Solutions for Sustainable Fisheries
Fish, sometimes called “the last wild food,” are being harvested in record numbers. Across the world’s oceans, stocks are plummeting, prompting calls for immediate action to promote sustainable fisheries.
In the U.S., the crisis has underscored the need for cooperation among the commercial fishing industry, fisheries managers, scientists and government, and NFWF has responded by bringing partners together to find solutions. In the last decade, the Foundation has sponsored a variety of projects in the U.S. to help protect marine wildlife while preserving fishermen’s economic well-being.
In 2009, Florida fishermen faced major losses when state officials shut down their operations because traditional longlines — miles-long lengths of wire with hundreds of hooks — were accidentally catching and drowning endangered sea turtles. Grants from NFWF helped the local economy rebound by covering half the cost of exchanging longlines for new “vertical” gear that prevented turtle bycatch. “It was a godsend at the time,” says Glen Brooks of Cortez, Florida. “Everybody really appreciated it because it gave us the option to explore new fishing methods without going bankrupt.”
- 1.4 million alewives estimated to be lost each year to bycatch
- 800,000 alewives expected to return to spawning grounds each year as a result of NFWF-funded programs
- $289 million annual value of the american lobster and atlantic herring fisheries that could be limited by the decline in alewives
In the Gulf of Maine, recent steep declines in river herring (also known as alewives) raised concerns that the fish, a vital link in the food chain, were disappearing. To determine where populations were being affected, NFWF supported investigations and built the capacity of partners — NOAA, the states of Maine and Massachusetts, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), Environmental Defense Fund, the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) — to find ways to reduce the accidental take of alewives by commercial fishermen.
“One of the major issues facing alewife harvesters is that the ASMFC is requiring each state to prove they are sustainable,” explains Jason Stockwell, a research scientist at the GMRI. His work, funded by NFWF, tracks how bycatch mortality affects specific alewife populations. That data will allow fishery administrators to make informed decisions, notes Michael Brown, Marine Resource Scientist for the state of Maine. “Thanks to the grant from NFWF, we’ve been able to survey our in-river fisheries for the first time since the 1940s, which is giving us the information we need to ensure these fisheries are sustainably managed,” says Brown. Maintaining sustainable catch levels will help keep fishermen in business.
Making sure that fishermen keep their livelihoods while ensuring a healthy ecosystem is a keystone of NFWF’s marine conservation efforts. In 2010, NFWF launched the Fisheries Innovation Fund, which seeks well-designed plans for stewardship and economic sustainability in fisheries. The Fund, supported by NOAA, the Walton Family Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, is designed to foster innovation and support participation of fishermen and fishing communities in the design and implementation of catch-share fisheries and other management strategies, with the goal of rebuilding dwindling stocks.