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A team effort to end whale and sea turtle bycatch is underway in California, and experts hope it can put an end to deadly entanglements in fishing gear that threaten marine populations. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will be working together to test new, anti-entanglement fishing gear that works well for fishermen while preventing whale death and injury.
Why This Matters: Bycatch, the unintentional entanglement of whales and other creatures in fishing gear, is one of the largest threats to whales globally. Each year, bycatch kills or injures more than 650,000 whales and dolphins. Whale bycatch on the West coast has been steadily increasing since 2013.In 2018, more than half of the United States’ whale bycatch incidents happened off the coast of California. Many Pacific whales are also facing threats from climate change, shipping, and even naval practices. Whales are crucial in balancing ocean ecosystems and sustain the same species that fishermen are aiming to catch. Preventing the further bycatch of these creatures can not only their lives but also preserve the health of the ocean and the fishing industry.
Bycatch ‘em All
Bycatch isn’t just a whale problem. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that bycatch threatens many other species, including New Zealand sea lions, Mediterranean sperm whales, vaquita porpoises, the rarest marine mammal in the world. For every shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico, 2.5 fish are unintentionally caught as well. NRDC is urging Congress to upgrade and improve existing bycatch law and fishing gear requirements. If this new technology is successful, it could be one step closer to achieving better policy.
New Year, New Gear
In a rare moment of unity, this new collaborative project will be an effort between conservationists, the government, and the fishing industry. The new technology will be recommended by the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group (Working Group) and NOAA. It will focus on reducing the amount of time buoy lines and other potential entanglers are in the water, and reducing the strength of these lines to allow whales and other bycatch victims ease of escape.
Greg Wells, Gear Innovations Project Manager for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, is optimistic about the collaboration and its ability to generate results. “This cooperative research project presents an opportunity for fishermen in California to experiment with multiple pop-up fishing systems as well as weak link rope systems to provide important feedback and ideas on what can work in the Dungeness crab fishery. These trials will be invaluable to scaling up testing and informing decision making in the future,” he said. All new gear will be tested by expert fishermen, who will provide feedback and suggestions to help fine-tune the technology. The Dungeness Crab industry was chosen to test the new gear after data showed that Dungeness crab fishing gear has been the most common cause of whale entanglement since 2013.
Ten years after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, the Japanese government announced that it will release treated radioactive water from the destroyed plant into the ocean beginning in 2023. The decision to dump more than 1 million metric tons of contaminated water into the Pacific ocean has upset local fishers and surrounding countries.
Why This Matters: A decade after a 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the decision to release water into the ocean is just one part of the prolonged decommissioning of the plant.
Hundreds of citizens will fan out across the nation’s capital next week to meet with lawmakers in what’s projected to be the largest ocean lobby effort in US history. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they will meet with Biden administration officials, federal agencies, and members of Congress for a nonpartisan Ocean Climate Action Hill Day.
Why It Matters: As the Biden administration and the Congress begin to debate what’s infrastructure and therefore within the American Jobs Plan, the blue economy needs to be front and center in it.
The Evergiven is no longer stuck in the Suez Canal, but world shipping is hardly back to normal. In just six days, the massive container ship held up almost $60 billion in global trade. Supply chains across the world are delayed and off schedule, and the incident has economists and maritime experts across the globe reevaluating the efficacy of the current shipping economy.
Why this Matters: The pandemic has rocketed demand for goods (and vaccines) to all-time highs, but bottlenecks at many major ports and slow shipping speed could slow the global economy just as it begins to recover from COVID-19.
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