Tag Archives: fishing

US Makes Progress on Over-Fishing: Fish Stocks Recovering

The number of US fish stocks listed as overfished, or subject to overfishing, has dropped to an all-time low since NOAA Fisheries began monitoring began in 1997. Their report, released this week, highlights the United States’ continued progress towards sustainably managing fish stocks.

NOAA Fisheries maintain three lists: Overfishing, Overfished and Rebuilt. A fish stock is on the overfishing list when the annual catch rate is too high. It’s on the overfished list when the population size of a stock is too low, whether because of fishing or other causes. The Rebuilt list holds stocks that have previously been on one of the other lists but have now recovered.

“This report illustrates that the science-based management process under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working to end overfishing and rebuild stocks,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “While we have made tremendous progress, we know there’s more work to be done — especially as we continue to document changes to our world’s oceans and ecosystems. We will continue to strive toward sustainable management of our nation’s fisheries in order to preserve our oceans for future generations.”

Twenty-six fish stocks, though, are still on both the Overfished and Overfishing lists. These include bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna, striped marlin, Atlantic cod, red snapper, white marlin, blue marlin, scalloped hammerhead, Atlantic halibut and Atlantic salmon.

Further Reading

Status of Stocks 2014. Annual Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries by NOAA Fisheries

European fish are on the move with increasing temperature

We all have our favourite types of environment and weather.  Some love those warm, sunny days spent on a beach of golden sands.  Some love those rainy days in the forest, when everything glistens with the raindrops.  Some love nothing more than a cold crisp day in snowy mountains.  We humans are lucky.  We can not only survive but enjoy a wealth of different environmental conditions.  Many other species are not so adaptive.  In the oceans some creatures live in the seabed itself, others on top.  Some may stay in the water column dominated by a particular type of habitat like a kelp forest, whilst others roam into a variety of different locations throughout their lives.  Then there are the varying conditions of the ocean itself.  Some areas are generally calm whilst others may experience a lot of movement.  Salinity levels also vary, as does oxygen, as does temperature.  Actually temperature – as many a fisher will know – is a super important driver of species distribution.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, unlike us, most fish do not have the ability to control their own body temperature.  Their internal body temperature reflects that of the environment they are in.  The second primary reason relates to food.  If the major food of a fish – be it plant (phytoplankton) or animal – changes its abundance (how many) or its distribution (where it is), then the fish may follow.

A school of European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) being eyed up as a meal by some hungry cetaceans.  The image was found on http://blog.giallozafferano.it/.  Original photographer unclear.
A school of European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) being eyed up as a meal by some hungry cetaceans. The image was found on http://blog.giallozafferano.it/. Original photographer unclear.

North Sea is one of World’s Global Warming Hotspots

The world’s seas are getting warmer.  On a global scale, measurements indicate that between 1971 and 2010 the upper 75 meters of the ocean has warmed by 0.11ºC.  Doesn’t sound like much but already numerous scientific studies as well data garnered from traditional ecological knowledge and those working in the oceans are pointing to shifts in some – but not all – species distributions.  Pelagic fish – those who spend their lives in the water column, seems to be on the move more than benthic fish, who spend their lives on or near the sea floor.

Then there is location.  The on a global scale the ocean surface may have warmed by 0.11ºC, but it has not uniformly warmed by 0.11ºC.  Twenty major global warming hotspots – areas in which the ocean is warming much more rapidly than the average – have been identified in the world.  One of those hotspots is the North Sea.  The North Sea is, like all seas, home to pelagic fish…pelagic fish that aren’t just ecologically important, but commercially.   Between 2000 and 2011 six such species – European sprat (Sprattus sprattus), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus), Atlantic horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus), European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) and European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) made up an average 39.1% of the 8,965,617 tonnes of fish harvested each year from the Northeast Atlantic.  These guys are also known as ‘forage fish’ and make up key positions in the Northeast Atlantic marine food web.  And because of their fairly quick lifecycles, they are among those most likely to respond to changes in water temperature.  It appears that they have done just that.

Ignasi Montero-Serra from the University of Bristol and University of Barcelona, and collaborators didn’t use any special monitoring techniques to uncover the changing distributions of these six key fish species.  Instead they used data that was already available.  To get a grasp of where species are – and indeed some key prey species, they used Fisheries-independent data from International Bottom Trawl Surveys collected between 1965 and 2012.  Wait a minute… bottom trawl you say?  These fish are pelagic right?!  This is true, but the authors note that the data collected by these surveys are reliable indicators*.

The UK Meteorological Office Hadley Centre’s Global Ocean Surface Temperature (GISST) databank was able to provide them with monthly mean sea surface temperatures for the same time, and the same areas the fish data came from.  Actually this study claims to be the first to be carried out over such a long time scale, and such a large area – both important factors for assessing changes in species distributions.  Put sea surface temperature, prey and the fish distribution data together, do some fancy calculations and you have information on how the six fish species distributions have changed over time – and how that correlates to any changes in average temperature and prey distribution.

Sea Surface Temperature is Main Influence on Fish Location

Each species had its own unique distribution – and change in distribution over time.  Prey distribution does matter, but more important is sea surface temperature itself.  Generally, it seems that the sea surface temperature of the previous year had a strong influence on species occurrence.  In effect this means temperature matters for reproduction and larval survival, and reproduction and larval survival matter for abundance and distribution.  Warmer waters, the researchers note, can increase growth and metabolic rates of the early stages of fish, but it also means the larvae need to eat more – and thus are at greater risk of starvation (the risk of starvation – and indeed being eaten – is already very high for larval fish).  More specifically, it seems that sardines, anchovies and pilchards in particular are moving increasingly more north, occupying the higher temperature environments that are now found there.  For fishers in the south that target these guys, this shift is bad news.  Not all species changed latitudinal distribution though.  European sprat, Atlantic house mackerel, and Atlantic mackerel didn’t really shift (but did show changes in abundance with copepod blooms).

For more northerly fishers who may want to fish sardines, anchovies, and pilchards this shift may be good news.   Take home message for the North Sea fishing community… make sure you – and your community as a whole – can adapt to these changing distributions.  The source of your income may have moved on.

* For those who are interested, have a look at the paper for a link – which is at the bottom of this post – to the survey methods

The paper was published in the journal Global Change Biology and has been made open access by the authors (hurrah!).  Have a read of it here http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.12747

Image: A school of European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) being eyed up as a meal by some hungry cetaceans.  The image was found on http://blog.giallozafferano.it/.  Original photographer unclear.

Scientists urge Brazil to take a stand on protecting marine life

A team of Brazilian scientists is raising awareness about impending conservation setbacks for Brazil’s marine life, calling for immediate fisheries management collaboration between the nation’s public and private sectors. The scientists say Brazil can transform this moment of political turmoil into positive action, and become a leader among developing countries facing widespread extinction of aquatic animals. The call to protect the future of Brazil’s productive fisheries is published this month in Science.

In December 2014, the Brazilian Minister of the Environment released new national “red lists” identifying 3,286 species of plants and animals threatened with extinction. Eighty-three of these are aquatic animals which are commercially exploited by fisheries. Many of the lists’ water-dwelling animals, like the possibly-extinct Galapagos shark (Carcharhinus galapagensis), have historically ended up as by-catch during routine fishing operations. The updated red lists seek to strengthen fisheries by naming and protecting species at risk of going the way of the dodo.

One month after the Brazilian government published updated red lists, around 200 fishing boats launched an overnight protest of federal fishing restrictions by blocking Brazil’s second-largest container port. The protest ended when labor union representatives reported an agreement to create a committee of public and private stakeholders to evaluate new catch restrictions. The researchers say the time for increased collaboration on fisheries management overdue.

Greenbeak Parrotfish appear on Brazil's recently released threatened species lists
Greenbeak Parrotfish appear on Brazil’s recently released threatened species lists, which contain 3,286 plants and animals at risk of extinction. 83 of the species listed are aquatic animals commercially exploited by fisheries. Photo credit: California Academy of Sciences

“In Brazil – a country with some of the most unique aquatic environments on Earth – fisheries data don’t really exist,” says Luiz Rocha, PhD, Associate Curator of Ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences. “There are no bag or size limits for any species of fish, and for the past few years, even the most basic fisheries statistics – such as the numbers and weights of fish being caught – are a blank space. Maintaining current red lists is crucial to making sure management plans start as soon as possible.”

While the industrial fisheries sector has acted swiftly to derail protections for all threatened aquatic species, the scientific collaborative offers management solutions that protect Brazil’s treasured wildlife as well as the financial future of commercial fishing interests. This week’s Science article calls the impact of red lists on industrial fisheries “less disruptive” than previously reported, and highlights the opportunity for fishing interests to work with government agencies to implement inclusive management plans for a “better way forward.”

The Galapagos shark is an example of a keystone species thought to have been fished to regional extinction due to decades of nonexistent fisheries regulations. This species is one of many that could have greatly benefited from management plans that help reduce by-catch and prevent the overexploitation of fishing stocks.

Global Fishing Watch shows you ships fishing in protected areas

In the last 60 years the fishing industry have caught nine out of every ten large fish. That’s only 10% of large fish like tuna, cod, swordfish and halibut remaining on the planet. International fleets still pursue what is remaining. According a 2014 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, over 90% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or over-fished.

This week Oceana, Skytruth and Google launched The Global Fishing Watch. This can identify individual fishing vessels and track their fishing activity, shining a light on fishing activity worldwide.

Global Fishing Watch Map
Global Fishing Watch Example Map

The prototype anlayses data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) network. This was designed to avoid collisions and gives information about a ship’s identy, location, speed and direction of travel. Global Fishing Watch uses the data to map the who, where and when of commercial fishing around the world.

Global Fishing Watch will be available to anyone with an internet connection to monitor when and where commercial fishing is happening around the globe. The designers hope that people will use the tool to see for themselves whether their fisheries are being effectively managed. Seafood suppliers can keep tabs on the boats they buy fish from. Media and the public can act as watchdogs to improve the sustainable management of global fisheries. Fisherman can show that they are obeying the law and doing their part. Researchers will have access to a multi-year record of all trackable fishing activity.

The systems aims to make fishing activity more transparent and identify illegal fishing. It will be able to monitor any fishing activity in closed, protected areas. For example, in tests the Komarovo, a trawler registered in Russia, appeared to be fishing five times inside the Dzhugdzhursky State Nature Reserve in September 2013. The nature reserve is an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) category 1a protected area, meaning it has the highest, and strictest, protection level possible. However, at least five vessels, all registered in Russia, entered the Nature Reserve and exhibited behavior suggestive of fishing in 2013.

There are currently 6,600 marine protected areas (MPAs) covering about 2 percent of the world’s oceans. An even smaller area of the global oceans, about 1 percent, has been protected with a “No Take” designation where all fishing is prohibited.

“Global Fishing Watch is designed to empower all stakeholders, including governments, fishery managers, citizens and members of the fishing industry itself, so that together they may work to bring back a healthy, bio-diverse and maximally productive ocean,” said Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana. “By engaging citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for managing fisheries sustainably and for enforcing fishing rules, Global Fishing Watch will help bring back the world’s fisheries, protecting and enhancing the livelihoods of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on ocean fisheries for food and income.”

Although the Global Fishing Watch promises to be a fantastic tool, it is not perfect. Many smaller fishing vessels are not included in Global Fishing Watch as vessels below 300 gross tonnage are not currently required to operate AIS in many areas. It is hoped that the AIS will be expanded to smaller ships.

SkyTruth is a nonprofit organization using remote sensing and digital mapping to create stunning images that expose the environmental impact of natural resource extraction and other human activities. Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Google Earth Outreach is a team dedicated to leveraging and developing Google’s infrastructure to address environmental and humanitarian issues through partnerships with non-profits, educational institutions, and research groups.

Further Reading:
Global Fishing Watch

Stamping out over-fishing

For the first time, Britain’s Royal Mail has issued stamps championing an environmental issue – and that issue is sustainable fishing. Over-fishing has long been a problem – policy-makers don’t seem to understand if you take more fish out of the sea than can be replaced then you will run out. One way things might change is by consumers voting with their purses and choosing to buy only fish that can be caught sustainably. Research by the Royal Mail, though, has revealed that little is known by the public about which fish are in trouble and which we can eat.

Half of the species illustrated are fish that are at risk in UK waters: Common Skate; Spiny Dogfish (Rock Salmon); Wolffish; Sturgeon and Conger Eel. The other half are species from what are probably sustainable populations and suitable alternatives: Herring; Red Gurnard; Dab; Pouting and Cornish Sardine.

Professor Callum Roberts who acted as consultant for Royal Mail on the stamp issue said: “Marine protected areas that are off limits to fishing could recover endangered species like those on the stamps, as well as providing a boost to the fishing industry through recovered stocks. Only one thousandth of 1% of UK seas are fully protected from fishing at present. To bring back endangered fish species, we need a huge increase in the coverage of such protected areas.”

The Threatened Fish

Common Skate, Dipturus batis

Common Skate, Dipturus batis
The largest skate found in European waters, with females growing up to 285 cm. They can live up to 100 years. Previously widespread – as the name implies – they are now extinct in the Mediterranean and greatly reduced in range around Britain. Retaining and landing common skate is now prohibited in EU waters. Common skate is assessed as Critically Endangered.

Wolffish, Anarhichas lupus

Woffish, Anarhichas lupus
Wolffish live on the seabed. They do not reproduce until they are 8 to 10 years old. Modern fishing methods have severely reduced wolffish numbers, not just by catching the fish but also by destroying their habitat and breeding grounds with intensive, repeated bottom trawling.

Common Skate, Dipturus batis

Conger Eel, Conger conger
This massive fish can grow to almost 3 m (10 ft) long, the females often being bigger than the males. Congers breed only once in their lives, commonly when they reach 5 years old, after which they die. As they breed only once, just about all eels which are caught in fishing nets are juveniles which have not yet reached spawning age. They only become sexually mature during the journey to the spawning areas.

Spiny Dogfish, Squalus acanthias

Spiny Dogfish, Squalus acanthias
More commonly known in the fishmongers as Rock Salmon, the spiny dogfish is critically endangered. It is a long-lived, slow-growing and late-maturing species and therefore particularly vulnerable to fishing. Pregnancy lasts between 18 and 22 months, one of the longest recorded for any vertebrate, and they give birth to live young. Older females produce 10 to 21 pups, but younger ones (who are smaller than 1 m) produce less.

Sturgeon, Acipenser, Huso spp

Sturgeon, Acipenser, Huso spp
Although some sturgeon sold are farmed, those caught in nets should be avoided. According to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) “The value of wild sturgeon caviar is so high that there is a substantial illegal fishery for sturgeon that is completely unregulated. Consequently many species are in rapid decline.

Fish that are OK to Eat

Pouting or Bib

Pouting or Bib, Trisopterus luscus
Called Pouting on the stamp but known to divers as Bib. A member of the cod family, matures at just 1 to 2 years and around 23 cm long. Pouting is considered an “under-utilised species”: the ones that fishermen don’t catch their full quota of; or they catch them but then discard the fish because no one wants to buy them. Can be used in recipes specifying white fish.


Herring, Clupea harengus
Herring is a familiar fish. Its sustainability depends on the methods of the fishery catching it. Look for certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to show that the Herring were caught responsibly.


Red Gurnard, Aspitrigla cuculus
Gurnards are a non-quota species so are often discarded due to low market demand. If we eat these it will stop fish being wasted in this way. Avoid eating immature fish – those less than 25cm – and fresh fish caught in summer during the spawning season.


Cornish Sardine, Sardina pilchardus
Look for MSC certified fish with the Blue tick logo on the package. The most sustainable sardine fishery are the Cornish boats using traditional pilchard drift nets. Sardines and pilchards are the same fish, the larger fish are known and pilchards and the smaller as sardines.


Dab, Limanda limanda
Dab is one of the most abundant fish in the North Sea and can be eaten instead of other flat fish like plaice.

Further reading:
Royal Mail
Fish online: a good site to find out about which other fish to eat or avoid from the Marine Conservation Society

Fiji achieves her first certified sustainable tuna fishery

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has awarded the Fiji Albacore Tuna Long Line fishery its sustainability certification, the fourth tuna fishery in the South Pacific to achieve this. This follows an independent assessment against the MSC’s standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries.

MSC manager for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Patrick Caleo, is pleased to recognise another tuna fishery with MSC certification.

“The Fiji albacore tuna fishery is the first albacore long line fishery to demonstrate its sustainability credentials with an MSC certification. Tuna is one of the most popular species of fish and now consumers can enjoy verified sustainable albacore from this Fiji fishery,” he said.
Assessment against the MSC standard, which took 18 months to complete, was conducted by the independent, third party certifier, Intertek Moody Marine. In scoring the fishery the assessment team took into consideration overall stock health and management of albacore in the South Pacific, as well as all potential ecosystem impacts attributed to the Fiji fishery. The assessment found the albacore stock to be in a healthy state and the fishery adhering to good management principles, with marginal impact on habitats and non-target species.

The current certificate is valid for five years, during which progress against the conditions set out in the certification requirements will be tracked and available for public review in annual surveillance audits.

The fishery has committed to take action to meet eight conditions to improve some aspects of the fishery up to the international best practice level. This includes ensuring that management of the fishery is improved to establish reference points and a harvest strategy including harvest control rules. The fishery has also implemented a management strategy that ensures the fishery does not slow down the recovery and rebuilding of retained species.

The assessment has been strongly supported by the Fiji Government through the Fisheries Division, especially in ensure appropriate fishery management conditions are in place.

Further Reading:
Marine Stewardship Council

UK Eats Last of Home-Grown Fish

The UK today ran out of fish from her own waters, and became dependent on imported fish for the rest of the year, according to a report from NEF (the New Economics Foundation) and OCEAN2012.

If stocks were allowed to recover, the UK could meet her annual demand and stop consuming more fish than her seas produce.

Though dependent on foreign stock as of tomorrow, the UK does better than many of its European counterparts. The fish dependence days of France, Germany and Italy fell on May 21, April 20 and April 21 respectively, while EU citizens on average ran out of fish on July 7 this year.

Overfishing means the UK is getting much less out of its fish stocks than if they were restored and sustainably managed.

The report Jobs Lost at Sea published by nef earlier this year estimates the benefits of rebuilding 43 European stocks (out of more than 150) and finds that:
– Restoring commercial UK fish stocks to their maximum sustainable yield would increase the additional catch in 467,292 tones, 1.6 times the current fish import deficit.
– If directed only to human food consumption, the additional landings from rebuilding UK stocks could provide for the annual consumption of 23 million Brits and would allow the UK to meet the annual fish demand for the whole year.
– At current levels of consumption, restoring UK stocks would allow the UK to move from being a net importer to being a net exporter.

Rupert Crilly from the New Economics Foundation said:

“The UK is an island nation with access to some of the richest and most productive fishing grounds and has moderate levels of fish consumption compared to Spain and Portugal. It could produce as much as it needs but instead it is a net importer of fish.

“Consumers understand that we import tuna which is virtually non-existent in its in waters; but it will wonder why we need to import cod and haddock from China when our cod and haddock stocks could deliver five and three times more catches with better management.”

Just over a quarter of all imports of cod in 2010 came from Iceland. The second largest exporter of cod to the UK was China (14 thousand tonnes). Imports from EU member states accounted for 29 per cent of all cod imports into the UK in 2010. More than half of all haddock imported into the UK in 2010 came from Iceland (17 thousand tonnes) and Norway (16 thousand tonnes). The next largest was China, which exported 8 thousand tonnes of haddock to the UK in 2010.

Image copyright Matt Banks

Further Reading:
Fish dependence – 2012 update

‘Electronic Eyes’ Watch Tuna Fishing

A Spanish ship is the first tropical tuna vessel to test the latest in electronic monitoring technology, designed for when an onboard human observer is not a practical option. The observation of fishing activities provides validation of critical catch and operational data, integral to scientific analyses and market transparency.

Experts from Archipelago Marine Research Ltd, working on behalf of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, outfitted the vessel with a video-based electronic monitoring system. The system uses an array of sensors to monitor key fishing gear, and trigger the video cameras when it detects fishing activity. An onboard control centre manages the system and logs the data, along with boat location, speed and heading information provided by the system’s GPS receiver. Throughout the trip, the system also delivers hourly updates via satellite, reporting vessel position, fishing activity, and other relevant information. Once the vessel returns to port, any portion of the logged data can be reviewed to help evaluate fishing activity.

Borja Soroa, Managing Director of fishing fleet involved said, “The success of this monitoring technology means that even in regions where safety is a chief concern, like it is in the Indian Ocean, observer coverage is not optional. This will become a standard for doing business and we’re committed to doing our part to help make it work.”

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is a global coalition of scientists, the tuna industry and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), promoting science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting ecosystem health.

Further Reading: International Seafood Sustainability Foundation

EU Subsidises Fishing Crooks

Fishsubsidy.orgFishing Boat has published a list of law-breaking fishing vessels from Spain, France, Belgium and the UK who have all received EU subsidies. Between them, the 41 boats have received 16,360,770 Euros in subsidies. The data has been collected manually from government websites, press reports and court records: it is therefore likely to be an under-estimate.

Five of the vessels, all from Spain, received over 1 million Euros in subsidies. They have been convicted of serious infringements ranging from logbook misreporting to captures under minimum size to use of illegal fishing gear and exceeding quota.

Some of the vessels on the list have been convicted multiple times.

Other fishing crimes listed include fishing in prohibited areas,  false landing declarations, illegal mesh sizes, illegal discards and possession of 2.5 tonnes of cocaine. Currently there is no obligation to take criminal behaviour into account when deciding which vessels should get subsidies.

Subsidies paid to owners of fishing vessels and others working in the fishing industry under the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy amount to approximately 1 billion euro a year.

Fishsubsidy.org is a project coordinated by EU Transparency, a non-profit organisation in the UK and the Pew Charitable Trusts, a charitable foundation based in the United States. The aim is to obtain detailed data relating to payments and recipients of fisheries subsidies in every EU Member State and make this data available in a way that is useful to European citizens.

Further Reading

Fishsubsidy.org‘s list of identified infringements.