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The Top 10 Events of the 2000s

February 28, 2011

The National Coalition of Marine Conservation (NCMC) is a leading pro-conservation organization supported by fishermen.  And it’s had a huge impact on US management, supporting both the 1996 and 2006 reforms of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management and Conservation Act (MSA).  Because of the MSA, the US is unique in that our fisheries are managed for long-term sustainability, this is pretty unique in the world.  Just recently, NOAA’s top fisheries scientist declared that all overfishing has ended.  Now we just need to allow time for our fisheries (and ecosystems) to recover.

The NCMC recently put out the winter issue of its quarterly bulletin.  There’s always interesting articles in these bulletins. I particularly liked their list of the top 10 events of the first decade of the 21st century.  Here it is:

  • Endangered Bluefin.  The giant bluefin tuna is a global icon because it’s a big, beautiful fish with a high price on its head; a victim of greed, plain and simple.  A 2009-10 campaign to halt international trade in Atlantic bluefin failed, but it so scared the world’s fishing nations they cut their catch by a third, added more protections for spawning fish, and enacted strict new enforcement measures.  The CITES effort saved a lot of tuna that would have otherwise died, and that just may be what keeps the species around until the cavalry arrives.
  • The Gulf Oil Spill.  The oil may have disappeared from the news, but rest assured it’s still there, working its way through the food chain and, if past spills of this magnitude teach us anything, altering marine life in ways we probably won’t understand for years.  The future of offshore oil drilling is also uncertain.
  • No-Longline Zones.  By our estimation, the 2000/1 decision to kick indiscriminate longlines out of large areas off the southeast coast and in the eastern gulf has so far saved tens of thousands of Atlantic billfish and sharks and hundreds of thousands of juvenile swordfish, greatly aiding the latter’s recovery.  The 2004 decision to bar longlines from the west coast is reaping similar benefits there.
  • Climate Change.   People can argue all they want about global warming and who’s responsible and what to do about it, but it’s coming.  Fishermen are already seeing fish populations shift northward out of their historical range, while other species are moving in.  The warming of the seas will promote some species and undermine others.  So will the related threat of ocean acidification.  High levels of CO2 could wipe out corals and shell-bearing species, including tiny planktons at the bottom of the food chain.
  • An End to Overfishing.  The 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act forced fishery managers to set science-based catch limits and end overfishing by 2010-11.  Despite a few detours and bumps in the road, we may be on track to halt declines in all fisheries this year.  Now we need to stay the course through rebuilding all fisheries, which means defeating attempts to weaken the Act.
  • The Advent of Open Ocean Aquaculture.  The move away from fishing towards farming the sea could be a turning point in how people obtain seafood, with strict environmental standards in place to protect wild fisheries.  Or, it could be the “tipping point,” a term used in epidemiology to mark the point when an infectious disease goes beyond our ability to control it from spreading more widely.
  • The Deficit. With a federal deficit that’s now reached $1.5 trillion, spending for fisheries won’t be rising any time soon; indeed, fisheries agencies will have to learn to make do with less.  But failures in management are as much due to timid leadership, lack of vision and an inability to set priorities as to a lack of funds.  Tough decisions will have to be made:  on new sources of funding from the fisheries themselves; and most importantly, whether we can really afford a management system that seeks to maximize yields to all fisheries, thereby maximizing costs (research, regulation, monitoring and enforcement), or we let moderation be our guide.
  • Forage First! Author Bruce Franklin called menhaden “The Most Important Fish in the Sea” in his 2007 book of the same name.  At the time, menhaden and its herring-like relatives were already the object of an emerging movement to protect all “forage fi sh.”  Today that movement is national in scope, involving many groups working to protect these fish for their vital role of transferring energy from the bottom of the food chain to top level predators.
  • Polarized Politics.  Is there a vast conspiracy among environmentalists and government regulators to put recreational and commercial fishermen out of business?  That’s what some sport and commercial fishing groups would have you believe.  Mimicking what’s happening on the national stage, paranoia and polarization are poisoning the well, turning groups that should be united for conservation against each other.
  • The Digital Age.  Nothing has changed people’s everyday lives over the last 10 years more than the seemingly never-ending advances in digital technology.   That goes for people in the fishing industry, NGOs and governments.    Now, if we can find a way to put these advances in communication and data management to work for conservation…

On that last point, I like to think that I’m part of the new wave of conservationists figuring out just how we can use the new communication mediums and data tools to build the world a sustainable future.

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