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A new study (here is the abstract) has found that the quantity of large fishes weighing 4-16kg in the North Sea has declined by 97% since the onset of fishing. For bigger fish (16-66kg) that percentage is 99%. Pretty shocking numbers I think you'll agree. Perhaps even more remarkably, the total amount of fish (expressed by weight), including all species, ages, and sizes, has dropped by nearly 40% since fishing started. That's more than a third of the fish in the North Sea.

No wonder it's so difficult to get fish and chips made with cod anymore - pop into a British 'chippy' and you'll likely get dogfish in batter. At least that's still a fish I guess (though it's a closer relative to sharks than bony fishes like cod, bass and herring). Perhaps soon we'll only get deep fried squid or shrimp, animals that were once scorned from the dinner table for being 'bait' food.

Oh, wait, that's already happened.

The following is a blurb from Science magazine's writeup (subscribers only) about the new study (cite at the bottom).

"There is abundant evidence that fish stocks are being exploited at unsustainable rates in many sectors of the world's oceans. In order to gauge the extent of human impacts, it is necessary to assess where stocks stood in prefishery times; however, accurate analyses are hampered because records did not begin until many years, and often centuries, after initial exploitation.

"Jennings and Blanchard [the authors] have devised a method for estimating what fish abundances would be in the absence of fishing, using macroecology theory that relates abundance, biomass, predator-prey mass ratio, and efficiency of energy transfer between trophic levels in an ecosystem. Applying it to the North Sea fishery, they estimate that the current biomass of fishes larger than 4 kg is only about 2.5% of its pretrawling level, and the total biomass of all fishes is nearly 40% lower than it would have been. These effects are larger than those predicted from existing time-series data, and this approach may provide a useful basis for comparing the impacts of fishing across different ecosystems and different fish communities."

Fish abundance with no fishing: predictions based on macroecological theory, Journal of Animal Ecology, Volume 73 Issue 4 Page 632 - July 2004

Good story on the Environment News Service (ENS, registration required) today -- "Thousands of Years Old, Cold-Water Corals Ripped by Trawlers":

Research with sophisticated underwater camera technology and deep-sea vehicles has begun to shed new light on cold-water corals, little known in comparison to the tropical corals found in warmer waters. At risk from trawlers and undersea cables, cold-water corals are attracting attention this week as representatives from governments, nongovernmental organizations and coral reef experts meet in Okinawa for the 10th International Coral Reef Symposium.

The latest research, published in a United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) report entitled "Cold-water coral reefs: out of sight - no longer out of mind," shows that these corals are found in almost all the world's oceans and some have already been destroyed or scarred.

For more coverage check out Jason and Santi's entries on this important report.

To check out UNEP's report: http://www.unep-wcmc.org/

And make sure to visit Oceana's site to check out what we are doing to protect the world's deep sea coral gardens!

California has the second largest cruise ship market in the United States, and the industry expects the number of calls (nearly 800 in 2003) to increase by 25% during the next decade. Currently lax state and federal anti-pollution laws allow cruise ships to dump inadequately treated sewage in state waters, untreated sewage 3 miles from shore, and wastewater from kitchens, sinks, baths and laundries (called "graywater") can be dumped anywhere without treatment.

Two bills are under consideration in California to combat this preventable pollution. Assembly Bill 2093 (Nakano) would prevent cruise ships from dumping graywater along the California coast. Just last week, this bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and now awaits a vote before the Senate Appropriations Committee. It has already passed the Assembly and is unopposed by the cruise industry.

AB 2672 (Simitian) would prohibit the discharge of sewage into state waters. The bill has passed the Assembly, and the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. It now awaits a vote before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August. Passage will be tougher because the cruise industry opposes this bill. The industry opposes it because it wants an exemption so that certain types of treatment systems can discharge into state waters. These treatment systems have been successful at treating bacteria but are not designed to treat nutrients.

Nutrients have a big effect on our coastal waters. Because of this cruise ships should not dump sewage (treated or untreated) into our coastal waters. In addition, it has been demonstrated that technology exists to hold wastes not only until the ship leaves state waters, but out to 12 miles! We will continue to work in California to pass this important piece of legislation.

Controversy over sea turtles has moved to the most seemingly innocent and unlikely of places... Mark Trail in the Sunday comics.

For those of you who usually go for comics with an immediate punch line, Mark Trail was created over fifty years ago and teaches readers about various wild creatures via the adventures of naturalist Mark Trail. Mark tirelessly defends the world from all environmental evils, including polluters, poachers, and marijuana growers.

Last weekend's installment (June 20th) outlined the threat endangered sea turtles face from baited longline fishing hooks. Mark visits an administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and learns:

"Scientists, working with the long-line industry, have come up with a hook that will save many of the big turtles!....By working together, NOAA and the fishing industry are saving turtles and an important industry"

Mark Trail easily distinguishes good guys from bad guys based on the presence of facial hair, but it seems that he has been duped by NOAA. The fishery service has indeed come up with a better and more efficient hook, but it is now retracting its proposal to require them. Using logic that would baffle Mark Trail, NOAA is rejecting three years of study showing that circle hooks reduce sea turtle bycatch by at least 60 percent.

Although good always triumphs over evil in Mark Trail's world, only when NOAA acts on the advice of its scientists will endangered sea turtles be protected from dangerous fishing gear.

Great news! The Chilean Congress has ratified the Protocol of the Galapagos Agreement (for conservation of living marine resources on the high seas of the Southeast Pacific). Parties to the Agreement were initially, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. This agreement might potentially extend within the region if ratified by all member states. Last year, Oceana's South America office encouraged and prompted the Government towards obtaining the ratification of this treaty from the Chilean Congress.

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