Time to Swim the Swim…

By August 11, 2011 Ocean News

We talk the talk…man can we talk the talk! However, we must now swim the swim (or walk the walk for all you land lubbers out there)!

Human population growth does add pressure to the food availability in general, which gives birth to increased fishing (i.e. over-fishing); the birth of genetically modified food; and, increased use of pesticides to ensure the gorwth and survival of food crops. There are many other problems caused by human population growth; however, I would like to concentrate on over-fishing considering I am a marine ecologist.

Over-fishing is a huge problem, there is no doubt. But let’s take a look at the major affects of over-fishing:

1) Changes the ocean habitat community – meaning the large fish (sharks, tuna, grouper, cod) that once dominated the fish communities around the world are depleting quickly due to their size and taste causing the dynamic of the fish community to change altering food webs and degrading habitat (I’m talking about trawling right now).;

2) Bycatch becomes a major problem – Other fish and species (including threatened species) are caught along with the targeted species (the species people want to eat) causing them to die or critically injured. Catching non-targeted species on a long line will cause less targeted species to be caught, which inturn, will increase the amount of time a fisherman will fish. Instead of setting out a trawl or long line only once, he/she will do it more than once because there aren’t enough targeted fish caught. This will result in more bycatch during a vicious cycle.; and,

3) Habitat destruction – Trawls mostly run along the bottom of the Ocean to catch fish. Well, the habitat on the bottom of the Ocean is destroyed when a trawl net is dragged along. Loss of habitat could mean a los of shelter, spawning grounds, and food resources for other fish.

These problems can be solved. Marine Protected Areas have proven to be a great tool, once implemented and enforced properly to protect fish and habitat. Other tools such as variations in fishing gear can help reduce bycatch. Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are great for making sure Sea Turtles don’t get caught in shrimp nets (when used properly) and the circle hook is a great device that allows marine mammals (whales and dolphins) to wiggle themselves off a hook in case they bite doen on some easy prey (you can find out more about circle hooks during my interview with Katherine McClellan).

My point of this post is to implement the tools out there that are available to decrease our effect on fish communities and the Ocean. The science shows MPAs and other tools are effective when implemented correctly…correctly, that is the key to all of this. for MPAs, all the people involved and affected by the MPA should agree on the implementation, rules, and regulations. In the cases where agreement is not unanimous, there must be a some sort of action…any action to get some sort of MPA in the water even if it is not regulated. Start the process similar to The Surfrider Foundation’s efforts to implement surfing MPAs. By adding MPAs we can see the effects of them on the habitats they are protecting. Let’s see how effective they are and move from there.

It’s easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of marine conservation; however, the only way to change is to listen, learn, and act. So when you see a petition to implement an MPA…sing it! It will be the best long term plan for the environment and the people tied to it (as long as they all have a say in what happens in it!).

Just a few drops of water on your mind!

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • I think this kind of editorial is very important. I am the Director of Planet Rehab (www.PlanetRehab.org) and we find, even though people don’t want to be “bummed out” by bad environmental news, that it is essential to not only provide accurate info but also,as the author does in this article, provide positive actions that the reader can implement to feel like they are part of the solution. I am highly in favor of adding more Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) AND I do believe that it is time – as we are now approaching the 7 billion mark – to have some serious conversations regarding our population as a species and the ramifications to the environment.

  • Glenn Edney says:

    You are absolutely right Andrew about looking at solutions. we must take positive action as individuals and societies.
    I have been involved in setting up and monitoring MPA’s (used to be called marine reserves) in New Zealand for over 20 years. There is no doubt they do work in increasing local population densities, habitat restoration and diversity. There is good evidence of ‘spill over’ to adjacent areas as well. One of the best outcomes from the human perspective is the increased sense of connection and awe that visitors to the reserves have for the ocean. I have taken many thousands of visitors to the Poor Knights marine Reserve in New Zealand and so many of them comment that they never realised there could be so many fish in one place. It helps them to glimpse just how much we have depleted the rest of our ocean planet.
    Any MPA is good but the bigger the better to increase the chances of the area developing good resilience to outside influences.
    I am the marine mammal advisor for OceansWatch http://www.oceanswatch.org . We are also involved in helping coastal island communities in vanuatu, Solomons and PNG set up their own MPA’s that they monitor and manage themselves. They are having a positive effect on many levels.

  • Gunter Frank says:

    That is right when Gary says people don´t want´s to hear allways bad environmental news.Buti must learn that most people hear from many problems but of cause of too less information they don´t know how deep all habitats of the earth are dangered,how mighty the persons and organisations are who provites from all distructions, and in which kind we´re all have part of it or what can we let or do against.Between footballplaying, job, cinema, and thousands or other personal interests, there´s no more interest to “learn” from all what they hear in news or short tv-dokus till there comes one of their own frinds and tell them by working or in the pub what exactly goes up in the ocean, the rainforrest, the moutains, rivers,the fields and the whole animals world.What we first must do is to win many many companions who can informate many many others “what is” and “what can we do”.Many organisation and single persons may fight against environmental distructions,sometimes with success. For to keep the earth alive we need millions of voices and fighters more.

  • KC COMPTON says:

    It’s true that people don’t want to hear what’s going on — but they MUST. However, it’s also true that most of us are swimming in our own swamp of despair and disempowerment these days, and the more we know, the more hopeless we feel.
    Therefore it is very important, regardless of our own panic about the state of things, to always, always, always provide the “Here’s what YOU can do NOW” piece in all of these discussions. I think people are willing to act, if they see a pathway.
    Mostly, people just don’t know how messed up things are and how the ocean is suffering for our sins. But once they do know, if they see something they can undertake that will make a difference, many will. If they don’t see that “way in,” people will tune out and amuse themselves — and the planet — to death.
    Keep up the good work.

    Love out,
    KC in Kansas

  • Karleen says:

    Most fisheries are being over harvested, and unfortunately, are still being fished. Fishing licenses and quotas are in place and I believe fisheries are being managed to the best of our ability. Whether the method is long line, seine, gill, trawl, cages, there is no way we can target one species.
    Fishermen are very cautious and conscious of what they are catching. If they have a target species they track it on their fish finders, they know the depth to fish at to reduce bycatch. There are mid-water nets, hard bottom nets and soft bottom nets, as well as interchangeable cod ends with smaller mesh. Fishermen have been fishing the waters for a long time they know where the hot spots are, when fish are spawning, time of day that the water is most clear, etc. They are also very conscious of market size, fish mortality, and prohibited species. Some fish unfortunately die upon the time they are dumped on deck, such as Turbot, 79 % of Turbot are undersized. Because of this, all turbot is considered marketable and must be retained, even though they are not of a marketable size. Prohibited species such as Pacific Halibut have different mortality rate based on their size and time on deck and are removed as quickly as possible. Some species of concern are often retained because the Fishermen are rewarded for landing them and they are already dead, so it is in their best interest to land it.
    I personally think the only way to truly stop overharvesting is to turn to aquaculuture, it is the only way to ensure sustainable fish and shellfish.

  • Judith Weis says:

    You are quite right. But there’s another approach, that, although controversial especially in New England, seems to work when given a chance. This is the catch=shares approach whereby the total allowable catch is divided up into the various fishers and each one or group is given an alloment for the year. This prevents the “derby-style” rush to catch the most fish they can before someone else catches it, and overall seems to work well in most fisheries where it’s been tried. It appears to work well so far in New England despite the fishermen and politicians foaming at the mouth.
    I would recommend that consumers consult the various lists of green, red, and yellow choices of what fish to buy. Those on the green list are fine, on the yellow list have some problems, and on the red list are either too scarce, fished in an unsustainable way, or probably loaded with contaminants. These lists are available from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, EDF, and other places.

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