On June 10, the second day of the virtual EarthxOcean conference, Lelei LeLaulu moderated a Sustainable Fisheries panel that probed the consequences of those withdrawals, and offered a sampling of reasoned responses.
The chairman of the Earth Council Alliance, and an expert in global fisheries, LeLaulu described the broad outlines of current conditions. “Because of non-sustainable practices and downright voracious, vicious illegal fishing,” he said, “we’ve arrived at the point where many species of fish are nearer extinction.”
Since 1949, when the Convention for the Establishment of an Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission was ratified, overfishing has been formally recognized as a risk urgent enough to merit regulation and enforcement. Neither has been especially effective. Of the nearly 100 million metric tons of fish caught in the ocean in 2017, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 34 percent were caught with biologically unsustainable practices. In 1974, that metric was 10 percent.
Three panel members – Steven Lutz, John Amos, and Taylor Voorhees – discussed their work to reverse the trend:
- Blue Carbon Initiative, a collaboration between Conservation International and IUCN, focuses on protecting mangrove forests, marshes and seagrass meadows that are the breeding, feeding, and sheltering grounds for producing many of the world’s fish, and for protecting human habitats from storms, tides, and tsunamis. Lutz, the Initiative’s director, explained that mangroves, in particular, are excellent for absorbing and sequestering atmospheric carbon. In one project, Blue Carbon helped fishermen and government agencies in Ecuador develop conservation easements to safeguard mangroves that are habitat for the red crab, a national delicacy so popular that the national government bans its export. The agreement gives producers access to mangrove forests that produce a consistent crab harvest. In return the government gains eyes and ears to protect the forest and the crabs from exploitation.
“Locals get exclusive access to a lucrative product,” said Lutz. “What the world gets is more carbon stored in the mangroves.”
- Global Fishing Watch, a non-profit environmental surveillance group, is led by
John Amos, president of Skytruth. The project identifies fishing vessels that violate over-fishing laws, and reports lawbreakers to authorities. Started in 2014 and based in West Virginia, the project deploys state of the art satellite tracking, big data analysis, and artificial intelligence to detect when and where illegal activity is happening in every ocean around the world, in nearly real time. The group applies the same technology to find and report another significant threat to fisheries – oil tanker companies illegally dumping petroleum-saturated bilge waste into the sea. Though outlawed by national statutes and international treaty, the practice is common and often results in patches of congealed oil washing up on the world’s beaches.
“It’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind activity,” said Amos. “Satellite technology makes it possible to illuminate illegal activity throughout the ocean.”
- The third panelist, Voorhees, is a scientist and aquaculture specialist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. He noted that with global production closing in on 160 million metric tons annually, from under 20 million tons in 1990, aquaculture is the “fastest growing food production sector in world.” He acknowledged that when large-scale aquaculture emerged in the 1980s, it produced an ecological mess. Damage to mangrove forests, which were uprooted to make space for shrimp farms, was particularly intense. Those practices are being replaced by ecologically and economically sustainable methods of shrimp farming. He organizes partnerships and helps teach farmers in Southeast Asia’s Mekong Delta, a region of 20,000 shrimp farms, mostly small. His work on environmentally safer production practices also yields more profit for producers.
“Sustainable aquaculture is not about the shrimp,” said Voorhees. “It’s about the shrimp farmer. Sustainability is not just about the environment. It’s about maximizing the positive contributions that aquaculture, and seafood more broadly, has on economies, food security, and human nutrition.”
Written by: Keith Schneider