Obama Gives Bristol Bay Fishermen A Great Christmas Present!

March 10th, 2015 | No Comments
Fish, Fishing & Fishermen, Salmon, Whales

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

Last month, President Obama used his executive power to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from future oil and gas drilling. Bristol Bay is a 52,000 square mile area (roughly the size of Florida), north of the Aleutian Islands that the largest surviving salmon populations on Earth swim through on their way to and from the rivers where they were born and where they will spawn and die. President Obama said, “It’s something that is too precious for us to be putting out to the highest bidder.” 1

Bristol Bay provides 40% of America’s wild-caught seafood – worth $2 billion annually. It also supports numerous recreational and subsistence fisheries, and a large tourism industry.

Bristol Bay is best known for its abundant wild salmon. Each year, all five species of salmon – sockeye, coho, king, pink, and chum – return to Bristol Bay to breed. These events are referred to as “salmon runs.” The most abundant is the sockeye, with an average of 37 million sockeye flocking to its waters each year 2. In fact, Bristol Bay hosts the largest remaining sockeye salmon run in the world. In addition to salmon, Bristol Bay fishermen fish for several other important species including Alaska pollock, halibut, sablefish, and king crab.

Aerial view of braided wetlands and tundra that is typical in the pristine Bristol Bay region. Photo from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Aerial view of braided wetlands and tundra that is typical in the pristine Bristol Bay region. Photo from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Click here to read the full blog originally published in National Geographic’s Ocean Views, January 5, 2015.

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Protected No Longer? Desperate Fisheries Managers Want to Open Closed Areas

March 10th, 2015 | No Comments
Fish, Fishing & Fishermen, Overfishing

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

By the early 1990’s, decades of heavy fishing had depleted several of New England’s important fish species, including cod, haddock, pollock and flounders (collectively referred to as ‘groundfish’). Fishermen had been catching fish faster than they could reproduce and had degraded fish habitats by dragging nets. To help rebuild New England’s fish populations, managers established several areas where fishing with any gears capable of catching groundfish species were prohibited. These areas were designed to protect both young, immature fish and large breeding adults. Later, in the early 2000’s, several areas both within and outside these closed fishing areas were designated as habitat closures, designed specifically to protect vulnerable habitats from all destructive bottom fishing gears.

Over the last 10-20 years, these protected areas have provided important safe havens for many species and have allowed previously degraded ocean habitats to recover. These protected areas have complex bottom structures and living communities that include kelp, mussel beds, sponges, and more. These areas often contain larger and older fish compared to fished areas. Since larger fish produce many times more eggs than small fish, these large fish are critical to helping populations rebuild1. Protected areas also help create a build-up of fish, which can swim into outside areas, and actually improve fishing there2.

These protected areas have provided many benefits to New England’s groundfish species, including Georges Bank haddock, Acadian redfish, pollock, and white hake–which have all recovered from previously depleted states. They have also benefited other species, like scallops–whose populations are thriving– and many marine mammals.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by NOAA.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by NOAA.

Click here to read the full blog originally published in National Geographic’s Ocean Views, December 19, 2014.

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Breeding Protections for Giant Bluefin Tuna

March 10th, 2015 | No Comments
Bluefin Tuna, Fish, Fishing & Fishermen

This post was co-authored with Elizabeth Brown.

Starting January 1, fishing within two bluefin tuna breeding hotspots in the Gulf of Mexico with a particularly destructive kind of fishing gear during their peak breeding months (April-May) will be prohibited by federal rule. The technique uses fishing lines up to 40 miles long with hundreds of baited hooks. It’s called long-lining. Finally, half a century after this method was used to invade their breeding grounds and deplete them to remnants of their former abundance, bluefin tuna that come to the Gulf of Mexico to breed will have a safe haven. The new rule will also prohibit longline fishing for five months (Dec.-April) in an area off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina where bluefin gather to feed.

Ironically, intentional fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna with longline gear has been prohibited in the U.S. for years. Despite this, bluefin tuna have continued getting caught by longline fishing gear. Fishermen use longlines to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish. But the gear is very indiscriminate, incidentally catching high number of bluefin each year and many other non-target species (sharks, sea turtles, marlins).

Longline fishermen catch much of this bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, where bluefin have come to breed, and in a few other hotspot areas where bluefin gather at certain times of the year. This incidental catch has contributed to the decline of this species. And it is particularly harmful in the Gulf of Mexico, because the Gulf is their only known breeding area on our side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Traditional Blue Fin Tuna Fishing Off The Coast Of Spain

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, December 15, 2014.

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“Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel” – In Stores July 2015

January 27th, 2015 | 1 Comment
Elephants, Homepage, Whales

Beyond Words jacketIn a world where we usually measure animals by human standards, I take us into the inner lives of animals themselves; witnessing their profound capacity for perception, thought and emotion; showing why the word “it” is often inappropriate as we discover who they really are.

Weaving decades of observations of actual families of free-living creatures with new discoveries about brain functioning, I bring us inside their lives and minds, breaching many commonly held boundaries between humans and other animals. In Beyond Words, readers travel the wilds of Africa to visit some of the last great elephant gatherings, and follow as free-living wolves of Yellowstone National Park sort out the aftermath of their personal tragedy. Then we plunge into the astonishingly peaceful society of killer whales living in waters of the Pacific Northwest. We spend quality time, too, with dogs and falcons and ravens and dozens of other denizens; and consider how the human mind originated.

In this book readers explore astonishing new discoveries about the similarities in our consciousness, self-awareness, empathy, non-verbal communication, imitation, teaching, the roots of aesthetics and music, and a surprising capacity for grief widespread among elephants, wolves, whales, and even certain birds. Turns out, animals think and feel a lot like people do; after all, people are animals.

I’m passionate about this topic. I’ve worked hard to provide a graceful examination of how animals truly think and feel, and to show what really does—and what should—make us human.

Publication date: July 14, 2015

 

Near Collapse of Gulf of Maine Cod Leads to Fishing Ban

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Fish, Fishing & Fishermen, Homepage, Overfishing

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

Last Monday, fishery managers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that they are banning nearly all fishing for Gulf of Maine Atlantic cod for at least the next 6 months, to protect the severely depleted population.

In August, scientists declared that the abundance of Gulf of Maine cod was at an all-time low. Scientists estimated that the population was at a mere 3-4 percent of a sustainable abundance level. They also found very few young cod in the population, which means recovery of the population is not going to occur anytime soon.

Atlantic cod. Photo Credit: NOAA

Atlantic cod. Photo Credit: NOAA

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, November 17, 2014.

 

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How Climate Change is Sinking Seabirds

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Climate Change, For the Birds, Homepage

By Carl Safina

Far out in the center of the cobalt pacific, hundreds of miles from the next atoll—about as far from a continent as it’s possible to get—Laysan Island seems like the morning of the world, a place you and I aren’t meant to see. The atoll measures roughly two by three miles; you can walk around it in a couple of hours, and as you do you’ll find a million screaming Sooty Terns swirling overhead like a living tornado. You hear, smell, and feel the heat of life at full burn.

Tiny and remote, Laysan is one speck in a small, far-flung chain. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with less than 0.1 percent of the state’s land area, provide breeding grounds for 90 percent of its seabirds, about 6 million of them, representing some 20 species. In addition to the terns, there are frigatebirds, noddies, tropicbirds, and Bonin Petrels, not to mention 600,000 breeding pairs of Laysan Albatross and 60,000 pairs of Black-footed Albatross—virtually the entire world populations.

Laysan albatross, Photo Credit: Frans Lanting

Laysan albatross, Photo Credit: Frans Lanting

Click here to read the full article originally published in Audubon Magazine, September 9, 2014.

 

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The Passenger Pigeon, A Requiem

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
For the Birds, Homepage, News

By Carl Safina

September 1, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the extinction of what had been the most abundant bird in the Americas, and likely the world.

By 1850, the Passenger Pigeon was still the most abundant bird in the Americas. Around that same time, a long-distance migrant bird called the Eskimo Curlew was shot by the wagonload on the Plains. The prairies and their herds of Buffalo are essentially gone, both birds are extinct, and even the very remembrance of the Eskimo Curlew is vanishing; almost no one I ask has ever heard of it. I feel a loss, but, honestly, does it matter? How many people miss Passenger Pigeons?

Passenger P

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, September 2, 2014.

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A Tortoise Isn’t a Billboard, Except in Aspen

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Homepage, Uncategorized

By  Carl Safina

The Aspen Art Museum might be doing tortoises a favor but probably isn’t. In a new exhibit linked to the opening of a $45-million new facility, an artist named Cai Guo-Qiang, who was born in China and lives in New York, has glued iPads to several African spurred tortoises. They wander around an enclosure while a film about Colorado ghost towns plays on the iPads. In China turtles and tortoises are eaten in numbers large enough that they’ve essentially been wiped from vast areas of numerous countries. Even U.S. turtles are illegally caught and sent there.

So, in a way, getting iPads glued to them is not the worst thing that can happen (as long as the upright tablets don’t get mistaken for shark fins, in which case all bets could be off). Numerous humane groups have complained to the museum, saying that the exhibit is cruel. The museum says it is taking pains to make sure the turtles are well cared for.

 

A well-appreciated spurred tortoise accepts a slice of sweet potato at the American Museum of Natural History in New York earlier this year (photo: C. Safina)

A well-appreciated spurred tortoise accepts a slice of sweet potato at the American Museum of Natural History in New York earlier this year (photo: C. Safina)

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, August 20, 2014.

Enjoy the Show: Learn More After ‘Sharknado 2′

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Homepage, Sharks

By author, marine scientist and Safina Center Fellow Dr. Ellen Prager and Carl Safina

People-eating sharks whipped up in a tornado, Manhattan as an ice-capped frozen wasteland, and solar flares that rapidly increase the temperature of the Earth’s core resulting in cataclysmic earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and biblical-scale flooding. Over-the-top? Yes. Based on science? Loosely, at best. And that’s just fine with us.

Hollywood blockbusters are not science documentaries nor do they pretend to be, they are pure entertainment that recognizes the interest and fascination people have with nature, natural disasters, and the Earth. So go out, enjoy the show. But we hope you’ll also take a moment to think about the issues related to the topic at hand. With the summer shark media frenzy already in swing and the upcoming release of Sharknado 2, it is an opportunity to think more about sharks in the real world.

 

Black Tipped Reef Sharks, Photo by Shawn Heinrichs

Black Tipped Reef Sharks, Photo by Shawn Heinrichs

 

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, July 27, 2014.

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Return of a Native: Reflections on the 38th Voyage of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, July 11, 2014

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Fish, Fishing & Fishermen, Whales

By Patricia Paladines & Carl Safina

The first whale was spotted at around 11am. We approached it with the quiet stealth afforded by a light wind in our sails. To the best of our knowledge the animal could not imagine or have any concern that a wooden whale-hunting ship was nearing its magnificent, enormous body.

One hundred years ago this ship’s crew would have spied the whale through a lens on the economic worth of its body parts. When the whaleboat was launched and the rowers approached the whale, they would have been armed with harpoons to begin a bloody attack that would last hours, sometimes days.

Charles W. Morgan by Vernon Smith, NOAA

Charles W. Morgan by Vernon Smith, NOAA

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on NationalGeographic.com, July 21, 2014.

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