Shark Trade Talks Propose Saving Grace
April 25, 2012 -
Whole Foods, the Texas-based natural foods supermarket, no longer carries fish considered to be unsustainable. The Whole Foods ban includes fish that is either overfished or caught in a harmful way, according to their website. The popular Atlantic Halibut made the list, though the company will still sell Atlantic cod that is caught by hook and line or gillnets. "Stewardship of the ocean is so important to our customers and to us," David Pilat, the global seafood buyer for Whole Foods told the New York Times. "We're not necessarily here to tell fishermen how to fish, but on a species like Atlantic cod, we are out there actively saying, 'For Whole Foods Market to buy your cod, the rating has to be favorable.'" Here's a look at the list of fish that the superstore no longer sells and why.
Octopus Whole Foods uses ratings set by the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The ratings are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat.
Imported Wild Shrimp "At Whole Foods Market, we've been saying that our mission is to sell only wild-caught fish that has been responsibly caught. For a few years now, we've used color-coded sustainability ratings, from green (best choice) to red (avoid), to help you make an informed choice. Now we're putting our mackerel where our mouth is: To support greater abundance in our oceans, we're no longer carrying red-rated wild-caught seafood!" the company wrote on its blog.
Tuna (from specific areas and catch methods rated "red") On their website, Whole Foods says that they stopped selling "species that were extremely depleted in the oceans, such as orange roughy, shark and bluefin tuna" years ago. The company uses the sustainability ratings of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Rockfish According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "In recent years, reduced fishing has allowed many rockfish populations to recover from low levels. Gear concerns remain, however -- trawl-caught rockfish should still be avoided."
Swordfish Some of the gear used to fish swordfish "accidentally catches sea turtles, seabirds and sharks," according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Skate Wing Skates are in the overfished category. Most are also caught with bottom trawls, which result in high levels of accidental catch.
Sturgeon According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, "Sturgeon farmed in the U.S. is a good alternative to most wild sturgeon, whose populations have seriously declined due to overfishing for sturgeon eggs (caviar)."
Tautog Also known as black fish, Tautog are considered a "vulnerable" species. They are found close to shore on hard-bottom habitats, occasionally entering brackish water.
Trawl-Caught Atlantic Cod Fishermen often catch cod with bottom trawl, large nets that skim across the seafloor. Trawling, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "damages marine habitats and produces bycatch."
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Turbot A cousin of Pacific halibut, turbot are a right-eyed flatfish -- as they develop, their left eye migrates across the top of the skull toward the other eye on the right side. Turbot are yellowish or grayish-brown on top and paler on their underside.
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Demand for shark products is driving some species to extinction, but countries meeting in Bangkok this week have a chance to save the ocean’s top predator.
Delegates from 177 countries began a two week negotiation on March 3 to decide whether to manage international trade in some shark species, as well as other vulnerable plants and animals.
The delegates will discuss whether sharks should be protected under a treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Treaty meetings to consider protections for species occur about every 2 1/2 years and mark the best chance on a global scale to save imperiled wildlife that is traded internationally. For sharks, this means a conference on land might be part of the solution to their survival at sea.
The treaty is the most recognized, effective and successfully enforced international conservation agreement. It protects more than 30,000 species and has helped prevent the extinction of numerous plants and animals. Yet only three of those protected species are sharks—the whale shark and the basking and great white sharks. We now have the opportunity to save more.
Countries will consider safeguards for five shark species and two species of manta rays—animals that are closely related to sharks. If the delegates approve, these ocean animals could be traded only when international sales would not cause a harmful decline in their populations. In other words, to be permitted, the catch must be sustainable.
My colleagues and I at The Pew Charitable Trusts know that time is running out to save these awe-inspiring animals. Scientists say nearly one-third of all shark species are headed for extinction, and up to 73 million are killed every year for fins that end up in bowls of soup.
Shark advocates began preparing for the Bangkok talks months ago. Last summer, I joined fellow shark attack survivors, a group that works to save sharks despite our injuries, in visiting members of Congress and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
We asked them to champion a proposal to help oceanic whitetip sharks, a species whose population in the Gulf of Mexico plummeted by up to 99 percent since the 1950s. The United States did the right thing in helping take the lead in proposing protections for whitetip sharks.
Other conservation-minded countries are similarly heeding the call to protect sharks.
These countries are carrying the torch for porbeagle sharks, which are critically endangered in the Mediterranean Sea and northeast Atlantic. Three species of hammerheads—scalloped, great and smooth—are also on the roster. Great and scalloped hammerheads already are endangered, and smooth populations are declining.
When this convention last met in 2010, short-term economic gain took precedence over the long-term survival of a top predator that helps keep the ocean ecosystem in balance. But there is reason to hope momentum is shifting and this year will be different.
Brazil, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Egypt, Honduras, Mexico, the United States and the European Union are all sponsoring the shark proposals. With their leadership, these shark species have a chance to make a comeback.
You can help save the ocean’s top predator by joining the Shark Stanley campaign, a global student-led drive to persuade the delegates to protect more shark species. The campaign is collecting photos from people who favor protecting sharks. The photos will be presented at the treaty talks.
The goal is to have photos from the 177 countries participating in the Bangkok meeting. So far, organizers have pictures from 116 countries. If you want to add your photos, visit www.SharkStanley.com.
Debbie Salamone is a shark attack survivor and a communications officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts. She is the organizer of Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation.