Media Advisory: Overfishing and Ecosystem Resilience: AAAS News Briefing


What: A panel of leading experts will address the health and revitalization of declining ocean ecosystems at the 2009 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. The panel will highlight success stories that demonstrate all hope is not lost for the oceans.

Who: Jeremy Jackson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
Nancy Knowlton, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Andrew Rosenberg, University of New Hampshire
John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA
Joshua Cinner, James Cook University

When: Friday, February 13, 10 a.m. (U.S. Central Time)

Where: AAAS News Briefing Room, Hyatt Regency Ballroom D, Hyatt Regency Chicago

Why: While news of fish population collapse and marine ecosystem decline is evident around the globe, stories of successful fisheries management and revitalization also exist. Pacific coral reefs protected from fishing and pollution, for example, appear to be most resistant to the effects of climate change. Further examples and more information is available in the attached.

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Beyond the Obituaries: Successful Fish Stories in Ocean Conservation

Chicago, Ill. - When it comes to the ocean, bad news seems to dominate the headlines. Yet the outlook is not uniformly bad, and success stories in fisheries management do exist around the globe. Where ecosystems have been spared the degrading effects of overfishing and pollution, we can see what a healthy ocean should look like, and where key policies have been modified to enhance conservation and meet the needs of local communities, many threatened fisheries and ecosystems have experienced a reversal of fortune.

A panel of scientific experts will discuss breakthroughs in successful fisheries management during a press briefing at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago, Ill. on February 13, 2009. These examples of success-encompassing coral reef fisheries as well as larger offshore and high-seas fisheries-offer hope that all is not yet lost for the ocean.

Coral reefs are gravely threatened worldwide, but the remote, uninhabited Northern Line Islands offer a ray of hope. Large fishes and sharks are extraordinarily abundant and coral reefs support lush populations of healthy corals, despite experiencing the same high temperatures and coral bleaching that have devastated reefs nearly everywhere else.

Evidence also suggests that protection from overfishing and pollution not only makes an enormous difference for fish, but also for the corals they depend upon for habitat and food. Corals are more resilient when food webs are intact and they bounce back better from bleaching, reproduce more and are less affected by disease.

"What's really exciting is that the Northern Line Islands lie within the new U.S. National Marine Monument declared by President Bush this January," says Jeremy Jackson, a marine ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. "So we have the opportunity not only to protect these reefs for the future, but also all the other reefs throughout the monument if we have the political will to declare the islands absolutely off limits to fishing and provide the essential genuine protection and enforcement on this very large scale."

Many developing countries depend on reef fish for human survival, and do not have the luxury to declare such vast areas off limits. These countries require different solutions, yet there is good news here as well, say researchers. Strategies that take advantage of traditional management methods involving rotational or partial closures can be as or more effective than total closures, in part because they are more readily accepted, and because local communities are more involved and committed to enforcement than bureaucrats in distant capitals. In places such as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, traditional management strategies have resulted in as much as 300 percent more fish inside managed areas as compared to neighboring areas, and almost double the cover of healthy corals.

The challenge for the future is to manage the transition from deep poverty to successful economic development, because the biggest threats to marine environments occur when countries experience rapid development but still lack the infrastructure and commitment to protect their fisheries. In areas where traditional measures have been hybridized with contemporary fisheries science, countries seem to be successfully bridging this gap and maintaining the health of their reefs as they become more prosperous. For example, in Vanuatu, contemporary science and mapping is being combined with local knowledge to determine where management areas should be placed. Inside these periodically harvested areas, fish biomass has nearly doubled.

"Most studies about the human impacts on reefs focus on the negative role of human populations. However, socioeconomic development can actually play a positive role in sustaining coral reefs," says Joshua Cinner, a coral reef conservation scientist at James Cook University in Australia. "With a combination of approaches, a society can make it through the development phase without ruining its coral reef fisheries."

Coral reefs are the rain forests of the oceans, but they cannot begin to support industrial fisheries on the increasingly massive scale that society demands. More productive waters have this potential, but once-abundant species of groundfish such as cod and halibut have suffered catastrophic depletions. Fortunately U.S. fisheries law, including most recently the revised Magnuson-Stevens Act, provides mechanisms to rebuild stocks, including seasonal and total area closures.

Such closures have achieved great success in places like Georges Bank, off the coast of New England, where haddock and scallops have recovered dramatically in less than ten years. Most other fisheries have the potential to recover within a decade as well, but only if closures and catch limits are implemented and adhered to in order to reduce fishing pressure to sustainable levels.

"We know what needs to be done to recover depleted resources, but that means changing human behavior to reduce the impacts on fish stocks and habitats," says Andrew Rosenberg, a fisheries scientist at the University of New Hampshire. "In many cases it is not the science that is at issue but the political reality of making changes in the way we have used and abused natural resources."

Protecting the high seas has been the biggest challenge, because it requires the voluntary cooperation of many nations. International law does not provide for managing beyond each nation's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends only 200 nautical miles from the shore, leaving 64 percent of the ocean in international waters. But international agreements have been achieved to stop whaling, dumping, incineration and "wall of death" drift nets, while providing for the declaration of high-seas marine protected areas based on regional agreements. Many whale species have subsequently shown signs of recovery, and some nations are pushing to reopen whaling. Similar rebuilding could be achieved for large predatory fish such as tuna, billfish and snappers in U.S. waters and beyond.

"It may be just in the nick of time, but policy makers have begun taking action to protect high seas biodiversity," says John Hocevar, the oceans campaign director at Greenpeace USA. "Increasingly sophisticated technology and the depletion of fish stocks close to home make high seas protections more important than ever for fish that have no place else left to hide."

"We know how to reverse the tide of ocean degradation-the solutions exist if we can just give them a chance," says Nancy Knowlton, a marine ecologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "The time is long overdue to focus not just on failure and catastrophe, but also success."

Additional Contacts

<p><br /> On-site contact:<br /> Matthew Wright, COMPASS<br /> cell: 301-412-6931</p>

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