China closes Distant Water Fishing to protect squid
The Chinese Bureau of Fisheries, in the Ministry of Agriculture, recently announced plans to close two seasons of distant water squid fishing in specific parts of the southwest Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans. Their goal is to rebuild two vital squid populations in the spawning grounds of the Humboldt squid and the Argentine Shortfin squid. Unlike other popular commercial fish, such as tuna, most commercially-fished squid species have life spans of only one year and die after reproduction. Squid population sizes are also highly susceptible to external environmental conditions. Squid account for about one-third of China’s distant water fishing catch. Closing the season will to help the populations rebound off Ecuador, and Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, can have long-term economic benefits to China’s distant water fishing (DWF) industry, as well as China’s international standing as a more responsible DWF state.
The announcement stated that the effectiveness of the measures will be evaluated annually; success will depend on both proper implementation and enforcement. China’s DWF fleet has a history of rules violations in both proposed areas. Enforcement will be the key to success. China recently announced new DWF regulations that require all DWF vessels to have a vessel-monitoring system (VMS) installed, and there is a public blacklist which bans IUU vessels from entering Chinese ports. The closed squid season also emphasizes the importance of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), which help to implement effective measures. This is the first time China has voluntarily imposed a closed season, and the announcement been hailed as a critical step forward in DWF fleet accountability.
House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis releases much-anticipated report
The U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, established in 2019 to tackle the climate emergency, released its new report, “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America.” The report details a roadmap for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and lays out the bipartisan Committee’s policy recommendations. Some of the key policies put forth include reaching net-zero emissions across the U.S. economy by 2050 and achieving net-negative for the second half of the century; protecting 30% of U.S. land and oceans by 2030; creating clean, climate-resilient electricity, transportation, and building sectors; spurring innovation and investment in clean energy, decarbonization technology; electric and clean energy vehicles; and putting environmental justice at the heart of federal climate and environmental policy. Various environmental organizations and think tanks have commended the report’s commitment to climate resilience, sector-specific recommendations, and the central focus on social equity and justice.
The Committee report details ways in which climate resilience and economic sustainability can be achieved. If these policy recommendations are implemented, the United States can begin working towards a clean economy by 2050—the goal consistent with what climate scientists maintain is essential to combatting the worst potential effects of climate change.
Report details widespread illegal fishing by Iranian vessels in Somali waters
Global Fishing Watch and Trygg Mat Tracking issued a new Fisheries Intelligence Report which uncovered evidence showing a large fleet of Iranian fishing vessels fishing illegally in Somali waters for the past year. Somalia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources requested more information from the Iranian government and shared the report with the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). Somalia does not have the capacity to patrol, monitor, or enforce against illegal fishing in its coastal waters, which exacerbates food and economic insecurity to the people of Somalia. Furthermore, Somalia has been impacted in recent months by devastating locust swarms, droughts, flash floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Illegal fishing and related piracy has been well documented in the past in Somali waters. However, the widespread scale of the illicit fishing was not well known until vessels in the area began using automatic identification system (AIS) technology which continuously transmits a ship’s location. Global Fishing Watch and Trygg Mat Tracking analyzed AIS data and identified a high number of ships engaged in the illegal fishing (192 vessels), and further determined the vessels employed illegal drifting gillnets which have been banned internationally due to their high level of bycatch. The ships operated close to the Somali shore in a zone reserved for local, artisanal fishermen, robbing them of their natural resources. The report uncovered a smaller set of vessels from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka fishing in Somali waters, and Iranian boats were also found fishing illegally in Yemeni waters.
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The Gambia combats IUU in domestic waters
Surrounded by neighboring countries like Senegal, Mauritania, and Guinea-Bissau with large fishing fleets and numerous fishmeal processing plants, the Gambia has seen a rise in foreign industrial trawlers engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in its waters, including within the nine-mile zone reserved for local artisanal fishing. With the government unable to adequately monitor and enforce against illegal fishing in its waters, the Gambian government has engaged the NGO Sea Shepherd in an ongoing campaign to assist its Navy and fisheries law enforcement agents with patrols, training, and interdictions in Gambian waters. The results so far have been significant: in six months, the joint patrols have yielded 16 arrests of vessels suspected of IUU fishing, with most incidents involving trawling within the artisanal zone. The operation’s deterrent effect was clear, as Sea Shepherd witnessed foreign vessels avoiding fishing within Gambian waters and, most importantly, within the artisanal zone. The patrols involved periods of patrol followed by periods of monitoring activity, and the results showed that the deterrent effect worked for some time after patrols ended.
In a China Dialogue article on the subject, Sally Yozell, Director of Stimson’s Environmental Security program noted that food security is a major concern in the Gambia and across West Africa. She points out that tensions have risen in the region between the artisanal fishermen and governments that allow or fail to deter foreign vessels from operating within waters designated for local fishing that provide vital protein for local communities. Foreign trawlers who do not abide by the rules not only deplete fish stocks and hurt the chances for stock recovery, but they deprive governments of much-needed revenue. With Sea Shepherd’s assistance, Gambia was able to collect roughly USD $194,000 in fines, recouping some lost revenue, and wisely reinvested 30% towards strengthening fisheries management and enforcement operations. In addition to the Gambia, since 2016, Sea Shepherd has supported several West African coastal States to combat IUU fishing through joint at-sea patrols with law enforcement agencies. At least 52 vessels have been arrested for illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes.
COVID-19 causes NOAA to extend fisheries observer waiver
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA Fisheries has extended its temporary waiver for observer coverage on fishing vessels within the Greater Atlantic Region through July 31. The planned redeployment date is now August 1. Public health concerns regarding the safety of fishermen, observers, vessel operators, and others led NOAA to deem this decision necessary for not only the safety of those onboard the vessels, but for the sake of the seafood industry as well.
Observers-at-sea, according to NOAA, “are an essential component of commercial fishing operations and provide critical information that is necessary to keep fisheries open and to provide sustainable seafood to our nation during this time.” As the pandemic persists, so too will the inability to properly provide first-hand monitoring of fishing vessels, which is an important check to ensure sustainable fishing. NOAA has acknowledged the evolving nature of the coronavirus and has maintained that if case levels do not improve, there may be a further delay in re-deploying observers and at-sea monitors. Representative Jared Huffman, the House Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife recently called on NOAA to address the COVID 19 impacts on fisheries management. Globally several NGOs have expressed concern that with the suspension of fisheries observers and fewer at sea patrols, it has opened the door for increased IUU fishing activity.
Environmental groups sue the Trump Administration over Marine Monument Proclamation
Major environmental organizations have sued the Trump Administration over the recent White House Proclamation that rolled back protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and opened the area to commercial fishing. The groups challenged the proclamation, by filing litigation in federal court, stating that the proclamation violated the Antiquities Act and should not be enforced. The only marine monument in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument was created in 2016 to be a permanent safeguard to protect the surrounding ecosystem and vulnerable species. Lifting the prohibition on commercial fishing would open the monument and its rich marine ecosystem up to commercial fishing and other exploitative practices that would value short-term gain over long-term sustainable management.
Bubonic plague cases found in China’s Inner Mongolia
In early July, a herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague. This comes after four suspected cases of bubonic plague in November 2019 in the same region of China, which borders Mongolia. The bubonic plague caused the “Black Death”, which killed an estimated 50 million people during the Middle Ages. It is believed that the herdsman and the previous four cases all contracted bubonic plaque after eating raw marmot, a large ground squirrel found at high altitudes. The infected herdsman is being isolated and treated, and is reportedly in stable condition. A 15-year old boy also contracted the disease and died in Mongolia on July 12.
The Inner Mongolia region of China has forbidden the hunting, skinning, transportation, and eating of all large rodents that may carry the plague bacteria, and has instructed the public to report any sick or dead marmots they find. In Russia, authorities have warned residents near the Russia/Mongolia border to avoid hunting or eating marmots. In the United States, where a few dozen cases of the plague are reported each year, a squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague earlier this month in Colorado. The odds of a new plague epidemic are extremely slim given the availability of modern antibiotics, but the precautions being taken are a stark reminder of the public health challenges facing China and other rural areas where residents rely upon wild-captured animals and often eat raw meat for sustenance. Whether bush meat, pangolins, bats, or rodents, disease transmission from animals to humans is a concern as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reverberate around the globe.
EU anti-smuggling operation recovers 2 tons of glass eels
Europol’s fourth phase of “Operation Lake,” an ongoing operation that targets wildlife smugglers and traffickers of endangered species throughout the European Union, led to the arrest of 108 suspected smugglers of European eels at the juvenile elver, or glass eel, stage. The seizure was worth about $5.5 million of smuggled elvers. Glass eels are a regular species found in the illegal wildlife trade. Due to their high value, traffickers smuggle live eels to East Asia, where they are grown to maturity and sold consumed as a delicacy in retail. This phase of Operation Lake ran from October 2019 to April 2020, and despite novel challenges due to COVID-19, the operation was successful in rescuing two tons of glass eels and returning them to their natural habitat. A strong seafood traceability program would undermine endangered and illegal species like the European eel from entering the Asian markets.