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Some say there’s a problem with U.S. plans to protect the ocean: overfishing

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The Biden administration has released new details on the iconic conservation effort this month in a series of other environmental announcements, alarming some scientists who study marine protected areas because of the plan to treat certain commercial fishing areas as protected areas.

The decision could have ripple effects around the world as countries work to meet broader global commitments to protect 30% of the world’s land, inland waters and oceans. The effort has been hailed as historic, but the key question of what exactly qualifies as conservative is still being decided.

Researchers say this early response from the Biden administration is concerning because high-impact commercial fishing is incompatible with the goals of these efforts.

“It’s just a cognitive dissonance that these areas that are touted as biodiversity conservation should also be doing double duty with fishing, especially high-impact fishing gear used for large-scale commercial use,” Kirsten Gruder -Colvert said an Oregon State University marine biologist led a team of scientists that published in 2021 Marine Protected Area Assessment Guide.

The debate comes amid a global biodiversity crisis that is accelerating species extinction and eroding ecosystems, According to a landmark intergovernmental assessment. As the natural world degrades, its ability to provide humans with essentials such as food and clean water also diminishes. The assessment found that the main cause of decline in marine biodiversity is overfishing. Climate change is another worsening threat.

Fish is an important source of nutrition for billions of people around the world. Research shows that effective protection of critical areas is a key tool in keeping populations healthy while protecting other marine life.

Countries around the world are paying attention to how the United States implements protective measures.

The U.S. approach is specific because the broader plan falls within the scope of the U.N. biodiversity treaty, which the U.S. has never ratified. The U.S. effort follows President Biden’s 2021 executive order.

Still, the United States, as a powerful donor, wields considerable influence during U.N. talks. Both the U.S. and international efforts are called 30×30.

On April 19, federal officials New website launched To update the public on their 30×30 efforts. They did not say how much land is currently protected (beyond the roughly 13 percent of federal lands permanently protected), saying only that they need to better understand what is happening at the state, tribal and private levels. But they put out a number for the ocean: About one-third of the U.S. ocean area is currently protected, the website says.

The question, scientists say, is how the Biden administration arrived at that number.

Everyone seems to agree that highly protected areas classified as national marine sanctuaries should be considered protected areas, and they are: four areas in the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa were designated in 2006 Built and expanded between 2016 and 2016; one is located in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Cape Cod and was designated in 2016. A large area of ​​the Arctic closed to commercial fishing was also included, and there was broad consensus.

But Lance Morgan, a marine biologist and president of the Marine Conservation Institute, said other places on the list should not be counted unless protections are strengthened. The Marine Conservation Institute is a nonprofit organization that maintains a global map of marine protected areas.

For example, it includes 15 national marine sanctuaries. While these areas typically restrict activities such as oil and gas drilling, they do not require reductions in commercial fishing quotas. Intensive fishing techniques such as bottom trawling, which destroy seafloor habitats and capture large numbers of fish, are banned in some reserves but are allowed in others.

The list also includes “deep-sea coral protected areas” that ban bottom fishing such as bottom trawling, but excludes some other commercial fishing methods.

Dr Morgan said: “More efforts should be focused on improving the national marine protected area scheme and ensuring that new areas being created deliver conservation benefits and prohibit commercial fishing methods such as bottom trawling and longlining.”

Senior Biden administration officials stressed that work on the ocean under 30×30 is far from over. For example, few protected marine areas are located near the continental United States, and one of the administration’s priorities is to increase the area there to make the effort more geographically representative.

But they defended the decision to include areas where commercial fishing would be allowed. They point out that despite the intensive equipment, the national marine sanctuary has long been considered a protected area by the United Nations. More broadly, they said, the government weighed various approaches to defining what it counted.

For example, the Atlas of Marine Protected Areas maintained by Dr. Morgan’s group Think 25% U.S. Waters in Need of Protection, U.S. Fishery Management Council This number is estimated to be over 72%. Government officials say their numbers reflect the important conservation work being done by various agencies and stakeholders.

“Fisheries in the United States are indeed heavily regulated,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which is helping coordinate the 30×30 effort. “So, our domestic definition of conservation may be a little different, and other countries may have definitions that are a little different.”

Although the United States has not yet ratified the biodiversity treaty, it will still submit a conservation total that counts toward global 30×30 commitments. Officials said they are still weighing which areas need to be submitted.

In a statement, representatives from the Fisheries Management Council praised the inclusion of commercial fishing areas, noting that they are managed according to “very strict sustainability and conservation standards.”

But marine biologist Enric Sala, who studies and advocates for marine protected areas, says sustainably managed commercial fishing is what should be happening in other parts of the ocean. He said allowing commercial fishing in protected areas below 30×30 was an “inflated number”.

“People are looking to the United States,” said Dr. Sala, who is from Spain. “This sends a very bad signal.”

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