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Executive Summary for July 27th

In our weekly news roundup, scientists find that only 13 percent of the ocean remains “wilderness,” a U.S. court orders a seafood ban to protect an endangered porpoise and researchers produce a map of red flags for seafood supply chains.

Published on July 27, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

In Search of Vanishing Ocean Wilderness

Many are familiar with the concept of untouched wilderness on land, but for the first time scientists went looking for it in the ocean. They didn’t find much.

A team led by researchers at the University of Queensland, writing in Current Biology, found that just 13.2 percent of the world’s oceans could be deemed “marine wilderness” – areas with minimal impacts from people or industry, as measured by 15 stressors, including pollution, shipping, fishing and climate change. Most of the wilderness, as you might expect, was located on the high seas, far from coasts and near the Arctic, Antarctica and several Pacific Ocean islands. Marine protected areas held only about 5 percent of this wilderness, the study found, and researchers recommended the global community focus further on protecting these relatively untouched waters.

United States Court Order Seafood Ban to Protect Vaquita

It’s not exactly a trade war, but a United States court recently ordered the Trump administration to ban seafood imports from Mexico that risk sending a critically endangered porpoise into extinction in the next few years.

There are only an estimated 15 vaquitas left in the wild, all in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Many have died by getting caught up in gillnets used for fishing shrimp, corvina, Spanish mackerel and other species, including illegal catches of the endangered totoaba, whose bladder is prized in China. Earlier this year, groups that have spent years working to protect the vaquita, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity, sued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to stop U.S. imports of these gillnet-caught species of fish, estimated at a value of roughly $16 million.

The groups said the economic sanctions are needed to push Mexico’s government to ban gillnet fishing gear in the vaquita’s range. In its ruling, according to the groups, the court said the risk of extinction outweighs the costs of the embargo – especially since “even one more bycatch death … threatens the very existence of the species.”

A Global Map of Fishing Transshipment

The most comprehensive-ever global analysis of transshipment – the practice of vessels transferring fish from one vessel to another while out at sea – is now live, courtesy of a team from the nonprofit Global Fishing Watch, satellite data company SkyTruth and researchers at Dalhousie University in Canada.

Watchdog organizations have long said transshipment makes it hard to trace the origin of catch and, therefore, easy to mask illicit activities, including illegal fishing.

As reported in a study published this week in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, the team used satellite data to analyze the behavior of refrigerated cargo vessels that pick up fish at sea and determine when and where transshipment happened and which ships were involved. In a higher-level analysis of the trends in the data published in the journal Science Advances, researchers found that over five years, 501 refrigerated cargo vessels met up with more than 1,800 fishing vessels at sea in 10,500 separate rendezvous. The most common hotspots were off the coasts of West Africa and Russia and in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and the majority involved either trawler or longline vessels.

Transshipment is a legal practice, but the researchers wrote that their analysis offers opportunities for regulators and managers to take a closer look at certain areas: “Our study highlights novel ways to trace seafood supply chains and identifies priority areas for improved trade regulation and fisheries management at the global scale.”

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