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Friday, November 19, 2010

Time to save the tuna Stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna are on the brink of collapse thanks to overfishing, largely for our sushi.

Bluefin tuna, Spain
A shoal of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a species under imminent threat due to overfishing, seen off the coast of Spain. Photograph: Brian J Skerry/Getty Images/National Geographic Atlantic bluefin tuna are one of the most remarkable fish in the sea. Their amazing biology allows them to dive down to 1,000m and race through the water at extraordinary speeds, migrating thousands of kilometres across the ocean each year. Yet, today, overfishing – some of it illegal, unregulated and unreported – has taken an enormous toll.
Many of the world's foremost marine scientists now believe that populations of Atlantic bluefin are on the brink of collapse (pdf). In fact, recent studies by fisheries scientists show that the species has declined more than 80% since 1970. Efforts at protection, though, continue to fall short.
Fuelled largely by the lucrative global market in sushi and sashimi, the high value of bluefin has placed significant political pressure on those responsible for managing global tuna populations. When it has counted most, the international community has allowed short-term profits to trump the long-term health of our oceans. One notable example happened this spring at the 2010 meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Every year, billions of plants and animals are taken from the wild and sold as food, pets, souvenirs and medicines. CITES was adopted in the 1970s to help balance the needs of commerce and conservation – ensuring that trade in animal products doesn't endanger a species' very existence. At its heart is a rigorous scientific review process that provides governments with objective information to evaluate when overexploitation merits international protection.
However, when a proposal was submitted to CITES last March to protect bluefin, it was stopped cold, a victim of political games and backroom deals that even reached national news media. Despite support from the CITES Secretariat and governments including the US, Norway and the member states of the European Union, the proposal was defeated. Years of science, backed by leading researchers and international organisations outlining the desperate need to protect Atlantic bluefin, were simply disregarded.
In the wake of the defeat of the bluefin CITES proposal, representatives from the countries that had maneuvered to prevent a responsible decision put forth an excuse. They argued that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) – one of the globe's largest and oldest regional fishery management organisations – should be the body to respond to the crisis facing the great fish, even though it has consistently failed in the past.
During 17-27 November, ICCAT will convene in Paris for its annual meeting, giving leaders the opportunity to rise to the challenge, demonstrate responsible leadership and save this wonder of the deep. It is time for ICCAT to heed the warnings of scientists and take decisive action by suspending the fishery for Atlantic bluefin tuna until strong management and enforcement measures are in place, and the species shows signs of recovery. National governments and international fishery management organisations would then need to work to end mismanagement, as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Additionally, as a global insurance policy, ICCAT should agree to prohibit taking bluefin in their spawning grounds, in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
We cannot continue to empty our oceans without consequence. If ICCAT fails to act, the bluefin tuna will face total collapse.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/nov/18/bluefin-tuna-overfishing
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China says over 81 million disaster-hit people need aid





http://www.terradaily.com/reports/China_says_over_81_million_disaster-hit_people_need_aid_999.html Beijing (AFP) Nov 18, 2010 China said Thursday more than 81 million of its people would need government relief this winter, after it suffered one of its worst years for natural disasters in two decades. China has been particularly badly hit by natural disasters this year, experiencing an earthquake that killed nearly 2,700 people, the worst inundations in a decade and a huge mudslide that killed 1,500.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs said in a statement that the number of Chinese people impacted by natural disasters this year was 25 percent higher than the average for the past 20 years.
It estimated that 81.4 million people in areas battered by natural disasters would need government relief this winter.
The statement did not elaborate on what type of support was required, but the official Xinhua news agency said the ministry referred to food.
"This year is second only to 2008 (when an 8.0-magnitude quake hit the southwestern province of Sichuan, leaving nearly 87,000 dead or missing) in terms of serious natural disasters in the past 20 years," the ministry said.
Xinhua reported that the government had allocated 4.1 billion yuan (617 million dollars) to buy food, clothes, blankets and heating devices for those in disaster-hit areas.
According to the latest official figures, China's natural disaster toll has reached 4,342 dead or missing this year, with direct economic losses amounting to 370 billion yuan.

EU, Japan sketch battle lines in bluefin tuna meet



http://www.terradaily.com/reports/EU_Japan_sketch_battle_lines_in_bluefin_tuna_meet_999.html Paris (AFP) Nov 18, 2010 A meeting on the fate of the Atlantic bluefin tuna got into its stride on Thursday as Europe mulled a call for a modest cut in catches and Japan said it would propose a ban on nations that cheat on fishing quotas. At stake is the viability of a billion-dollar fishery for the open-water predator and perhaps even the species' long-term survival, say conservationists.
Industrial-scale fishing using huge trap-nets during spawning season has drastically reduced stocks in the Mediterranean over the last three decades.
Nearly 80 percent of each year's catch is shipped to Japan, where it is a hallowed part of the national diet, eaten raw as gourmet sushi and sashimi.
The 48-member International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), meeting in Paris until November 27, sets the rules and quotas for Atlantic fisheries and monitors compliance.
European Union (EU) nations, overcoming internal divisions, agreed late Wednesday to push for a "stable or partially reduced quota".
European fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki, backed in particular by Britain, called last month for slashing yearly quotas to 6,000 tonnes.
This is less than half of the 13,500 tonnes extracted from the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean in 2010.
Fishing industry countries led by France -- including Spain, Italy and Malta -- had called for rolling over the current quotas for at least another year.
Eventually, though, all 27 member nations agreed on a proposal to "negotiate the bluefin tuna quota between its current level of 13,500 tonnes and a partial reduction", a European diplomat told AFP.
Another diplomat said the EU 27 were ready to accept a reduction of 2,000 tonnes.
Japan, meanwhile, said it would table a proposal by which countries that cheat on their quotas would be banned from fishing the following year unless they improved monitoring and enforcement measures, the daily Asahi Shimbun reported.
"Japan will take leadership in the meeting to ensure the recovery of the stock," Masanori Miyahara, the head of the Japanese delegation, told NHK television in Paris.
The United States has in the past pushed for "zero" quotas, but is under pressure from its own domestic industry, centered in Massachusetts, to ease up on restrictions to boost employment.
Going into the meeting, ICCAT Chairman Fabio Hazin said that a proposal favoured by four major green groups to suspend industrial fishing in the Mediterranean in favour of more traditional methods was under consideration.
"That is a realistic scenario," he said. "One of the things being discussed is the possible suspension of purse-seine fishing and the caging activities."
ICCAT scientists calculate that annual quotas of 13,500 tonnes through 2013 would put the species on track for a 60-percent probability of reaching so-called "maximum sustainable yield" by 2022.
At the same time, they caution that estimates about fish populations and the true tonnage of catches are rife with uncertainty.
A single Atlantic bluefin tuna can fetch more than 100,000 dollars in wholesale markets in Japan, where the fish is prized by sushi connoisseurs as the "black diamond" because of its scarcity.
Bluefin make up less than one percent of the global tuna catch, which includes five species.
ICCAT will also review proposals to set catch limits for several species of sharks listed as globally "endangered" and "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Tens of millions of sharks are killed every year for their fins, prized by Chinese gourmets. Of 21 species of shark fished in the Atlantic, only one -- shortfin makos -- is even monitored.
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Expect more rain, heat and hurricanes, say scientists




India faces warming climate, study saysNew Delhi (UPI) Nov 17, 2010 - India could become 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by 2030 compared to 1970s levels, leading to changes in rainfall patterns and more severe floods and droughts, a new study says. The "Climate Change and India: a 4x4 Assessment" study addresses agriculture, water, natural ecosystems and biodiversity as well as health in four climate sensitive-regions in India: the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, coastal areas and the northeast. Conducted by 220 Indian scientists and 120 research institutions for the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment, a governmental organization, the study predicts an increase in rainfall, particularly in the Himalayas, with extreme precipitation to increase by up to 10 days in all regions of India.

While occurrences of cyclones are expected to decrease, the report says, the storms are expected to increase in intensity. The report says droughts are expected to become worse in the Himalayan region, with flooding likely to worsen by around 10 to 30 percent in all other regions. The sea level along India's 4,660-mile coast has been rising at a rate of 0.05 of an inch a year and is likely to continue in tandem with future rises of the global sea level, the report says. As for health, the incidence of malaria will increase in the Himalayan region though it will come down in the coastal belts by 2030 because of changes in moisture and temperatures caused by climate change. "There is no country in the world that is as vulnerable, on so many dimensions, to climate change as India is," Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said following the release of the report on Tuesday, Press Trust of India reports.

"This makes it imperative for us to have sound evidence-based assessments on the impact of climate change." The study comes ahead of the U.N. climate summit beginning Nov. 29 in Cancun, Mexico, where nations will attempt again to reach a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Ramesh has recently signaled a willingness to tone down India's demands in Cancun, after having been blamed, along with China, for preventing the adoption of a legally binding agreement at the U.N. summit in Denmark last December. "We are running out of time. Cancun is the last chance. The credibility of the climate-change mechanism is at stake," said Ramesh, India's Daily News & Analysis reported last week. "All the countries have made changes in their positions, barring a couple of developed ones, and shown considerable flexibility," he said.
http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Expect_more_rain_heat_and_hurricanes_say_scientists_999.html Washington (AFP) Nov 18, 2010 Hungry polar bears gathering along the tundra, twice as many record-breaking temperatures and stronger hurricanes are among the latest signs of climate change, scientists say. And we can expect more rain, more drought and fiercer storms in the future if the world continues on its fossil-fuel gobbling track, they told reporters on a conference call Wednesday to discuss the year in global warming.
Michael Mann, a leading US scientist, said he just returned from a trip to Churchill, Manitoba, the Canadian shore town famous for its polar bears, where the sea ice they depend on for hunting seals has not yet formed because of warm temperatures.
"When you go up there you see the bears all along the coast on the tundra awaiting the sea ice to form and it hasn't formed yet," Mann said.
"This was for me a very tangible and personal opportunity to see the impacts of climate change firsthand," he said. "The Arctic is in many respects a harbinger of things to come on our planet."
Mann also pointed to research being presented on Capitol Hill by another climate scientist, Jerry Meehl of National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), showing the number of record-breaking hot days is twice as high as the record cold days.
"Heat records are outpacing cold records at a factor of two to one now. That number is expected to increase to 20 to 1 by late this century if we continue on the course that we are on with fossil fuel burning," Mann said.
Some events, such as the 2003 European heat wave which killed about 35,000 people and this year's heat wave in Moscow would be "extremely unlikely to happen in the absence of climate change," he added.
Hurricane expert Greg Holland said the fiercest storms are already showing an uptick in frequency, and more powerful hurricanes lie ahead.
"If you just look at the Atlantic in the last 10 years, we have experienced three times as many Category 5 hurricanes as have occurred in previous history on a relative basis," he said.
"We now have consensus statements coming out from the scientists and indeed a lot of regional research is pointing all in the same direction. There is nothing going in the other direction," he said.
"And that is the very intense hurricanes, the very intense (Category) fours and fives are going to increase and they could be doubling or tripling."
Holland also predicted more rain and drought in the coming years.
"As the earth warms up the atmosphere can hold more water, if there is more water available there will be more rain. Paradoxically of course there is as a result of that more drought because the land dries out quicker."
According to Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the reduction of sea ice in the Arctic will have a growing impact on temperatures in the rest of the world.
"What we have seen is a rather pronounced reduction in the extent of sea ice. At the end of summer now we have 40 percent less sea ice than we had say during the 1970s," Serreze said.
"We are losing that insulator so what we are seeing now are big fluxes in heat from the ocean to the atmosphere," he said.
"Since everything is connected together in the climate system what happens up there can influence what happens down here and I am talking about in the middle latitudes."
The other thing that the scientists said is changing, along with climate, is how they confront skeptics who question the reality of climate change and the extent of humans' role in causing it.
"There are still many of us who like to sit in our office or go into the field and just do our science and not enter into the fray, but I think that is changing," said Serreze.
"We have to become more involved," he added. "We have to become better communicators. Scientists are not always good communicators of the issues but this is part of a learning curve and we have got to face that."
Mann, a Nobel-Prize winning scientist who was cleared of allegations of misconduct this year stemming from a series of leaked emails between scientists about climate change, said he too has learned from his experiences.
"One lesson is that if you're a climate scientist and you are willing to play a prominent role in the public discourse on climate change then you'd better have a thick skin," he said.

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As Arctic Temperatures Rise, Tundra Fires Increase




The 2007 Anaktuvuk River Fire burned more than 1,000 square kilometers of tundra on Alaska's North Slope. It was the largest tundra fire in the region in recorded history. Credit: Bureau of Land Management
http://www.terradaily.com/reports/As_Arctic_Temperatures_Rise_Tundra_Fires_Increase_999.html Champaign IL (SPX) Nov 19, 2010 In September, 2007, the Anaktuvuk River Fire burned more than 1,000 square kilometers of tundra on Alaska's North Slope, doubling the area burned in that region since record keeping began in 1950. A new analysis of sediment cores from the burned area revealed that this was the most destructive tundra fire at that site for at least 5,000 years. Models built on 60 years of climate and fire data found that even moderate increases in warm-season temperatures in the region dramatically increase the likelihood of such fires.
The study was published this October in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
After the Anaktuvuk fire, University of Illinois plant biology professor Feng Sheng Hu sought to answer a simple question: Was this seemingly historic fire an anomaly, or were large fires a regular occurrence in the region?
"If such fires occur every 200 years or every 500 years, it's a natural event," Hu said. "But another possibility is that these are truly unprecedented events caused by, say, greenhouse warming."
On a trip to Alaska in 2008, Hu chartered a helicopter to the region of the Anaktuvuk fire and collected sediment cores from two affected lakes. He and his colleagues analyzed the distribution of charcoal particles in these cores and used established techniques to determine the approximate ages of different sediment layers.
The team found no evidence of a fire of similar scale and intensity in sediments representing roughly 5,000 years at that locale.
The researchers then analyzed 60 years of fire, temperature and precipitation records from the Alaskan tundra to determine whether specific climate conditions prevailed in years with significant tundra fires. They developed a model relating the tundra area burned in Alaska each year to the mean temperature and precipitation in the warmest period of the year: June through September.
This analysis uncovered a striking pattern, Hu said.
"There is a dramatic, nonlinear relationship between climate conditions and tundra fires, and what one may call a tipping point," he said. Once the temperature rises above a mean threshold of 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) in the June-through-September time period, he said, "the tundra is just going to burn more frequently."
For the past 60 years, annual mean temperatures during this warm season have fluctuated between about 6 and 9 degrees Celsius (42.8 to 48.2 degrees Fahrenheit), with temperatures trending upward since 1995. In 2007, the year of the historic fire, the mean temperature was a record 11.1 degrees Celsius, while precipitation and soil moisture dipped to an all-time low.
Higher precipitation, if it occurs, could dampen the effects of higher temperatures, but only to a limited extent, said Philip Higuera, a professor of forest ecology and biogeosciences at the University of Idaho and a co-author on the study.
"As temperature rises, so too does evaporation," he said. "So even if future precipitation increases, it's likely that increased evaporation will result in overall lower moisture availability. This affects plants, but it also makes dead vegetation more flammable and fire prone."
The study team also included researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Neptune and Company, and the University of Washington.
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Dire Messages About Global Warming Can Backfire

Despite the mounting evidence, a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year found that 48 percent of Americans believe that global warming concerns are exaggerated, and 19 percent think global warming will never happen. In 1997, 31 percent of those who were asked the same question in a Gallup poll felt the claims were overstated.
by Yasmin Anwar Berkeley CA (SPX) Nov 19, 2010 Dire or emotionally charged warnings about the consequences of global warming can backfire if presented too negatively, making people less amenable to reducing their carbon footprint, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley. "Our study indicates that the potentially devastating consequences of global warming threaten people's fundamental tendency to see the world as safe, stable and fair. As a result, people may respond by discounting evidence for global warming," said Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of a study to be published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.
"The scarier the message, the more people who are committed to viewing the world as fundamentally stable and fair are motivated to deny it," agreed Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology and coauthor of the study.
But if scientists and advocates can communicate their findings in less apocalyptic ways, and present solutions to global warming, Willer said, most people can get past their skepticism.
Recent decades have seen a growing scientific consensus on the existence of a warming of global land and ocean temperatures. A significant part of the warming trend has been attributed to human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite the mounting evidence, a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year found that 48 percent of Americans believe that global warming concerns are exaggerated, and 19 percent think global warming will never happen. In 1997, 31 percent of those who were asked the same question in a Gallup poll felt the claims were overstated.
In light of this contradictory trend, Feinberg and Willer sought to investigate the psychology behind attitudes about climate change.
In the first of two experiments, 97 UC Berkeley undergraduates were gauged for their political attitudes, skepticism about global warming and level of belief in whether the world is just or unjust.
Rated on a "just world scale," which measures people's belief in a just world for themselves and others, participants were asked how much they agree with such statements as "I believe that, by and large, people get what they deserve," and "I am confident that justice always prevails over injustice."
Next, participants read a news article about global warming. The article started out with factual data provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. But while half the participants received articles that ended with warnings about the apocalyptic consequences of global warming, the other half read ones that concluded with positive messages focused on potential solutions to global warming, such as technological innovations that could reduce carbon emissions.
Results showed that those who read the positive messages were more open to believing in the existence of global warming and had more faith in science's ability to solve the problem. Moreover, those who scored high on the just world scale were less skeptical about global warming when exposed to the positive message. By contrast, those exposed to doomsday messages became more skeptical about global warming, particularly those who scored high on the just world scale.
In the second experiment, involving 45 volunteers recruited from 30 U.S. cities via Craigslist, researchers looked specifically at whether increasing one's belief in a just world would increase his or her skepticism about global warming.
They had half the volunteers unscramble sentences such as "prevails justice always" so they would be more likely to take a just world view when doing the research exercises. They then showed them a video featuring innocent children being put in harm's way to illustrate the threat of global warming to future generations.
Those who had been primed for a just world view responded to the video with heightened skepticism towards global warming and less willingness to change their lifestyles to reduce their carbon footprint, according to the results.
Overall, the study concludes, "Fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects of messages."

http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Dire_Messages_About_Global_Warming_Can_Backfire_999.html
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bluefin tuna showdown pits industry vs. ecology




http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Bluefin_tuna_showdown_pits_industry_vs_ecology_999.html Paris (AFP) Nov 17, 2010 Economy clashed with ecology as dozens of nations met in Paris Wednesday to set catch quotas for diminished stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a mainstay of gourmet sushi and sashimi in Japan. The 10-day meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) seeks a compromise between ensuring the species' future and salvaging a multi-billion-dollar business spread around the Mediterranean rim.
Conservationists argue that reconciliation is impossible, at least in the short term.
"Bluefin tuna fishing does not have a future unless ICCAT shuts down purse-seine fishing and farming" in the Mediterranean, said Maria-Jose Cornax, an expert with advocacy group Oceana.
Thirty- to 40-metre (100 to 150-foot) purse-seine ships can trap thousands of bluefin during spawning season in a single drawstring net which is then hauled to coastal "farms" where the tuna are fattened for market.
Oceana, along with NGOs Greenpeace, WWF and Pew Environment Group, called on Tuesday for a ban on this kind of fishing.
They also want a reduction in 2011 of the allowable annual catch from 13,500 tonnes -- the 2010 limit -- to 6,000 tonnes.
"That is a realistic scenario," ICCAT Chairman Fabio Hazin of Brazil said when asked to comment.
"One of the things that is being discussed [within ICCAT] is the possible suspension of purse-seine fishing and the caging activities," he said at a roundtable discussion.
The 48-member ICCAT has set the rules and quotas for fisheries in the Atlantic, and monitoring for compliance.
Driven by wholesale prices in Japan that can top 100,000 dollars per specimen, industrial-scale fishing in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic has depleted stocks by 85 percent in recent decades, scientists say.
The Japanese consume 80 percent of the Atlantic bluefin catch, and will play a critical role in determining the outcome of the meeting.
"We must create a stock recovery program based on scientific advice and firmly implement it," Masanori Miyahara, the head of the Japanese delegation, told NHK television.
"Japan will take leadership in the meeting to ensure the recovery of the stock," he said.
ICCAT member states have disagreed sharply going into the meeting whether next year's quotas should remain at 13,500 tonnes, as in 2010, or halved or even suspended.
France's fisheries minister, Bruno Le Maire, said his country favoured maintaining the 13,500 tonnes level, a position backed by Spain and Italy.
Britain and Germany, along with EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki, have come out in favour of a sharp reduction.
The European Union was supposed to forge a common position going into the meeting, but has so far failed to do so.
Some conservation groups argue that only a complete suspension will allow the species to recover.
ICCAT's scientific committee said last month that extending the 2010 catch limit for each of the next three years would give bluefin in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean a 63-percent chance of attaining so-called "maximum sustainable yield" by 2022.
"The commissioners should be precautionary and not go for the higher range of possibility," Hazin said, adding this was "only my personal view."
Critics also say ICCAT is undermined by fraudulent catches, a claim bolstered by recent investigative reports and France's admission in 2007 that its catch for that year was more than double the authorized limit.
"There is so much illegal fishing going on that the only responsible thing to do is to suspend the fishery, get it sorted out, and then open it slowly so the species can recover," said Sue Lieberman, policy director for the US-based Pew Environment Group.
Industry representatives, backed by their governments, say the organisation has cracked down on renegade fishing in the last three years by adding independent on-board inspectors and an improved ship-to-market tracking system.
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Scientists Question Indicator Of Fisheries Health


Scientists Question Indicator Of Fisheries Health

Branch and his co-authors are the first to combine so many trawl surveys for analysis - no one had combined more than a handful before. The trawl survey data came from efforts started three years ago by fisheries scientists and ecologists gathered at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, Calif.
http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Scientists_Question_Indicator_Of_Fisheries_Health_999.html Seattle WA (SPX) Nov 18, 2010 The most widely adopted measure for assessing the state of the world's oceans and fisheries led to inaccurate conclusions in nearly half the ecosystems where it was applied according to new analysis by an international team led by a University of Washington fisheries scientist. "Applied to individual ecosystems it's like flipping a coin, half the time you get the right answer and half the time you get the wrong answer," said Trevor Branch, a UW assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.
In 1998, the journal Science published a groundbreaking paper that was the first to use trends in the trophic levels of fish that were caught to measure the health of world fisheries. The trophic level of an organism shows where it fits in food webs, with microscopic algae at a trophic level of one and large predators such as sharks, halibut and tuna at a trophic level of around four.
The 1998 paper relied on four decades of catch data and averaged the trophic levels of what was caught. The authors determined those averages were declining over time and warned we were "fishing down the food web" by overharvesting fish at the highest trophic levels and then sequentially going after fish farther down the food web.
Twelve years later, newly compiled data has emerged that considers such things as the numbers and types of fish that actually live in these ecosystems, as well as catch data. An analysis in the Nov. 18 issue of Nature reveals weaknesses in assessing ecosystem health from changes in the trophic levels of what is being caught.
"This is important because that measure is the most widely adopted indicator by which to determine the overall health of marine ecosystems," said Branch, lead author of the new analysis in Nature. Those involved with the U.N.'s Convention on Biological Diversity, for instance, chose to use the average trophic level of fish being caught as the main measure of global marine diversity. An example of the problem with the measure is in the Gulf of Thailand, where the average trophic level of what is being caught is rising, which should indicate improving ecosystem health according to proponents of that measure. Instead, it turns out fish at all levels have declined tenfold since the 1950s because of overharvesting.
"The measure only declines if fisheries aimed for top predators first, but for the Gulf of Thailand the measure fails because fisheries first targeted mussels and shrimps near the bottom of the food web, before shifting to predators higher up in the food web," Branch said.
Including the Gulf of Thailand, Branch found that changes in the average trophic levels of what was being caught and what was found when fish populations were surveyed differed in 13 of the 29 trawl surveys from 14 ecosystems. Trawl surveys, generally done from research vessels, count the kinds and abundance of fish and are repeated over time to reveal trends.
Branch and his co-authors are the first to combine so many trawl surveys for analysis - no one had combined more than a handful before. The trawl survey data came from efforts started three years ago by fisheries scientists and ecologists gathered at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, Calif.
They brought together worldwide catch data, stock assessments, scientific trawl surveys, small-scale fishery data and modeling results. What emerged is the most comprehensive set of data yet for fisheries researchers and managers.
It paints a different picture from previous catch data and has revealed another major new finding: On a global scale humans don't appear to be fishing down the food web, Branch said.
The new catch data reveal that, following declines during the 1970s in the average trophic levels of fish being caught, catches of fish at all trophic levels have generally gone up since the mid-80s. Included are high-trophic predators such as bigeye tuna, skipjack tuna and blue whiting.
"Globally we're catching more of just about everything," Branch said. "Therefore relying on changes in the average trophic level of fish being caught won't tell us when fishing is sustainable or if it is leading to collapse." That's because when harvests of everything increase about equally, the average trophic level of what is caught remains steady. The same is true if everything is overfished to collapse. Both scenarios were modeled as part of the Nature analysis.
"The 1998 paper was tremendously influential in gathering together global data on catches and trophic levels and it warned about fishing impacts on ecosystems," Branch says.
"Our new data from trawl surveys and fisheries assessments now tell us that catches weren't enough. In the future we will need to focus our limited resources on tracking trends in species that are especially vulnerable to fishing and developing indicators that reflect fish abundance, biodiversity and marine ecosystem health. Only through such efforts can we reliably assess human impacts on marine ecosystems."
"In this paper we conducted the first large-scale test of whether changes in the average trophic levels of what is caught are a good indicator of ecosystem status," says Beth Fulton, a co-author and ecosystem modeler with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia. "Catch data might be easiest to get, but that doesn't help if what it tells us is wrong. Instead we really need to look directly at what the ecosystems are doing."

Widely Adopted Indicator Of Fisheries Health Questioned

Widely Adopted Indicator Of Fisheries Health Questioned

The new analysis reveals weaknesses in assessing ecosystem health from changes in the trophic levels of what is being caught.
http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Widely_Adopted_Indicator_Of_Fisheries_Health_Questioned_999.html Washington DC (SPX) Nov 18, 2010 The most widely adopted measure for assessing the state of the world's oceans and fisheries led to inaccurate conclusions in nearly half the ecosystems where it was applied. The new analysis was performed by an international team of fisheries scientists, and is reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature.
"Applied to individual ecosystems it's like flipping a coin; half the time you get the right answer and half the time you get the wrong answer," said Trevor Branch, a University of Washington (UW) aquatic and fisheries scientist.
"Monitoring all the fish in the sea would be an enormous, and impossible, task," said Henry Gholz, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Environmental Biology, which co-funded the research with NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences.
"This study makes clear that the most common indicator, average catch trophic level, is a woefully inadequate measure of the status of marine fisheries."
In 1998, the journal Science published a groundbreaking paper that was the first to use trends in the trophic levels of fish that were caught to measure the health of world fisheries.
The trophic level of an organism shows where it fits in food webs, with microscopic algae at a trophic level of one and large predators such as sharks, halibut and tuna at a trophic level around four.
The 1998 paper relied on four decades of catch data and averaged the trophic levels of what was caught.
The authors determined that those averages were declining over time and warned we were "fishing down the food web" by overharvesting fish at the highest trophic levels and then sequentially going after fish farther down the food web.
Twelve years later newly compiled data has emerged that considers the numbers and types of fish that actually live in these ecosystems, as well as catch data.
The new analysis reveals weaknesses in assessing ecosystem health from changes in the trophic levels of what is being caught.
"This is important because that measure is the most widely adopted indicator by which to determine the overall health of marine ecosystems," said Branch, lead author of the Nature paper.
Those involved with the U.N.'s Convention on Biodiversity, for instance, chose to use the average trophic level of fish caught as the main measure of global marine diversity.
An example of the problem with the measure is in the Gulf of Thailand where the average trophic level of what is being caught is rising, which should indicate improving ecosystem health according to proponents of that measure.
Instead, it turns out fish at all levels have declined tenfold since the 1950s because of overharvesting.
"The measure only declines if fisheries aimed for top predators first, but for the Gulf of Thailand the measure fails because fisheries first target mussels and shrimp near the bottom of the food web, before shifting to fish higher up," Branch said.
Including the Gulf of Thailand, Branch found that changes in the average trophic levels of what was being caught, and what was found when fish populations were surveyed, differed in 13 of the 29 trawl surveys from 14 ecosystems.
Trawl surveys, generally done from research vessels, count the kinds and abundance of fish and are repeated over time to reveal trends.
Branch and co-authors are the first to combine many trawl surveys for analysis--no one had combined more than a handful before.
The trawl survey data came from efforts started three years ago by fisheries scientists and ecologists, who gathered at the NSF-supported National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara, Calif.
They brought together world-wide catch data, stock assessments, scientific trawl surveys, small-scale fishery data and modeling results.
What emerged is the most comprehensive set of data yet for fisheries researchers and managers.
It paints a different picture from previous catch data and has revealed another major new finding: on a global scale humans don't appear to be fishing down the food web, Branch said.
"The research shows the importance of synthesis to furthering an understanding of fisheries impacts and management strategies," said Phillip Taylor, section head in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences.
"For complex ecosystem interactions, answers can only come from repeated scrutiny of data, and comparisons of different scientific methods and systems," said Taylor. "This synthesis points to a path forward to evaluate fisheries influences on ocean ecosystems."
The new catch data reveal that, following declines during the 1970s in the average trophic levels of fish being caught, catches of fish at all trophic levels have generally gone up since the mid-80s.
Included are high-trophic predators such as bigeye tuna, skipjack tuna and blue whiting.
"Globally we're catching more of just about everything," Branch said. "Therefore relying on changes in the average trophic level of fish being caught won't tell us when fishing is sustainable--or if it is leading to collapse."
When harvests of everything increase equally, the average trophic level of what is caught remains steady. The same is true if everything is overfished to collapse. Both scenarios were modeled as part of the analysis.
"The 1998 paper was tremendously influential in gathering together global data on catches and trophic levels, and it warned about fishing impacts on ecosystems," Branch said.
"Our new data from trawl surveys and fisheries assessments now tell us that catches weren't enough. In the future we will need to target limited resources in the best way, focusing on species that are especially vulnerable to fishing and developing indicators that reflect fish abundance, biodiversity and marine ecosystem health.
"Only through such efforts can we reliably assess human impacts on marine ecosystems."
"We conducted the first large-scale test of whether changes in the average trophic levels of what's caught is a good indicator of ecosystem status," said Beth Fulton, co-author of the paper and an ecosystem modeler with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia.
"Catch data might be easiest to get, but that doesn't help if what it tells us is wrong," said Fulton. "Instead we really need to look directly at what the ecosystems are doing."
Co-authors of the paper are Reg Watson and Grace Pablico, University of British Columbia; Simon Jennings, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and University of East Anglia, England; Carey McGilliard, University of Washington; Daniel Ricard, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Sean Tracey, University of Tasmania, Australia.

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Experts say rare earths headed for 2011 supply crunch





Sydney (AFP) Nov 17, 2010 Global demand for the increasingly important "rare earth" minerals that power a range of digital products could outstrip supply by next year as dominant producer China slashes exports, analysts warn. Australian experts say the world must find new technologies or prioritise use of the glowing or highly magnetic metals behind iPhones and flat-screen TVs, as well as eco-friendly hybrid cars, solar panels and wind turbines.
"We have a classic supply and demand crisis. Under normal conditions the global demand exceeds supply in about 2011," Professor Brent McInnes from Curtin University in Western Australia told an online briefing last week.
"In 2016, it's quite evident that the Chinese demand itself will exceed the global supply of rare earth elements."
Demand for rare earths has soared with the popularity of smartphones and low-power light bulbs, at the same time that China, which produces 95 percent of the world's total, is limiting exports to feed its domestic market.
Trade tensions flared in September when buyers in Japan accused China of a targeted embargo in retaliation for a territorial dispute.
China gave assurances it would be a "reliable supplier" during a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month. But Japan, the United States and other top consumers are scrambling to find new sources.
"There is a whole range of economies out there... that are building high-tech industries that are dependent at the moment on a very narrow source," said John Cole, director of the Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development.
But McInnes said China's actions were driven more by a need to support its growing high-tech sector rather than a desire to exert market clout.
"China sees a point in time when they will need all the rare earth elements they produce," he said.
Rare earth prices remained static for decades due to plentiful supplies, lulling the high-tech industry into a false sense of security.
But McInnes said "it's quite evident this is no longer going to be viable," with a 300 percent spike in prices over the past year alone.
"In normal economic circumstances, whenever the price of an element gets so high, you look to develop new technologies that don't need that element, or you find a new element that is more abundant," said McInnes.
Dwindling supply and increasing costs underscored the need to develop alternatives such as bio- or nano-technology, he added.
"We are at the moment looking at a phenomenon that perhaps gives us some insights into where the future might be in terms of the high-tech and particularly the green-tech sector because some of the technologies that are at risk ... largely exist in the green-tech area," McInnes said.
Cole said scarce supplies of rare earths were being routinely used on "low-value" applications such as plasma screen TVs, indicating a lack of appreciation of the resource and its potential applications.
"Health, defence, and communications applications indicate that there are "a hierarchy of technologies here that could be developed, not least of which are the green technologies," said Cole.
With an average Australian producing six kilos (12 pounds) of electronic waste each year, vast quantities of rare earth -- also used in glass, fibre optic cables and magnets -- find their way into rubbish tips, raising the possibility of recycling as a key source of the minerals.
"The optimisation of our use of rare earth demands that we fully recover the material and re-use it, and that includes even going to the extent of land-fill mining," said Cole.
Australia's Lynas Corp is on track to start producing rare earths by the third quarter of next year, with the resource-rich country expected to become one of the world's leading producers within just a few years.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nations Face Off Warily on Bluefin Tuna

Nations Face Off Warily on Bluefin Tuna

New York Times: International fisheries conferences don’t necessarily make for high drama. But a meeting that opens on Wednesday on the fate of the Atlantic bluefin tuna could leave some officials, including those of the host country, squirming in the spotlight. Officials will gather for 10 days in Paris under the auspices of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, a regional fisheries management organization made up of 48 member governments. The commission has the task of apportioning...more at:
 

http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/nations-face-off-warily-on-the-bluefin-tuna/





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