Category Archives: ocean

Overfishing leading to extinction of many shark and ray species


Bonn, Germany – Overfishing is leading to the extermination of many species of shark and ray in the world’s oceans, according to a new international study presented Thursday to the UN Biodiversity Conference in Bonn. Released to coincide with International Biodiversity Day, the study of the global status of 21 species of oceanic pelagic sharks and rays reveals that 11 of them are threatened with extinction.

The study, organized by the IUCN international conservation organization, calls on governments to take steps to halt the overfishing of the species. The scientists from around the world found that the sharks and rays, including the Thresher shark, the Silky shark and the Shortfin mako, were facing extinction owing to targeted fishing for fins and meat. Unintentional “bycatch” by other fisheries was also a serious problem. “The traditional view of oceanic sharks and rays as fast and powerful too often leads to a misperception that they are resilient to fishing pressure,” Sonja Fordham, co-author of the paper and member of the IUCN shark group, said. The study noted the increasing demand for the delicacy shark fin soup, which was being driven by growing Asian economies, and the resultant waste when the rest of the shark was simply thrown away. Shark and ray species often take several years to reach sexual maturity, have relatively few young and are thus particularly vulnerable to overfishing. The IUCN called on governments to establish and enforce shark catch limits, halt the practice of removing fins and discarding the rest, cut the bycatch and to invest in further research into populations. The study is published in the latest edition of Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

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USA. Scientists call for Lower Snake Dam removal to help endangered Orcas

BYM Marine Environment News

Leading Northwest scientists and orca advocates are urging NOAA Fisheries to consider removal of the four lower Snake River dams in order to protect endangered Puget Sound orca populations that need Columbia-Snake River salmon as a critical food source.

“Restoring Columbia River Chinook salmon is the single most important thing we can do to ensure the future survival of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales,” said Dr. Rich Osborne, research associate with The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA. “We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years. Their futures are intricately linked.”

The comments from the six prominent orca scientists, delivered in a letter to Northwest members of Congress and NOAA regional administrator Robert Lohn, came in response to the Oct. 31 release of a new draft Biological Opinion from NOAA Fisheries for Columbia-Snake River salmon management. Salmon advocates say the new plan, the result of a court-ordered rewrite of an earlier, illegal 2004 federal salmon plan, fails to do enough to recover imperiled salmon in the seven-state Columbia-Snake river basin, and ignores altogether the four dams on the lower Snake River that do the most harm to these fish.

“History will not be very forgiving of the resource managers who failed in their responsibilities to these icons of the Pacific Northwest, Chinook and orca,” said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research.

“The draft plan relies heavily on actions that science and time have proven will not restore these fish to the levels necessary for self-sustaining populations of salmon, or abundant enough to provide a healthy food resource for these killers whales,” said Dr. David Bain, a killer whale biologist at Friday Harbor Labs. “Not only are salmon from the Columbia River an important historic food source, recovered abundant salmon in this river are an indispensable requirement for the future recovery of Southern Residents.”

“The new Federal salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers is no better than previous plans in providing access to the basin’s best remaining salmon habitat in the upper reaches of the Snake River,” said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network. “The resulting declining salmon runs have a very real impact on the 88 endangered southern resident orcas that depend on these fish, as they have for centuries. As the salmon disappear, the orcas go hungry.”

“The best science tells us,” Garrett added, “that to revitalize Snake River salmon, we’ll need to bypass the dams that block fish passage, and that dam removal, combined with a variety of economic investments, will bring benefits to upriver communities in eastern Washington as well as to Puget Sound.”

The Columbia and Snake River Basin was once the world’s most productive salmon watershed, with tens of millions of fish returning annually. Today, returns hover near 1% of those historic levels. More than 200 large dams on the basin’s rivers are the major cause of this crisis, with 13 populations now listed under the Endangered Species Act, and four directly impacted by the lower Snake River dams. Yet, the Columbia-Snake Basin still holds more acres of pristine salmon habitat than any watershed in the lower 48 states.

It is this opportunity, notes Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound, that we must take advantage of, if we hope to protect and restore these two iconic Northwest species whose fates are inexorably intertwined.

“Our leaders must look for solutions not only in Puget Sound, but also in the rivers that bring the salmon to the sea throughout the Northwest,” Fletcher said. “The great salmon rivers like the Columbia and Snake can once again produce the healthy runs of Chinook, on which our majestic orcas feed, but only if we recover salmon habitat. We must act quickly to restore clean water, abundant, sustainable salmon populations, and a safe home for orcas. The scientists tell us there is no time to waste.”

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Filed under conservation, dams, environment, fish, fishing, habitat, marine, marine conservation, ocean, pacific, whales

Mussels face extinction as oceans turn acidic

The Telegraph – Richard Gray

Prized as a luxury treat in the best restaurants and a staple food in the human diet for thousands of years, oysters and mussels are now being threatened by rising levels of carbon dioxide.

By the end of the century many popular seafood dishes will disappear from our tables as shellfish become increasingly scarce, scientists warn.

They have found that the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing the oceans to grow more acidic as increasing amounts of the gas dissolve in sea water.

This change is reducing the ability of shellfish to make their protective shells. By 2100 some waters are expected to be corrosive enough to cause the shells to dissolve completely, making it impossible for them to survive.

Marine biologists warn that this could have a devastating effect on the ocean environment, as other creatures that eat shellfish will find food increasingly scarce while corals, which make reefs, will also be unable to build their hard external skeletons.

Dr Carol Turley, from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, will tell a conference of doctors at the Royal Society of Medicine that climate change is likely to have a profound effect on human ability to use the oceans as a source of food.

Speaking ahead of the conference later this month, she said the fishing industry would struggle to find supplies of scallops, mussels and oysters for restaurant tables due to ocean acidification.

She said: “The oceans take up carbon dioxide as we produce more and more into the atmosphere. They have already taken up half of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.

“The problem this causes has only really emerged very recently.

“Many shellfish use calcium carbonate to make their shells, but the more carbon dioxide in the ocean, the less carbonate is available to those organisms that use it.

“A lot of shellfish are an important food source for fish as well as humans. The impacts of shellfish disappearing could be massive.”

Shellfish produce their shells by absorbing calcium carbonate from the water and depositing it around their bodies. Carbon dioxide, however, produces an acid when it is dissolved in water that reduces the availability of calcium carbonate, causing shellfish to grow far more slowly.

Dr Turley explained that in colder seas around the poles, the reaction is more profound and the water may even act to dissolve the shells of shellfish.

Scientists had originally hoped that by dissolving excess carbon dioxide in the oceans it might be possible to reduce the effects of climate change on the planet, but oceanographers now fear the move could be devastating.

Mussels, clams, scallops and oysters are expected to be the worst-hit as the oceans grow more acidic. However prawns, crabs and lobsters will escape unharmed as they produce their shells in a different way.

Coral reefs will also be hit as the coral polyps use calcium carbonate to create the hard skeletons that provide shelter and some of the most diverse habitats in the oceans.

Climate change scientists warn that ocean acidification will add to the other impacts of global warming. Many species can only survive in tight bands of water temperature so as the seas heat up, fish will be forced to find cooler waters.

Ocean acidification is also expected to affect the ability of fish to fertilise eggs.

Around 150,000 tons of shellfish are caught by UK fishing vessels every year and it now accounts for around 40 per cent of the fishing industry’s catch as cod and haddock stocks have declined.

Dr Ian Totterdell, an ocean modeller at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Research, said: “Carbon dioxide naturally dissolves in the oceans, but we have been tipping the balance by releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“For a long time this was seen as a good thing as it was helping to protect us from the full effects of greenhouse gases on the climate, but it now seems shellfish are suffering as a side effect.”

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Right Whales Remain Rare and Elusive

Associated Press – Mary Pemberton

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Scientists searching for what is likely the world’s most endangered whale came up empty-handed this summer during a one-month tour of an area in the Bering Sea where Pacific right whales like to feed.

From July 31 to Aug. 28, an international team of scientists surveyed an area almost the size of New York in search of Pacific right whales, which have been teetering on extinction for decades.

“We did not see a single whale the entire time,” said Phil Clapham, team leader and chief scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “The bottom line, they were not in the places they had traditionally been in the last six or seven years.”

This summer’s survey where scientists used high-powered binoculars and underwater listening devices is part of a larger four-year project to assess the seasonal distribution of the whales, their numbers and where they travel in the Bering Sea.

The Minerals Management Service is paying for the surveys at an annual cost of about $1 million. The research is required under the federal Endangered Species Act because the area where the whales like to spend summers overlaps an area the federal government this year approved for oil and gas development. Lease sales could begin by 2011.

The whales weren’t found this summer because it is a “cold pool year” in the Bering Sea, Clapham said. That means the water is colder than normal. The colder water likely affected the distribution of plankton, which is what the large whales feed on, he said.

Many scientists considered right whales a lost cause until a few years ago when 23 were spotted, including two with calves, in an area of the Bering Sea where they like to feed.

However, numbers remain exceedingly small, making it difficult to find them, Clapham said.

“It is very much like a needle in a haystack given there are so few animals,” he said.

Right whales have been listed as endangered since the early 1970s.

Scientists spent two weeks aboard a NOAA research vessel that departed from Dutch Harbor in late July. Scientists from Russia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and South America joined the NOAA scientists.

For the last two weeks of the survey, the team took up the search in a 155-foot crab boat.

“We had a lot of humpbacks,” said Clapham, who for 20 years has hoped to see a right whale. “We saw a lot of fur seals. You kind of get sick of fur seals.”

The Bering Sea is changing as rapidly as any ocean on the planet because of global warming, said Brendan Cummings, ocean programs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which successfully sued the federal government to get critical habitat designated for the whales. Those changes have affected where animals go, he said.

While it will take a longer, wider look to find out what is happening with right whales, some things are apparent now, he said.

“We know … for the past decade that the southeastern Bering Sea is the most important spot on the planet for North Pacific right whales. We need to not open it up for oil drilling,” he said.

The whales, which can grow to more than 60 feet long and weigh 100 tons, have been protected since 1935.

Clapham said this is the first time that there has been dedicated funding to survey the whales, which he described as “arguably the most endangered population in the world.”

He said scientists will go out again next year.

“It is very important for a lot of reasons to keep up with them,” he said.

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Habitat Protection Sought for World’s Largest Turtle, Endangered Leatherback, Off California and Oregon Coast


SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, Sep. 29 -/E-Wire/– A coalition of environmental organizations formally petitioned the federal government on September 26th to designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for the Pacific leatherback sea turtle, a species whose frequent and deadly encounters with longline and gillnet fishing gear meant to catch swordfish have put it on a steep slide toward extinction.

The last members of an ancient lineage that has outlived the dinosaurs, leatherbacks are ocean giants that grow to the size of a small car, dive half a mile deep, and migrate across the entire Pacific Ocean basin from their nesting grounds in New Guinea and Indonesia to feed in the rich waters off California and Oregon. Leatherbacks swim more than 6,000 miles within a single year – the largest geographic range of any living marine reptile and one of the longest known migrations for any species in the world.
Leatherbacks in the Pacific Ocean have declined by more than 90 percent over the past three decades, primarily as a result of drowning in industrial longline and gillnet fisheries aiming to catch swordfish, sharks, and tunas. Marine debris and loss of nesting beaches due to sea-level rise also threaten the species, predicted to go extinct within the next few decades.
“Leatherback sea turtles survived the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, but they are unlikely to survive our appetite for swordfish,” said Brendan Cummings, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If leatherbacks are to survive the coming decades, we must turn the waters off California and Oregon into a true sanctuary for these imperiled creatures. Designating critical habitat is a vital step toward that end.”
The petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, and Turtle Island Restoration Network asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate as critical habitat an area of ocean spanning Big Sur, California to central Oregon. The proposed area, comprising roughly 200,000 square miles, is a food-rich upwelling region favored by many marine species, including the leatherback.
Areas designated as critical habitat must be managed for species recovery recent studies have shown that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to have improving population trends as species without it.
“Sea turtles have been able to survive for millions of years with only their shells for protection. To survive the challenges of today, however, they will need more than that – they need help from all of us,” said Ben Enticknap of Oceana. “We know when and where leatherbacks are along our coastlines, and we know what the threats are to them while they are here. Designating this important area as critical habitat will ensure that no activities occur along our shores that would push these ancient and extraordinary animals further toward extinction.”
The proposed critical habitat area is currently designated as the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area by the National Marine Fisheries Service. It is closed to drift-gillnet fishing for swordfish during a three-month period during the summer and fall when leatherbacks gather here to feed on jellyfish. But the Fisheries Service has recently proposed to re-open the area to drift-gillnet and pelagic longline fishing.
“If we don’t want one of the ocean’s most inspiring species to go extinct on our watch, permanent habitat protection for the giant leatherback must be put into place. Right now, we’re continually having to fight another proposal to allow destructive fishing technologies inside the already designated Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.
The Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to respond to the petition within 90 days. Contact Info:
Brendan Cummings
Center for Biological Diversity
Tel : 760-366-2232 x 304
Ben Enticknap
Tel : 503-235-0278
Karen Steele
Turtle Island Restoration Network
Tel : 415-686-0869 Website : the Center for Biological Diversity
/SOURCE: the Center for Biological Diversity
-0- 09-29-2007
/CONTACT: Brendan Cummings Center for Biological Diversity Tel : 760-366-2232 x 304 Ben Enticknap Oceana Tel : 503-235-0278 Karen Steele Turtle Island Restoration Network Tel : 415-686-0869

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Call for urgent action after fishing vessel catches 12 critically endangered Chatham albatrosses

Wildlife Extra

September 2007. The killing of 34 albatrosses by a fishing boat east of New Zealand demonstrates the need for urgent action to stop albatross by-catch in fisheries. A long-line vessel caught 12 critically endangered Chatham albatrosses as well as 22 Salvin’s albatrosses.

Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says the high level of seabird by-catch by this vessel was totally unacceptable. ‘Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton has said in response to this incident that he is considering regulating to ensure all fishing vessels adopt best practice to avoid seabird by-catch, and that he is instructing his officials to identify what constitutes best practice’.

‘While Forest & Bird supports the minister’s actions, we already know what best practice is. We already know that mitigation measures – including weighting fishing lines, setting lines only at night, not discharging fish waste, and using bird-scaring lines – reduce seabird by-catch deaths by up to 90%. We call on the minister to act urgently to implement mandatory mitigation measures to prevent further disasters. Many other countries already require mandatory by-catch mitigation measures. Although many vessels complied with a voluntarily code of practice, the exceptions could result in slaughter of seabirds that put critically endangered species further at risk of extinction, Kevin Hackwell says.

‘The minister refers to this as an ‘accident’ but without mandatory requirements to use mitigation measures, this was an accident waiting to happen. The minister must act urgently to ensure no further ‘accidents’ occur.’


Chatham Island albatross facts

  • The Chatham Island albatross (Thalassarche eremite, aka Chatham Island mollymawk) nests only on a single rocky island, The Pyramid, off the Chatham Islands, where just 5000 pairs are breeding. It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN (World Conservation Union).
  • Chatham Island albatrosses are threatened by fishing by-catch and habitat degradation.
  • The recent by-catch deaths are likely to contribute to population decline of Chatham Island albatross in the next few years – its critical status means it is highly vulnerable to the risk of irreversible population decline and extinction.


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U.S. Report Shows Decline in Loggerhead Sea Turtles

New York Times (AP)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (AP) — After encouraging gains in the 1990s, a federal report now shows populations of loggerhead sea turtles dropping, possibly as a result of commercial fishing.

The report, a five-year status update required under the Endangered Species Act, did not change the turtles’ status to endangered from threatened, but scientists and environmentalists said it was a cause for concern.

“As a biologist you’re always trying to find that point at which we really have to start doing something drastic if we want to maintain loggerhead populations on our beaches,” said Mark Dodd, a state biologist in Georgia, where the loggerhead nesting count in 2006 was the third lowest since daily monitoring began in 1989.

The Southeast, particularly Florida, is one of the two largest loggerhead nesting areas in the world — with eggs laid and hatched along beaches from Texas to North Carolina. Oman is the other major nesting area.

The report showed nestings in the United States dropping about 7 percent a year on the Gulf of Mexico. In southern Florida, nestings were down about 4 percent a year, and populations in the Carolinas and Georgia have dropped about 2 percent a year.

The decline among the loggerheads was a turnaround from the 1990s. In South Florida, nesting studies had shown gains of about 4 percent per year from 1989 to 1998.

Researchers were puzzled by the change, but some said it might be a result of expanded commercial fishing operations. The federal report called fisheries the “most significant man-made factor affecting the conservation and recovery of the loggerhead.”

The loggerhead, believed to be one of the world’s oldest species, can grow to more than 300 pounds and lives most of its life in the sea, migrating vast distances.

Females leave the water only to dig nests on the beach, lay their small white, leathery eggs, and cover them with sand. Then they return to the sea. In nesting season, they can lay hundreds of eggs.

The eggs hatch after about two months, and the young turtles crawl to the ocean.

Environmental groups and government agencies have worked to raise awareness of the nests, opposing the construction of sea walls and other beachfront obstructions and urging property owners during nesting season to reduce or eliminate beachfront lights, which can disorient the hatchlings.

The report was compiled from various sources by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which jointly have jurisdiction over protecting the turtles. The agencies also issued updates on five other sea turtles from around the world, with mixed results.

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