Thursday, July 06, 2006

Nature Conservancy buys out fishermen to protect marine ecosystems

Now this is one startegy, if you can only make sure tralwers don't just buy new equipment

SAN FRANCISCO, California (3 July 2006) -- For four generations, Geoff Bettencourt's family has fished the waters off Half Moon Bay by dragging heavy nets across the ocean floor to scoop up the sole and cod that feed there.

But Bettencourt may soon sell his right to trawl the sea — not to another fisherman, but to environmentalists.

The Nature Conservancy announced last week that it had bought six federal trawling permits and four trawling vessels from fishermen in Morro Bay, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now the international environmental group best known for buying development rights from farmers is looking to strike similar deals with fisherman up the coast, including Bettencourt.

The tactic, designed to reward fisherman for forgoing fishing methods that can damage sensitive marine ecosystems, reflects the Conservancy's new, cooperative strategy for protecting the ocean. A contrast to earlier environmental campaigns that some fishermen saw as a financial burden, the group's offer has been well-received, according to Bettencourt.

"They didn't come in saying they hate fishermen," he said.

The Nature Conservancy says its acquisitions represent the nation's first private buy-out of Pacific fishing vessels and permits for conservation purposes. Financial details weren't disclosed, but each fisherman received "several hundred thousand dollars a piece," said Chuck Cook, director of the organization's California coastal and marine program.

"You don't try to punish the fisherman for trying to be good stewards of the ocean," Cook said. "You try to provide economic incentives for treating the habitats and fisheries well."

Fishermen and environmentalists involved in the agreement also persuaded federal fishery managers to ban bottom trawling on nearly 4 million acres of ocean off California's Central Coast.

Federal regulators have declared eight species of West Coast groundfish as overfished. The areas protected as part of the deal include vast undersea canyons near Monterey Bay, Big Sur, and Point Conception.

Bottom trawlers draw large, weighted nets across the sea bed to collect a variety of groundfish. Prized California species include seafood staples like black cod, rock cod, flounder, and Dover sole.

The practice also can damage sensitive habitats by crushing and burying large swaths of coral, rocky reefs, and other habitat vital to undersea life, according to a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study.

Trawl nets also can kill large volumes of fish the fisherman were not intending to catch. A typical three-day trawler trip can yield 50 thousand pounds of fish. Thousands more pounds of unwanted fish and other sea life caught in trawler nets also get thrown overboard before the boats return to shore.

Morro Bay fishermen have trawled the Pacific since at least the 1950s, but the industry there has fallen on hard times.

Read the rest here.

1 comment:

Brian said...

This is incredible. What a great idea, I can't believe it wasn't done sooner.