to the sea. Eskimos fish with aluminum skiffs and nets from villages inaccessible by road. Beaches serve as depots and gathering places.

Kwik’Pak Fisheries, in Emmonak, population 794, is one of the few industrial facilities in the region. Forklifts cross muddy streets separating storage buildings, processing facilities and a bunkhouse for employees from surrounding villages.

For decades, almost all commercially caught king salmon were sold to buyers in Japan. But in 2004, Kwik’Pak began marketing the fish domestically, and for a few years fish-lovers in the lower 48 could find Yukon River kings at upscale restaurants and stores.

Management effectiveness of the world’s marine fisheries

UPDATE: Camilo Mora, the lead author of the study, posted a comment about the test of expert opinions.   “I would like to clarify that one of the tests we did in this paper was to compare the expert’s opinions with actual empirical data collected by one of us (i.t. Tony Pitcher). We found that experts’ opinions match very well the reality of the management of each country and if anything the people inquired actually tended to be more positive about the situation (figure 1c in the paper).  The test you refer to that compared the responses of different experts was intended to assess the precision of the data while the comparison of experts’ answers with empirical data was intended to assess their accuracy. – Camilo”

I wanted his clarification to come up in the main blog post.  Ill look at this issue tonight and will comment/reply if appropriate ASAP.  – “Bruno”

journal.pbio.1000131.g004A new paper (Mora et al. 2009) published in the high profile, open access journal PLoS Biology, documents the management effectiveness of the world’s marine fisheries.  The international team based the analysis on questioners filled out by 1,188 fisheries experts.  The experts were asked to assess the current effectiveness of fisheries management around the world.  The study also calculated “probable sustainability of reported catches to determine how management affects fisheries sustainability”.

One neat aspect of the study is that it asked the experts to evaluate a variety of aspects of management effectiveness including capacity to implement regulations.  However, the weakness, in my opinion, is that the study relied on expert opinion, rather than data. The authors argued that the fact that the experts largely agreed with each other was evidence of the correctness of their opinions: “Experts were mostly fisheries managers, university professors, and governmental and nongovernmental researchers. Despite these diverse backgrounds, responses were highly consistent within each country (i.e., where multiple responses were given, 67% of experts chose the same answer to any given question and 27% chose the next closest response”.  To me, this assertion seems dubious at best.   (There are a number of beliefs held by most my coral reef colleagues that are demonstrably false or only weakly supported by empirical science.)

Our survey shows that 7% of all coastal states undergo rigorous scientific assessment for the generation of management policies, 1.4% also have a participatory and transparent processes to convert scientific recommendations into policy, and 0.95% also provide for robust mechanisms to ensure the compliance with regulations; none is also free of the effects of excess fishing capacity, subsidies, or access to foreign fishing. A comparison of fisheries management attributes with the sustainability of reported fisheries catches indicated that the conversion of scientific advice into policy, through a participatory and transparent process, is at the core of achieving fisheries sustainability, regardless of other attributes of the fisheries. Our results illustrate the great vulnerability of the world’s fisheries and the urgent need to meet well-identified guidelines for sustainable management; they also provide a baseline against which future changes can be quantified.


Authors Summary: Global fisheries are in crisis: marine fisheries provide 15% of the animal protein consumed by humans, yet 80% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully exploited, overexploited or have collapsed. Several international initiatives have sought to improve the management of marine fisheries, hoping to reduce the deleterious ecological and socioeconomic consequence of the crisis. Unfortunately, the extent to which countries are improving their management and whether such intervention ensures the sustainability of the fisheries remain unknown. Here, we surveyed 1,188 fisheries experts from every coastal country in the world for information about the effectiveness with which fisheries are being managed, and related those results to an index of the probable sustainability of reported catches. We show that the management of fisheries worldwide is lagging far behind international guidelines recommended to minimize the effects of overexploitation. Only a handful of countries have a robust scientific basis for management recommendations, and transparent and participatory processes to convert those recommendations into policy while also ensuring compliance with regulations. Our study also shows that the conversion of scientific advice into policy, through a participatory and transparent process, is at the core of achieving fisheries sustainability, regardless of other attributes of the fisheries. These results illustrate the benefits of participatory, transparent, and science-based management while highlighting the great vulnerability of the world’s fisheries services.


From the concluding remarks:  “Current projections suggest that total demand for fisheries products is likely to increase by approximately 35 million metric tonnes by 2030… This contrasts sharply with the 20% to 50% reduction in current fishing effort suggested for achieving sustainability, and implies that regulators may face increasing pressures towards unsustainable catch quotas. Given that the demand for fish lies outside the control of conventional fisheries management, other national and international institutions will have to be involved to deal with poverty alleviation and stabilization of the world’s human population (to soften fisheries demand), if pressures on management are to be prevented and sustainability achieved.”

Citation: Mora C. et al. (2009) Management Effectiveness of the World’s Marine Fisheries. PLoS Biol 7(6): e1000131. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000131