Published 5:39 pm, Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Dear EarthTalk: What is being done to enable ocean fish populations to rebound after being so over-fished? Are nations coming together on this in any way? -- Deborah Kay, Milford, Conn.
There is no over-arching international agreement to limit overfishing globally, but a few governments have been able to implement and enforce restrictions at regional levels that have resulted in rebounding fish stocks. The success of these isolated examples gives environmentalists and marine biologists hope that protecting marine hot spots from overfishing can save the biodiversity of the world's oceans.
The results of an extensive four-year study released in 2006 by leading fisheries expert Boris Worm of Canada's Dalhousie University and colleagues showed that overfishing would put every single commercial fishery in the world out of business by 2048, with the oceans potentially never recovering. But University of Washington fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn challenged Worm's frightening conclusion, offering evidence that several fisheries in parts of the U.S., Iceland and New Zealand were recovering. So the two men decided to team up on a new, even more comprehensive survey of fisheries around the world.
The results the second time around, published in 2010 in the peer-reviewed journal, Science, provided ocean advocates with somewhat more encouraging results. In half of the 10 fisheries studied by Worm, Hilborn and their researchers, closing some fisheries, creating protected areas, setting catch limits and modernizing equipment did result in lower exploitation rates and some fish are indeed on the rebound.
"This is a watershed," Worm told reporters. The new study "shows clearly what can be done not only to avoid further fisheries collapse but to actually rebuild fish stocks" and provides a baseline which scientists and managers can use to gauge progress. "It's only a start, but it gives me hope that we have the ability to bring overfishing under control," he added.
Of course, a little bit of good news hardly means we've solved the overfishing problem. Environmentalists were particularly disappointed last year when the European Union announced it would set quotas for deep-sea fisheries even higher than expected.
According to Uta Bellion, director of the European Marine Programme for the non-profit Pew Environment Group, the EU's decision "will give fleets from France, Spain and Portugal the opportunity to continue plundering these stocks." She adds that the new quotas go against a 2009 United Nations General Assembly resolution that commits the EU to implement a set of measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish and the rebuilding of depleted stocks.
Meanwhile, some groups are trying to end the government subsidies that effectively bankroll overfishing, legal or otherwise. The nonprofit Oceana, for instance, led an ill-fated 2010 effort to persuade the World Trade Organization to ban subsidies that encourage the depletion of fish and other marine resources. "Although 75 percent of the world's fisheries are now either overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation, many governments continue to provide huge subsidies -- about $20 billion annually -- to their fishing sectors," said Andy Sharpless, Oceana's CEO. "The fleets are fishing at a level that's as much as 2.5 times more than what's required for sustainable catch levels."
Dear EarthTalk: What's being done to "green up" professional sports? I know that the last two Olympic Games both made some effort, but are there others? -- Rob Avandic, Chicago
The last two Olympics were indeed greener than any before, but environmental awareness isn't limited to the realm of international amateur competition. In fact, in just the last few years all of the major professional North American sports leagues have made strides in greening their operations.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has helped blaze the trail through its "Greening the Games" initiative. Since 2003, when the National Football League's Philadelphia Eagles turned to NRDC for help saving energy and reducing waste, NRDC has helped dozens of pro teams evaluate their environmental impacts and make changes. Today the Eagles obtain all of their energy at Lincoln Field from wind power, pour fans' beverages in biodegradable corn-based plastic cups, power their scoreboard with solar panels and have reduced electricity use overall by a third. The NFL itself has also jumped on the bandwagon, implementing various green initiatives at the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl and other big events.
In 2008, NRDC teamed up with Major League Baseball to first green the All Star Game and, the following year, the World Series. Subsequently, NRDC assessed each team's environmental footprint and made recommendations for improving it. Several teams have gone on to build or refurbish their stadiums with sustainability in mind. Boston's Fenway Park, Atlanta's Turner Field, Washington, D.C.'s Nationals Park, and San Francisco's AT&T Park all get high marks for pro-environment features and operations.
In 2008, NRDC began working with the U.S. Tennis Association to green its signature event, the U.S. Open. For one, this led to a move to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper for tournament programs. And an environmental review of all operations at the National Tennis Center in Queens, New York led to a number of green improvements, including the switch to 90 percent post-consumer recycled paper for some 2.4 million napkins and a move to wind turbines for the tournament's electricity.
The National Basketball Association jumped on the NRDC sports bandwagon in 2009, working with the group to organize its first annual Green Week in early April whereby the entire league works in concert to generate environmental awareness and funding for related causes. As part of the festivities, which took place in 2010 as well and will happen again in April 2011, each NBA team hosted community service events including tree plantings, recycling drives and park clean-up days.
NRDC got the National Hockey League in on the act as well, helping to green the Stanley Cup Finals and working with individual teams as it did with baseball and football. In announcing the launch of the NHL Green program, league commissioner Gary Bettman commented that it's only fitting for professional ice hockey to care about staving off global warming: "Most of our players learned to skate on outdoor rinks. For that magnificent tradition to continue through future generations we need winter weather--and as a league we are uniquely positioned to promote that message."
Contacts: NRDC, www.nrdc.org/greenbusiness/guides/sports/; MLB Team Greening Program, mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/community/team_greening.jsp; NBA Green, www.nba.com/green; NHL Green, www.nhl.com/ice/eventhome.htm?location=/nhlgreen; USTA, www.usta.com.
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