The Conservation & Science team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium has worked for more than two decades to understand and recover bluefin tuna – particularly Pacific bluefin, whose population has declined historically due to overfishing. A key piece of our efforts is tagging bluefin in the wild so we can document their migrations across ocean basins. Much of our work takes place in the Eastern Pacific, but this summer we’re partnering with Japanese colleagues to tag bluefin tuna in the Sea of Japan. Tuna Research and Conservation Center Research Technician Ethan Estess, working with Program Manager Chuck Farwell, is chronicling his experience in the field. This the second dispatch in his series; you can read the first here.
Before we go further into our bluefin tagging expedition in Japan, I want to share a bit of background on this fascinating and politically-charged fish we study: Thunnus orientalis, the Pacific bluefin tuna.
You may have read that bluefin are in decline due to overfishing. The challenge is to sort the headlines from the science. Scientists don’t always have perfect answers, but they do use the best data available to make educated guesses.
Illegal fishing – which is estimated to cost up to $23 billion annually in global fishing losses — harms vulnerable ocean wildlife, law-abiding fishers and everyday consumers. Now U.S. lawmakers have taken bold action to fight illegal fishing on the high seas.
On Oct. 21, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 774, the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015. The bipartisan bill will significantly improve the federal government’s response to IUU fishing, keeping black-market seafood out of U.S. markets, and encourage enforcement by other nations.
The House of Representatives passed H.R. 774 in July. It now heads to the White House for the president’s signature.
Statement of Margaret Spring, Vice President of Conservation and Science and Chief Conservation Officer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on passage of this key legislation to fight illegal fishing:
“This week, the U.S. Congress declared to the world that the United States will not tolerate the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that is threatening the health of our ocean, undermining the hard work of U.S. fisheries and coastal communities, and weakening consumer and business confidence in seafood products. Passage of H.R. 774 by the House of Representatives and the Senate is a major step toward improving the long-term sustainability of our ocean.
“The Monterey Bay Aquarium looks forward to President Obama’s signature to swiftly enact H.R. 774 into law.
More effective international enforcement
“Once enacted, H.R. 774 will strengthen U.S. leadership in the global fight against illegal fishing through more efficient and effective international enforcement efforts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“It will also make the United States a party to the Port State Measures Agreement. This landmark international treaty empowers nations to close their ports to vessels engaged in, or suspected of, IUU fishing. The goal is to prevent illegal operators from selling their catches on the global market.
“Implementing the Port States Measures Agreement is a top priority of the Obama Administration. The President’s Task Force on Combatting IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud recognized the agreement as a critical tool to shut down the global trade of IUU seafood. Together, the complimentary actions by Congress and the Administration will greatly enhance the ability of the United States to fight IUU fishing that occurs at global scales and impacts U.S. fisheries and seafood consumers.
Bipartisan support for action
“This important legislation represents a truly bipartisan effort – one that’s been developed over many years and has wide support within the seafood industry and among conservation organizations from coast to coast. We owe particular thanks to the longtime sponsor of the legislation, Delegate Madeleine Bordallo of Guam, as well as to the Senate sponsor, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and a long list of Republican and Democratic members representing the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
“In addition, we commend the bipartisan leaders and staff of the House Natural Resources Committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Commerce Committee for their commitment and dedication to advance this bill to strengthen international enforcement against IUU fishing and build a more sustainable future for our oceans.
“U.S. leadership in the global fight against IUU fishing has taken a major step forward today. Congratulations to the U.S. Congress for taking this bold, bipartisan action that will benefit our oceans and coastal communities for generations to come.”
Today marks another big moment in the ongoing comeback of the West Coast groundfish fishery – and of commercial fishing in Monterey Bay.
The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust has announced the acquisition of $1 million in commercial quota in the fishery from The Nature Conservancy. This means the fishing rights for this important resource stay with local Monterey Bay fisherman and continue to benefit the community. It also means that regional chefs and restaurants will be able to easily source and serve up a taste of Monterey Bay to their customers.
“Thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s addition, the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust will be able to support our local, family-owned fishing businesses,” said David Crabbe, commercial fisherman and board president of the Trust. “This will provide stability for our local ports and waterfront businesses, and it will ensure that future fishermen have access to this important fishery for years to come.”
This might not have been the case, though, if not for the collective efforts of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the City of Monterey, and community leaders who worked to establish the new nonprofit organization. The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust was created to guarantee a future for stable and sustainable fisheries and fishing communities around the bay.
In 2011, a new fishery management program, called catch shares, went into effect for 90 species of the West Coast groundfish fishery (such as sablefish, petrale sole, and rockfish) as part of the conservation effort that led to the fishery’s recovery. Since catch shares can be bought and sold, large, well-capitalized businesses from outside the region could have potentially outbid local fishermen for the quota. Without access to quota, small-scale fishermen would be unable to land groundfish out of Monterey Bay. The community would miss out on the economic, social, and environmental benefits that result from a local, sustainably managed fishery.
Thanks to the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, this won’t happen now. It will acquire the quotas and hold them in trust for the community, helping keep long-time fishing families in business, and ensuring a future for the next generation of fishermen.
“Our future depends on the health of the ocean,” said Margaret Spring, the aquarium’s vice president of conservation and science and chief conservation officer. Spring also serves as vice president of the Fisheries Trust board. “We hope others in our community will contribute to the remarkable recovery of the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery by purchasing local, sustainably caught groundfish, and supporting this innovative effort to advance both economic opportunity and ocean conservation.”