Conservation & Science

Tiny crustacean, big transformation: Part 2

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this second installment of a four-part series, we take a peek at life on the shrimp pond—as Seafood Watch wades into the business of small-scale aquaculture in Southeast Asia. (Continued from Part 1.)


Pokkrong Kirdsook, Taylor Voorhees and Tyler Isaac walk single-file onto a thin wooden plank. The boards bow with each step, sagging closer to the pond four feet below. Pokkrong pulls up a spindly rope, lifting a cylindrical mesh cage from the water.

It looks like they could be panning for gold, but the riches in this cage are more lively. Exposed to the warm air on this humid afternoon in southern Thailand, whiteleg shrimp wriggle and jump on the mesh. 

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Left to right: Seafood Watch experts Tyler Isaac and Taylor Voorhees; shrimp farmer Pokkrong Kirdsook. Photo by Mark C. Anderson

Taylor and Tyler, both Seafood Watch senior aquaculture scientists, admire the results. Shrimp farmers need to navigate a number of risks to produce shrimp this healthy. Even the variation within a lunar cycle can impact the development of their protective exoskeletons. 

The tiny pier on Pokkrong’s farm is 8,300 miles from the Seafood Watch office in Monterey, California, but Taylor and Tyler feel at home. Both worked in aquaculture production before joining the Aquarium; they even built a small aquaponic rig in Tyler’s backyard.

They’re visiting shrimp operations in the Thai province of Krabi to talk with farmers about everything from local government regulations to wastewater management and natural remedies for shrimp ailments. 

Across the Pacific, a powerful network of North American retailers—including Seafood Watch partners Blue Apron, Red Lobster and Whole Foods—are interested in what they find out. Read more…

Tiny crustacean, big transformation: Part 1

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this first installment of a four-part series, we examine the growing American appetite for shrimp—and how it’s created a booming industry across the Pacific.


Every night, in kitchens across America, hundreds of thousands of people prepare the same dinner. Recently it was cavatelli pasta with zucchini, garlic and cherry tomatoes, sautéed in butter with mascarpone cheese and tender shrimp.

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Shrimp cavatelli dish from meal-kit company Blue Apron. Photo courtesy Blue Apron

The portioned ingredients—down to the optional bottle of Viognier white wine—are delivered to customers’ doorsteps from Blue Apron, a national meal kit company that makes this sophisticated meal easy to prepare. The shrimp is also sustainable: As a partner of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, Blue Apron avoids seafood that’s produced in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.

Carrie Conley of Fort Irwin, California, says she chose Blue Apron because of its partnership with Seafood Watch. Sustainable seafood has been important to her since she started visiting the Aquarium, where she learned about the environmental impacts of fishing and aquaculture

“If I’m actively trying to find organic chicken,” she reasoned, “why not make better choices across the board?” 

Blue Apron makes it easy for customers like Carrie to access sustainably harvested shrimp. But producing that shrimp, and getting it into meal-kit boxes from faraway places like Southeast Asia, is anything but simple.

This is the story of how a broad network—including global seafood businesses, government agencies, Vietnamese shrimp farmers, U.S. chefs and the Monterey Bay Aquarium—are working together to make it happen. Read more…

Chefs serve up support for sustainable U.S. seafood

On June 14, chefs nationwide will be serving up support for our U.S. sustainable seafood law.

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Chef Danielle Leoni of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix, Arizona shows off sustainably harvested short-spined thornyheads from California.

Over 50 culinary leaders across the country in cities like Honolulu, Los Angeles, Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland, Sarasota and New York are joining together that evening to celebrate the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), our country’s premier fisheries management law—and to defend it from threats in Washington D.C.

Two bills currently before Congress, H.R. 200 and S. 1520, would weaken the MSA’s sustainability measures that have largely ended overfishing and recovered depleted species in U.S. waters. Chefs have been particularly vocal in their opposition to these proposals, pointing out that fisheries management is not just an issue for fisherman or coastal residents—it’s a food issue.

The culinary community from landlocked states knows this better than most. Seventy-two chefs from Midwest and Mountain West states recently weighed in with a letter to Congress, urging them to maintain science-based management and accountability measures of the MSA.

“Fisheries management may seem like a weird topic for chefs to get involved in,” says Danielle Leoni, chef and owner of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix, Arizona. “But we all love fish. And as a businessperson, I want access to a consistent supply of sustainable seafood—even though my restaurant is hundreds of miles from the nearest coast.”

Read more…

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…

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.

Administration advances efforts to fight pirate fishing and protect the ocean

This week, the Obama Administration pressed ahead on two key ocean conservation initiatives to step up the global fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing (often referred to as “pirate” or “black market” fishing) and enhance conservation of ocean wildlife – both critical steps to  restore ocean health.

The White House National Ocean Council Committee on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud (NOC Committee) shared details of the Administration’s proposal for a U.S. system to track and trace seafood that could make it easier to block illegally harvested or produced seafood and prevent seafood fraud – including the principles for determining risk and some of the priority seafood they  may target for attention. The public can offer feedback about the proposed principles for determining risk and species for the traceability program during a 30-day comment period that opens on August 3.

“It’s really exciting to see rapid progress on a U.S. seafood traceability program,” says Margaret Spring, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation and science. “Establishing a comprehensive and effective traceability program is a critical step in the global fight against IUU fishing and piracy. It’s an important tool to document the legality and sustainability of seafood entering the U.S. market – especially because most seafood sold here is imported.

“The U.S. sets a high conservation bar domestically – in both fishery management and ocean protection  ̶  and has a strong record of compliance with international conservation and management measures,” she adds. “Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t always play by the same rules. That’s a bad thing when 90% of the seafood we eat is imported, and at least half of that is from aquaculture operations outside of the United States. It’s challenging to advance ocean conservation when the playing field is not level, and we appreciate the Administration’s willingness to include a broad range of representative species  ̶  including those produced from aquaculture operations  ̶  in the proposed traceability program.”

In another positive development, the Administration – led by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman  ̶  moved closer to finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations that include ocean conservation trade measures that could deter IUU fishing, prohibit fishing subsidies, promote the conservation of at-risk marine species such as sharks and turtles, and combat wildlife trafficking, among other provisions.

“The Monterey Bay Aquarium supports including strong ocean conservation measures in all international trade agreements, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Spring says. “The interconnected nature of wildlife and ecosystems here in the Pacific and across the global ocean, and the market demands that are depleting fisheries and marine life on a worldwide scale, make international cooperation on market-based enforcement and compliance measures absolutely essential. We appreciate efforts by the U.S. Trade Representative to leverage trade agreements to fight these serious and growing challenges to ocean health, particularly IUU fishing.

“Linking trade measures and agreements to important conservation and social goals can create incentives for nations to adopt and enforce compliance tools, such as the Port State Measures Agreement and other efforts to combat IUU fishing and human trafficking at the global scale. Additionally, it’s important for trade agreements to incorporate provisions that end damaging fishing subsidies, promote sustainable fisheries management and encourage conservation of highly threatened ocean wildlife that are critical to the long-term health of our ocean ecosystems and economies.

“The Administration’s coordinated, multijurisdictional approach to address IUU fishing and other unsustainable practices will advance ocean conservation and ensure that future generations can rely on benefits the ocean provides,” she adds. “We look forward hearing more about the specific provisions of the TPP agreement as the negotiations conclude this week.”

Tuna Commission fails to adopt new conservation measures for highly depleted Pacific bluefin tuna

Statement of Margaret Spring, Vice President of Conservation and Science and Chief Conservation Officer, Monterey Bay Aquarium

“The Monterey Bay Aquarium is disappointed that nations at the 89th meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission were unable to reach agreement on any new measures to conserve Pacific bluefin tuna populations. Pacific bluefin tuna are key top predators in the ocean, but the population’s breeding stock has been depleted to approximately 4% of historic levels. As the population continues to decline, we need all Pacific nations to collaborate and commit to a science-based, long-term recovery plan that will result in a healthy, sustainable Pacific bluefin population.

Chuck Farwell of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Barbara Block of Stanford University tag a Pacific bluefin tuna as part of a collaborative long-term research effort. Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Tyson Rininger
Chuck Farwell of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Barbara Block of Stanford University tag a Pacific bluefin tuna as part of a collaborative long-term research effort. Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Tyson Rininger

“We applaud the United States’ leadership in advancing a proposal at last week’s meeting to support new scientific analyses and collaboration across international science advisory bodies that could improve future conservation and management decisions. We strongly support the United States’ effort to include a science-based recovery target, known as maximum sustainable yield, as an indication of what measures are needed to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the species.

“Despite significant support from most Member nations, the Commission could not reach a consensus on the U.S. scientific analysis proposal, and unfortunately did not adopt any new measures.

“Now is the time for all nations fishing in the region to think beyond purely domestic concerns and commit to a Pacific-wide plan to reverse the decline of Pacific bluefin tuna in a meaningful, responsible and cooperative manner. This must start with a commitment to strictly adhere to scientific advice in establishing rebuilding targets. And it must include serious consideration of other conservation measures, such as protection for bluefin spawning areas.

“The next opportunity for action comes when the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meets in Japan at the end of August. We urge all parties to pledge their support for new international research investments, including electronic and emerging techniques for tagging and tracking bluefin tuna populations across the Pacific. This commitment is essential to strengthen conservation measures, and to advance a science-based, long-term rebuilding plan that will recover the species to sustainable levels.”

Learn more about the Bluefin Futures Symposium we’re hosting in January 2016

Louisiana steps up for sea turtles, sustainable seafood

The Monterey Bay Aquarium commends the State of Louisiana for acting to improve the sustainability of its shrimp fishery and helping protect sea turtles. Newly enacted legislation enables state wildlife officials to enforce federal rules that require shrimp fishermen to outfit their otter trawl nets with escape hatches for sea turtles (known as Turtle Excluder Devices or TEDs). The new law officially ends a ban on state enforcement of this important ocean conservation measure – a ban that has been in place since 1987.

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Fresh shrimp ready for sorting. Seafood Watch is reassessing the sustainability of Louisiana shrimp caught by otter trawl now that a new law permits state enforcement of Turtle Excluder Devices. Courtesy Gulf Seafood Institute.

Sea turtles found in U.S. waters are considered endangered or threatened, and TEDs help prevent the animals from being accidentally caught and killed as bycatch in shrimp nets. Louisiana law previously prohibited enforcement of this critical measure, putting sea turtles at risk.

“Louisiana now joins all other Gulf fisheries – from the Carolinas to Texas – where use of Turtle Excluder Devices has been effective in reducing impacts on sea turtles,” said Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science for the Aquarium. “Conscientious shrimp fishermen in Louisiana who have been using TEDs will now be recognized and rewarded in the same manner as their peers in other states for contributing to sea turtle recovery.”

“We congratulate the State of Louisiana for supporting compliance with strong federal management policies that require TEDs,” she added.

Because of the state’s enforcement ban, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program had been unable to recommend Louisiana shrimp – even when fisherman voluntarily complied with federal regulations.

In light of the state’s action, Seafood Watch will immediately reevaluate its assessment of the Louisiana shrimp fishery. The new assessment is likely to result in all U.S. shrimp caught by otter trawl in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic being considered a “Good Alternative” option for seafood lovers.

Repeal of the TED enforcement ban was supported by Louisiana’s industry-led Shrimp Task Force, and was passed unanimously by both houses of the state legislature.

Fishing for solutions: Recovering the bounty of the ocean

Effective fisheries reform is no pipe dream. It’s happening now, and it works. According to a new study published in the scientific journal Oceanography, this approach is succeeding in the United States and Europe, where fish populations and ecosystems are returning to health. And, say the study’s authors, it can change the lives of small-scale fishermen and coastal communities around the world.

The key to success involves a combination of fishery management reforms, creation of science-based marine reserves and new avenues that give people who fish for a living an economic stake in good management.

It’s an approach that’s worked well in the United States, where overfishing has largely ended. In fact, a mere 2% of federally managed fisheries assessed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch  program are rated “Avoid,” and the program’s ratings for stock health indicate that U.S. law (the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) is fundamentally succeeding at recovering fisheries.

The paper’s authors include Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Margaret Spring, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation and science, and chief conservation officer.

Boats fish for squid with purse seine nets in California's Monterey Bay
Boats fish for squid with purse seine nets in Monterey Bay

“Too much of what we hear about the ocean is doom and gloom,” Spring said. “For all the challenges facing the ocean, there’s much to celebrate. We’ve worked for years with many colleagues to protect ocean ecosystems and to support sustainable fisheries management. It’s so gratifying to see that those approaches are making a real difference.”

And, she added, “If other countries embrace the policies that have succeeded so dramatically in the United States, we will see similar results.”

There are already many positive signs.

Europe has adopted more sustainable fishery management practices, and is already seeing positive results
Europe has adopted more sustainable fishery management practices, and is already seeing positive results

Just over a year ago, the European Union overhauled its fishery policies to adopt many of the key elements that succeeded in U.S. fisheries. This includes a strong mandate to end overfishing, complete with teeth and timetables; scientifically determined catch limits; significant engagement of people in the fishing industry in the decision-making process; and the option of using rights-based approaches to fishery management, giving fishermen a stake in the future. Rights-based fishery management has been particularly successful, when combined with the first three elements.

“It was a key factor in the rapid turnaround of the West Coast groundfish fishery, which went from economic disaster to Seafood Watch best choice in just 15 years,” Spring said.

Marine protected areas, too, have demonstrated their value in study after study around the world. When there are networks of protected areas – including waters that are off limits to fishing – species inside a reserve become more diverse and more abundant, grow larger and produce more offspring. Some of this increased bounty spills over to areas outside the reserve.

In California, the Aquarium championed creation of a science-based marine protected areas that is beginning to demonstrate these sorts of results, Spring said.

Reference:

Barner, A.K., J. Lubchenco, C. Costello, S.D. Gaines, A. Leland, B. Jenks, S. Murawski, E. Schwaab, and M. Spring. 2015. Solutions for recovering and sustaining the bounty of the ocean: Combining fishery reforms, rights-based fisheries management, and marine reserves. Oceanography 28(2):252–263.

The future of bluefin tunas

Bluefin tunas are among the most remarkable fishes in the ocean – apex predators that migrate across ocean basins for long distances at top speeds.  Biologically, economically and culturally significant at a global scale, they have long been the target of lucrative fisheries. Today, they face a range of threats worldwide.

Now the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University – partners in the Tuna Research and Conservation Center – will host the Bluefin Futures Symposium in 2016. It’s a gathering of science, policy, industry and conservation leaders to address the status and future of bluefin tunas in the global ocean.

From January 18-20, 2016, this three-day gathering will bring together the world’s foremost bluefin science and management experts to discuss issues that will shape a sustainable future for the planet’s bluefin tuna populations, and to consider a future global vision for bluefin tunas.

The program will cover the latest scientific knowledge for all three species, current and new fisheries management tools, the economics of the bluefin tuna industry and trade, the emerging role of tuna aquaculture, and the impacts of climate change. It’s all with the goal of shaping a vision for healthy, sustainable bluefin populations.

Learn more about the Bluefin Futures Symposium and how to attend

Photo ©Gilbert van Ryckevorsel

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