Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Urgent Help Needed to Save the Ross Sea Ecosystem

While no place on Earth has escaped the impacts of human activity, the waters off Antarctica, particularly the Ross Sea, comprise some of the most intact marine ecosystems remaining on the planet. However, the whales, seals, penguins, albatrosses, fish and other marine life in these waters are facing the dual threats of global warming and industrial fishing. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is ignoring the one while expanding the other.
Fishing in the rich waters off Antarctica is governed by an international treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). While the CCAMLR management scheme is one of the few in the world that theoretically incorporates ecosystem-based management principles into its decision-making, it has not prevented the severe overfishing of toothfish, a long-lived species marketed in the U.S. as Chilean Sea Bass. Nor does this management regime factor in the significant impacts global warming is having on krill stocks, or on the species such as whales and penguins dependant on krill. A study published in the journal Nature in 2004 documented declines in krill stocks by up to 80 percent since the 1970s in the southwest Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. This is the area where most krill fishing occurs.
Krill is generally caught for use as feed stock for aquaculture such as for farmed salmon. However, krill fishing vessels don't just catch krill; they also catch and drown seabirds and marine mammals. One U.S.-flagged krill vessel killed 138 Antarctic Fur Seals in a five-week period in 2004, making it perhaps the deadliest fishing vessel to marine mammals of any flying the U.S. flag.
Longline fleets fishing for toothfish have not only severely depleted toothfish populations but also hook and drown scores of albatross. Of the 21 albatross species, 19 are now considered Threatened, primarily as a result of longline fishing. Sperm Whales and Killer Whales, which eat toothfish off the longlines, also become hooked or entangled in the fishing gear, and consequently drown or are shot by fishermen.
The U.S. operates a relatively small portion of the fishing fleet in Antarctic waters but is the world's largest importer and consumer of toothfish.
Last month the Bush administration completed its environmental review on a plan that would open the door to increased harvest of krill and toothfish by U.S vessels. The plan authorizes a new toothfish longline fishery which poses a threat not just to toothfish populations but to albatrosses and whales. The plan would also eliminate permit requirements for harvest of toothfish in large areas of the Southern Ocean not subject to CCAMLR requirements, and make it easier for illegally caught toothfish (marketed as Chilean Sea Bass) to be imported into the United States.
The pending plan also allows a mid-water trawl fishery for krill, which not only removes this important food source for seabird and marine mammals but also directly kills them. Additionally, the plan would allow bottom trawling on the relatively undisturbed continental shelf off Antarctica. Bottom trawling is one of the most destructive forms of fishing practiced; heavy steel chains are dragged across the seafloor, crushing and killing any creature that can't get out of the way of the trawl gear and accompanying net, and quickly reducing a complex ocean habitat to a muddy barren. Bottom trawling has been banned from many areas of the United States, and efforts are underway to internationally prohibit this destructive practice. It should certainly be banned in Antarctic waters.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is currently accepting comments on this misguided proposal. Please take a minute and send an e-mail or write a letter to NMFS and demand that fishing for krill and toothfish be banned in Antarctic waters, that imports of toothfish be suspended, that bottom trawling be banned, and that any decisions regarding Antarctica must take global warming into account. The comment deadline closes Dec. 26. Comments may be e-mailed to http://by118fd.bay118.hotmail.msn.com/cgi-bin/compose?mailto=1&msg=3A53952C-EDB1-425D-8E0E-97D55F85A02C&start=0&len=24402&src=&type=x&to=CCAMLR.FPEIS@noaa.gov&cc=&bcc=&subject=&body=&curmbox=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&a=1096b04bbeb87988892482e7596bab045992d425998505961b00964d1b648e4d or sent via mail or fax to
Robert B. GorrellFishery Management OfficerOffice of Sustainable Fisheries-SF3National Marine Fisheries Service1315 East-West HighwaySilver Springs, MD 20910Fax:(301) 713-1193
For a copy of the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, click here
December 26, 2006 Deadline to act!

No comments: