Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Leaving China with Hope for a Sustainable Future

Blogging from the Beijing airport before boarding my flight back to D.C. Tuesday concluded a day spent on the trade show floor of the China Fisheries & Seafood Expo. This is the largest seafood trade show in Asia. It had approximately 800 exhibitors in three separate halls, one featuring international companies and the other two domestic. This year was also the first year for the trade show to include a Sustainable Seafood Pavilion housing stands from Det Norske Veritas, GlobalGap, Marine Stewardship Council, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, WWF and ourselves, SeaWeb's Seafood Choices Program.

At the booth, we featured information about the upcoming Seafood Summit to be held January 31 to February 2 in Vancouver, Canada, including postcards about the event and other material in Chinese. The Seafood Summit is a unique conference that brings together global representatives from the seafood industry and conservation community for in-depth discussions, presentations and networking with the goal of making the seafood marketplace environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

As the seafood industry increasingly focuses its tention on China as the world's largest seafood exporter and largest potential market for seafood consumption, SeaWeb is working with other organizations to scope our potential collaborative role in catalyzing greater sustainable practices in the Chinese marketplace. Bringing Chinese seafood industry stakeholders to the Seafood Summit is one good starting point to engage them in our broader, cross-sector conversations.

It was a great day connecting with industry players in the electrifying environment of the show floor. It featured exhibitors from more than 30 countries, including Norway, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Iceland, South Korea, Peru and the UK. Exhibits featured large and small producers and distributors, country-specific promotion councils, logistics companies and equipment sales. Seeing the dizzying array of seafood, its origins and its destinations puts in plain view the challenges and complexities of the seafood trade. Having everyone under on roof also gives us hope, knowing that with the rightmotivation and will, we can get everyone working together toward greater sustainability leading to a diverse and healthy ocean.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Talking Traceability and Sustainability at the Forum

Philip Chou moderating “How Sustainable is Chinese Seafood? China's Attitude Towards Seafood Sustainability” at the forum.

Monday concluded a very successful day at the second China Sustainable Seafood Forum, which ran a full day of panels and presentations followed by a dinner that was attended by forum speakers, organizers, sponsors, and local dignitaries, including Consul General of the United States Sean Stein in Shenyang, China.

There was a good turnout of almost 200 attendees. The forum geared toward invited

Chinese producers, processors and exporters and government officials working in fisheries and aquaculture. Several representatives from international nongovernmental organizations were in attendance, including those from WWF's Smart Fishing Initiative, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and the Marine Stewardship Council.

Attendees were given postcards, written in Chinese (lower, far right), about SeaWeb's upcoming Seafood Summit to be held January 31 through February 2 in Vancouver, Canada.

Some of the highlights and new themes from the forum that stood out are:

- More and more of China's seafood is going toward the domestic market and seafood imports to China are growing very quickly as Chinese citizenry become bigger global consumers. This was repeated both by SeaFare's Peter Redmayne and the Vice Executive President of China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Association's Mr. Cui He.

- Buyers of Chinese product represented by Canadian retailer Sobey's, European seafood processor Findus, and importer Santa Monica Seafood emphasized the internal processes they go to ensure sustainability and traceability of the products they source. Much of these processes go beyond outside certification, and there are many examples of buyers working hand-in-hand with producers on fisheries and aquaculture improvement projects.

- Fishmeal and fish oil are not a limiting factor to growth of the aquaculture industry, according to Director General of the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Oranisation Jonathan Sheppard. Advances in use of alternative ingredients in feeds as well as better management of forage fish stocks are keeping up with the growing demands for fishmeal and fish oil in the aquaculture industry.

- According to a WWF-hosted panel on whitefish traceability, measures being called for by the European Commission to eliminate IUU fishing and improve food safety is creating advances in China's traceability systems. But most acknowledge it is a tough job for the Chinese industry, in particular for species that go through many channels into a processing plant and may be consolidated along the way.

Some of the lunch crowd in the beautiful venue, including Phil Werdal of Trace Register and David Smith of Sobeys.

The panel I moderated, "How Sustainable is Chinese Seafood? China's Attitude Towards Seafood Sustainability" considered the perspective of those working on the ground in China. Panelists included a major Chinese industry player, a governmental industry association, a nongovernmental organization working on aquaculture improvement projects and a Canadian company raising close containment farmed salmon in China. I think many of the non-Chinese listening may have been surprised at the leadership in environmental sustainability occurring at both the industry and governmental levels in China. I feel there is real pockets of momentum to improve sustainability practices, but the challenge lies in the vast size of the industry and the fiscal challenges for the great number of small and medium-sized enterprises that would need to make significant changes.

Again, it was a wonderful day. Beyond all the learning, many new relationships were formed and strengthened. The collaborative movement among government officials, retailers, Chinese producers and fellow nongovernmental organizations can catalyze and support the seafood movement in China.

Fabulous dinner after the forum! Left to right: Logan Kock of Santa Monica Seafoods, Jessica and Paul of SeaFare and Jonathan Shepherd of International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Arrived in Dalian!

After 20 plus hours of traveling, I'm finally in Dalian, China! On Saturday night I met up with Melanie Siggs as I transferred through Beijing International airport. Today, Sunday, was mostly a free day, but in the afternoon Melanie and I went to the convention center to pick up our badges for the Sustainable Seafood Forum and Seafood Expo, check on our booth location and scout out the venue. We were fortunate to have SeaFare Group's Peter Redmayne (with me, above), who is the lead organizer of the Forum and Expo, to show us around.

In the evening, we had a nice dinner with other presenters and sponsors of the Sustainable Seafood Forum. It was great to have the opportunity to meet each other before the Forum. As we left the restaurant, we saw these two huge shark fins and samples of shark fin menu items. There's definitely a lot to discuss around sustainability issues in China, and like the issues associated with shark finning, much of it is as much about understanding culture and history as it is about economic, social and environmental circumstances. Definitely looking forward to a big day tomorrow at the Forum discussions.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Seafood Choices Talking Sustainability in China

I fly out of Washington, D.C., today to attend the China Fisheries and Seafood Exposition, being held November 2 to 4 in Dalian, China, where I’ll also participate in the second Sustainable Seafood Forum beforehand on November 1. The forum is a day-long seminar designed to encourage the Chinese seafood industry and its global partners to connect with the issues of sustainability and support explore initiatives.

I’ll be joined by SeaWeb's Vice President of Sustainable Markets Melanie Siggs, who will moderate a panel on "How Sustainable is Chinese Seafood? China's Attitude Towards Seafood Sustainability.” SeaWeb will also be hosting a booth in the Sustainable Seafood Pavilion on the show floor of the Expo. I am sure to see some exciting panels covering hot topics, such as forage fisheries role in aquaculture and why more buyers are now demanding sustainable products.

Join us as we meet new people and hear perspectives on seafood sustainability from China!

Philip Chou, Outreach Manager, Seafood Choices

Thursday, September 9, 2010

World Leaders Call for Action on Climate Change

At the opening plenary to the conference yesterday morning, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was expected to join the President of the Republic of Kiribati, Anote Tong, on a call for action on one of the most significant threats to our ocean, climate change. Well, Schwarzenegger couldn’t make it at the last minute, but President Tong delivered a strong and passionate statement for a united action on protecting the ocean, asking developing countries to join Pacific Island countries in their commitment. President Tong was the key driving force behind the designation of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the largest MPA in the world and now a World Heritage Site, and said that the designation of PIPA “goes to the heart of the climate change debate,” a threat that puts his country, the largest atoll nation in the world, at particular risk to seal level rise and the increase in frequency and intensity of storms. For this country of low-lying atolls, the threats are real and imminent, and require swift regional solutions and effective collaborations with other Pacific rim countries—because for Kiribati, as President Tong reminded us, “the alternative is simply not acceptable.”

Later in the afternoon President Tong gave a special introduction and participated in the panel of one of the most exciting sessions of the day, highlighting the Pacific 2020 challenge. Meg Caldwell of the Center for Ocean Solutions moderated a panel with speakers and government leaders from Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati and the United States, including Colin Philps, President of the Fiji Voyaging Society who recently completed a 7,000 nautical mile journey in the Pacific in a traditional canoe to raise awareness of the threats the ocean faces.

Tons of concurrent sessions throughout the day made it hard to choose which to attend… I sat with great interest on a session on “Measuring the ocean economy” in which one of the speakers, an economist from San Francisco State University, made a passionate plea for someone to organize a forum between ecologists and economists to further our nascent understanding of how to value habitats and the ecosystem services they provide… (hmmm ripe ground for SeaWeb?). Lastly, a Marine Debris session enlighted us on recent effort from local, state and federal government to find solutions for the problem of outrageous quantities of plastics and other debris we produce and consume. It was heartening that our great city of San Francisco is leading the charge on the front of local governments, and that California is also leading the nation by example with source-reduction legislation and infrastructure improvements.

California and World Ocean 2010 Begins

Yesterday the California and World Ocean international conference kicked off, providing about 1,000 participants from government, academia and industry the opportunity to share ideas and stimulate creative approaches to address the ecological, environmental and economic challenges that the global ocean faces. Topics such as climate change impacts, marine spatial planning, ocean economics, marine protected areas, and renewable offshore energy are all featured.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Winning, Inspiring Imagery at BLUE

Looking back on the past few days at BLUE, a few questions seemed to be always hovering in the air: How do we capture viewers interest with beautiful shots of the ocean and not deceive the audience into believing that this is the norm and all is well? Alternatively, how do we show the environmental decline of our blue world without also desensitizing and fatiguing audiences? What inspires people to not just be interested in but to actually take action on behalf of the ocean, stunning imagery of its beauty or the starker images of the many threats to its health? What indeed is more powerful, the beauty or the beast?

The answer may be a bit of both. The winning films of the BLUE Ocean Film Festival were announced at the Blue Carpet Awards Saturday night. Although “Under the Sea 3D” received the Special Jury Award, the top prize was not given to a sweeping epic but rather “Bag It,” an independent film that tells the story of one man’s journey to rid his life and as much of the rest of the world as he can of our addiction to plastic. The enthusiastic applause seemed to indicate the audience approved of the choice.

Before the film winners were announced, the Making Waves Award was presented to Celine, Fabien and Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Sylvia Earle award to fellow ocean advocate Carl Safina by the woman herself. Singer Paula Cole paid tribute to the late underwater photographer Wes Skiles with her song “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone.”

The mood of the evening was indeed both sober and celebratory. Later at a silent auction and birthday gathering for Sylvia Earle, we took a Google Ocean tour of her life’s milestones paired with their geographic locations of where they occurred and then watched her dance while five fans serenaded her with her own birthday ballad.

Earlier in the day, she had spoken to a packed house with a collage of imagery, both beautiful and arresting, playing behind her. She told those at BLUE that we should use every avenue available to us to inspire others, including powerful imagery. “We’re all here to give the ocean a voice.”

Thanks, Sylvia. We at SeaWeb couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Power of Red at BLUE

Although the Ocean Film Festival is called BLUE, the other important color of the event is red. The bright knit caps like the one Jacques Cousteau and his Calypso crew wore can be seen bobbing throughout the crowd, reminding us this legendary ocean explorer is always among us. I’m sure that is how Celine and Fabien Cousteau feel, long after their grandfather’s passing. He would have been 100 years old this year.

Indeed, watching the descendants of a legend like Cousteau on stage on Friday, one cannot help but expect them to be doing something grand. Under the watchful eyes of the world, perhaps such expectations did help motivate Fabien and Celine to, while not exactly following in their legendary grandfather’s flippers, to certainly be on a similar path of trying to make the word a better place.

With their father Jean-Michel in the audience, the brother and sister team told a room of BLUE attendees about their latest projects. While independent, they were created out their mutual desire to turn the sometimes passive act of conservation filmmaking into more hands-on. As Celine said, “Maybe people will see those films and go home and feel bad about [what is happening to the environment], but what then will they do the next day?”

Fabien also commented that while showing stunning images of our blue planet can inspire, it is also misleading that all is well with our ocean. “We do an injustice to the world if we only show pretty pictures.”

Fabien launched his Plant a Fish project on World Oceans Day this year out of “my frustration of not being able to answer the question satisfactorily … about what we can do.” Patterned after the long-successful plant a tree campaign, his program has “replanted” marine species in their local habitats in distressed bodies of water around the world. Initial targeted projects in 2010 to 2011 will include sea turtles in El Salvador, mangroves in South Florida and corals in the Maldives. The first project they completed was to replant oysters in New York harbor. They did it on “zero dollars and only volunteers—at risk youth, with a graduating rate of less than 50 percent, that have one-parent homes, who never have seen the ocean or gone swimming. To get them to go out and become stewards of the ocean. It is very empowering.”

Celine has created CauseCentric Productions to give more punch to nonprofit organizations that don’t have the resources to produce film to explain what they do. Combining her passion for different cultures and her desire to assist those in need, Celine recently completed such a short for an organization providing medical assistance to the inhabitants of the Amazon. “Traveling from the ocean to the Amazon, I feel like I have a flipper and a hiking boot on all the time.”

Taking a question from the audience after their talks, Fabien tried to explain what environmental economics really means: “What does it mean if we loose a whale? What does it mean if we loose the Gulf of Mexico? ... Why not look at our planet as a bank account? Why not stop eating the capital and start living off the interest?”

Perhaps Celine explained it best: “We owe it to ourselves to put everything into this life we can. Whether it be in the oceans or the Amazon, it all comes back to us.”

Friday, August 27, 2010

VIPs, BLUE Style

The BLUE Film Festival and Conservation Summit has been host to the leading luminaries of the ocean world. Conservationists and filmmakers have rubbed shoulders with policymakers and activists. But even the leading lights of the conference take notice when these VIPs come to town:

Sherman and Sam. Shark and Sea Lion. Putting aside the awkwardness of the predator-prey relationship in order to work together to spread the word that "We Don't Trash Where We Splash!"

We followed this unlikely duo - passionate pinniped and charismatic carcharodon - around the festival, where they shared their conservation message with attendees.

(If you have problem seeing the video, please use this direct link)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Take a Tour of Monterey Bay's Marine Sanctuary

Monterey Bay Aquarium hosted a tour of the Bay's Marine Sanctuary for BLUE attendees, for the young and young at heart. Tour guides covered topics ranging form sustainable seafood to how the resident otters wrap themselves in kelp to anchor themselves in place. Watch this clip to learn more and see what they found living in the Bay.

Out of the Mouths of Babes, Conservationists and Policymakers

More than 500 gathered at the Golden State Theater in Monterey tonight for the opening ceremony of BLUE. The mix of attendees was reflected also on stage. Festival co-founder Debbie Kinder started the evening by praising Monterey for not only its warm welcome but also its long-time commitment to the ocean. She was followed by a slew of stars in the marine community, including Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Executive Director Julie Packard and Congressional Representative Sam Farr. Farr credited the ocean community for bringing marine issues into the light: “We are no longer to be discovered. We are now in the mainstream.”

However he also pointed out that even with a new ocean policy in place, the work really begins on the local level to implement needed changes.

But perhaps who really stole the show was the young nephew of a filmmaker whose film stars the young boy being interviewed about why whales should not be hunted. After the showing of the short, he came out on stage dressed in his white suit, red tie and of course the coordinating red cap as a nod to marine legend Jacques Cousteau. Why should we not hunt them? “They are special,” he said. “They are giants.”

Flippin' Out at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival

The first official day of the BLUE Ocean Film Festival has come to a close and I sit in my room with head spinning from a day of controlled chaos. The incredible group of ocean filmmakers, photographers, NGOs, funders, scientists and even BLUE volunteers are still sipping local wines, making the rounds of the conference center's lobby, sharing stories about their ocean experiences while catching up with old friends and colleagues. Long before any of us were able to kick back and socialize, BLUE attendees snatched up their Flip cameras and got to work making their own guerrilla films documenting their experience here at the festival. Along with a team from NOAA, SeaWeb is helping to promote and produce attendee-generated content so that you can all find the BLUE in you wherever you may be.

Today we asked those who borrowed the pocket-sized camcorders to ask this question of their interviewees: "What is your favorite ocean memory?" In a crowd so passionately motivated by their experiences with the ocean, this question truly struck a chord. Check out a few of the responses which we have captured and clipped for you to see.

If you have any trouble viewing the clip below, visit:

Check out more guerrilla films on the BLUE website.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Building an Ocean Conservation Ethic Through Art

The David Doubilet photography exhibit on the opening night of the BLUE Film Festival was a great success. The gallery installation featured many of David's striking photographs, from whimsical nudibranches to shocking images of spinner dolphins being slaughtered in Japan.

BLUE staff interviewed some of the attendees and asked about their impressions of the art, and how that impacts their view of the ocean.

Diving into BLUE

Showing Our Love of the Now Noisy, More Acidic, Marine Plastiscapes

Conservationist J. Nichols launched the BLUE Ocean Film Festival with his talk on Oceanophilia, the neuroscience of emotion and the ocean. Although given how we tend to treat the ocean, how much we love this precious resource is not all that obvious.

As J. puts it, we put too much in and take too much out of it. All kinds of marine debris, that animals consume or get caught in accidently and die, is filling our marine ecosystems. Plastic is forming what J. has called “Plastiscapes,” brought together by swirling ocean currents. In addition, more and more carbon dioxide is taken up by the ocean, making it more acidic. And as more and more of us to be near the ocean, we are also are degrading its coastlines.

Less in, less out, protect the edge, is J.’s message. He also wants us to know we have reason to hope. We have unprecedented knowledge of what is happening in what had once seemed to be an “endless bounty.” We have a global network of passionate activists working on the ocean’s behalf. And we have the power of creative communication.

J., who is both a scientist and artful communicator, says that we can no longer afford to separate emotion and reason; rather it is our emotions that allow us to make reasonable decisions. After all, advertments already pull on our emotions to make us buy products, such as Coke saying “Open Happiness.” We need to capitalize on this NeuroMarking and transform it into NeuroConservation.

“The mind ocean connection is understudied. We need to change that, we need to dig in and understand the mind-ocean connection,” says J. “It is time for a full court press. It is not time to be on the sidelines.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Down By The Sea...

The SeaWeb team has made it to Monterey for the BLUE Film Festival! Although the after effects of flights from DC to CA are not going to wear off any time soon, we're excited to see the opening reception, featuring works by renown photographer David Doubilet.

We will be blogging all week, bringing you highlights of the events, sessions, and films occurring at BLUE.

Monday, August 23, 2010

SeaWeb is Going BLUE

SeaWeb staff will be attending the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit in Monterey, CA. Join us from August 24-29 for the conference and films, and follow our blog live from the event.

With a fantastic lineup of films and talks by leaders in ocean conservation, BLUE will be the "must attend" event for marine filmmakers and environmentalists!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hope for the oceans from the Galapagos

Mission Blue concluded today in the Galapagos with a wonderful array of commitments to support ocean conservation. Millions of dollars have been pledged for efforts to sow the seas with protected areas – hope spots – in fulfilment of oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s wish. Among many great ideas, these funds will help protect the Arctic as the ice retreats, support efforts to create the world’s largest marine protected area in the Sargasso Sea, campaign to eliminate harmful subsidies that fuel overfishing, and spread the word to children about the wonders of the seas, and their urgent need for protection.

I last came to the Galapagos Islands ten years ago to look at the design of the new zonation scheme for the marine park. Would enough be protected? Would it work? The design was good, although some habitats like offshore waters remain under-represented. But it turned out that implementation was the tough part. For a time, fishers in the Galapagos declared war on the Marine Park. They even held the staff hostage and threatened to kill ‘Lonesome George’, the last survivor of his species of giant tortoise.

I am glad to say that things are much better now. The conflict has subsided and from what I have seen underwater, the marine reserves are well protected and full of big fish. Mission Blue will help to cement this success. Participants will donate a million dollars to complete a world class surveillance and enforcement program for the Galapagos Marine Park. What a way to finish this voyage.

Photo: Charlie Zielinski, Marine Photobank

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More than 1%

Presentations given at Mission Blue by speakers of such repute as Jeremy Jackson, Daniel Pauly and Enric Sala show that the condition of the oceans is getting worse rather than better in many places. But there has also been good news. Enric highlighted the extraordinary Kingman Reef from the Line Islands in the Pacific, which has no land and has never been fished. There the weight of predatory fish outweighs that of herbivores and others by 5.7 to 1. He showed images of a reef so packed with sharks, jacks, groupers and snappers that it took my breath away. This is truly a ‘hope spot’ as Sylvia Earle calls such places.

Another hope spot much talked about here has been the UK Government’s recent decision to create the world’s largest marine protected area – and largest no-take reserve by far – bang in the middle of the Indian Ocean. At the heart of this reserve are the reefs and islands of the Chagos, most of them uninhabited. This announcement creates another hope spot for the planet. A place that through its sustained future health and vitality, could help to buffer other places in the Indian Ocean from the stresses imposed by growing tide of humanity and climate change. The announcement takes the area of the oceans protected above 1% for the first time in history (which also highlights that we have a lot more work to do!).

The UK Government’s decision is welcome. In a bold move, they chose the strongest protection option. In truth, it would have been hard to justify the other options, whereby the protected area would be paid for on the back of a tuna fishery that has, until now, brought harm to the open ocean wildlife of the Chagos.

Here in the Galapagos, Mission Blue had a rare treat. From the inflatable boats we got a close up view of a male and female killer whale attacking a turtle. Their black fins scythed through the curling face of a lifting breaker as they struck. Against the backdrop of Isabella Island’s dark volcanic flank, there can be few grander sights in the world.

Photo: Rod Mast, Marine Photobank

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mission Blue, Galapagos - Day 1

I am Callum Roberts, Board Member of Seaweb and marine conservationist from the University of York in the UK, blogging from aboard the National Geographic Endeavor in the Galapagos. For the next four days, this ship will host a remarkable meeting of minds to try to find solutions to the ills of our seas.

Mission Blue, as it is called, is part of the fulfilment of the world famous oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s TED Prize wish: “I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.” Sylvia has convened a meeting of some of the best minds in ocean science and conservation to share ideas with some highly creative people from the worlds of the film, publishing, art, business and philanthropy. It is hoped that this coming together will stimulate new thinking on ocean conservation, and will help to further Sylvia’s wish of a planet seeded with hope spots, places that will reveal new ways in which we and ocean life can flourish together.

Today I had a fascinating conversation with Peter Tyack from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution about the effects of ocean noise on whales and dolphins. The oceans are no longer the ‘silent world’ that Jacques Cousteau dubbed them in his first book published in the 1950s (his son Jean Michel and granddaughter Celine are on board). Since then background noise from shipping has increased by three decibels per decade. The loudness of sounds measured on the decibel scale increases tenfold for every ten decibels. So today’s seas are around one hundred and eighty times noisier than those dived by Cousteau in the early 1950s.

Peter told me of dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, that react to approaching boats by whistling more to each other and forming tighter groups. Incredibly, they get disturbed by boats an average of once every six minutes during the day – truly urban animals. Whales get by in noisy places by shouting to each other above the din, and by changing the pitch of their calls so they are on different wavelengths to the noise produced by boats. Noisy oceans are just one way in which life has become harder for marine animals in the last century. Finding a solution to this one won’t be easy.

More from Mission Blue tomorrow.

Photo: Rod Mast, Marine Photobank

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Not just bluefin - coral jewelry, too - courtesy of Japan

Hello from rainy London! Thanks for reading over the last couple of weeks as we reported the at-times depressing news from Doha. I have another little tidbit to share....In addition to serving bluefin tuna sushi at their receptions in Doha, Japan also decided to shower delegates with coral tie-pins and jewelry. Nothing like being subtle. The world will be watching as these "new" management measures are put in place for bluefin (ICCAT, on the last day of the conference, if you recall, said something to the effect of, now we've really got to get our act together) and red and pink coral. Apparently, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) is supposedly going to create some new management measures for red and pink coral, but it's unclear to me exactly how. In the meantime, I fully support the Christian Science Monitor's excellent editorial that states we need an 'Endangered Species Hour' - not just Earth Hour:

"As countries prepare for the next CITES meeting in Thailand in 2013, they should not forget the marine species that were turned down this time. Grass-roots pressure can do much to push governments toward a more responsible approach to marine life management. On Saturday, when people switch off the lights at 8:30 p.m. for Earth Hour, they should also consider switching off their appetites for bluefin tuna or pink and red coral jewelry. And for longer than just an hour."

Indeed! In the meantime, keep checking back; we'll keep posting interesting/unusual tidbits as SeaWeb continues to do its part to advance ocean conservation. Thanks again to Dr. Phaedra Doukakis for her invaluable contribution to this blog during CITES. How did everyone do on the quiz?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

So long Doha, and thanks for all the delicious hummus

So, since we may all be a little down based on the outcomes at CoP15 , we think it might be fun to play a little game.

A mes
sage from Dr. Phaedra Doukakis, as she flew out first thing Friday morning and has been an invaluable contributor to this compilation of stories from Doha:

"Thanks, Julia, for having me here - you're brilliant! But on to the quiz:"

If you answer all the below questions correctly, you just might win an all-expense paid trip to CoP 16…

1) A species get listed under CITES when it:

a. has no/little commercial value

b. is found on land

c. is not consumed in Japan

d. All of the above

2) A species allegedly qualifies for CITES listing when:

a. It shows a decline of over 90%

b. It shows a decline to 15% of its virgin biomass

c. Trade is an important driver in its harvest and individuals have declined by 80-90%

d. None of the above

3) A species is more likely to be protected by CITES countries if it’s:

a. Grey

b. Has a tusk

c. Endemic to Africa

d. All of the above

4) CITES should list a marine species when:

a. It is managed by a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) because CITES can work hand and hand with RFMO’s to make sure illegal trade does not threaten the species.

b. Trade is major driver of exploitation (like with shark fins or with red and pink coral)

c. There are tools to monitor the trade like visual identification and genetics tools.

d. All of the above

5) CITES applies to marine species because:

a. Marine and aquatic species are mentioned in the Convention text three times.

b. Marine species are in fact ENDANGERED SPECIES and occur in trade. (in fact they make up the bulk of the wildlife trade (along with timber).

c. We depend on marine species for food, livelihood and climate

d. All of the above.

6) Marine species are listed under CITES at CoP15 when:

a. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) supports the species’ inclusion under CITES.

b. The CITES Secretariat recommends that protection is warranted.

c. A majority of the parties vote for listing the species in question under CITES.

d. None of the above.

7) What did the Libyan delegate say at CoP15:

a. "God fears only scholars."

b. "If you have 10 cars you only drive one."

c. "Excessive consumption of shark fins causes early Alzheimers"

d. all of the above.

8) Which country is most likely to request a secret ballot at CITES?

a. Iceland

b. St. Lucia

c. Japan

d. all of the above

9) Where are you most likely to find Atlantic bluefin tuna?

a. In abundance in the Mediterranean

b. In Appendix I

c. In Appendix II

d. On the menu at a Japanese reception at CITES

10) Which of the following species WERE listed under CITES at Cop15 (gotta end on a high note, folks!):

a. Kaiser's spotted newt

b. Leaf frogs

c. Iazambohitra (Liana plant)

d. all of the above

If you answered d to all of the above, go out and reward yourself by making smart, sustainable choices about the seafood you eat and the jewelry that you wear. Then go take a swim and marvel at all of the beautiful creatures in our ocean, and do you part to help preserve these creatures and their ecosystems.

Poor porbeagle - no marine species listed under CITES at CoP15

In a shocking turn of events, the CITES parties reversed their earlier (GOOD, SOUND) decision to list porbeagle sharks, prized for their meat, under CITES Appendix II. No ban, just sound management measures in place for trade to be allowed. Obviously, this was clearly a crazy idea, once countries had a day or so to think about it, and so today in plenary, the vote was reversed. 84 were in favour of protection, 46 against and 10 abstentions. (You need 2/3rds majority for a vote to pass). The only other time this has happened was the red and pink coral vote at CoP14. Industry groups were thrilled that time, and now this time. The Japanese Fishing Association sitting in front of me broke into applause.

But let's look at it this way - many, many countries were in support of this proposal. More countries were in support of porbeagle protection, red and pink coral protection and hammerhead protection than they were against. That makes me proud of all those countries who considered the science and found it was sound, and pushed 'yes' for these species (on a related note, SeaWeb's Melanie Siggs pointed out to me that it's so odd to be voting on these species, as if we own them, and I agree). We now have to hold these industries and regulatory bodies responsible. ICCAT made a statement that said something along the lines of 'we base our decisions on sound science, we now have a clear mandate to conserve bluefin tuna." (Picture above.) When did you NOT, ICCAT? We'll be watching, and we'll be back at CoP16 if things don't start to turn around.

In the meantime, we must, as consumers, refuse to purchase red and pink coral, bluefin tuna, and none of you better be ordering any shark fin soup. There is simply no guarantee that the trade in these species is at all sustainable. Right now we need to take the precautionary approach. It's an interesting concept, countries-opposed-to-CITES-listings-for-marine species. You might want to consider it. And for the umpteenth time, these App II proposals for sharks and corals would not have been a ban on trade (the bluefin App I proposal, which DOES ban international trade, was much-deserved and needed). Perhaps if we had heeded Sweden's 19992 proposal to list Atlantic bluefin under Appendix I, we would not be where we are now. And trade in red and pink corals, for example, could have continued under Appendix II. Now it continues, regardless, unchecked and unregulated....and unsustainable - for these species and the people that depend on them.

Early Morning Doha Fish Market Visit

At o'dark thirty this morning, Phaedra and I dragged ourselves to the Doha Fish Market. Very interesting indeed. Lots more tropical fish compared to what I normally see in the northern European fish markets.

Above are some gorgeous parrotfish which apparently are from "Doha." The traders, while lovely and nice, said that everything was "from Doha."

Rays, above.

A very cheery trader holding up one of his prized rays. Now, these might actually be from Doha. When I went to the Islamic museum last week, we saw a couple of cow-nosed rays in the bay.

More parrotfish...I love how they look like they're smiling. Did you know that some species of parrotfish secrete a mucous cocoon at night to mask its scent from predators? I didn't until I checked Wikipedia just now....

Groupers. According to the traders, groupers are what they call "hamour."
It's a menu item you see in almost every restaurant.

More parrotfish and a happy trader.

Needlefish. My trusty (or possibly not) Wikipedia page says that needlefish can jump out of the water at up to 38mph and tend to get excited by artificial light, so pose a threat to some fishermen, particularly in the Pacific Islands. They can get 'speared' when the fish try and jump over their boat.

A very wee shark that should still be in the water. We need Sonja Fordham from the IUCN Shark Specialist Group to tell us what kind it is.

Guitarfish! How cool are they....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Marine Species Welcome under CITES, Part Deux (heck, they're mentioned in the Convention text 3 times)

Fisheries, along with timber, dominate the wildlife trade.

It's called the Convention on International TRADE in Endangered SPECIES. Not endangered land mammals, or plants, but SPECIES. (Although see this hilarious facebook page, courtesy of the End of the Line film, on new names for CITES. My nonsensical favourite is 'Couldn't Issue Tickets to an Elderly Salmon). The Convention text boasts no less than 3 specific mentions to marine species, so despite all we've heard/seen/rolled our eyes about over the past two weeks, marine species, especially those exploited for the international trade, can and should be listed under CITES. Let's not forget that there are already 100 or so marine species already on there. And yes, for those of you not living/breathing CITES, I know this is all quite nerdy, but to suggest marine species shouldn't be under CITES are fightin' words for those that have worked hard to bring these proposals here, and who believe in the effectiveness of this Convention for important conservation and socioeconomic gains.

For more on this subject, I'm turning it over to Dr. Doukakis:

Exploitation of fisheries is often driven by international demand. This is quite evident with bluefin tuna, as 80% of the Atlantic bluefin tuna caught is sent straight to Japan (think this has anything to do with their vociferous rebuttal of Monaco’s proposal to ban all international trade in this valuable fish?). Trade regulation therefore can have a positive effect on fisheries and marine conservation by controlling market availability, and DOES NOT always mean a trade ban. Instead, it allows an additional way for us to manage our marine environments. A CITES listing DOES NOT replace fisheries management.

Time and again at this meeting, we have heard that we need to “let ICCAT do its job” (bluefin) and “let GFCM (the General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean) manage precious coral in the Mediterranean.” Both of these bodies have failed to sustainably manage these resources. CITES can COMPLEMENT both bodies. And if the management is lacking, if trade is proven to be having an adverse impact on these species in question, a mechanism exists to limit or stop trade.

How would we otherwise detect illegal trade in fisheries products if we don’t have species listed under CITES? Say, hypothetically, only 20,000 fins from the Appendix II-listed porbeagle shark were permitted to be sustainably taken and traded (because any more than that would have hurt the population). But through CITES monitoring, it was found that 40,000 fins were being traded. We would know that the porbeagle's luck might be running out and that its fisheries should be more closely monitored and management revised to address a clear lack of compliance.

Marine species may be much more widespread and may have much higher population numbers as compared to some of the terrestrial species we usually hear about at CITES. Millions of fish may seem like a lot if the bigger picture of decline is not taken into account. And we may not have many examples of marine extinction. Are we really so thick as to think that just because marine species exist in the ocean rather on land that we will not see the same extinction as we have seen on land? Fossil record, anyone?

The sharks that are up for listing have all the right CITES bells and whistles – they meet the biological criteria, their exploitation is driven by trade, there is potential for overexploitation that would drive the populations to be listed under Appendix I, there are tools to manage the trade (see this excellent fact sheet by the Pew Environment Group for more on this). So far, the porbeagle shark has managed to sneak on (editor's note: I would argue that's because it's more often caught for its meat than for its fins, meaning that Asia has less of an interest and the lobbying against this species was less intense).

If this CITES CoP closes without listing any other marine species that clearly warrant listing, it will be a triumph of commercial interests over biological evidence. The international community must address the issues raised at this meeting so this does not happen at CoP16.

Photo: Shannon Crownover, Marine Photobank

Dozing in Doha

My feeling exactly on the first day of plenary....we don't get to the species proposals until tomorrow. Right now we are going through the piles upon piles of documents that were tweaked/parsed/edited agreed in Committee II and various working groups.

Thursday's plenary should be pretty exciting. This is when all species proposals that have been considered over the past two weeks can be reopened (not that they all will). I bet (fervently hope) most shark proposals will be reopened (except for perhaps spiny dogfish). Keep your fingers crossed that a) porbeagle remains listed (I bet some crafty opposing countries will be trying to get this ONE LONE GOOD DECISION on marine species here at CoP15 reversed) and b) that hammerheads can get the necessary votes to reverse Tuesday's decision. Most hammerheads are caught (on purpose or as bycatch to supply the lucrative fin trade) so this would go a long way in addressing the unregulated shark fin trade. And the ever-brilliant Dr. Phaedra Doukakis (who as I type is doing an interview for ABC's Moscow bureau on her recently released sturgeon paper which shows that sturgeon are more endangered than any other group of animals) told me that DNA analysis on fins is increasingly easy to do (and I believe one of the country interventions yesterday said that DNA analysis was becoming more affordable and available).