Best of our wild blogs: 9 Jun 13

World Oceans Day: Protect the Ocean (Part 1)
from the Lazy Lizard's Tales and Part 2

TeamSeagrass Training Level 1, Day 1 (8 Jun 2013)
from teamseagrass

Tree Falls
from Urban Forest

Life History of the Grass Demon
from Butterflies of Singapore

Stork-billed Kingfisher – Stealing or Feeding?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Little Bronze Cuckoo chick raised by Golden-bellied Gerygone from Bird Ecology Study Group

Dragonfly (46) – Idionyx ylanda
from Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

Read more!

Anglers calling for more fishing spots

PUB rules too restrictive, they say, even as others want the water agency to rein in illegal fishing
Lim Yi Han Straits Times 9 Jun 13;

Some anglers are calling for more areas, especially at reservoirs, to be opened up for fishing, even as others urge the authorities to come down harder on those who fish illegally.

Biomedical technician Mohamed Ismail, 31, who has been fishing once a month for the past three years, said: "It'll be better if they can open up more places for us. It gets super crowded because of limited areas."

National water agency PUB has strict rules on fishing at reservoirs, and the drains and canals under its authority.

Fishing is restricted to designated areas at 10 - including Bedok Reservoir and Jurong Lake - out of the 17 reservoirs.

These spots are safe for anglers because they have no steep slopes. Fishing activities there also do not pose a risk to the public, including those taking part in water activities such as kayaking.

Fishing with live bait is not allowed because of pollution. Nets are also banned for safety reasons.

The PUB advises anglers to release the fish they catch to ensure that the fish population in reservoirs is not depleted. As for drains and canals, fishing is not allowed for safety reasons.

Polytechnic student Tan Zhi Cheng believes the PUB, which regularly sends officers to enforce the rules, should not be too strict about ensuring people fish within the allowed areas at reservoirs.

"Sometimes, the illegal spots are just a few metres away from the designated areas so it doesn't really make a difference in terms of safety or affecting other activities," said the 25-year-old, who has been fishing every weekend for the last two years.

"Rather, there should be more enforcement on people using live bait because that contaminates the reservoir, or those who don't release the fish they catch."

Those who continue to fish at canals, however, do not see any harm.

A 20-year-old student, who gave his name as Alistair, said: "I almost got fined before, but I'll still do it because there are more fish here. This is a hobby, we're not destroying the ecosystem, because we put the fishes back."

He has been fishing about twice a week since 2011.

About 250 people were caught fishing illegally each year between 2010 and last year. First-time offenders are fined $50.

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said that creating more fishing areas has to be done in a "controlled" way.

"There needs to be more education and awareness on how to be mindful of nature and the safety of people around them," he said.

"You don't want to be too harsh... but at the same time, you can't open up indiscriminately."

Meanwhile, environmental consultant Mallika Naguran feels that the focus of enforcement should be on the mode of fishing, including the use of drift nets, because it traps other wildlife.

"Fishing is a recreational activity that draws the community together," she said. "As long as they are not a nuisance to others and don't pollute the environment, I think people should be allowed to fish wherever they like."

Not everyone agrees.

Mr Lee Swee Mun, 38, a marketing executive, recently wrote in to The Straits Times Forum Page to complain about what he thought was a lack of enforcement on illegal fishing.

"Every day, one spots people fishing in our reservoirs and canals despite the presence of 'no fishing' signs. Besides using fishing rods, these poachers use long drift nets and fish traps," he wrote.

"It is frustrating when you see people polluting our reserves and indiscriminately fishing," he told The Sunday Times last month.

The PUB said its officers carry out daily surveillance at the reservoirs to look out for illegal fishing.

Its spokesman added that the public can call the PUB hotline on 1800-284-6600 if they spot illegal fishing activities.

Read more!

Malaysia: Cyanide fishing killing corals

Rahimy Rahim The Star 9 Jun 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Some fishermen are still using cyanide in parts of Malaysia's coral “Golden Triangle”, which has been recognised as having richer marine biodiversity than the Great Barrier Reef.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry said it was concerned that if these fishermen continued to resort to such dangerous methods, it could cause long-term damage to its fragile ecosystem.

“We are particularly concerned over some areas near Sabah, where the Golden Triangle is situated, as some of the fishermen are still doing cyanide fishing.

“It should be seen as a direct threat to the fragile ecosystem in the Golden Triangle, which hosts more than 5,000 species of fish as well as over 500 coral species,” said national oceanography directorate undersecretary Prof Datuk Dr Nor Aieni Mokhtar at the World Oceans Day and Coral Triangle Day celebration at Aquaria KLCC, here yesterday.

The Coral Triangle is the nursery of seas sometimes referred to as the Amazon of the Seas providing grounds and migratory routes for commercially-valuable open ocean species, and hosting about 76% of the world's coral species as well as 37% of its reef fish species.

It is a vast ocean expanse that geographically spreads across six countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific, including Malaysia, Indo-nesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Timor Leste.

The Government, said Dr Nor Aieni, remained committed to becoming a “watchdog” of the coral reef ecosystem and was formulating a more systematic approach to monitor the situation.

“Most importantly, we prefer to protect our reefs in a natural manner by working with other governmental agencies such as Sirim to put artificial reefs in the surrounding area.

“On an average, the coral reefs grow about 1mm per year and it is vital to create the optimum spawning ground to ensure that the current ecosystem will not be disrupted,” she said.

For the first time, Malaysia, she said, would be organising the Golden Coral Triangle Initiative Conference from tomorrow to deliberate on the measures taken to conserve the area in a sustainable manner.

“We will identify the necessary areas and other initiatives that could be considered by the authorities, including gazetting parts of the areas,” she said.

Practices such as cyanide fishing can cause long-term damage to ecosystem
Koi Kye Lee New Straits Times 10 Jun 13;

PUTRAJAYA: EDUCATION and awareness campaigns help to inform Malaysians on the importance of conserving the nation’s marine biodiversity and ecosystem.

For instance, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry highlighted the case of some fishermen practising cyanide fishing in parts of Malaysia's coral "golden triangle", which has been recognised as having richer marine bio diversity than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The ministry's national oceanography directorate un dersecretary Prof Datuk Dr Nor Aieni Mokhtar said the gov ernment was concerned over such practices.

If the fishermen continue to resort to such dangerous methods, it could cause long-term damage to the area's fragile ecosystem, he added.

"There are some areas near Sabah where cyanide fishing is still being practised and this is a direct threat to the ecosystem and marine biodiversity.

"Thus, it is important for us to come up with a mechanism that can create programmes on how to counter such prob lems," she said after attending the opening of the Conference on Achievements of the Coral Triangle Initiatives on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) yesterday.

The meeting, which ends today, was opened by Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry secretary-general Datuk Dr Rosli Mohamed and was held in conjunction with the World Oceans Day and Coral Triangle Day.

Dr Nor Aieni said the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) was a potential programme that could be used to educate the people living in the coastal areas of Sabah on the dangers of cyanide fishing.

"The initiative could also see measures that can be adopted or formulated to sustain the coral reefs in our country and to conduct research and studies that can be documented on sustaining the marine ecosystem," she said.

The Coral Triangle is the nursery of seas sometimes referred to as the Amazon of the Seas.

It provides grounds and migratory routes for commer cially-valuable open ocean species and hosts about 76 per cent of the world's coral species as well as 37 per cent of its reef fish species.

It is a vast ocean expanse that geographically spreads across six countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.

Dr Nor Aieni said the proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) was targeted to be gazetted by 2015.

Once established, it will be one of the largest marine protected areas in Southeast Asia and the largest in Malaysia as it will span more than one million hectares.

The intention to gazette TMP was approved by the Cabinet in 2003. The park area will cover the coastal areas of Kudat, Kota Marudu, and Pitas district with more than 50 islands within its boundary.

Read more!

Indonesian President Eyes New Anti-Logging Policies Before End of Term

Novi Lumanauw Jakarta Globe 7 Jun 13;

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has reaffirmed his commitment to fight the country’s ubiquitous illegal logging, and said he will present more environmental policies before his presidency ends next year.

“I am fully committed to protect our forest and and fight against illegal logging, I have to admit there’s still a problem and challenges that need an answer, but they will be answered when public awareness and understanding improve,” Yudhoyono said during his visit to Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior ship in Tanjung Priok Port, North Jakarta on Friday.

Yudhoyono said he would issue more policies geared toward environmental protection before his presidential term ended in October next year. He also said the government was committed to planting one billion trees annually.

The president emphasized that Indonesia faced the dual responsibilities of creating jobs and raising living standards for the archipelago’s poor, while fulfilling its responsibility as guardian to some of the world’s great rainforests.

“We can do both of them at the same time, our economy can grow significantly while the environment remains the same. It’s difficult,” he said, “but we will not give up.”

On May 13, Yudhoyono signed a two-year extension to a logging moratorium. The moratorium is part of a $1 billion bilateral deal with Norway to reduce the impact on the nation’s forests.

The moratorium has been welcomed in principle but several activist groups and observers have criticized the lack of enforcement.

Read more!

Philippines: Lowly ‘labahita’ may yet help heal Tubbataha atolls

DJ Yap Philippine Daily Inquirer 9 Jun 13;

MANILA, Philippines—They aren’t the most beautiful fish in the sea, but the labahita may just be what the Tubbataha Reefs need to regenerate after being bruised by the intrusions of two foreign vessels earlier this year.

With the presence of labahita, also known as surgeonfish, two atolls in Tubbataha may heal in 30 to 40 years from the damage inflicted on them by the groundings of a US Navy minesweeper in January and a Chinese fishing boat in April, an expert said.

LIFESAVER The surgeonfish, a tropical bony fish known locally as “labahita,” may yet help heal the Tubbataha atolls from the damage inflicted by the groundings of a US Navy minesweeper in January and a Chinese fishing boat in April. GREGG YAN/WWF-PHILIPPINES

On the eve of Coral Triangle Day, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines paid tribute to the reef-dwelling surgeonfish for its potential pivotal role in the regeneration of the World Heritage Site located in a remote spot in the Sulu Sea.

“Perpetually browsing on algae, forever ignored because of their dull colors, these little lawn mowers are the secret to Tubbataha’s recovery,” WWF-Philippines communications manager Gregg Yan said of the fish so named for the sharp, scalpel-like spikes on their tail.

Coral scientist Al Licuanan proposed the regeneration of the damaged atolls after a recent diving expedition to Tubbataha by a team of researchers and environmentalists, according to WWF-Philippines.

“The key to it all might be surgeonfish,” Licuanan said.

The constant grazing of the fish on algae keeps the seaweeds from taking over the freshly exposed rock, allowing coral larvae to resettle on the scars left by the groundings of the two vessels, he said.

“With enough luck, the scars should heal in 30 to 40 years,” Licuanan said.

Licuanan led the team of researchers, park rangers and environmentalists from the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), the Department of Science and Technology, WWF-Philippines, the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, and De La Salle University to assess the damage caused by the groundings.

Chinese poachers

On April 8, a 48-meter-by-8-meter fishing vessel from China carrying 12 suspected poachers got stuck on an atoll in Tubbataha, destroying 3,902 square meters of coral, including a number of massive

500-year-old Porites corals sheared cleanly in half, WWF-Philippines said.

The vessel was confiscated and the poachers charged and fined.

The incident happened three months after the minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground on another atoll in Tubbataha on Jan. 17.

Salvors had to dismantle the vessel piece by piece to save the reef from further damage.

The last part of the warship, the stern, was removed from the reef on March 30.

By the time the ship was completely removed, some 2,345 sq m of coral had been destroyed, WWF-Philippines said.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is located in the center of the Sulu Sea. It protects nearly 100,000 hectares of high-quality marine habitats including three atolls and a large area of deep sea.

Tubbataha is home to whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse. It supports more than 350 species of coral and about 500 species of fish and for this, it has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

The marine park also protects one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region, according to Unesco.

Tourists welcome

Tourists are welcome in Tubbataha, and a 12-hour, live-aboard cruise can be booked in Puerto Princesa City. But strong waves confine recreational diving to the months of April, May and June, WWF Tubbataha project manager Marivel Dygico said.

“Tubbataha earned its moniker from visiting Samal tribesmen who called it ‘long reef,’ after the exposed coral formations revealed daily by the tide,” she said.

The rich biodiversity in the Tubbataha waters translates into unrivaled productivity, according to WWF-Philippines.

“Whereas a typical square kilometer of healthy coral reef yields up to 40 metric tons of seafood yearly, Tubbataha generates over 200,” the group said.

Fishing within the marine park is not allowed, leaving the fish and other marine life in its waters to enrich the farther reaches of the Sulu Sea with spawn.

Coral Triangle

WWF-Philippines’ Yan described Tubbataha as the “undisputed jewel of the Coral Triangle,” a marine area encompassing portions of the tropical waters of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

The Coral Triangle is home to 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs, 75 percent of coral species and almost 3,000 species of fish, according to TMO.

“Ocean currents carry larvae from the Coral Triangle to other parts of the world, supplying the globe with marine resources. It is the geographic center of global marine biodiversity and an international priority for conservation,” TMO said.

Coral Triangle Day, a global celebration of the epicenter of the world’s marine biodiversity, is marked on June 9 each year, in conjunction with World Oceans Day, observed the day before, TMO said.

Reef degradation

About 85 percent of the reefs in the Coral Triangle are in decline, with the Philippines leading in reef degradation, World Resources Institute said in a recent study called “Reefs at Risk.”

As of 2010, only 1 percent of Philippine reefs, including Tubbataha, are in excellent condition, and about 40 percent are in poor condition, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said.

Read more!

Study finds shipwrecks threaten precious seas

Matt McGrath BBC News 8 Jun 13;

A new report identifies the world's most dangerous waters for shipping and says accidents pose a particular danger for some of the most ecologically important areas.

The research says the worst accident hotspots are in the South China Sea, the Mediterranean and North Sea.

Losses are more likely in the future as the number of ships is expected to double, the authors warn.

The study has been carried out for WWF International.

The number of ships traversing the world's oceans has increased substantially over the past 15 years from around 85,000 vessels to 105,000.

While the overall number of accidents taken place has fallen, the WWF report states that many that do take place happen in areas of significant environmental interest.

Since 1999, there have been 239 shipping accidents in the South China Sea and East Indies, an area sometimes called the Coral Triangle, where three quarters of the world's coral is found.

"This is the top accident area because of its associated with tramp streamers, older vessels and unregulated flags of convenience," said Dr Simon Walmsley from WWF.

"The probability is the next accident will be in one of these places, and we've already seen... a Chinese fishing boat and a US navy vessel running aground on a world heritage site in the Philippines."

As well as the South China Sea, the other major accident hotspots identified include the East Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the North Sea and around the British Isles.

General cargo ships account for more than 40% of vessels lost at sea while fishing boats account for nearly a quarter. More than half of all accidents are caused by foundering where a boat sinks because of rough weather, leaks or by breaking in two.

The big concern for the authors though is that shipping is likely to double in the next 20-30 years and vessels will be going to riskier places. They point to new ports being built to transport coal from Australia that would bring more traffic towards the Great Barrier Reef.

"In some parts of the world we think the risk is too great for vessels," said Dr Walmsley.

"If there is a spill for instance in the Arctic, there is no method at all for cleaning oil under ice, it doesn't exist, the risk there is absolutely huge. The biggest cod stock in the world is in the Barents sea, if ever we had an oil spill there, it could wipe out livelihoods for decades."

The authors call for increased regulation, in particular to curb ships operating under flags of convenience, which they argue are a significant part of the problem. They also say that climate change models predict an increase in storm surges in the future could impact shipping.

This view on the impact of climate is challenged by Captain Rahul Khanna, who has guided oil tankers through the world's oceans for 15 years. He is now a risk consultant with Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty insurance.

"Ships are made to withstand these natural forces," he told BBC News.

"I personally have experience storms and hurricanes and negotiated them on a well founded ship. Generally, I don't think this will increase accidents as such."

What the industry is concerned about is people. Earlier this year, Allianz produced its annual report on shipping losses. Despite the impact of technology and training, the human element is still the biggest risk factor.

"Clearly in the economic challenges of today people are trying to sweat their assets," said Hugo Kidston, editor of the report.

"They are trying to get their crews to work hard, and in areas like the Baltic this can be a very intense operating environment, so the human element is the big challenge."

Read more!

Great Barrier Reef: World Heritage in Danger?

Shrinking coral and failing government may land the reef on a "list of shame."
Brian Handwerk National Geographic 8 Jun 13;

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is losing coral at an alarming rate—and may soon lose its prestigious status as one of the world's great natural treasures as well.

The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has warned that without the urgent implementation of sustainable management improvements, the reef could land on its list of World Heritage in Danger as early as 2014.

"World Heritage in Danger is essentially the list of shame, and we've got real concerns that UNESCO may put the Great Barrier Reef on this list," said WWF-Australia's Richard Leck. "That's not the outcome that anybody wants," Leck added, noting that national prestige and some $6 billion in annual reef-related tourism could both take a hit.

A government-funded Australian Institute of Marine Science report published last year in the journal PNAS echoed the shockingly bad news from earlier studies, concluding that the reef has lost half of its coral cover during the past 27 years—a period that roughly coincides with its listing as a World Heritage Site.

The reef, which stretches for some 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) off northeast Australia's Queensland coast, is the largest structure on Earth built by living organisms. It has been battered by storms and beset by an invasion of crown-of-thorns starfish that choke off the natural ecosystem. The reef faces global challenges like warming temperatures, as well as more localized problems including water-fouling runoff pollution, coastal port development, dredging, and increased shipping thanks to a booming local coal industry.

Concerned by the pace of reef deterioration, as well as government-approved port expansions and dredging operations that threaten to damage it, the World Heritage Centre and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) did a comprehensive report on the state of the reef's conservation last March. The group made a series of recommendations, and officially requested that Australia revamp plans to manage the reef.

"We asked for an independent scientific assessment of the Gladstone Harbour [the port project at the gateway to the southern part of the reef] and the impact that development is having on the reef, and asked to have no new port development in areas outside of existing and long-established major port areas," said Fanny Douvere of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre. "We also asked for a strategic assessment that will foresee longer-term sustainable development of the reef area. The reef is about the same size as Italy, so it's normal that the Queensland government wants to develop things in the area. But it has to be done in a sustainable manner, and there are quite a few projects already happening."

But thus far the response of Australian authorities (including in the State Party Report on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area) appears to have fallen far short, especially in terms of water quality improvements and coastal development. A progress report and draft decision recently released by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, ahead of the June 17 World Heritage Committee meeting in Cambodia, said "urgent and decisive action is needed" to address the reef's woes, including halts to threatening coastal development projects.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN "further recommend that the Committee consider the Great Barrier Reef for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 38th session in 2014 in the absence of a firm and demonstrable commitment on these priority issues by the State Party."

Environmentalists Give Government Failing Grades

WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society have already released their own scorecard grading the governments' plans, progress, and management of the Great Barrier Reef. Both the Australian and Queensland authorities earned failing grades.

"We've had a really good look at the [World Heritage Centre] recommendations and all the publicly available information we can find on what the government has done, and we found that it wasn't particularly good, so we've expressed a lot of concern that the government won't demonstrate substantial progress," said WWF-Australia's Richard Leck.

Leck said the government has failed to move forward in some key areas. "Reducing pollution from farms and not developing ports out of existing areas—none of those commitments are being made, and that has us concerned that UNESCO may have no choice."

Australian authorities, on the other hand, maintain that the reef is in good hands as "one of the best managed marine protected areas in the world," according to the Australian and Queensland governments' Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy on future development plans.

Queensland has also pledged $35 million annually for projects to improve reef water quality. And Tony Burke, Australia's Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities, has commissioned an independent review of the Port of Gladstone due by June 30 that the agency calls "a key component of the Australian Government's response to the 2012 decision of the World Heritage Committee regarding the ongoing protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Property."

"We have made substantial progress in addressing the recommendations made by the World Heritage Committee including agreement to conduct one of the most comprehensive strategic assessments ever undertaken in Australia," Burke said in February. "The strategic assessment will assist in future planning for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area by determining where sustainable development can occur, the type of development that will be allowed, and the conditions under which development may proceed."

Reef Suffering "Death by a Thousand Cuts"

The Great Barrier Reef, actually a group of more than 2,800 separate entities along Australia's eastern coast, is home to a staggering diversity of marine life, from mollusks and fish to sea turtles and aquatic plants.

But Terry Hughes, who heads the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies headquartered at James Cook University, describes it as currently "suffering death by a thousand cuts."

"We have affected their survival, growth, and reproduction, which is the real reason why coral cover has been declining for many decades," he said. "Coastal reefs have been obliterated by runoff of sediment, dredging, and pollution. Once-thriving corals have been replaced by mud and seaweed."

Queensland farmers use seven times more nitrogen-based fertilizers than they did 50 years ago, Hughes said, and have far more land under cultivation. Coal mining has doubled each decade during the same time frame. "The expansion of mining has been accompanied by major rail and port development, near-shore dredging, and unprecedented growth in shipping," he explained.

Hughes says the crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks that have decimated parts off the reef are merely a symptom of its problems, not the cause. Some scientists believe that dredging and nutrient runoff fuel phytoplankton blooms, which in turn feed starfish larvae so well that they explode in numbers. Others believe that systemic changes to the reef food chain mean that fewer young starfish are being eaten by predators.

"The well-documented decline in coral cover highlights UNESCO's concerns about the dwindling universal heritage values [a set of standards that qualifies a site for inclusion on the World Heritage List] of the Barrier Reef. The key question now is, what are we going to do about these losses?" Hughes said.

"To increase coral cover, we need to improve the conditions that help them reproduce, survive, and grow. The capacity for coral recovery is impaired on a reef that is muddy, polluted, or overfished. The ongoing decline of corals demonstrates that the Great Barrier Reef is very poorly positioned to recover from future bouts of coral bleaching or to cope with accelerating coast development and new coal mines."

Hughes hopes to see both Queensland and Commonwealth governments control pollution, curb dredging, and ban new coal ports while reducing the use of carbon-emitting coal.

"We need a bold plan for transforming how the Great Barrier Reef catchment is used," he added. "The Commonwealth's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has almost no capacity to influence two major drivers of change that are increasingly affecting the reef—activities on land and in Queensland coastal waters that degrade water quality within the GBR World Heritage Area, and global climate change."

Australia's recent Energy White Paper, under then-Minister of Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson, would instead grow both coal and gas exports, and produce more than double the number of 2001 ship dockings by 2020.

WWF-Australia's Richard Leck says that environmentalists understand the concerns of those who favor economic development, but that time is running short to act on behalf of the reef. "WWF doesn't want to see industries shut down in Queensland, or farming and fishing. But we really do believe this year is a crucial period of time for the Great Barrier Reef. With the UNESCO meeting in June and a national election here in September, it's a rare opportunity to focus people's minds on the future of the reef. With the level of decline in coral cover, we've already seen that there isn't that big of a window to make commitments to turn this around."

Read more!

Cod stocks recover after years of overfishing

Survey suggests effective management means levels are increasing – but stocks won't be sustainable for at least a year
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 8 Jun 13;

Cod could be in for a revival at the fish counter as stocks recover after being overfished for decades.

Eating cod has been regarded as close to a crime by environmentalists, and consumers have been urged to opt for alternatives such as gurnard.

But a survey by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and other fisheries organisations suggests that effective management means cod is increasing. The standards body, which certifies certain fisheries as sustainable as a guide for consumers, said that on current trends cod would soon qualify for its certification.

Richard Benyon, the fisheries minister, recently confessed to the Guardian that cod – in batter, with mushy peas – was his favourite fish.

But cod aficionados will have to wait a bit longer before tucking in with a clear conscience: stocks will not be sustainable for at least a year and possibly two or three, said Claire Pescod of the MSC: "Things are a lot better than they were, but we can't let up just yet."

Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said he would be waiting for a full certification by the MSC before putting cod back on the menu. "I'm more keen than anyone to see British cod back on the 'fish to eat' list, but I can't in good conscience promote eating fish from a stock that it is still below what scientists consider safe limits, while fishermen still have to throw much of it back dead into the sea," he said.

"If you know your cod is from a boat catching in a selective and low-impact way, or a trawler on the CCTV scheme for discard-free cod, then that's the best choice you can make for British cod."

Some green campaigners were cautious, saying a full recovery could still take many years. Paul de Zylva of Friends of the Earth said: "We would expect some recovery of cod stocks because of the closure of the North Sea cod fisheries. But this does not mean stocks have recovered to high enough levels.

"We're in this near extinction mess – and the North Sea cod fisheries were closed – precisely because industrial commercial fishing has stripped fish stock to the bone. The UK used to be self-sufficient in fish for all 12 months of the year. Now we're using our own fish stocks for just six months."

He said taking species off the danger list too soon would just repeat the cycle of overfishing. "It's pointless to declare that cod and other species are recovering if they are still far from being at safe levels where adult fish reproduce, their offspring survive and overall levels are sustained."

A handful of other species that have been overfished are also showing signs of improvement: Dover sole caught using trammel nets in the western channel, North Sea herring caught by drift net, and cockles from the Thames Estuary. But red gurnard may be less safe than thought – there is not enough data, according to the MSC, to say for certain how stocks are faring.

The brighter prospect for cod comes in Project Inshore, a survey of 450 of the UK's inshore fishing grounds carried out by the MSC and other fishing organisations, with government backing.

The organisation said: "Cod stocks in the North Sea – often perceived as a species to avoid – continue to show a strong recovery and are now close to a level where they could meet the MSC standard. The report shows that strong management measures have made a positive impact and that – once stocks have reached the required levels – all other areas of the fisheries are ready to enter an MSC full assessment."

On red gurnard, the MSC called for more data and more government investment in greater monitoring. "While a shortage of data doesn't mean that the fisheries are inherently unsustainable, that data will be increasingly important as the species gains in popularity and catches increase."

Read more!

Mexico approves measure to save world's rarest marine mammal

WWF 7 Jun 13;

The government of Mexico has taken a decisive step to save the vaquita - a porpoise threatened by extinction - and to promote sustainable fisheries in the upper Gulf of California for the benefit of fishers and their families, says WWF-Mexico.

The new regulation, called an official norm, comes after over 38,000 people from 127 countries signed WWF's petition to Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto requesting measures to save the vaquita and allow fishers to continue to earn a living through sustainable fishing.

A critically endangered vaquita caught in a gillnet.
© National Geographic Stock/Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures / WWF

“With this norm, drift gillnets - one of the nets used in artisanal shrimping operations in which vaquitas die incidentally - will be gradually substituted, during a three year period, for selective fishing gears that does not kill this porpoise, but that allow fishers to keep earning their livelihoods. The effective application of the norm requires the participation and commitment of local fishermen. The optimal use of the net requires the development of particular skills; therefore, the support of the government and other organizations through training and temporary compensation programs will be essential along the fisher´s learning curve,” said Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico’s Director General.

“It represents a major opportunity to promote sustainable fisheries in the region and to protect this Mexican porpoise. WWF acknowledges the commitment of the Mexican government to save the vaquita from extinction”, added Vidal.

Of all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the only one endemic to Mexico, has the most restricted distribution (it only lives in the upper Gulf of California), is the smallest (reaches a maximum length of 1.5 meters) and faces the highest risk of extinction.

It is estimated that less than 200 vaquitas currently survive. Its main threat is incidental entanglement and drowning in drift gillnets used to catch shrimp, sharks, rays and other fish. Vaquitas also continues to die trapped in gillnets used in the illegal fishing of totoaba, a fish which is also endangered.

The new regulation establishes shrimping standards in Mexico and defines the fishing gears permitted in different zones of the country.

Read more!