Ocean Rescue

A well-managed American fisheries system, modeled on the market-based “catch shares” approach, would help address overfishing at home and serve as a global standard.

Comments: 33

  1. There are so many booby traps humanity has set against itself that the prospects for our survival as a species past the end of the century are growing dimmer by the day.
    In fact, as far back as January of 2006 a press conference was called by renowned chemist James Lovelock--most famous as the founder of Gaia Theory--during which he announced that we've already passed the point of return and that, therefore, omnicide is inevitable before the century is out, or, at least, civilization will collapse.
    There's probably nothing any of us can do about this, but there is one thing we have within us that nothing restricts: Love. So for God sake love your children, your loved ones, and all you hold dear as you never have before, to the very limit of your being, for as long as you possibly can.

  2. It is so naive to think that better management of the US fisheries system will contradict this study by ecologists, economists which predicts collapse of world ocean ecology:

    ""The apocalypse has a new date: 2048. That's when the world's oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The cause: the disappearance of species due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. The study by Boris Worm, PhD, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, -- with colleagues in the U.K., U.S., Sweden, and Panama -- was an effort to understand what this loss of ocean species might mean to the world. The researchers analyzed several different kinds of data. Even to these ecology-minded scientists, the results were an unpleasant surprise. "I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are -- beyond anything we suspected," Worm says in a news release. "This isn't predicted to happen. This is happening now," study researcher Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., says in a news release. "If biodiversity continues to decline, the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life. Indeed, it may not be able to sustain our lives at all," Beaumont adds. Already, 29% of edible fish and seafood species have declined by 90% -- a drop that means the collapse of these fisheries. But the issue isn't just having seafood on our plates. Ocean species filter toxins from the water. They protect shorelines. And they reduce the risks of algae blooms such as the red tide. "A large and increasing proportion of our population lives close to the coast; thus the loss of services such as flood control and waste detoxification can have disastrous consequences," Worm and colleagues say. The researchers analyzed data from 32 experiments on different marine environments. They then analyzed the 1,000-year history of 12 coastal regions around the world, including San Francisco and Chesapeake bays in the U.S., and the Adriatic, Baltic, and North seas in Europe. Next, they analyzed fishery data from 64 large marine ecosystems. And finally, they looked at the recovery of 48 protected ocean areas. Their bottom line: Everything that lives in the ocean is important. The diversity of ocean life is the key to its survival. The areas of the ocean with the most different kinds of life are the healthiest. But the loss of species isn't gradual. It's happening fast -- and getting faster, the researchers say." --"Salt-Water Fish Extinction Seen By 2048," CBS News, 3 Nov '06

    "Processes that would normally regulate climate are being driven to amplify warming. Such feedbacks, as well as the inertia of the Earth system — and that of our response — make it doubtful that any of the well-intentioned technical or social schemes for carbon dieting will (work). What is needed is a fundamental cure." --Dr James Lovelock

  3. Actually, there should be a moratorium on the fishing of top end feeders, including most tuna, swordfish, most sharks, etc. Ditto for the fishing of
    cod, sea bass, mahi mahi, etc. Since that will never happen, half measures will have to do. The problem is that we do really know the point at which
    a fishery will collapse, so system that utilizes reduced quotas (or ceilings) won't necessarily aid in recovery of the stock.

  4. This approach sounds great to me. I pray that human beings will become civilized enough to establish global social policies which protect the environment for coming generations.

  5. It would appear that New Zealand is setting the example for the world, including the USA, not the US setting the example by copying them.

  6. These measures by the US do nothing to address the fleets of ghost ships that fish the international waters with long lines that are often over a mile long. These ships never come to port and are registered in small island countries - thereby evading both the catch limit regulations imposed by nations like the US and NZ and any type of international reprecussions. Their long lines indiscriminately kill anything in their path and their "bycatch", game fish like Marlin and Sailfish, are simply discarded. Even worse are the trawlers that fish for shrimp by "exciting the sea floor" with their special nets. While the agitation that these nets create makes for a larger shrimp catch, it also destroys any structures on the ocean floor like reefs.

    The US cannot save the oceans by itself. It needs the full cooperation of the international community. For once, it would be nice if the UN could grant itself some teeth. Otherwise, we are jeopardizing one of our planets most valuable resources.

  7. Go Ms. Lubchenco--find a means by which fishermen can fish but that doesn't involve raking the oceans clean of all species, whether bound for the dinner table or not; the kind of waste seen today is unsustainable. I agree with Matt in Dallas that regulating catches will need UN or some other international entity's involvement. We may need some areas, such as the Grand Banks, put aside from fishing altogether to allow fish to rebound there. Like whaling, we need international oversight to save fish nurseries from complete depletion.

  8. This is another example of present day gluttony and willful ignorance bringing about predictable future disaster and hardship (see oil consumption, health care consumption, the mortgage crisis, discarded plastic clogging the oceans, etc., etc., etc.).

    It's us. As soon as we finally get to a point of admitting WE have a problem (which is difficult, as in the debate over the convincing scientific evidence of the human contribution to climate change and the hopefully diminishing counter-blather that we're just fine)... we can actually DO something to change.

    This is an important first step to push forward and simultaneously not stop looking at the many many other ocean ecosystems affected by our current behavior of deciding by not deciding.

  9. Fishing is just one aspect of the threat that is looming over the oceanic ecosystem, and acidification due to CO2 has to be somewhere down on the list well below the more immediate concerns regarding disruptive bioaccumulation of our industrial society's effluent that's become more and more problematic in coastal and inter-tidal regions as well as the emerging biothreat of rampant developement and fish farms.
    It is the multi-headed hydra from mythological times reincarnate and ferociously snapping.

  10. Primary cause = OVERPOPULATION of the human specie.
    Far too many people depending on the oceans for income and sustenance.

    Case in point, California salmon fisherman over fished, reduced the breeding stock to the point of near extinction before the government stepped in and gave them millions of dollars to stop their destructive habits. So much for self regulation.

    Bottom line = We're screwed by our own technology, greed and run away procreation.

  11. Industrial fishing and the products of it -- the fish people eat -- are artificially low because fishing interests don't have to pay for many of the costs associated with land-based meat -- e.g., the fishing industry doesn't pay for the raising, feeding, watering, housing, grazing, taxes on land, etc. associated with raising hogs, chickens and cattle. Thus, every fish that lands on a plate is artificially cheaper than it should be. Through taxation, tarrifs and other means (including ocean-based "farms" where fish are allowed to reproduce and grow sustaibably), we must make the true cost of fish reach the consumer, otherwise irresponsible fishing will continue. I don't know why it has taken this long for even this few number of people to realize that you can't take millions of animals out of an eco system annually and expect that ecosystem to continue to survive. It scares me to be in agreement with some of the comments above, but I think we're near a point where there are just too many people on the planet and not enough resources to sustain this human population.

  12. I echo the statement made by poster #10: to survive as a species and to preserve our civilization, it is absolutely essential that we control the expanding human population.

    The hard fact is this: The resources of the planet are finite! We simply cannot continue to increase the human population, and enable individuals to live longer (thanks to medical advances), and to indefinitely increase our consumption of the planet's resources. If we don't curtail our exploding population, nature will do it for us, and it won't be pleasant! Virtually every environmental problem we encounter can be traced to "population pressure".

    Reduce the so-called "population pressure" and you have the other problems under control!

    We don't need to save the planet, people! Our concern is actually saving our civilzation!

    The planet got along just fine without our species for a couple of billion years, and it will do just fine without us should we finally reproduce ourselves right out of existence.

  13. Our grandchildren will wonder what we meant by the phrase, "Plenty more fish in the sea." It will end up on the dustbin of history, along with Santa Claus and the North Pole. But that's the price we pay for packing the world with people and turning our planet into one vast human feedlot. Was it worth it?

    It's ironic. Conservative Christians and their sort make a big thing about fishes. But their opposition to family planning has played a significant role in driving fisheries to extinction. It's like the Miracle of Loaves and Fishes, but in reverse. I wonder what their messiah would say...

  14. People’s infinite capacity for stupidity will in the end prevail. Greed will always trump common sense. Wisdom will be a dwindling commodity in the ongoing struggle for dominance of the world’s oceans. Unless there is a global consensus that our species will perish if there is not a policy all will adhere to the inevitable will finally become a self-fulfilling prophecy: planet earth, long before it will succumb to a solar cataclysm in 5 billion years, will have purged itself of its so-called intelligent species. No one knows when that will be, but judging by the acceleration of profoundly bad news it will rather be sooner than later.

  15. The fisheries have been mismanaged and overfished for decades. The fisherman from the begining have never fished with long term interests in mind. They now complain that they can't make a living with all of the regulations imposed by the government. Their stupidity in managing a resource that they derive their living from is of their own making.
    In the interest of mankind we should shut down vast areas of the oceans to zero fishing and impose even harsher quotes and limits to restore not only the numbers of fish but also the average age of the fish caught in the end.
    tom mcmahon
    millis ma

  16. This editorial makes a critical point, primarily that there is hope for the oceans by fixing the rules that govern fishing. Yes, The threats are numerous and ominous, and overfishing is and has been the top threat to the oceans, but catch shares stop overfishing, rebuild fish stocks and increase revenue for fishermen who are today being pushed out of the business.

    Read more about catch shares on EDF's oceans blog -

  17. For the person who wrote this "e.g., the fishing industry doesn't pay for the raising, feeding, watering, housing, grazing, taxes on land, etc. associated with raising hogs, chickens and cattle. Thus, every fish that lands on a plate is artificially cheaper than it should be. "

    I think that you need to look closely at food policy in the US before saying something so far out as that. Fish, which is much healthier then meat, is also pound for pound more expensive, I don't know where you shop but take a look sometime. One of the reasons for this is that the meat producing industry is heavily subsidized, there are all kinds of sweetheart deals, including government price supports, cheap grazing on public lands, government supplying water at cut rate costs and the like, and this government policy, not unlike that of high fructose corn syrup and ethanol production, makes those products much cheaper then they otherwise would.

    Fisherman have real costs, too, and they don't have quite the lobby the agribusinesses do (note, I am not a fisherman or related to the industry in any way). Fisherman have to face first of all the oceans,many fishing grounds are notoriously dangerous, and they have to pay for fuel and maintenance on their ships and insurance and licensing fees and so forth, and it isn't cheap.

    The real problem is overfishing, it is in not having controlled catches that fit the catch to the nature of what is being fished. Mark Kurlansky, in his wonderful and quirky book "Cod: A history" talks in depth of the collapse of the Grand Banks and highlights that against what the Iceland government did in protecting its stocks. In the US, fishing policy has overwhelmingly been dominated by huge commercial fishing fleets and was about being able to take as many fish as possible in the shortest period of time. These large fleets knocked out the small fisherman (who generally fished responsibly) and replaced it with huge factory ships that would clean harvest anything in an area, what didn't go to the table went for pet foods or fertilizer, and they wiped out whole ecosystems. I am old enough to remember the 1970's, when the '200 mile limit' was the war cry, to keep out the evil Russian and Japanese fleets. They passed that, but then what did the government do? They gave low interest loans to build huge commercial fishing businesses, who proceeded to make the Japanese and Russian fleets look parsimonious. Greed took over, and any attempt to seriously regulate the industry was met with $$$ from lobbyists and outcries of 'bankrupting the industry'...and now that for example Cod fishing has collapsed to the point where it may not recover, commercial fishing companies complain it was the governments fault, that they should have 'stepped in'..when these same greedy SOB's were the ones who overfished and decried any regulation.

    Can theh seas recover? The only way is to have rational policy and set real, sustainable limits and also find ways to help the populations come back.It might require even things like genetic engineering to help the codfish, for example, breed and grow faster then they do naturally. It also is going to take international standards on fishing, that stops the shadow fleets who operate out of countries whose best interest is in not regulating fishing.

    It also means treating the sea as a valuable resource, the way we (I hope) try to deal with other resources, instead of something to be exploited and used at will. Unfortunately, the conservative Christians another poster mentioned these days generally take the side of anti regulation, pro 'business is right' hard right conservatives in the GOP, adding to everything else the idea that God somehow wants man to exploit the resources, rather then being a steward of them (how born again Christians come up with that one is a mystery to me, except that they are trying to please their political masters)

  18. The problem with fishing is the large costs involved. If one were to go to things like sailing fishing boats with small crews there would be much more profit/fisherman.

    Next destructive fishing methods like nets that destroy the bottom, long lines that catch much which is thrown back, ect.

    Better would be tended lines, fish traps with desolvible doors if they get lost, ect that don't kill so much that is not used.

    Instead of shares which I'd go with amounts/fisherman so others can join as the stocks recover. Those who fish for less would make more money and only those who fish would make a profit.

    Though none of this will matter if we don't stop coal burning as one can only eat fish rarely now because they are so high in mercury. Now the ocean is becoming so acid from CO2 between these fishing will become a moot point.

  19. For what matters, there is nothing well managed in the US any more. Starting with financial structure, economic terror, food supply, health care, public transportation, the big white elephant of home land security, the most dysfunctional, inefficient and unrepresentative US Senate, the US Congress that has only 35% approval rating and general confidence of the public, gas prices, home values, public debt, unprecedented totally out of control federal budget deficits etc. Just about any aspect of operations including the rotten to the core infrastructure. We are polluting more oceans, lakes, rivers, air water, soil then any other country in the world. For the lat 8 years we have not even been able to manage two wars in the most rag tag two countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

  20. The Salmon species has been all but demolished, The Fishing industry
    at sea that catch Salmon should be stopped at once.

  21. In my opinion, it will be important to develop a fisheries management plan integrated with sustainable aquaculture and no fishing zones within marine protected areas. Relative to most other developed nations across the globe, the US continues to be slow in accepting and incorporating aquaculture into fisheries and coastal management programs. Other countries have already recognized this and are working in that direction. Aquaculture is already producing half the seafood for human consumption yet it is still low in priority in the US. Interestingly, aquaculture is still seen as a "concept" by traditional fisheries managers, government regulators and enviromentalists. And that's where the problem resides and what needs to be changed. Any program designed to sustainably manage the ocean's fisheries resources that does not recognize and integrate aquaculture is flawed and will fail. Indeed, aquaculture and fisheries have merged and are so intertwined that today it has become difficult to separate the two activities. Aquaculture comes with its own baggage, as it has historically developed at the expense of the environment. But in the long term, it is doubtless the best, if not the only, path to increase seafood production while protecting diversity and the sustainable use of resources. Aquaculture is value-added fisheries, for it takes so much from the ocean fisheries resources (in terms of fish meal and fish oil) and yet gives so much more in return in both quantity and quality of seafood products for human consumption. Think of aquaculture as the counterpart of agriculture and farming. Even considering all their idiosyncrasies, could there be any other way of producing what we eat?

  22. This still does not address the major problems caused by drag nets. They cover miles of ocean catching everything in their path and destroying the ocean bottom. They need to be outlawed.

  23. >He recently ordered a new task force to develop a national oceans policy.

    Your editorial is unclear. What is this new task force? Is it something designed to implement the recent recommendations of the Pew Oceans Ommission and Adm. Watkins' Presidential Oceans Commission or are we starting from scratch again?

    Those two seemed to cover anything and everything Obama needs to do.

  24. The Ocean is a big place, ask the Navy. If you think you are going to control fisherman's behavior, you have been at the smelling salts again. The only way to control these habits, is by starting at the other end of the line. At the Restaurant table or the dinner table. Marking fish like they mark coffee, as organic, free trade, gives the consumer clues as to what is sustainable and what is not. Also regional quotas should be imposed. If I live near a resource, I want the ability to limit the catch of non professional anglers.Catch and release is my pick. I live on the West Coast, and I have seen the canning operations run by private citizens, where they take a 100 times their allowable limit, can it up right there on the beach, and go home. It is a disgrace, but who knows what evil, lurks in a mans heart.

    Lary Waldman

  25. Maybe the Luddites were right, we've gotten so efficient and productive in our economy that fewer people have to work to fulfill our needs.

    Perhaps we got too efficient in our fishing industry. We'll soon catch the last fish. How about we require all our fishing gear to be made of biodegradble materials. And limit the size and number of fishing boats so they're only capable of working in local waters.

  26. Beginning in 2006, the Bush administration set aside 350,000 square miles of ocean as four distinct national monuments, the single largest conservation set aside in US history. The process required years of negotiations with the fishing industry and notably Japan and was heralded as a monumental achievement by environmentalists.

    The NY Times sometimes needs a little help getting the Bush record right.

  27. All extractive industries, forestry, mining, fishing, have always behaved as though God put all this neat stuff on Earth for their exclusive and unfettered use. How many times have we seen or heard the commercial fisherman, told to change his nets so dolphins aren't killed (or some such limitation on his total freedom to fish) complaining that, "My grandfather was a fisherman, my father was a fisherman, it's our way of life and now we're being told we can't do it the way we always have. That just isn't right." Well, sorry, Bozo, what isn't right is how you take, take and take some more without ever putting anything back! Maybe your grandpappy got away with it, and maybe your dad got away with it. But those days are gone. Get over it.

  28. The EU has an ocean strategy since 2006. President Obama generously borrows from it, in some parts by copy and paste.
    Is it asked too much that American journalists acknowledge that other nations have move much earlier on this important issue?

  29. So, what a joy it is to read about how the fishers of the world are ruining their own fishery resources. And then to learn that the ocean's wealth is to be divided amongst the the tiny of subset of fishers. Despite the fact that these resources are public resources and should not be given away. If you give the resources as shares to those who currently fish them then we leave out the public. The resource will be given to white men. The girls will be left out. The blacks will be left out. The hispanics will be left out and a way will surely be found to make sure that the vietnamese fishers are left out too. What kind of constitutional sense can this be making, whereby a public resource is literally given away to the white man again? Luckily, fishing is just a very small tiny part of the economics of the USA.

  30. Who decides the recipients of a shared quota? How does that prevent greed by fishermen? Fishermen now know that overfishing stocks imperils their livelihoods, yet most would catch the last fish if allowed. The bottom line is that fishing is aquatic hunting, and therefore quite different from aquaculture. How many deer would exist in the forest if commercial venison hunters were allowed to smash through the woods in formations of motorized vehicles that destroy the forest, armed with automatic weapons, night vision scopes and infrared detectors, killing both buck and doe, adults and juveniles? That is basically the system that we have in the fisheries. Destructive techniques and over capitalized vessels and gear put even more pressure on the fishermen to increase catches within a greatly diminished season. In Narragansett Bay there exists a quahog (clam) industry that is severely limited to manual "bull raking" and I believe also "tonging". The industry has been able to weather up and down cycles because it is essentially non-destructive and very lightly capitalized, most bull-rakers have only their rake, baskets, and a small outboard driven skiff as significant capital investments. Bottom dragging, long lining and other destructive, indiscriminate fishing methods need to be banned. Then, perhaps some sort of cooperative catch system might work.

  31. The writer of this piece really should have done more extensive research, or better yet, left it to someone who had deeper experience of the issues- a little knowledge, and a few dots incorrectly connected can lead to all sorts of silly assumptions.
    The oceans are definitely in trouble, but most of the causes and solutions offered are wide of the mark. Oh, and by the way, commenter #2 refers to Boris Worms' predictions of total collapse by 2048. Even Dr Lubchenko herself dismissed the paper, saying she could not accept the correlations, and it has been widely refuted in the fisheries literature.
    Where do I start?
    The Hawaiian Islands sanctuary had nothing to do with 'overfishing'. There were only eight small handliners allowed in the entire 1200 miles of ocean anyway! It had more to do with wrongfooting Big Green and throwing a bone to GWB's treasury secretary and his cronies. (Henry Paulson, the Nature Conservancy, exclusive access to tropical islands...)
    NZ fishermen are, on the whole, not prospering. I know enough personally to be able to say that. There has been enormous consolidation such that three corporations control almost all the quotas. The fishermen, those that are left, have been reduced to share-croppers.
    If carefully balanced, catch shares can be quite effective, but there is no 'one size fits all'. The only successful schemes have very carefully restricted the holding of shares to active fishermen only. If you knew any commercial fishermen personally, you would know that they share a strong conservation ethic, but need a governance structure within which to work that supports rather than undermines that.
    Days-at-sea is little used outside New England. Indeed, most of the rest of the country's fisheries are showing steady improvement.
    Where they do not, such as west coast salmon, the problems lie beyond the capacity of fisheries management to resolve. It is generally agreed that if all the salmon fisheries were eliminated, present negative trendlines would be little effected. Larger issues like the quantity and quality of habitat, poorly sited dams and climate change completely dwarf fishing impacts, which have been rigorously managed for decades.
    America's fisheries do deserve better management, fishermen have been asking for this for years. But it needs to be better, not just different.
    We might start first by asking those who know the oceans best, the fishermen themselves.