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Posted by:Oct 19th 2005, 05:32:37 pm
ColinA friend of mine if a marine biologist with the conservation union cited in this story. He oversaw the study of ocean species and says they were extremely conservative in teir interpretation of the data. What that means is that the pelagic species -- blue ocean fish like tuna, marlin, swordfish and many of the great sharks -- are in worse shape than the data shows. He predicts there will be mass extinctions over the next 30 years unless countries like Japan, Norway, Spain and a few others that account for the majority of the world's open water fishing fleets, are monitored and stopped from taking the enormous quantities of fish they now harvest.
For reef fish, like grouper, he says the situation is better because it's harder to wipe them out as long as the reefs remain healthy. But heavy fishing in limited areas can really decimate these fish since they are pretty territorial.
Another example of a global problem that directly affects the Bahamas and Briland. And another example of a case where the Bahamian government has pretty decent regulations on the books, according to my friend, but almost no enforcement.
Posted by:Oct 19th 2005, 11:57:24 am
Fig Tree News TeamPosted on Sun, Oct. 16, 2005


First of two parts

Here in Florida, the Fishing Capital of the World, the fish are fewer and smaller every year.

A 50-year worldwide fishing frenzy has wiped out the best fish, and many we eat today would have been rejected as trash a generation ago. Much of the fish we eat in Florida is not caught here, but comes from other countries.

In the waters off the Florida Keys, 13 of 16 kinds of groupers can't reproduce fast enough to keep their populations at sustainable levels. Eight of 14 kinds of snappers in the Keys can't maintain their populations, and many fish are half the size they were 50 years ago.

''If I were to fish in the 1930s or '40s for black grouper in the Keys, the average fish would be 40 to 50 pounds and 45 inches or so long,'' says Jerry Ault, a biologist with the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science of the University of Miami. ``Today, the average black grouper is 25 inches and 8 pounds.''

Florida reflects what's happening to fish in oceans around the globe: Large fish of many species have disappeared, vanishing into cavernous nets or dangling from longlines. Populations of top predators such as tuna, marlins and sharks have been reduced to mere remnants.


The cod industry collapsed a decade ago in parts of the Atlantic. Sea bass are threatened in Chile, sturgeon are endangered by the caviar industry in the landlocked Caspian Sea between Asia and Europe, orange roughy have declined in Australia and Tasmania.

''Fleets have become so numerous and technologically sophisticated that they can catch almost all the fish of any species,'' reported Science News in June. ``The result has been globally diminished stocks of desirable fish.''

Many of the fish we eat, such as pollock and dogfish, are those we would have discarded four or five decades ago. Even spiny dogfish are in danger and considered threatened by the World Conservation Union, a coalition of 181 countries trying to save biological diversity.

If fishing continues at such levels, we are facing ''a wave of ocean extinctions,'' says Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science at the University of Miami. ``Since 1972, 16 marine species have become extinct, with dozens more in danger of extinction in regions around the globe.''


''If you were to go fishing for some of the 120 kinds of fish found in Florida Bay today, 70 of them would be juveniles because that's their nursery. The reproducing adults are missing,'' Ault said.

Only in recent decades have scientists discovered that deepwater fish, such as orange roughy and cod, take 15 to 20 years to reach reproductive age. Undisturbed, they can live 100 or 150 years.

By all accounts, the oceans are in a crisis. Among the reasons:

High-tech fishing equipment makes it possible for commercial and recreational fishermen to catch more fish in a shorter period of time, including many caught by accident and discarded.

More people are fishing. In Florida, host to nearly 25 percent of the nation's recreational fishing, the number of boats registered has soared from 127,000 in 1964 to just under one million in 2003. That same year, recreational anglers in the Gulf of Mexico (excluding those from Texas) made about 24 million fishing trips, snagging 38 percent of the catch.

Pollution and the destruction of wetlands and mangroves for development means young fish have fewer places to grow up.

Warmer oceans are contributing to the destruction of coral reefs, important habitats for reef fish, such as groupers and snappers. In just the seven years between 1996 and 2003, 30 percent of the living coral in the Florida Keys was lost, according to a 2005 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Demand for fish has increased, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects it will climb by 26 percent between 2000 and 2020, as demographics change and aging baby boomers seek to follow the American Heart Association's recommendation to eat fish at least twice a week, for heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids.

The precipitous spiral in ocean fish began after World War II, when new technology was developed that enabled commercial fishers to greatly increase their catches, Pikitch said.

Today, experts say, the world's high-tech fishing fleet has the capacity to catch 2.5 times the number of fish that could be caught sustainably.

Starting in the 1960s, bottom trawlers were able to scoop up 75 tons of fish and sea creatures at once. The '70s brought longlines, hooked devices many miles long that catches anything that comes by, including sea turtles and sharks.

For every four pounds of fish caught, fishermen around the world discard a pound of other sea creatures, says The Ocean Conservancy, a 30-year-old environmental advocacy organization.

Commercial fishing is declining in Florida as coastal development makes land costly for small fishermen who make up the bulk of Florida's commercial industry, as regulations increase and cheaper imports drive down local prices.

But the impact of recreational fishing in Florida waters continues to increase.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita badly hurt shrimping, an industry mainly in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, with a small portion on the Florida west coast. Yet shrimp boats annually snag 25 to 45 million immature red snappers as they scoop up shrimp.


The total economic value of commercial fishing in Florida is an estimated $1.2 billion a year. Here, recreational fishing is the really big business, rivaling the $9 billion citrus industry. Recreational fishing expenditures are $8.3 billion, including everything from food, lodging, bait, charter, equipment and gas, says Vishwanie Maharaj, staff economist with the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

People move to Florida and want to fish as a way to interact with the environment, says marine biologist Felicia Coleman at Florida State University.

But as the number of recreational anglers grows and the equipment they use gets more sophisticated, they also catch more fish.

When we think of recreational fishing, Coleman says, ``We typically think of a Winslow Homer painting -- or me and Bob, a six-pack and a few sandwiches, coming back with no gear, no bait and we haven't caught a damn thing.

''The reality is that I can pay for a charter boat and do no wrong. The captain gets me right on top of the fish. Professional boats have GPS systems, and an enormous number of weekend fishermen have all the electronic gear,'' she says. ``Even if they do what's allowed, the cumulative effect is great.''

Recreational fishermen catch as many of the popular eating fish as commercial fishermen, and more of such fish as red drum and red snapper, Coleman said.

In the Gulf of Mexico, anglers landed twice their legal limit of red grouper in 2004, hauling in three million pounds instead of the 1.25 million pounds allowed, says the Gulf Fisheries Management Council.

''Recreational fishing may seem small, but not when you look at individual species,'' Coleman says.

``The rules limit what an individual fisherman can take. But there's no limit to the number of recreational fishermen.''

Ted Forsgren, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, the recreational lobbying group, maintains last year was an ''odd blip'' in the numbers, and should indicate more fish in the oceans rather than more excessive catch.

''Commercial fishery [boats] are required to report what they catch, filling out a form on pounds and everything else,'' Forsgren said. ``That process is impossible with recreational fishermen.''

Total recreational catches are estimates, he says, and ``there sometimes are unusual blips, which we believe happened. They show a 130 percent increase last year -- in a year when we had four hurricanes. That made no sense at all. ''

2004 STUDY

FSU's Coleman and colleagues published a study in 2004 showing that anglers took 64 percent of the groupers and certain other overfished stocks from the Gulf of Mexico, another number Forsgren disputes.

Coastal development has also created enormous stress on the fish's environment.

So much oily pollution in storm-water runoff washes into our waterways from our streets around the country that every eight months we release the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill, according to the Pew Oceans Commission.

In South Florida, flood control canals provide a direct runway for agricultural and urban runoff to reach the bays, Everglades and ocean. Nutrient overloads from fertilizers and septic tanks feed invasive exotic plants and algae.

Algae can smother sea grasses and corals, and turn into giant blooms or red tides that are toxic to fish.

The rising temperature of the oceans is also a factor, says UM's Ault. The most extreme warming would prevent corals from forming calcium carbonate, their skeletal structures, degrading the homes of the reef fish.

''There are a lot of stresses in the system,'' Ault says. ``It's death by a thousand cuts.''

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