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One Fish Two Fish, No Fish: Rebuilding of Fish Stocks Urgently Needed

A major new study has revealed that the global seafood catch is much larger and declining much faster than previously known.

Around the world, subsidized fishing fleets from Europe, China and Japan have depleted the fish populations on which coastal residents depend. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

Around the world, subsidized fishing fleets from Europe, China and Japan have depleted the fish populations on which coastal residents depend. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

The study, by the University of British Columbia near Vancouver, reconstructed the global catch between 1950 and 2010 and found that it was 30 per cent higher than what countries have been reporting to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome since 1950.

In the Caribbean islands, the catch was more than twice as large as previously reported and declining at a rate 60 per cent faster than the official rate, the Canadian study found.

“This trend needs to be reversed urgently, or else a lot of people who depend on the sea for affordable protein are going to suffer,” said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist who led the study. “And climate change is just going to make things worse.”

Called the “Sea Around Us” and funded by the Pew Environment Group, the study involved more than 400 collaborators over more than a decade.

Since 1950, countries have been required to file to the FAO their entire catch of fish and seafood. Discards – fish caught unintentionally and of little commercial value – were exempted because the program was originally designed to monitor economic development, not overfishing.

But it was long suspected that some countries only bothered reporting the industrial catch by the larger vessels because these pay easy-to-track fees and because they unload their catch in a small number of places and are thus easiest to monitor.

The subsistence catch of people who fish for their families, the artisanal catch by those with small boats, the recreational catch by amateur fishermen all were thought to be greater than reported but to an unknown extent. For its part, the FAO gave no precise indications of how skewered its numbers might be. Dirk Zeller, the study’s co-author, said that virtually all countries routinely blend hard numbers with estimates and could “estimate the uncertainties around their reported data if they chose, but no one does.”

Getting an accurate handle on how much fish is being taken out is vital in a world where hundreds of millions depend on the sea for affordable protein, he said. “Fish stocks are like a stock portfolio,” explained Zeller. “Before you decide how much to sell, you want to know exactly how much you have and how much it’s growing or shrinking.”

Starting in 2002 Pauly and Zeller decided to reconstruct the global catch from 1950 to 2010 and fix the shortcomings of the FAO data set, the bedrock on which global fisheries policies stand. A task “only madmen would consider,” quipped Rainer Froese, a German fisheries scientist. “And now they have pulled it off.”

The result, published here in the British online journal Nature Communications, shows that the real catch was a third larger than the one reported by the FAO. The UN agency says the global catch peaked in 1996 at 86 million tons and stood at 77 million tons in 2010, while the Canadian reconstruction found that it peaked, also in 1996, but at 130 million tons, and stood 110 million tons in 2010.

More alarmingly, the study found that the decline was triple the amount reported by the FAO, which recently called the catch “basically stable.”

Marc Taconet, head of the agency’s fisheries statistics, reaffirmed the validity of its data and “expressed reservations” with the notion that the new findings challenged “FAO’s reports of stable capture production trends in recent years.” He declined to elaborate.

In the Caribbean, Pauly said, the researchers found that fisheries officials were largely focused on reporting catches of species for which foreign fleets paid license fees, like tuna, billfish and sharks.

“They usually forgot about the local fisheries,” he said.

Even the Bahamas, where the local recreational catch is offloaded at the main ports that are easily accessible to tourists, yielded surprising results. There, researcher Nicola Smith found that the authorities had no idea of the size of the catch of deep-sea fish like marlins, tunas and mahi-mahi that Ernest Hemingway made famous. She found that that catch was even bigger than the commercial catch, and that none of it was reported to the FAO.

“When I told the director of marine resources,” she recounted in an interview, “he was quite surprised.”

“It’s astounding,” added Smith, a Bahamian, “that a country that depends on tourism for more than half of its GDP has no clue as to the extent of the catch that plays a central role in attracting tourists.”

Overall, the study found that Caribbean islands catch soared from 230,000 tons in 1950 to 830,000 in 2004 before crashing to 470,000 in 2010.

“And that doesn’t tell the whole story,” Pauly said. “What happened is that as reef fish like snappers and groupers were depleted, islanders ventured farther offshore in search of tuna, whose catch went from 7,000 tons in 1950 to 25,000 tons in 2004,” he said.

But the tuna stocks, long beyond the reach of the islanders, had been hard-hit by the highly-subsidized European, Asian and American fleets and their own numbers have been steadily dropping. Even as more and more islanders participated in the effort to substitute their vanished reef fish with tuna, that catch declined to 20,000 tons in the six years from 2004 to 2010, the study showed.

Conversely, the catch of groupers and snappers declined by a third from 2004 to 2010.

Climate change is expected to harm the Caribbean in several ways, Pauly says. Spikes of warm water temperatures that kill corals are becoming more frequent, leaving the corals less time to recover. The population of herbivores like parrotfish, on which the corals rely on to keep algae under control, has been decimated.

Finally, adds William Cheung, a marine ecologist at UBC who works with Pauly, the Caribbean’s warming waters are driving fish away from the equator. “We estimate the shift in the center of gravity of some species’ range will be 50 kilometers per decade,” he said. In part because animals reproduce less in a new environment, the warming waters will further diminish the overall fish populations in the Caribbean, with major decreases in the south and slight increases in the north, he explained.

To counteract these trends, Pauly said, Caribbean nations need to urgently collect batter data on how much fish they have and how much are being taken out, and then impose realistic catch limits. They should also create no-fishing marine reserves, as Bonaire and Barbuda have done, to allow thinned-out fish populations to grow back, which will then allow for larger, yet sustainable catches within a decade or so.

Credit: Inter Press Service News Agency

Stakes High for Caribbean at Climate Change Conference

Stakes High For Caribbean At Climate Change Conference

As the highly anticipated Climate Change Conference begins today in Paris, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) lead Head on Climate Change and Sustainable Development is issuing a grave warning.

St. Lucia’s Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony says that “unless we can get the countries that are the major emitters of greenhouse gases to commit to more ambitious reductions, the Caribbean will be confronted with more extreme storms and hurricanes, more frequent and prolonged droughts, dangerous sea-level rise that will wash away roads, homes, hotels, and ports in every island; greater food insecurity and more acidic oceans that will kill our corals, damage our fish stock and negatively impact our tourism industries.”

Heads of State and Government, Ministers responsible for the Environment, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Scientists and other stakeholders are coming together in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) to negotiate a new global climate change agreement.

Credit: ZIZ Online

Caribbean Coral Reef Leaders Complete Intensive Fellowship at the Great Barrier Reef

Credits: Environmental Graffiti

Photo Credit: Environmental Graffiti

Coral reefs in the Caribbean are amongst the most at risk globally. The loss of reefs is also a serious economic problem in the region, where large populations depend on fishing and tourism. Having lost 80% of its corals over the last half century, mainly due to a changing and variable climate, coastal development and pollution, the Caribbean is seeking to turn the tide through partnerships. A group of five coral reef managers from across the Caribbean recently participated in an intensive three week Coral Reef Management Fellowship programme at the Great Barrier Reef, Australia – the best managed reef in the world.

The Caribbean contingent was among a group of 12 fellows, including their peers from the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Caribbean fellows are: Roland Baldeo (Grenada), Andrea Donaldson and Christine O’Sullivan (Jamaica), Michelle Kalamandeen (Guyana) and Andrew Lockhart (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).

The fellows visited government departments, research stations, farms, schools and other reef-associated operations. They experienced the Great Barrier Reef and many facets of catchment to reef management through direct interactions with a diversity of land and sea habitats, scientists, managers, farmers, educators, media, volunteers and industry leaders. The Fellowship also included home-stays with local marine scientists as part of a cultural exchange.

This was a rare and valuable experience as it brought together coral reef managers from diverse locations to gain and share expertise. Dr Kenrick Leslie, Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, welcomed the successful completion of the fellowship, noting:

“This is an excellent programme to boost understanding of marine protected areas and the role it can play in sustainable development. It gives our people an opportunity to see how effective coral reef management is done in another community. Importantly, they are gaining insights from the major work being done to rectify some of the issues with the world’s longest barrier reef. It’s a unique experience.”

Citing the fellows’ exposure to an intensive leadership course at Orpheus Island Research Station, which included theory and exercises to plan, problem solve and teamwork, Dr Leslie urged the fellows to be agents of change across the Caribbean.

“At this point in our development it is important that we ensure that whatever we do, we do not make the assumption that resources are unlimited and that all our actions are resilient and our environment is protected,” Dr Leslie added.

The Caribbean and Pacific fellows are part of an Australia Awards Fellowship programme funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, titled Improving coral reef management for sustainable development in the Caribbean and Pacific. Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships and Fellowships funded by the Australian Government to build capacity and strengthen partnerships. The programme supports short-term study, research and professional development opportunities in Australia for mid-career professionals and emerging leaders.

The fellowship programme was organised and hosted by Reef Ecologic, an environmental consulting company with expertise on coral reef management, which was founded by former Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority employees Dr Adam Smith and Dr Paul Marshall.

“We have observed the decline of coral reefs globally and we recognized that training of future leaders is essential for turning the tide towards a more sustainable future. Australia is the world leader in coral reef conservation and marine resource management. This Fellowship is a chance to share Australia’s expertise with the world,” said Dr Marshall.

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The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre coordinates the region’s response to climate change. Officially opened in August 2005, the Centre is the key node for information on climate change issues and the region’s response to managing and adapting to climate change. We maintain the Caribbean’s most extensive repository of information and data on climate change specific to the region, which in part enables us to provide climate change-related policy advice and guidelines to CARICOM member states through the CARICOM Secretariat. In this role, the Centre is recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Programme, and other international agencies as the focal point for climate change issues in the Caribbean. The Centre is also a United Nations Institute for Training and Research recognised Centre of Excellence, one of an elite few. Learn more about how we’re working to make the Caribbean more climate resilient by perusing The Implementation Plan.

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New High Resolution Projections Predict Coral Reef Bleaching in the Caribbean

Scientists have discovered that when early reef fish parents develop at elevated temperatures, they can adjust their offspring's sex through non-genetic and non-behavioral means. (Photo : Flickr/Hamed Saber)

Scientists have discovered that when early reef fish parents develop at elevated temperatures, they can adjust their offspring’s sex through non-genetic and non-behavioral means. (Photo : Flickr/Hamed Saber)

As the climate changes and temperatures warm, corals are becoming more susceptible to bleaching. Now, researchers have looked at bleaching in detail and have discovered when and where bleaching will occur in the coming years.

“Our new local-scale projects will help resource managers better understand and plan for the effects of coral bleaching,” said Ruben van Hooidonk, the lead author of the new study, in a news release. “At some locations, referred to in our study as ‘relative refugia,’ lower rates of temperature increase and fewer extreme events mean reefs have more time to adapt to climate change. Managers may decide to use this information to protect these locations as refuges, or protected areas. Or they may take other actions to reduce stressed cause by human activities.”

Coral bleaching is primarily caused by warming ocean temperatures. This phenomenon is a major threat to coral reef health. When the water is too warm, corals expel the algae living in their tissues; this causes the corals to lose their vibrant colours and turn white. These bleached corals are under more stress and are more likely to die, which can leave reefs barren and lifeless.

In order to project future bleaching occurrences, the researchers used a regional ocean model and an approach called statistical downscaling. This allowed them to calculate the onset of annual severe bleaching at a much higher resolution. The resulting local-scale projects of bleaching conditions may help managers include climate change as a consideration when making conservation decisions.

There are certain regions, of course, that will be more impacted than others. Countries that are projected to experience bleaching conditions 15 or more years later than neighbouring regions include the reefs in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos and Mexico. These areas could potentially be conservation priorities.

The findings reveal a bit more about bleaching conditions, which could help managers make better decisions in the future.

The findings are published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Parrotfish ban

Parrotfish

Parrotfish

JAMAICANS love parrotfish. Steamed, fried or roasted, the brightly coloured sea creature is a common feature on many a dinner plate. It’s also a favourite at the beach and at roadside eateries on the weekend.

But the enjoyment could soon come to an end as local and international groups are lobbying for a parrotfish ban. The arguments are that: 1) the fish clean coral reefs by eating the algae that grows on them, and 2) they excrete sand, which is one way of countering beach erosion.

Lenbert Williams, director of projects with the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society, told the Jamaica Observer Monday that the parrotfish should be declared an endangered species in order to solve both problems or at least stem the tide of degradation.

“A mature parrotfish can weigh up to 40 lbs and in its lifetime it generates about 800 lbs of sand.So every time you eat a parrotfish you are denying the beach of 800 lbs of sand,” he said.

He explained that the parrotfish population is at risk from overfishing, as well as from the predatory lionfish. In addition to preserving them, he said, complementary measures such as replanting corals and sea grass beds were necessary.

Just last week, a study released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation, recommended that parrotfish be listed as a specially protected species under the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol).

Its focus was coral reef preservation, rather than sand production, although the two are intrinsically related.

The study, titled ‘Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012’, is the result of three years of work by 90 experts from the IUCN as well as the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the United Nations Environment Programme.

It has found that Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50 per cent since the 1970s and may disappear in the next 20 years as a direct result of the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin — the area’s two main grazers — and not primarily as a result of climate change, as is widely believed.

“The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs,” the report says.

Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on coral reefs, said: “Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline… We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

The study also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that “have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing”. These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire.

The proposal to ban or restrict the catching of parrotfish seems logical enough to scientists, but it’s a much harder sell for the people who earn a living catching and selling it. They argue that parrot and snapper are the most abundant fish at sea and that any sort of restriction would severely hurt their ability to earn.

At the fishing beach on Port Henderson Road, Portmore, fisherman of 30 years Floyd Brown told the Observer that the species fetches up to $500 per pound.

“The most fish in the sea is parrot, so if we can’t catch it what we going to do? All the fish in the sea feed on coral so they would have to ban everything and that makes no sense!” he said.

“When unnuh tek parrotfish from people, how dem a go send dem pickney go school?” fisherwoman Olga Watt asked.

“Ah pure head an belly dem waan see?” added a fish vendor who was seated nearby but who declined giving her name. She was referring to the stereotypical image of severely malnourished children with swollen tummies and heads too large for their bodies.

She added: “Ah waan dem waan parrotfish fi mek more beach fi di tourist dem an we cyaan go deh,” making reference to the growing concern that locals are being barred from beaches meant for the public. The views were similar at the Forum fishing beach, also in Portmore.

“Parrot is the fish that we catch the most out of the sea. There is a wider variety of them than any other fish. Banning it will very seriously affect our livelihood,” Helen Blair-Brown told the Observer.

“If dem ban parrotfish, ah mash wi mash up,” a man passing by said loudly.

By contrast, fishers in Barbuda, which is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves, are reportedly in support of the restrictions.

According to a blog post on National Geographic titled ‘To save coral reefs, start with Parrotfish’, one of the report’s 90 contributing scientists, Ayana Johnson of Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan, quoted fishers Larkin Webber and Josiah Deazle.

“I am worried about the taking of parrotfish because they clean the reef. Now people are specialising in catching parrotfish and that’s a problem. Parrotfish should be protected,” Webber is reported to have said.

“Parrotfish is my favourite fish to eat because I have no teeth anymore. How I’m going to eat boney fish? … But catch of parrotfish should be banned. People are taking so much of them the reef is gonna die,” Deazle is reported to have said.

For it’s part, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) is in support of a parrotfish ban and uses the success stories of Special Fisheries Conservation Areas in Jamaica to illustrate the point.

“This important report clearly supports the decision by the Government of Jamaica taken to establish and support a network of fish sanctuaries (now officially called Special Fisheries Conservation Areas). There are currently 14 fish sanctuaries in Jamaica, and many of them have been very successful at restoring populations of fish and lobsters, with one sanctuary achieving an amazing 540 per cent increase in fish biomass in just two years,” the centre said in a statement released to the media Monday.

Fish sanctuaries, the 5Cs said, provide an opportunity not only to safeguard the future of the island’s coral reefs, but also ensure the survival of the region’s beaches, tourism industry and food security.

“There is absolutely no reason why the early successes in the fish sanctuaries at Bluefield’s Bay, Galleon in St Elizabeth and Oracabessa cannot be replicated and expanded around Jamaica, and for that matter in the wider Caribbean,” the centre said.

“This is not an ocean-hugging environmental issue,” Johnson said in her post.

“Caribbean reefs generate more than US$3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries. This is a problem we can solve, to great benefit of ecosystems and economies. Here’s to hoping 2014 continues to be a year of strong action for ocean conservation, not just for establishing marine reserves, but also for saving parrotfish and therefore, Caribbean reefs.”

Credit: Jamaica Observer
Also see: St. Lucia News Online

Coral Reefs Report and Climate Change News

With only about one-sixth of the original coral cover left, most Caribbean coral reefs may disappear in the next 20 years, primarily due to the loss of grazers in the region, according to the latest report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, is the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date – the result of the work of 90 experts over the course of three years. It contains the analysis of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 Caribbean locations since 1970, including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins and fish.

The results show that the Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50% since the 1970s. But according to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

“The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Climate change has long been thought to be the main culprit in coral degradation. While it does pose a serious threat by making oceans more acidic and causing coral bleaching, the report shows that the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin – the area’s two main grazers – has, in fact, been the key driver of coral decline in the region. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and extreme fishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions. The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs.

Reefs protected from overfishing, as well as other threats such as excessive coastal pollution, tourism and coastal development, are more resilient to pressures from climate change, according to the authors.

“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline,” says Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on coral reefs. “We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

The report also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish. These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing. Other countries are following suit.

“Barbuda is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins, and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves,” says Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan. “This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs.”

Reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered tragic declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida Reef Tract from Miami to Key West, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Caribbean is home to 9% of the world’s coral reefs, which are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Caribbean reefs, spanning a total of 38 countries, are vital to the region’s economy. They generate more than US$ 3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries and over a hundred times more in other goods and services, on which more than 43 million people depend.

This video, featuring the report’s lead author Jeremy Jackson, explains the significance of the report:

Peruse the full report.

Credit: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
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