Conservation & Science

Science shows a path to recover Pacific bluefin tuna

The ruby-red slice of maguro presented on a piece of nigiri sushi does nothing to convey the sheer power of Pacific bluefin tuna. These top ocean predators can grow to be twice the size of lions; at top swimming speed, they’re faster than gazelles. But it’s been a huge challenge to halt the decline of these incredible fish.

Pacific bluefin tuna at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

The Pacific bluefin population is down to just 2.6 percent of its unfished level—yet it continues to face intense fishing pressure. The fish are prized commercially, command staggering market prices, and are difficult to manage because they cross through national and international waters on trans-Pacific migrations.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has long advocated for use of the best available science to inform management decisions that can bring the Pacific bluefin population back to a healthy level. Now researchers at the Aquarium, together with colleagues from Harvard University and the National Museum of National History, have identified new evidence of migration trends that underscore the need for comprehensive fishing restrictions and enforcement across the Pacific—especially in the Western Pacific, where all Pacific bluefin spawn, and where most of the fish are caught.

The source of spawning-age fish

The analysis, published in Science magazine, concludes that—in many years—the majority of spawning-age bluefin tuna in the Western Pacific are migrants who left the waters off Japan when they were just one to two years old, and spent the next four to six years on rich feeding grounds off the coasts of California and Mexico, before returning to the Western Pacific.

New research supports the need to limit fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna — and to enforce the limits — in order to recover the species. Photo courtesy NOAA

If too many of the young fish are caught in the Western Pacific before they can make the migration east, there won’t be enough returning fish years later to maintain or recover the already-depleted population.

And if fishing pressure is too great in the Eastern Pacific, the fish won’t survive to make the migration back to their spawning grounds near Japan.

“These fish were passing through two gauntlets, in the west and in the east, before they had a chance to spawn,” said Dr. Andre Boustany, the Nereus Principal Fisheries Investigator for the Aquarium. “Many fish have to pass through both the Western and Eastern Pacific Ocean. So by taking too many of them out in both locations, we end up with a severely depleted population.

“We need much better management of the fishery in the west, and to continue to at least maintain current management in the east,” he added.
Read more…

We’re a voice for the sea at the first-ever United Nations Ocean Conference

The ocean produces half the oxygen we breathe, regulates climate by absorbing atmospheric carbon, and is the primary source of protein for 3.5 billion people. More than 80 percent of the Earth’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast. But these and other critical benefits are fast eroding as growing human needs strain the ocean’s living systems.

The_Oceans_Conference_Logo_Horiz_ENFrom June 5-9, the United Nations will take on the challenge when it hosts its first Ocean Conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City—a global gathering focused on protecting the ocean resources so vital to human survival.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium will play a significant role in the conference, advocating for policies to reduce single-use plastic, new commitments that promote sustainable international fisheries, and concerted action to tackle ocean acidification and other impacts of climate change.

“The ocean plays a vital role in enabling life on Earth to exist, yet ocean health has been ignored for too long by international decision-makers,” says Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “The U.N. Ocean Conference is a signal that things are changing. We’ll be there as a voice for the living ocean on which our future depends.”

Julie notes that the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean mirrors the priorities that Monterey Bay Aquarium works to advance, in the United States and around the world. Key staff will contribute to Ocean Conference forums on critical issues, including:

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A Monterey Bay fishing boat brings in its catch. Photo ©Steve Kepple

Improving the sustainability of global fisheries

Through our Seafood Watch program and extensive international policy work, the aquarium plays a respected and influential role – among governments, major businesses, producers and consumers – in shifting global seafood production in more sustainable directions.

As the conference begins, Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard will be part of a World Economic Forum announcement and discussion about new commitments from major seafood businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations to end illegal, unregulated and unreported tuna fishing around the world.

On Wednesday, June 7, Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of global fisheries and aquaculture for the Aquarium, will speak on a panel focused on making fisheries sustainable.

Taking action to combat ocean acidification

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Oyster farmers along the U.S. West Coast have already begun to see the impacts of ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification, a result of fossil fuel burning, is making it difficult for marine animals to build their shells. That includes some species of plankton, the base of the ocean food web.

The Aquarium was an early supporter of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, and will represent the founding partners – British Columbia, and the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington – on Thursday, June 8.

Margaret Spring, our vice president of conservation and science and chief conservation officer, will speak on a panel addressing ocean acidification action plans to protect vulnerable resources.

Reducing the sources of plastic pollution

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The passage of California’s Proposition 67 will prevent the use of billions of plastic carryout bags each year.

Last year, we championed California’s first-in-the-nation statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. This summer, we’ll launch a collaborative campaign involving 20 leading North American aquariums to reduce consumer demand for single-use plastic products – from drinking straws to shopping bags.

On Monday, June 5, Aimee David, Aquarium Director of Ocean Conservation Policy Strategies, will address efforts to tackle marine debris: internationally, nationally and at United Nations Headquarters. The panel, hosted by Costa Rica, features speakers from the United Nations Environment Programme, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Zoological Society of London.

Celebrating the ocean – in New York and beyond

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Working together, we can protect the health of the ocean for future generations. Photo by ©Jim Capwell / http://www.divecentral.com

On Sunday, June 4, our Seafood Watch team will be part of a day-long World Ocean Festival, a free event on Governors Island in New York Harbor that precedes Monday’s opening of the U.N. Ocean Conference. We’ll host a public exhibit space about sustainable fisheries and aquaculture opportunities, and a Seafood Watch expert will be part of a sustainable seafood presentation during the festival.

And in partnership with the U.N. Environment Program, the International Program on the State of the Ocean, Ocean Conservancy and the Zoological Society of London, we will promote the #OneLess initiative, aimed at inspiring Ocean Conference delegates and the public to reduce single-use plastic products like water bottles. The campaign will distribute reusable water bottles to conference attendees, and will encourage delegates to promote policies that reduce our reliance on single-use plastic products.

World leaders are coming together this week to address the biggest threats to our shared global ocean, but we all have a role to play. You can make a difference through small changes, such as driving less, switching to reusable water bottles and following Seafood Watch recommendations.

We hope you’ll join us in protecting our living ocean, on which all life depends.


Featured image: “United Nations New York City” by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Taking a stand against shady seafood

The holidays came early for seafood lovers. Thanks to a new federal initiative, Americans will soon know more about where our imported seafood comes from.

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Customers use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide at a California fish market.

On Dec. 8, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a “traceability” program that will track certain seafood imports at risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. More than 90 percent of the seafood available to consumers in the United States is imported.

Traceability allows regulators to electronically track seafood through the supply chain—from the moment it’s wild-caught or farm-harvested, to the U.S.border. This new information will help authorities keep illegal seafood products out of the U.S., and level the playing field for American fishermen who follow the rules. And, it also makes it easier for businesses and consumers to support seafood that was produced sustainably.

As we reported last February, traceability can also cut down on seafood fraud, which happens when seafood labels mislead consumers about the identity or source of their seafood.

Monterey Bay Aquarium works globally, through industry-led coalitions and other partnerships, to improve traceability in Southeast Asia, where much of the world’s seafood is produced.     Read more…

A powerful collaboration to ensure the future of bluefin tunas

From Jan. 18-20, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University will convene the world’s leading bluefin tuna researchers, policymakers and stakeholders for the Bluefin Futures Symposium in Monterey. Using the power of its global expertise and diverse perspectives, the group will explore opportunities for international collaboration. Together, the participants will work to create a roadmap toward healthy and sustainable wild bluefin populations across the world’s ocean.

 Here, the Aquarium and three symposium sponsors share their thoughts and hopes for Bluefin Futures.


Margaret Spring

Vice President of Conservation & Science and Chief Conservation Officer, Monterey Bay Aquarium

For decades, scientists around the world have been on a quest to understand bluefin tunas, some of the ocean’s most fascinating, powerful and mysterious top predators. Through our 20 years of collaboration at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University have made significant scientific contributions to our understanding of these amazing animals.

Margaret Spring
Margaret Spring

But given increasing global threats, a future with abundant bluefin tunas will require internationally coordinated research, conservation and management. In a global first, the Bluefin Futures Symposium will bring together many of the world’s leading experts on all three bluefin tuna species in advance of international scientific and management meetings. During the symposium, we’ll be sharing the latest research, science-based management approaches and opportunities to define a sustainable path forward for these iconic and ecologically important species.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is honored to co-host this gathering of world experts, and we’re grateful to our many sponsors. I look forward to hearing from our distinguished speakers and participants on how, working together, we can achieve conservation success for bluefin tunas.

 

Campbell Davies

Senior Principal Research Scientist, Marine and Atmospheric Research, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Bluefin tuna are iconic species which have captured the imagination of people around the globe for millennia. CSIRO has a long history of association with southern bluefin tuna. Our multi-disciplinary research program, over many decades, has made substantial contributions to our knowledge of the species, methods for studying them (such as archival tagging technology), and development of the early cooperative science and management arrangements required to manage the international fishery.

Campbell Davies
Campbell Davies

We are very pleased to support the Bluefin Futures Symposium. The meeting provides the first opportunity for the global bluefin tuna community to come together and share their understanding of the current state and potential futures for these spectacular fish and the diverse range of fisheries they support.

I’m looking forward to an insightful and productive meeting. I hope it will stimulate the next phase of international cooperation required to conserve the world’s bluefin populations and the fisheries, societies and cultural traditions that depend on them.

 

Amanda Nickson

Director of Global Tuna Conservation, The Pew Charitable Trusts

This important symposium is a global call to action. We must work together to identify conservation solutions for bluefin tuna that are grounded in good science. With such a large representation of viewpoints and expertise from the world’s foremost bluefin scientists, managers and stakeholders, there is an opportunity to complete a roadmap for ending overfishing of all bluefin populations, rebuilding them,​ and putting safeguards in place to ensure bluefin are never overfished again.

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Amanda Nickson (Photo by The Pew Charitable Trusts)

High human demand coupled with insufficient management has put at risk all bluefin tuna species at some point during the last 50 years. There are still populations that have been fished to the brink. The Pacific bluefin tuna catch has been so high that just 4 percent of the population remains today. Current management measures won’t do enough to reverse the decline.

All bluefin species should be valued and managed as much for their ecological importance as they are​ for the price they command at market. It’s especially critical to cooperate and collaborate to save Pacific bluefin.

 

Russell F. Smith III

Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Bluefin Futures Symposium provides a unique opportunity for us, as scientists and managers, to consider how best to manage bluefin tuna stocks in order to ensure their long-term sustainability.

Russell Smith
Russell F. Smith III

Working through the regional fishery management organizations, we should develop harvest strategies that take full advantage of innovations – for example, through use of management strategy evaluation – that help us respond to what we know about changes in the stocks and the fisheries.

At the same time, we should apply a precautionary approach to take uncertainties into account. We must also adopt objectives that lead to meaningful progress in rebuilding depleted stocks. Like the joint tuna regional fisheries management organization process (also known as the Kobe process), this symposium allows us to compare experiences in different oceans and consider how lessons learned might apply elsewhere.

Congress acts to fight illegal fishing and protect ocean health

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.

Congress and a Presidential task force have both addressed IUU fishing.
Congress and a Presidential task force have both addressed IUU fishing.

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.

US Capitol dome“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.”

Learn more about our work on behalf of policy initiatives to protect ocean health.

Trans-Pacific Partnership and ocean health

Statement of Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science and chief conservation officer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership ministerial meetings in Atlanta:

TPP countries map“The Monterey Bay Aquarium commends the Obama Administration and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman for their leadership in linking trade and markets to ocean conservation measures as part of the recently completed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

“The final agreement includes provisions that address several critical issues fundamental to the health of the Pacific Ocean and its coastal economies: sustainable fisheries management, measures to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, protections for sharks and other key marine species, and measures to eliminate harmful fishing subsidies.

Hammerhead sharks are among the species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Photo courtesy CITES
Hammerhead sharks are among the species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Photo courtesy CITES

“We look forward to learning more about the specific provisions in the agreement, as well as how those provisions may be implemented by participating nations in order to ensure effective protections for our oceans.”

Learn more about the ocean and environmental provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust: Preserving local catch for local fishermen

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.

Fishermen like Monterey's Joe Pennisi will have access to quota to catch groundfish in Monterey Bay. Photo courtesy Alan Lovewell.
Fishermen like Monterey’s Joe Pennisi will have access to quota to catch groundfish in Monterey Bay. Photo courtesy Alan Lovewell.

“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.

Locally caught rockfish and other groundfish will be available to Monterey area seafood lovers.
Locally caught rockfish and other groundfish will be available to Monterey area seafood lovers.

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.”

Learn more about The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust.

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