Support Grows for Pacific Marine Protected Areas

FOREST KNOLLS, California, March 15, 2005 (ENS) - Cheap cans of tuna at the market cost the ocean ecosystem and ocean-dependent communities dearly, finds a new report on longline fishing published Thursday that proposes Marine Protected Areas on the high seas of the Pacific as the solution to these problems.

"The impact of high seas longline fishing in the Pacific, which consists of the largest tuna fishery in the world, can be felt throughout our planet," the Sea Turtle Restoration Project declares in its new report. The organization proposes a moratorium on industrial longlining and creation of a network of Marine Protected Areas on the high seas of the Pacific to restore depleted fisheries, protect turtles and benefit local coastal economies.

Longlining wastes fish and endangered marine species such as turtles, seabirds and marine mammals, the report finds. The fishing vessels, trailing up to 60 miles of baited hooks, make inefficient use of fuel, while emitting greenhouse gases. "Tuna and swordfish fisheries are especially petroleum hungry, with energy consumption three times the average," the report states.

"Industrial longline fishing is a loss-loss situation not only for sea turtles but also those who rely on the ocean for their food and livelihood," says Robert Ovetz, PhD, Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator and author of the report.

"Creating a network of Marine Protected Areas would reverse the damage to local fisheries, indigenous peoples, tourism and food security inflicted by industrial longline fishing," he says.

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Turtle caught on a Costa Rican longliner's hook and eventually released. From the Sea Turtle Restoration Project's film "Last Journey for the Leatherback?" (Photo courtesy Sea Turtle Restoration Project)
The report, "The Bottom Line: Saving Sea Turtles is Good for the Economy," finds that industrial longline fishing in the Pacific not only damages the marine ecosystem but has negative cultural, economic and social consequences for coastal fishing and fish consuming communities.

It supports the call for a United Nations moratorium on industrial longline fishing in the Pacific. In early February 705 international scientists from 83 nations and 230 nongovernmental organizations from 54 nations signed a petition to the UN urging a moratorium.

The list of signers includes Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, and former U.S. astronaut William Harris, M.D.

Released during the meeting of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Committee on Fisheries Meeting in Italy last week, the report supports new guidelines under consideration to allow time and area closures of destructive fishing practices that threaten critically endangered sea turtles.

"Sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and other threatened marine species are caught, injured and killed by industrial longlines in large numbers and pushed to the edge of extinction," the Sea Turtle Restoration Project says in its report, a conclusion shared by many other conservation groups and scientists.

"Closing areas of the ocean off from industrial fishing is good for fisheries and turtles," Ovetz said.

The taking of turtles as bycatch on longlines has harmed the entire marine ecosystem, Ovetz reports. "The reduction in leatherback sea turtles, which feed almost exclusively on jellyfish, due to longline fishing, has paralleled extensive jellyfish blooms. These blooms result in beach closings, damage to fisheries and the loss of tourism revenues," he writes.

But no take Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been proven to preserve endangered marine species and rapidly increase fish biomass by allowing fish to reproduce undisturbed. In most Marine Protected Areas studied, biomass has doubled in just five years, while the report cites a recent study showing that those in Kenya and South Africa have grown between 700 and 800 percent.

In Hawaii, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESPAC) has formed a Marine Protected Area Working Group to assist the Council in evaluating these areas as a management tool.

In a policy statement ahead of a Fishers Forum tonight in Honolulu that will consider the issue of protected areas, WESPAC says, "MPAs "are a useful and effective tool for dealing with a number of fishery management issues."

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The longline fishing vessel Blue Sky tied up in front of downtown Honolulu. (Photo by Russell Ito courtesy NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Center)
The Council's policy is to "play a key role in joint efforts to establish MPAs in areas under the Council's jurisdiction," establish criteria for MPAs, and secure funding "not only for establishing but for monitoring and evaluation of MPAs."

One of the biggest problems with industrial longlining, Ovetz reports, is that it removes fish from local markets and exports them abroad. Marine Protected Areas would reverse this drain of resources from the developing world.

Ovetz explains, "MPAs are crucial for generating job growth by preserving the very habitats and species that draw visitors to their shores."

But instead, access agreements that countries sign to allow fishing fleets access to their waters present what the Sea Turtle Restoration Project calls "a triple threat to local communities."

First, such agreements threaten local food security and employment as fish become increasingly scarce, the report says. Second, access agreements threaten the ability of local communities to generate future revenues from tourism because fewer visitors will come to an environmentally degraded destination.

Finally, the cultural survival of local communities is threatened as a result of the loss of marine biodiversity that is at the center of many of their worldviews and spiritual beliefs.

WESPAC says that while developing MPAs and defining the nature of restrictions, it is important to consider the "requirements, privileges, rights and cultural needs of the region's native people - Carolinian, Chamorro, Hawaiian and Samoan, traditional fishing practices and customary marine tenure in the region."

Longlining vessels from the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Spain and other Asian and Latin American countries ply the Pacific and export their catch to the United States, Japan and the European Union.

Globally, the longline fishery is estimated to be valued at between $4 and $5 billion in dockside value.

For a copy of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project report go to: http://www.seaturtles.org/pdf/ACFBE.pdf

WESPAC is online at: http://www.wpcouncil.org/

Extensive information on longlining in the Pacific Ocean can be found here.