Call for fishing ban in a third of oceans

A third of the world's oceans must be closed to fishing if depleted stocks are to recover, scientists and conservation groups have warned. Such a measure could "set the clock back 200 years" and reverse the decline in fish populations, after which responsible fisheries management could regenerate the industry.

Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York, has reviewed 100 scientific papers identifying the scale of closure needed. "All are leaning in a similar direction," he says, "which is that 20 to 40% of the sea should be protected." Friends of the Earth, the Marine Conservation Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds all support the idea of a 30% closure. "What we would see is a flourishing of life," Roberts says. "In 20 years, we could get to a point where a lot of species are in a far more productive state."

The proposal comes in the wake of a green paper calling for radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, which EU ministers admit has failed. It reveals that 88% of EU stocks are overfished (against a global average of 25%) while 30% are "outside safe biological limits" – meaning they cannot reproduce as normal because the parenting population is too depleted. In the North Sea, 93% of cod are fished before they have had a chance to breed.

The European Commission suggests a reduction in fleet size and a dramatic cut in fishing effort among its raft of measures, but Roberts believes these will not work without the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). "Just cutting fishing effort is not enough," he says. "If we are ever going to have sustainable fisheries, MPA networks are an essential, indispensable part of any rational management package."

In Iceland, Canada and the US, the creation of MPAs has "brought real increases in fish populations and real recovery of seabed habitats", Roberts says. "Populations of exploited species have increased five-, 10- or even 20-fold within five, 10 or 20 years."

The most convincing example is New England, where stocks of ground fish were "in a dreadful state" in the 1990s. Off Georges Bank, an area of nearly 20,000 square kilometres – a quarter of the fishing grounds – was closed to vessels, and fishing effort was reduced by "a draconian 50 per cent". In the past 10 years, Roberts says, there has been "a spectacular recovery" of key economic species.

As stocks within MPAs recover, the eggs and larvae of fish are carried on ocean currents to fishing grounds, Roberts explains. This helps replenish commercial fisheries. Fish also leave the protected areas, emigrating to places where they can be harvested legally.

Off Lundy Island in Devon, one of only three No-Take Zones (similar to MPAs) in British waters, the lobster population is eight times higher within the reserve. "We have already seen benefits in the lobster fishery immediately outside it," says Giles Bartlett, fisheries policy officer at the environmental charity WWF. In the Isle of Man, where a No-Take Zone for scallops has been created, "there have been significant increases in catches on the boundary of the reserve", he adds. "There, a limited size of reserve is supporting the whole fishery. If you scale those reserves up, you are going to see similar results for demersal [bottom-dwelling] fish stocks. We feel European seas would benefit from this kind of management."

The fishing industry is less convinced, saying pressure on stocks just outside a protected area can "mitigate against the impact" of the MPA. "It almost creates a bull's-eye for fishermen, who know the area on the periphery isn't protected," says Tom Rossiter, research and development manager at Seafish, the UK seafood industry body. "If you shut off an MPA, it will move the fishing effort somewhere else."

Phil MacMullen, head of environment at Seafish, says a distinction must be made between MPAs created to conserve habitats and biodiversity, and those created for fisheries management purposes. "If you are very lucky, you may find an area designated for conservation also gives you fisheries benefits," he says, but the likelihood is low. Seasonal closures at spawning times, and around specific areas such as nursery grounds, are already used effectively by fishermen.

Currently, there are 4,000 MPAs covering just 0.8% of the world's oceans. New Zealand has already closed 30 per cent of its Exclusive Economic Zone – offshore fishing grounds – to trawlers and Australia is considering a similar move. Under the Marine Bill, the UK Government has committed to designating a coherent network of new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) by 2012, though there is no mention of a percentage target.

Article originally appeared in The UK Observer. by: Andrew Purvis


EU nations agree! Ban on seal products coming!

By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, April 24 (Reuters) - European ambassadors approved a European Union plan to ban imports of furs and other products from culled seals on Friday, moving the 27-nation bloc one step closer to a trade clash with Norway and Canada.
Both seal-hunting nations have warned the EU in recent weeks that they could challenge the EU ban at the World Trade Organization, the global trade watchdog, if it takes shape as currently foreseen.
"Nothing should now stand in the way of this ban being adopted," said an official from the EU's Czech presidency, which brokered a deal this week that will exclude hunts by Inuits.
"It needs to go before the European Parliament in May, but that should be a formality because parliament negotiators have already agreed to it informally," the official added.
Canada, Greenland and Namibia account for around 60 percent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year. The rest are killed in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Britain and the United States.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere wrote to EU trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton this month arguing that the ban broke the principle of free trade and set a dangerous precedent on the harvesting of renewable resources.
An official said the Commission believed the plan was "legally sound".
The 15 seal species now hunted are not endangered but European politicians demanded action after finding what they said was evidence that many are skinned while still conscious.
The animals are usually first shot or bludgeoned over the head with a spiked club known as a hakapik.
Russia banned the hunting of baby harp seals last month, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a "bloody industry".
A European Food Safety Authority report last year highlighted various causes of unnecessary suffering, such as trapping seals underwater where they drown.
It recommended that seals first be shot or clubbed and then monitored to check they are dead before being bled and skinned, to ensure they never regain consciousness during the process. (Editing by Louise Ireland)


Plans to protect sharks set to receive backing

EU fisheries ministers are next week expected to back plans to protect endangered sharks. At a meeting in Luxembourg (23-24 April) ministers will be invited to endorse measures to stop overfishing of sharks and follow the international conservation plans that the EU has already signed up to.

They will also discuss an EU shark action plan that was published by the European Commission in January.
One-third of shark species in European waters are threatened, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Sonja Fordham of the Shark Alliance, a coalition of conservation groups, described the Commission's plan as encouraging, but noted that “it is just a plan, it is not binding”.
She said the priority should be toughening up the implementation of the EU ban on shark ‘finning', the practice of catching a shark, cutting off its fins and throwing it back into the sea to die.

originally posted here: http://www.sharktrust.org/content.asp?did=32651