By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
There’s mixed California fish stories right now. There’s good and bad.
Twenty-one species of commercial fish have just come off the ‘watch list’ and are no longer on the ‘avoid list’.
On the other hand, at the same time, the population of Bluefin Tuna – popular here in San Diego – has plunged to just 4% of its historic highs on a worldwide basis.
It was recently announced that 21 commercially important species of West Coast groundfish have been removed from the “Avoid” list. This was announced by the prestigious Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program. They were upgraded to either “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative”, and includes species such as sablefish, rockfish typical sold as “snapper,” and popular flatfish species caught by bottom-trawl and other methods.
This is good news. Since 2000, West Coast groundfish have been regarded as a commercial fishery failure and were even declared a federal disaster due to overfishing. What is this turnaround about?
Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science, and chief conservation officer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, stated:
“This is one of the great success stories about ecological and economic recovery of a commercially important fishery. A huge part of the turnaround is reliance on science-based conservation and management practices that Congress endorsed in its 2006 update of U.S. fishery law.”
Said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of the Seafood Watch program:
“The turnaround in such a short time is unprecedented. Fishermen, federal agencies and our environmental colleagues have put so much effort into groundfish recovery, and now we’re seeing the results of their work.”
Here are the key factors that contributed to the fishery improvements:
- approaches that cut down on the catch of overfished species,
- use of area closures
- and creation of marine protected areas to safeguard vulnerable habitat,
- conservative fishing quotas that take into account uncertainty in the understanding of fish biology and fisheries,
- accountable catch limits,
- and better monitoring and control of the catch.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that protect sea life and habitats, now and for future generations. (See Dennis Taylor’s article at/ Monterey Herald /Sept 2, 2014)
Tim Fitzgerald, manager of the sustainable seafood program for the Environmental Defense Fund — one of the organizations that worked with fishermen and fisheries managers on the turnaround, stated:
“Not long ago many of these species were in collapse. Thanks to smarter fishing regulations and fishermen’s commitment to conservation, consumers and seafood businesses can now add West Coast groundfish to their list of sustainable choices.”
Sounds like local Southern California consumers and fishery businesses need to take a clue. It was just announced that bluefin tuna’s
oceanwide population has plunged to just about 4 percent of its estimated historic high, scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service estimate.
Fewer young bluefin are surviving to adulthood. Anglers acknowledge that bluefin are in trouble and say they support reducing the bag limit.
And according to an U-T San Diego article
This weekend the Pacific Fishery Management Council — the rule-making body for federal fisheries — may restrict the number of bluefin that sport fisherman can catch. The current catch limit is 10 bluefin today, but the council may consider alternatives ranging from a complete moratorium on bluefin fishing to limits ranging from one to five per day.
Paul Hoofe, the California representative for the International Game Fish Association, stated:
“I think the global tuna fishery worldwide is overfished, and it’s going to collapse if we don’t take some reasonable steps.”
Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity,said:
“Extinction looms too large to let U.S. fishery managers off the hook when negotiating behind closed doors. Prohibiting Pacific bluefin tuna catch on the West Coast will galvanize fishermen and conservationists alike to bring bluefin back to healthy levels.”
The Center calls for a complete ban on bluefin tuna fishing. Earlier this Spring, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to close the bluefin fishery.
With the popularity of sushi growing in the palates of OBceans and other Southern Californians, there’s increased demands for the bluefin.
Federal fishery officials have begun to think about new rules. They opened public comment and this weekend they are expected to narrow down the options for protecting bluefin.
Meanwhile, on September 10th, in Japan, a multinational organization that coordinates fishing activities in the western Pacific moved to protect the overfished Pacific bluefin tuna stocks.
Speaking at a press briefing, Japanese officials from the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission laid out their plans to rebuild the spawning population by halving the catch of juveniles and limiting takes of mature fish. Their plans include calls for the catches to be kept below the 2002 to 2004 annual average levels and for catches of fish weighing fewer than 30 kilograms—juveniles too young to spawn—to be reduced to 50% of those levels.
Japanese Greenpeace members say the collapse of the bluefin tuna is more of an urgent matter. These plans are a okay step in the right direction, but “far from enough,” Wakao Hanaoka, senior ocean campaigner for Greenpeace, said.
80% of all captured bluefin tuna—prized for sushi—end up in Japan. But they’re an international fish and restocking their populations is an international task. Pacific bluefin spawn in waters stretching between southern Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines but migrate to the eastern Pacific, where they mature before returning to the spawning grounds.
The U.S. is also a major fisher of bluefin, of course. And as one of the 26 members of Commission will be bound by the agreement. In contrast, Mexico belongs to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which manages fishing in the eastern Pacific. Both countries would have to cooperate for this to work.