Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood

It’s not the size of the vessel that count, but how it is managed

If you are a fan of developing sustainable fishing, then super-trawlers are probably not something you smile about.  Take a look at the image below from the Greenpeace campaign against the Abel Tasman (FV Margiris) – the world’s second largest fishing vessel.  Weighing in at a some 9 ,500 GT, this trawler-come-factory ship invoked the anger of NGO’s and Australians (whose waters she was due to fish in) who saw the vessel as a huge threat to marine biodiversity.  A huge campaign ensued.  The battle lines drawn.  No super trawlers.  Not here.  Not anywhere.  Just last year, the Abel Tasman was banned from fishing in Australian waters for two years.  Victory for the NGOs.

But was it the right thing to do?

Fisheries scientists Dr Sean Tracey and colleagues from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, and the University of Tasmania, Australia challenge the idea that the trawler was inherently a ‘bad thing’.  They argue that the campaigns was biased, presenting an argument based on only the worst examples of trawlers over-exploiting fish and damaging the ecosystem.  What the campaigns and the public  forgot was the importance of scientifically backed active management.

It’s a good point.  So, can super-trawlers be managed to fish efficiently without destroying the marine ecosystem?

The article – published in Fisheries which is produced by the American Fisheries Society – is likely to inflame many readers, but it is certainly worth following it through to the end.  It is open access… here’s the link (page 345 – or the 7th page of the PDF document).

Conservation & Sustainable Management

Assessing global marine biodiversity status within a coupled socio-ecological perspective

 How sustainable is our use of the ocean ecosystems?  That’s one question the ongoing project the ‘Ocean Health Index’ is trying to answer.  It’s an ambitious project, seeing to figure out just how well we are conserving marine biodiversity and ecosytems, and if our use of the resources the oceans provide is sustainable.

In a recent paper by Dr Elizabeth Selig and colleagues, the Ocean Health Index has been broadened to take into account social and ecological pressures that reduce biodiversity – including looking at the social and governance factors that might improve the situation.

The first bit of news from this paper isn’t great.  Overall the future for marine biodiversity isn’t as great as we might hope, but some countries are doing better at looking after marine biodiversity and habitats than others.  Well…looking at other research, that’s not really a surprise.  What is interesting however is that countries that scored well for their species didn’t necessarily do well on looking after marine habitats.

On the good news side, some countries like Canada, Australia, and Russia seemed to have improved the condition of the marine habitat within their EEZ (economic exclusive zone) since the 1980s.

It seems that having a high ‘Human Development Index’ score – a composite statistic of life expectancy, educational attainment, and incomes – does not necessarily correlate between any biodiversity score.  Interestingly though, there was a relationship between the ‘Human Development Index’ score and social/ecological resilience, suggesting that many less developed countries don’t have the effective governance measures needed  to maintain biodiversity.  This is a huge problem because effective governance is regarded as an essential tool for effective conservation of biodiversity and sustainable resource use.

The paper is open access so if you fancy having a look though yourself at what they found, and how they calculated various bits and pieces (including a good helping of supplementary information) you can find it here

Image:  Oyster harvesters in Arradon, France.  Credit Martin Selway/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Climate Change, Acidification, & the Oceans, Conservation & Sustainable Management

Transitioning Away from Peak Oil

Oil. It’s getting more and more expensive. And because the modern world is so dependent on oil that makes almost everything we do more expensive. The fuel we put in our cars, the plastics that are used to make our kitchen appliances, our shampoos, our cosmetics and our medicines are just some of the many everyday items that rely on oil. The problem is that cheap oil is running out. Here enters the concept of ‘peak oil’. This doesn’t mean that oil itself is running out (though oil being a finite resource it will eventually run out if we continue to deplete it indefinitely). It means that we have depleted over half of all the oil in the world.

A 1956 world oil production distribution, showing historical data and future production, proposed by M. King Hubbert – it has a peak of 12.5 billion barrels per year in about the year 2000. Credit: Hankwant/Wikipedia (CC-BY-2.5)

Much of the remaining oil can be found in untapped oil reserves, but the cost of retrieving these ‘unconventional’ sources is not only financially costly, but also environmentally, and socially. Perhaps the most well-known of these ‘dirty oil’ sources is the Tar Sands in Canada, which is known for polluting the atmosphere and water supply, clear cutting boreal forests (which has recently been found to form part of the world’s largest natural ‘carbon reservoirs’ as well as being one of the last stands of natural forest ecosystems globally), and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. There are also concerns that the health of communities living around the Tar Sands operation is suffering, with unusually high levels of rare cancers and autoimmune diseases being reported. Of course we can’t forget that when something goes wrong, the impacts are often far worse than the problems that rise from the day-to-day running. The Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 is still having severe environmental and societal impacts in the USA, and most likely will do for years to come. Add on to that the growth of countries such as China and India, and the problem becomes even more exacerbated*. Simply put, more demand and less oil means higher prices.

Dependency on cheap oil is arguably among the most important issues that the ‘Transition Network’ is trying to tackle, and the ‘Jersey in Transition’ group is no exception. They aim to help communities and individuals become less reliant on fossil fuels as well as looking to bring about a change of ‘community consciousness’ that seeks to make the most of all that is local and renewable. This grass-roots approach compliments any top-down governmental approaches to overcoming our dependency on oil. At its heart, ‘Transition’ is about empowerment of individuals. The only way to make changes is to act, not only through activism but just as importantly to make changes in our every-day lives. As Margaret Mead said, “Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

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This article originally appeared in “The Jersey Life” Magazine (print only) as part of a mini-series on Jersey in Transition

* since writing this article, China is particular is looking to become a leader in renewable energy production, notably through the development of solar power.


Feature image: Oil well worshipers at Burning Man 2007. Credit Mik Scheper/Flickr