Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuna threatened by oversized fishing fleet

From: Reuters
Published March 12, 2008 07:37 AM

ROME (Reuters) - There are far too many boats fishing for tuna in the Mediterranean, putting further strain on stocks of a species already threatened with extinction, environmental group WWF said in a report published on Wednesday.

Atlantic bluefin tuna, sometimes described as "floating goldmines" due to their spectacular price tag when sold for sushi, are under threat from over-fishing and an international agreement sets quotas on how many each country can land.

But in a study into the number and size of fishing vessels, WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, found there were at least one third more boats than needed to meet legal quotas.

"It is crazy," said WWF's Sergi Tudela. "The numerous new fleets are so modern and costly that fishermen are forced to fish illegally just to survive -- and worse still they are fishing themselves out of a job."

Atlantic bluefin tuna, which spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean, can be worth $10,000-15,000 each in Japan, where they are eaten raw as sushi.

WWF said the quotas, agreed at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), are too lax to protect the fish, but even those limits are being flouted.

The conservation group said many countries, including Italy, Spain, Croatia and Libya, do not declare their full catches of tuna -- circumventing the quotas which are meant to ensure the species survives massive demand from gourmets.

While the actual amount of over-fishing can be hard to estimate, the size of the fleet indicates it must be happening on a large scale. WWF said the Mediterranean fleet should shed 229 of its 617 vessels to remain within the quotas.

"At a minimum, the report shows, Mediterranean fleets would have to fish 42,000 tons of tuna just to cover costs -- implying some 13,000 tons of illegal catch," it said.

The group -- which is promoting a boycott of bluefin tuna among consumers, restaurants and retailers -- said the European Union had granted 18 million euros of subsidies into growing the tuna fishing fleet between 1993 and 2006.

(Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Unprecedented Pacific Salmon run collapse. Feds may declare federal disaster.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

(03-12) 04:00 PDT Sacramento - --

So few salmon are living in the ocean and rivers along the Pacific Coast that salmon fishing in California and Oregon will have to be shut down completely this year unless an emergency exception is granted, Pacific Fishery Management Council representatives said Tuesday.

It would mark the first time ever that the federal agency created 22 years ago to manage the Pacific Coast fishery canceled the coast's traditional salmon fishing season from April to mid-November.

Such a move would jeopardize the livelihoods of close to 1,000 commercial fishermen from Santa Barbara to Washington State and would significantly drive up the price of West Coast wild salmon.

A decision to shut down the fishery also would kill recreational salmon fishing for some 2.4 million anglers in California, an activity that the American Sportfishing Association has estimated is worth $4 billion.

The council is expected to make a recommendation in April to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which will make the final decision about what to do about the collapsing salmon fishery.

"This is unprecedented," said Dave Bitts, a commercial salmon and crab fisherman based in Eureka. "The Sacramento fish are our bread and butter, and there are not even any crumbs. It's horrible. It means half or more of my income is not going to be there at all this year."

Why season can be closed

The prospect of banning fishing came up during the first full day of presentations about the salmon crisis during the council's weeklong meeting at the Doubletree Hotel in Sacramento.

The council's salmon management plan, first adopted as part of the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and amended several times since then, requires the council to close ocean fishing if the number of spawning salmon do not reach the conservation objectives set for the fishery.

There are many ways to count fish, depending on what rivers and tributaries are included, but only 63,900 fall run salmon were documented spawning in the Sacramento River in 2007, far below the 122,000 to 189,000 objective the council had set.

The doom and gloom brought on by the poor run was made worse by news that the number of jacks - 2-year-old fish that return to the river a year early to spawn - is the lowest ever recorded in the Central Valley fall run. Scientists use the number of jacks that return as an indicator of what next year's spawning season will look like.

Fisheries experts expected 157,000 jacks, but counted only 6,000.

What it means is that all fishing where the fall run chinook are caught must be closed unless there is an emergency rule allowing an exemption, said Chuck Tracy, a staff officer for the council. Chinook from the Sacramento and its tributaries are caught in California, Oregon and Washington, but the catch in Washington is historically small enough that it might not fall under the rule.

"Washington could be exempted, but California and Oregon will definitely be affected," Tracy said.

Cape Falcon, in northern Oregon, would likely be the boundary for a fishery closure, said Peter Dygert, the fisheries management chief of the sustainable fisheries division of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "Any fishing south of Cape Falcon will have to be implemented under emergency rule. There are going to be relatively few fish in the ocean overall."

Federal disaster possible

The situation is so bad that there have been discussions during the meetings about declaring the salmon fishery a federal disaster, Tracy said.

The Klamath and Trinity river run, another major salmon run along the Pacific Coast, was declared a disaster in 2006 after a similar collapse, freeing up money to help those who are financially dependent on the salmon industry. The Klamath and Trinity crisis led to a dismal commercial and recreational salmon catch last year.

"This is the same situation we were in two years ago in the Klamath," Tracy said. At that time, "they did allow some fisheries in the ocean through an emergency rule."

But, in many ways, the situation is even worse now. Peter Lawson, of the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Marine Fisheries Science Center, told the council that five different salmon stocks in the three states have failed two years in a row, including chinook and coho salmon.

The emergency exemption allowed some fishing along the Pacific Coast after the salmon crisis on the Klamath, but Fisheries experts were hard pressed to come up with any excuse the council could use this time to justify an exception, given the dire circumstances.

"The California, Oregon and Washington coastal stocks are all depressed," Tracy said. "The Sacramento fall chinook are in the worst shape. Is it a crisis? If you are a commercial fisherman or someone who relies on the fishing industry, yes."

The Sacramento River fall run, the San Francisco Bay's biggest wild salmon run, was the second worst on record for spawning chinook. The worst year was in 1992, but the fishery recovered and as recently as 2002 there were hundreds of thousands of spawning salmon in the Sacramento watershed.

At its peak, the fall run, which essentially means fish that are at their spawning peak in September and October, exceeded 800,000 fish. Over the past decade, the numbers had never fallen below 250,000 - until this past fall.

Nothing to catch

Fisheries experts say even if the salmon fishery remained wide open there would not be any salmon left to catch.

The collapse is especially troublesome because the recreational and commercial fishing industries all along the Pacific coast depend on fish born in the Sacramento River and its tributaries. The Central Valley chinook, or king, salmon pass through the San Francisco Bay after hatching in the river and roam the Pacific Ocean as far away as Alaska before returning three years later to the place where they were born.

The fall run - named for the time the fish pass through the Golden Gate returning to their native streams - is, in fact, the last survivor of dozens of teeming salmon runs up and down the Pacific coast. The Central Valley's spring run may once have been the largest, but most of the habitat is now behind dams.

The scientists, fishermen and tribal representatives at the meetings this week are trotting out various theories for the decline, including global warming, diversions of freshwater in the delta, pumping operations, a lack of nutrient rich deep ocean upwellings and exposure to pollutants. One document lists 46 possible reasons.

Dygert said the death of so many salmon "is suggesting a broad-scale ocean survival problem."

"One thing we know is that these fish had plenty of parents," said Bitts. "Something has happened since then."

The council, which will propose three options for managing the fishery by the end of the week, asked staff scientists Tuesday to investigate a variety of possible causes, including hatchery operations and ecological changes in the ocean and fresh water environments.

Fisheries in crisis

What's next: The Pacific Fishery Management Council, meeting in Sacramento, will consider recommendations by conservationists, biologists, tribal interests and fishing industry representatives. The council will propose three options Friday for what to do about this year's fishing season.

Input: The public can comment over the next month in writing or at hearings in Oregon and Washington on March 31 and in Eureka on April 1.

More information: and

E-mail Peter Fimrite at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Monday, March 10, 2008

Could Arctic ice melt spawn new kind of cold war?

From: Reuters

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With oil above $100 a barrel and Arctic ice melting faster than ever, some of the world's most powerful countries -- including the United States and Russia -- are looking north to a possible energy bonanza.

This prospective scramble for buried Arctic mineral wealth made more accessible by freshly melted seas could bring on a completely different kind of cold war, a scholar and former Coast Guard officer says.

While a U.S. government official questioned the risk of polar conflict, Washington still would like to join a 25-year-old international treaty meant to figure out who owns the rights to the oceans, including the Arctic Ocean. So far, the Senate has not approved it.

Unlike the first Cold War, dominated by tensions between the two late-20th century superpowers, this century's model could pit countries that border the Arctic Ocean against each other to claim mineral rights. The Arctic powers include the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway.

The irony is that the burning of fossil fuels is at least in part responsible for the Arctic melt -- due to climate change -- and the Arctic melt could pave the way for a 21st century rush to exploit even more fossil fuels.

The stakes are enormous, according to Scott Borgerson of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant commander.

The Arctic could hold as much as one-quarter of the world's remaining undiscovered oil and gas deposits, Borgerson wrote in the current issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.

Russia has claimed 460,000 square miles (1.191 million sq km) of Arctic waters, with an eye-catching effort that included planting its flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole last summer. Days later, Moscow sent strategic bomber flights over the Arctic for the first time since the Cold War.

"I think you can say planting a flag on the sea bottom and renewing strategic bomber flights is provocative," Borgerson said in a telephone interview.


By contrast, he said of the U.S. position, "I don't think we're scrambling. We're sleepwalking ... I think the Russians are scrambling and I think the Norwegians and Canadians and Danes are keenly aware."

Borgerson said that now would be an appropriate time for the United States to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which codifies which countries have rights to what parts of the world's oceans.

The Bush administration agrees. So do many environmental groups, the U.S. military and energy companies looking to explore the Arctic, now that enough ice is seasonally gone to open up sea lanes as soon as the next decade.

"There's no ice cold war," said one U.S. government official familiar with the Arctic Ocean rights issue. However, the official noted that joining the Law of the Sea pact would give greater legal certainty to U.S. claims in the area.

That is becoming more crucial, as measurements of the U.S. continental shelf get more precise.

Coastal nations like those that border the Arctic have sovereign rights over natural resources of their continental shelves, generally recognized to reach 200 nautical miles out from their coasts.

But in February, researchers from the University of New Hampshire and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released data suggesting that the continental shelf north of Alaska extends more than 100 nautical miles farther than previously presumed.

A commission set up by the Law of the Sea lets countries expand their sea floor resource rights if they meet certain conditions and back them up with scientific data.

The treaty also governs navigation rights, suddenly more important as scientists last year reported the opening of the normally ice-choked waters of the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

"Of course we need to be at the table as ocean law develops," the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's not like ocean law is going to stop developing if we're not in there. It's just going to develop without us."

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

(For Reuters information on the environment, see )

UN: Climate danger for Middle East, North Africa

From: , Science and Development Network, More from this Affiliate


Climate change is likely to cause agricultural losses in the Middle East and North Africa, threatening the food security of many countries, the UN has warned.

A report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), released at a conference in Cairo, Egypt, this week (1—5 March), reviews studies and models of predicted climate-change impacts over the period 1980—99 and for 2080—99 — including reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to the report, more than 80 per cent of models show that water availability in the regions will decrease by up to 40 millimetres per year. With rainfall decreasing, growing seasons will be shorter for farmers.

The FAO says that a temperature increase of 3—4 degrees Celsius could cause

crop yields to fall by 15—35 per cent in Africa and west Asia and by 25—35 per cent in the Middle East.

The report highlights Yemen as being particularly vulnerable because of poverty, a rapidly growing population and existing water shortages.

But in other areas, the report says, rising sea levels will cause flooding —particularly the Nile Delta and the Gulf coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

The distribution and transmission patterns of livestock pests and disease might be altered, carrying an "almost certain" risk of epidemics.

The report puts the loss of gross domestic product for these regions at around 2.5 per cent, emphasising the importance of agriculture in reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases.

It also stresses the need for careful assessment of the impact of bioenergy development on food security before any major moves are made in the area.

Better water management for crops and more efficient use of fertiliser are called for — overuse of nitrogen is viewed as an "indication of inefficient farming".

The report points out that, although many areas in the region cannot grow forests to participate in the UN Clean Development Mechanism, there are "large expanses of degraded land that could be reforested if grazing is controlled". Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates are "building solid experience in afforestation and reclamation of desert areas, using sewage water for irrigation".

Nasredin Hag Elamin, policy officer at the FAO Regional Office for the Near East in Cairo, says the probable future impact on agriculture is "very worrying and disrupting".

He calls upon agriculture policy-makers to take the report seriously and to implement its recommendations in a coordinated manner at both the national and regional levels.

Link to the full report [139kB]

Climate change may spark conflict with Russia, EU told

Alert over scramble for control of energy resources in the Arctic

This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday March 10 2008 on p1 of the Top stories section.
An Arctic landscape in Nunavut in Canada

The EU report warns of increasing international tensions as global warming opens up new areas for energy exploitation. Photograph: Louise Murray/Science Photo Library

European governments have been told to plan for an era of conflict over energy resources, with global warming likely to trigger a dangerous contest between Russia and the west for the vast mineral riches of the Arctic.

A report from the EU's top two foreign policy officials to the 27 heads of government gathering in Brussels for a summit this week warns that "significant potential conflicts" are likely in the decades ahead as a result of "intensified competition over access to, and control over, energy resources".

The seven-page report, obtained by the Guardian, has been written by Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy supremo, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the commissioner for external relations. It predicts that global warming will precipitate security issues for Europe, ranging from energy wars to mass migration, failed states and political radicalisation.

The report warns of greater rich-poor and north-south tension because global warming is disproportionately caused by the wealthy north and west while its impact will be most catastrophic in the poor south.

The officials single out the impact of the thawing Arctic and its emergence as a potential flashpoint of rival claims, pointing to the Kremlin's grab for the Arctic last year when President Vladimir Putin hailed as heroes a team of scientists who planted a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed.

Developments in the Arctic had "potential consequences for international stability and European security interests".

"The rapid melting of the polar ice caps, in particular the Arctic, is opening up new waterways and international trade routes," the report notes. "The increased accessibility of the enormous hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic region is changing the geostrategic dynamics of the region."

The report also stresses the volatility of the regions that hold large mineral deposits and predicts greater destabilisation in central Asia and the Middle East as a result of global warming. The report comes as the issue of energy security begins to loom large on the agenda of western policymakers. A summit of Nato leaders in Bucharest next month will discuss the problem for the first time, while a new manifesto for a radical overhaul of the western alliance moots the possibility of Nato being used "as an instrument of energy security".

"There will be a discussion of these new security risks, including energy," said a senior Nato diplomat. "We will try to find areas where Nato can add value."

The 150-page manifesto for a new Nato, penned by five former chiefs of staff and senior Nato commanders from the US, UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands, also points to the likely friction in the Arctic as a result of climate change.

The Arctic thaw has already created "minor tensions" between Russia and Nato member Norway over fishing rights around the Spitsbergen archipelago. "The islands of Spitsbergen ... have large deposits of gas and oil that are currently locked under a frozen continental shelf," the document states.

"If global warming were to allow this to become a viable source of energy, a serious conflict could emerge between Russia and Norway." This "potential crisis" would draw in the US, Canada and Denmark "competing for large and viable energy resources and precious raw materials".

With specific reference to Arctic exploration, the EU's report says: "The scramble for resources will intensify."

But the retired generals complain that the EU is not tackling the issue of "protection of energy resources and their means of transportation. The EU is using soft instruments and this is unlikely to protect energy security".

The Solana report is the first high-level attempt to get the issue on the summit agenda. According to a draft outcome for this week's EU summit, the 27 prime ministers and presidents will order "appropriate follow-up action" by the end of the year. Solana and Ferrero-Waldner call on the EU to draw up an Arctic policy "based on the evolving geostrategy of the ... region, taking into account access to resources and the opening of new trade routes".

Next month's Nato summit discussion of the alliance's role in energy security is fuelling speculation that western troops could by deployed as "pipeline police" in places such as the Caucasus. This was dismissed by the Nato diplomat. "Energy security and the security of installations and transportation routes are a national responsibility, not an alliance responsibility," he said. "We should be looking to offer advice and help, rather than putting boots on the ground."

US evangelical rift on global warming widens

· Modernising leaders urge action on emissions
· Southern Baptists' timid policy is reckless, they say

This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday March 11 2008 on p22 of the International section.

A group of more than 40 leading Southern Baptists has widened the divisions within the powerful American evangelical movement over global warming, denouncing the denomination's stance as "too timid" and warning that its cautious response to the environment is seen around the world as "uncaring, reckless and ill-informed".

A declaration backed by the president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, Reverend Frank Page, as well as by two former presidents, Rev Jack Graham and Rev James Merritt, argues that the "time for timidity regarding God's creation is no more". Though it acknowledges that the church's followers continue to be split about the causes and extent of global warming, it says it is prudent to take action now to avoid disaster.

The statement marks the culmination of a growing body of feeling within the Southern Baptists that the church's stated position is outdated. At its convention in June last year, church leaders approved a resolution saying any attempt by government to limit greenhouse gases was "very dangerous" and risked hurting the poor.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the second largest denomination in the US after Catholicism, with 16 million members. Since the 1970s it has played a central role within the religious right, the alliance of political and theological interests that helped to sustain the administrations of Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes.

But in recent months there has been a groundswell of opinion among its members that the warming of the Earth's atmosphere needs to be taken seriously. Al Gore, the former Democratic vice-president and Nobel laureate for his work on climate change, is a Baptist from Tennessee.

Tanya Erzen, an expert in US evangelicals at Ohio State University, believes the church has been influenced by members who have grown increasingly concerned. "The bottom line is that the mega-churches have to retain their memberships to stay relevant, and for that they have to stay in tune with their congregations."

Climate change has been fiercely divisive for many evangelicals. Leading figures such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell have sought to head off the mounting grassroots calls from younger pastors for action on the environment.

Leading members of the religious right have insisted that climate change is not one of "their" issues, unlike abortion or stem cell research, and distracts attention from other political concerns. The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, founded by the Colorado-based evangelical James Dobson, propounds the view that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide "would benefit plant growth" while action to reduce energy consumption would harm the economy and damage "societal well-being". It quotes the statistic that the Kyoto treaty would lead to 1.3m job losses in a year among black and Hispanic Americans. Concerted attempts have been made to marginalise pro-environmentalists among church leaders.

Richard Cizik, the Presbyterian minister who is vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a leading environmental protection advocate, was forced to withdraw his name from an earlier petition in 2006, after being threatened with dismissal if he continued to raise the issue.

The declaration released on Monday was organised by Jonathan Merritt, the 25-year-old son of James Merritt, a former president of the convention. He said he came round to the need for environmental action through a spiritual revelation while attending a class at a Baptist theological seminary in North Carolina.

"The Lord spoke to me in that class through my theology professor, who said we receive revelation from God not only through His word, the Bible, but also through His creation, nature. When we destroy His creation, it is no different to tearing a page from the Bible."

The call for action on climate change is the latest sign of the tectonic plates moving under the religious right. In recent months, observers have detected rising disaffection among Christian conservatives with the Bush administration, which is criticised for failing to pursue a sufficiently aggressive approach to core social conservative issues.


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