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First, Save Sea Ecosystems

May 24, 2003

Two major studies of the world's oceans came out last week, touting seemingly opposite conclusions. A 10-year survey by Canadian fisheries biologist Ransom A. Myers gloomily determined that the numbers of large predatory fish have plummeted by 90% in the last half-century. A sunnier U.S. government report hailed a "steady, incremental" resurgence in some fish species thought earlier to be verging on extinction.

The Canadian study got the most attention, partly because doom is newsier than dawn, but also because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study was built on a dubious notion: that a given fish species should be considered "rebuilt" when restored to its level of a decade ago, no matter how reduced by industrial fishing the species was by that time.

Though the U.S. government study showed that fishing quotas could save many species, it also acknowledged that more than 40% of the 237 officially tracked fish species were in peril. That's why both studies are red flags demanding action. "Alternatives" such as farm fishing only accelerate overall depletion because, for example, more than two pounds of ground-up ocean fish are needed to produce one pound of farmed salmon.The chairman of the House committee in charge of fisheries, Republican Rep. Richard Pombo, from landlocked Tracy, in the Central Valley, should schedule a hearing to renew the Magnuson-Stevens Act on overfishing, which Congress let expire last fall.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 03, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 14 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Healthy oceans -- A May 24 editorial should have referred to a tuna species as bluefin, not bluefish.

A study to be issued next month by the Pew Oceans Commission is expected to point out another cause of overfishing: the power of regional fisheries management councils over quotas. Though members are appointed by the Commerce Department, they often are also employed by fishing fleets. One council, the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, set a cap of 32,000 metric tons for bluefish tuna, 6,000 metric tons above the annual limit recommended by most scientific experts. Environmentalists jokingly refer to that council as the Commission for Catching All the Tuna.

At least three people in the executive branch -- the president, the vice president and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans -- are sport fishermen who have seen firsthand the decline of tuna, marlin, swordfish, sharks and other lively beasts memorialized by Ernest Hemingway. Last month, Evans began using his clout, castigating the tuna council for excessively high caps.

The ultimate goal for Congress and the Bush administration should not be setting caps on the most romantic species but updating outmoded U.S. ocean policies. The first good step would be implementing one of the Pew study's recommendations, establishment of "regional ecosystem management councils," independent of commercial fishing interests. The councils would focus on protecting entire ecosystems. To save one fish, for example, species below it on the food chain may also need protecting.

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