But was this election good for the Fish?
November 8, 2006
By David Helvarg
Changing tides. Let’s see, our Blue movement PAC ‘Ocean Champions’ endorsed 20 House candidates for their strong support of marine conservation. Of those they supported 16 WON (and one is being recounted)! As House Ocean Caucus Co-Chair Sam Farr (d. CA) told me. “Here in California how you’re seen on coastal and ocean protection can determine whether you win or lose an election.” That spirit is now spreading like a flood tide.
One of the candidates Ocean Champions endorsed who didn’t win was another Caucus leader Republican Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania. Still, I suspect his loss had more to do with his Serbian business friends, Russian Oil tycoons and their lucrative PR contracts for his 28-year-old daughter than with his advocacy of clean beaches.
Ocean Champs also targeted California Rep. Dick Pombo and his alien overlords (see Blue Notes #29). Pombo as chairman of the House Resources Committee (formerly the ‘Natural Resources Committee’) attempted to undermine conservation measures in the Fisheries Act, promoted offshore oil development in protected areas, and spoke of ‘reforming’ the Marine Mammal Protection Act’ to allow for the killing of more animals. A long-time opponent of the Endangered Species Act Pombo, trophy hunted by both marine and terrestrial conservationists, can now enjoy the kind of extinction he once thought more appropriate for kangaroo jumping rats.
We Had to Destroy the Fish in order to Savor Them
When it comes to the global ocean the best available science is projecting the worst imaginable scenarios. In 2003 Fisheries Scientists Ran Meyers and Boris Worm reported that 90 percent of the large predator fish like sharks and grouper had disappeared from the world’s oceans since 1950. Actually they didn’t disappear. We know where they went. Onto our dinner plates as a result of industrial overfishing. Now a new study with Boris Worm as lead author has appeared in the journal Science. This one, as widely reported, projects that after millennia of human dependence on wild fish as a source of protein and livelihood, commercial species of saltwater fish and shellfish could be wiped out on a global scale by 2048.
The loss of complex oceanic biodiversity (wild critters) would also contribute to harmful algal blooms and loss of habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves, salt marshes, and kelp forests.
The greatest frustration with this latest disaster warning is that we know what the solutions are but have failed to generate the political will to act on them. Basically we have to stop taking fish out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce.
Confronted with an array of scientifically questionable acronyms used by the global fishing industry such as MSY (maximum sustainable yield) I’ve come up with one of my own to help resolve the crisis. I call it the BLUE plate special.
The B stands for Buy-Backs, a financial commitment by both government and industry to reduce the size of the fishing fleet to a sustainable level. Presently the global fleet is vastly overcapitalized. Buy-backs would mean governments from the E.U. to Turkey, China and much of the rest of Asia would have to transition from subsidizing high-seas fleets to recognizing the practical limits of resource exploitation. In the United States we’re still dealing with a surplus of fishing power (nets in the water) resulting from cheap government loans and tax incentives going back to the Reagan administration and earlier.
The L is for”Limited Entry,” which means only so many people can be licensed to work in a given fishery or biological complex of fisheries to prevent them from being overcapitalized again. A combination of market incentives such as transferable quotas (a cap and trade system for fish) and regulation can assure that no more people hunt down a living resource than its biology and habitat can sustain.
The U in BLUE is for ‘Undersea reserves.” Since 1990 marine scientists have been saying that 20 percent of the world ocean should be set aside as ‘no take’ zones, fully protected marine wilderness areas where no fishing, dumping or drilling take place. This would help restore and propagate marine wildlife and habitat. While far less than one percent is now protected, where these areas do exist studies are finding them highly effective engines of biodiversity, with healthy populations of fish, crustaceans and other creatures spilling over beyond their fluid borders.
Finally the E stands for Enforcement, a perennial problem when it comes to environmental law. As fish populations have declined prices have increased. This creates a market-based incentive to take the last fish, even if that means turning pirate and ignoring the rules while going after high-dollar targets like shark, lobster, abalone and bluefin tuna. We have to make a commitment to provide the needed resources and assets to law enforcement services such as the Coast Guard to do the needed fisheries patrols. We need to understand that when it comes to homeland security assuring the world’s food supply and ocean health are as important as securing our ports and waterways. We need national, bilateral and global treaties to protect our common heritage on the other 71 percent of our planet and we need armed cutters to enforce those agreements.
We’ve been warned about the dangers to our living ocean. Now we have to create the seaweed movement that can prevent it from becoming a global dead sea.
(A version of the above appeared in the Nov. 7 edition of the LA Times just before the fishing poles closed).
Global warming means even more ocean to protect (or not)
The U.S. and Canada are now arguing over the formerly mythical Northwest Passage. The Canadians want to prevent any Tom, Dick or Exxon Mobile from spilling oil chucking garbage or hijacking cargo on the arctic ocean where summer seas are soon expected to be open to commercial shipping as a result of melting ice linked to fossil-fuel fired climate disruption. The U.S. argues the newly forming strait should be free to all navigation. Meanwhile oil companies are rushing to explore the newly opened seas they helped create. Following that logic their new finds will then be converted to kerosene and sprayed on forest fires.
Transgender schools thrive while Monks Suffer
Once again Blue Notes has scooped the Hollywood Reporter with salacious news from the seas. In this case it’s the result of two new reports. One in the Miami Herald notes the revival of large goliath grouper in the waters off Florida. Almost fished out in the 1980s these fish that start out as females and convert to male as they get bigger are making an impressive rebound that is seeing both more and larger fish, thanks to effective conservation measures. Formerly known as Jewfish the groupers were considering a new gender neutral name like ‘Jan’ before settling on ‘Goliath.’
On the bad news side 2006 marked the lowest number of new Monk Seals born in the Northwest Hawaii National Monument since area monitoring began in 1983. NMFS scientist Bud Antonelis told the NY Times the Monk Seal population may fall below 1,000 in the next five years. Causes for the population decline may include changes in prey distribution and abundance, pollution and climate change.
Don’t Trust Anyone over #30
If you get that reference you’ve probably been around the bight a few times. Wow. What a milestone. 30 Blue Notes and still no paid subscribers. If you enjoy Blue Notes please consider an online donation to blue frontier at www.bluefront.org (click on the home page where it says ‘Donate’). I know you think I was kidding last time… Also feel free to reprint Blue Notes on your site or link your site to ours. Remember it takes more than just a few tentacles to make a cephalopod.
To Summit Up
We hope you’ll also think about joining Philippe Cousteau, Ralph Nader, Jim Toomey, House Ocean Caucus members, senators, surfers, rock stars, divers, fishermen, scientists, and many others for the next Blue Vision Summit in July, 2008. With changes afoot and afin it’s time to begin rebuilding our forces for passage of a comprehensive American Oceans Act that, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts of the last century, can help protect, explore and restore our blue ocean planet.