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DO YOU BELIEVE IN ANGELS?

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It’s time to bring angels back. And if we listen to the better angels of our nature, we can.

Imagine you are an Angel Shark. You look more like a ray than a shark, but shark you are. You live in the waters of the Adriatic, in a marine forest  surrounded by young fish at play in their nursery. A pod of dolphins swim excitedly by, worrying a school of tuna. You bury yourself in the sandy bottom where a special form of gill, unusual among sharks, known as a spiracle, delivers oxygen straight to your brain, allowing you to lie still, the eyes on top of your head just above the sand, your whisker-like barbels sensing the slightest movement in the water. You are awaiting your favourite late afternoon Mediterranean snack: a ray or a flatfish preferably. Should one swim by, your strike, at a right angle to your body, will take less than a tenth of a second. The long fin under your belly, the mirror image of most shark’s long top fin, will help propel you upwards. You’ll snag your prey between nine rows of razor sharp teeth on the top of your jaw and the ten rows of teeth on the bottom.

But you won’t be eating today, or ever again. Your sensitive barbel picks up a disturbance in the water, something very big, moving very fast. You lie still as you can, but suddenly all around you is chaos: Sponge shredding, the sand on the sea bottom in sudden turmoil, and you’re being dragged and then lifted up by a heavy chain dragging along the seafloor and then pushed into a wall of fish and rock and sea life at the back of a bottom trawler’s net, strip mining the sea bottom. You’re bycatch, an unwanted victim of a fishing net intended to catch hake or shrimp, but in the process managing to destroy everything in its path. You’re among the last of your kind.

Angel sharks,  extinct in large areas of the Mediterranean today, were once plentiful in the Adriatic. They bear live young, but only 1 in 5 ever reach maturity, which has made them particularly vulnerable to the chronic overfishing, the depletion of  oyster beds, and the loss of habitat to bottom trawling that have plagued the Mediterranean for decades.

The angel shark is emblematic of the steep decline in the number and variety of fish in the Adriatic. It was common at least until the mid 1920s, and known as “monkfish” and “sand devil” on restaurant menus across Europe.

Its exploitation goes back thousands of years. Ancient Greeks described its flesh as “light” and “easily digestible.” Its rough skin was reportedly used by craftsmen for polishing wood and, ironically, ivory. Nothing like using the skin of one endangered species to buff up the tusks of another.

In the 1920s, nearly 60,000 kilograms of Angel Shark a year were sold in the Venice fish market alone. By 1980, that figure was down to 20 kilograms. Then nothing. The species is all but gone now.

But with better protection of habitat, better management of fishing fleets, and an end to the barbaric practice of bottom trawling, we can bring the Angel Shark back. We can make this symbol of overexploitation a symbol of regeneration, of coming to our senses, of a new relationship with the ocean.

The angels of the bible were messengers: they escorted Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, they bore glad tidings and prophecies. The Angel Shark is a messenger as well — a warning of how our shortsighted plunder of our own home threatens our own extinction. It’s time to believe we can change. It’s time to hear the message of the Angel Shark. It’s time to #BelieveInAngels.


Want to tell the world you #BelieveInAngels?

Print and hang your very own ANGEL SHARK CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT on your tree! Take a picture and upload it to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with the tag #BelieveInAngels and join us in making a great big Christmas wish for better ocean protection.

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Catania a Martina, subito stop pesca in ‘nursery’ Adriatico

Tutela in Fossa di Pomo. Realacci, basta ricerche petrolifere

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Redazione ANSA19 aprile 2017 – Il ministero dell’Agricoltura introduca “presto misure di salvaguardia concrete per la Fossa di Pomo”, nell’Adriatico centrale, che è “la nursery più importante di questo mare, dove si riproducono specie ittiche fondamentali come scampi e naselli”. L’appello al ministro delle Risorse agricole Maurizio Martina arriva dal deputato Mario Catania, ex ministro dell’Agricoltura e membro della Commissione Agricoltura della Camera. Intervenendo a una conferenza stampa a Montecitorio, Catania ha sollecitato l’introduzione di “una politica rigorosa, in grado di invertire la tendenza al depauperamento delle risorse marine, come già accaduto per il tonno rosso grazie ai limiti di pesca Ue”. Accanto a questo, ha evidenziato, occorrono “misure di tamponamento per le marinerie”, da sostenere economicamente per lo stop alla pesca nella Fossa di Pomo, attraverso “il fondo pesca Ue o, come seconda opzione, con fondi nazionali”.

La chiusura della Fossa alla pesca a strascico, in accordo con la Croazia, è stata chiesta nel febbraio scorso da MedReAct, un gruppo di ong che punta a una riforma della politica ittica Ue, alla Commissione generale della pesca del Mediterraneo. “La nostra proposta – ha spiegato Domitilla Senni di MedReAct – prevede l’istituzione di una Zona di restrizione della pesca nella Fossa per tutelarne le risorse e contribuire al recupero degli stock ittici”. Il recupero, evidenzia, riguarda il nasello, che ha un tasso di sfruttamento cinque volte superiore ai limiti di sostenibilità nonostante catture dimezzate tra il 2006 e il 2014, e lo scampo, con catture giù del 54%. Un accordo con la Croazia per la tutela dell’Adriatico, oltre alla pesca, dovrebbe riguardare anche gli idrocarburi. “Occorre un’intesa con i Paesi rivieraschi – ha detto il presidente della commissione Ambiente della Camera Ermete Realacci – per arrivare a interdire le ricerche petrolifere.

The nine priority areas to restock the Mediterranean

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Urgent call for action on the eve of the Ministerial Conference on Mediterranean Fisheries

Malta, 28 March 2017. “There are at least nine areas in the Mediterranean that need protection as a matter of priority in order to safeguard marine ecosystems and contribute to the recovery of fish stocks, starting with the central Adriatic where Italy and Croazia must soon state their positions regarding the protection of the Jakuba/Pomo Pit.” This is the call of MedReAct on the eve of the Ministerial Conference on Mediterranean Fisheries organised by the European Commission, taking place in Malta 29 and 30 March 2017. This area, which lies between Italy and Croatia, reaches a maximum depth of 200-260 metres, and has unique geomorphological and oceanographic features. It suffers severe impacts from bottom trawling which over the years has greatly reduced Adriatic fish stocks. This fishing method represents a serious threat to one of the most important nursery and spawning zones for European hake and Norway lobster (for more details see the attached briefing document). A proposal for its protection is currently being examined by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean which will express its position in the coming months.

The Malta conference, in which sixteen ministers from Mediterranean countries will participate, will conclude with the signing of the Malta MedFish4Ever declaration, committing Mediterranean countries to protect vulnerable species and sensitive habitats and to establish fisheries restricted zones and marine protected areas. By 2020 the coastal states must achieve protection of 10% of the Mediterranean Sea, in line with the sustainable development goals of the United Nations and the Convention on Biological Diversity. “Protection of the Jakuba Pomo Pit represents an important testing ground on which to verify the level of political will to restore vulnerable marine areas and fish stocks and to save the future of Adriatic fisheries,” declared MedReAct spokesperson Domitilla Senni. “We call on Italy and Croatia to make a public commitment at the Malta Ministerial Conference to protect this area from bottom trawling.”

In addition to the Pomo Pit, MedReAct draws attention to eight other priority areas requiring protection measures:

  1. Northern Sicilian Seamounts
  2. Gulf of Lion Slope
  3. Alicante Canyon
  4. Balearic Seamounts
  5. Alboran Sea Seamounts
  6. Western Sardinia Canyons
  7. Southern Ligurian Seamounts
  8. Aegean Sea – the Thracian Sea

Each of these areas is described below.

PRIORITY AREAS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA

  1. Northern Sicilian Seamounts. Located off the northwest coast of Sicily, the area includes two seamounts each of about 1000 meters, called Aceste and Drepano, as well as the Ustica ridge and escarpment. Aceste, characterized by the presence of black corals (Antipatharia) and scleractinians (Dendrophyllia cornigera), is an area of high importance for elasmobranchs, especially sharks, and in particular the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) which is relatively numerous in this area, and longnose spurdog (Squalus blainvillei) which is abundant. The southernmost area is located at the entrance to the Strait of Sicily, an essential migratory zone in the Mediterranean, considered a vulnerable area for small pelagic species.
  1. Adriatic Sea Jabuka/Pomo Pit. The area, situated in the central Adriatic at a maximum depth of 200-260m, presents unique geomorphological and oceanographic features. In addition to playing an important role in the overall oceanographic dynamics of the entire Adriatic Sea, it is considered an Essential Fish Habitat, the only one in the central Adriatic, mostly for the reproduction and growth of important Adriatic demersal species, especially European hake (Merluccius merluccius). This area hosts the largest population of Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) and is important especially for juveniles at depths below 200m. It is also a nursery zone for black-bellied angler (Lophius budegassa) and horned octopus (Eledone cirrhosa). Based on an available scientific data it is a high density area for giant devil ray (Mobula mobular) which is an endemic species. The Pit could function as a favorable environment for some key life history stages of the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus), which is critically endangered. Regarding benthic species, several types of corals can be found (Scleractinia, Actiniaria). Although it covers less than 10 percent of the total surface of the Adriatic Sea, this area is one of the most important fishing grounds in the Adriatic for bottom trawling, which puts the fish resources of the entire Adriatic under pressure. Fish populations are threatened by overfishing and high fishing pressure on juveniles. Currently, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean is considering a proposal to close the Jakuba/Pomo Pit to bottom trawling.
  1. Alicante Canyon. This is one of the largest submarine canyons in Spain’s eastern waters. Located in one of the areas with the widest continental shelf, it is part of one of the main rose shrimp (Parapenaeus longirostris) fishing areas, and thus is strongly impacted by shrimp bottom trawling. This area is an essential habitat and nursery area for the hake (Merluccius merluccius), together with the presence of other associated species (assemblages) in the canyon. Several cetacean species and the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) are also present in the zone. The deepest part of the canyon, located on the eastern side, is a spawning ground for bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). It is considered a sensitive habitat for several elasmobranches species (Etmopterus spinax, Galeus melastomus and Scyliorhinus canicula).
  1. Balearic Seamounts. The area includes four different seamounts: Emile Baudot, Ses Olives, Ausías March and Bell Guyot. Essential habitats (bluefin tuna spawning ground) and sensitive habitats (bamboo coral gardens – Isidella elongata), maërl beds, coralligenous, gorgonian gardens (Muriceides lepida, Swiftia palida, Eunicella verrucosa, Villogorgia brevicoides, Viminella flagelum, Callogorgia verticilata) and black corals (Leiopathes glaberrima, Antipathes dichotoma) have been found. These organisms are particularly threatened by bottom trawling and long-line fishing. The presence of these species is often associated with the presence of commercial species (monkfish, hake, Norway lobster, lobster, octopus, red shrimp) which call for an adequate management. The area is also visited by pelagic species such as swordfish (Xiphias gladius), different dolphin species (Tursiops truncatus, Delphinus delphis), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) and loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems can also be found in the area.
  1. The Alboran Sea Seamounts. These seamounts, located between the European and African continents in the Alboran Sea, are scattered throughout the area along with the remains of an old volcano rising 15m above sea level, making part of a mountain ridge (Alboran Island). Along the canyons of the Alboran Sea are deep water corals. Hake is one of the most important target species for the trawl fisheries in this area; it is fished at excessively high levels in all trawling areas from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Cape of Gata, including the deep bottom fishing grounds surrounding Alboran Island. Juvenile hakes are caught in more shallow waters of about 50-300m depth, whereas adults are fished at depths of around 800 m, together with the Nephrops norvegicus fishery.
  1. Western Sardinia Canyons. The Catalano and Oristano submarine canyons are located off the east coast of Sardinia and together constitute the most important part of the canyon system surrounding the island. Submarine canyons usually are areas of interest for fisheries, in that they are highly productive zones due to their special hydrodynamics. In this case, fisheries for large pelagic species are present. In these zones one finds various cetacean species, such as Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), and striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), as well as large filter feeders such as basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and giant devil ray (Mobula mobular), which is relatively abundant in these areas. Moreover, at the edge of the slope there are lobster (Palinurus elephas) nurseries.
  1. Southern Ligurian Seamounts. This area includes a series of seamounts (Cialdi, Giglio and Jadul) north of the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the edge of the Pelagos Sanctuary. It is a high primary production area which supports many different shark and ray species (Cetorhinus maximus, Carcharhinus brachyurus, Scyliorhinus canicula, Galeus melastomus, Etmopterus spinax, Raja clavata, Raja asterias). For most of these species, this area serves as a nursery. The six-gilled shark (Hexanchus griseus) and thresher shark (Alopias spp) are also found in this area. In the Cialdi seamount the first submerged micritic limestones were discovered with Acesta excavata associated with corals and polychaetes, including Vermiliopsis monodiscus and Protula sp.
  1. Aegean Sea – The Thracian Sea. This is a disjunct area which covers two areas known as the Strymonian Gulf and the Samotraki Plateau. The Samotraki Plateau and the Strymonian Gulf are two demersal areas located in the north of the Aegean Sea, at a depth of around 180m, and are considered to be spawning grounds for hake. The area is an important fishing ground for bottom trawlers. These activities increase the mortality rates of juveniles of all species in the 180m isobath area of the Thracian Sea. As far as hake is concerned, the nursery and breeding grounds lie mainly in international waters in the Aegean and Thracian Seas.

Sources:

  • Scientific Information to Describe Areas Meeting Scientific Criteria for Mediterranean EBSAs, Oceana (2014). Link
  • Fisheries conservation and vulnerable ecosystems in the Mediterranean open seas, including the deep seas, de Juan, S. and Lleonart, J. eds. UNEP-MAP-RAC/SPA (2010). Link

Download the Press releases in Spanish, Italian and French.

Promoting fish recovery in the Karaburun – Sazan Marine Protected Area (MPA)

Between January and June 2016 the Albanian Association for Protection of Aquatic Wildlife of Albania (APAWA) and MedReAct carried out the Project “Promoting fish recovery in the Karaburun – Sazan MPA” with financial support from the Waitt Foundation, .

The Project’s overall objective was to raise public and decision-makers’ awareness on the need to enforce marine conservation measures in Albania, provide for the recovery of depleted fish stocks and promote sustainable fisheries, in particular by:

  • exposing the state of fish communities in the Karaburun-Sazan MPA, assessed by the Waitt marine expedition in Albania in 2015;
  • disseminating the Waitt expedition findings to decision-makers, local fishing communities, scientists, NGOs, EU institutions in Albania and the local media;
  • engaging with stakeholders and authorities to ensure fisheries enforcement in the MPA; and
  • sharing the results from an Italian no-take area to provide Albanian fishermen and fisheries managers with an example of best fishing practice.

The Project engaged with the Vlora fishermen community and other relevant institutions such as the General Fisheries Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, the national and local branch of the Agency of Protected Areas, the Vlora Fisheries Inspectorate, the Ministry of Environment, the University of Vlora, the Agricultural University of Tirana, environmental NGOs and experts on fisheries and marine environment.

Download the final report: Promoting fish recovery in the Karaburun – Sazan Marine Protected Area (MPA).

THE FAILURE TO PROTECT KEY NURSERY GROUNDS IN THE ADRIATIC. THE CASE OF THE JABUKA/POMO PIT

The Central Adriatic Jabuka/Pomo Pit is an area in which the combination of regional hydrography, low benthic biomass, and sedimentological factors provides the conditions to support a key nursery ground for commercial species subject to persistent overfishing such as hake, deep water rose shrimp and Norway lobster by the Italian and Croatian fishing fleets.

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The Jabuka/Pomo Pit

Scientific advice to protect the Jabuka/Pomo Pit long went unheard. It was only in 1998 that Italy established a small no-take area, closed to all commercial and recreational fisheries. This area – defined as a Zone of Biological Protection (Zona di Tutela Biologica – ZTB) – was reopened to fisheries in 2003 and closed again in 2009. In 2011, the prohibition on trawling in the ZTB was reconfirmed in the Italian Management Plan for Demersal Fisheries in the Adriatic.

Despite these repeated rulings, fisheries continued undisturbed. The following maps indicate constant fishing activities in the ZTB (marked in black) by the Italian fishing fleet in the years 2012-2014.

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VMS from the Italian fleet in the Adriatic (R. Elahi, Stanford University)[1]

But beyond the ZTB, scientists from the FAO AdriaMed Project had long called for wider protection of the Jabuka/Pomo Pit.

In 2010 AdriaMed summarised over 50 years of investigations in the Jabuka/Pomo Pit, noting that:

  1. The exploitation pattern of hake and Norway lobster is far from optimal, meaning that with the same fishing effort, the quantity landed could be increased or alternatively the same landings could be obtained with less fishing effort. This exploitation pattern is the result of the unselectivity of the bottom trawl nets catching large amounts of juveniles and undersized hake, even when fully utilising the larger mesh size introduced by Council Regulation 1967/2006.
  2. The negative trends in demersal stock biomass over the past 20 years show that the resource is exploited at unsustainable levels.

AdriaMed examined long-term, spatial management options based on the fact that hake is a long-lived species therefore short-term fishing closures cannot be expected to produce substantial effects. Noway lobster is also a relatively long-lived species which, during the first year of its life, remains hidden in the burrows and cannot be taken by trawlers, therefore short temporal closures will be ineffective.

The scientists recommended an experimental three-year closure, to be reviewed on the basis of the results from annual monitoring. Several area sizes were presented as possible options to protected a larger or smaller portion of the nursery grounds.

It wasn’t until 2015 that the Italian and Croatian administrations jointly closed – initially for one year – a wider area of the Jabuka/Pomo Pit to towed gear, which included a part of the Italian ZTB.

Although this new no-trawl zone (marked in grey in the VMS maps above) only partly covered all the key nurseries, when complemented with a fully enforced ZTB, it would have offered an initial significant decree of protection if, as originally planned, the temporal closure was extended or made permanent.

However, just one year later the Italian government, under pressure from the trawling industry, retreated from its original plans and unilaterally reopened the area to trawlers, leaving only a very small portion closed to fisheries. In addition the ZTB was abolished and  although new measures were introduced to reduce fishing effort, the Pomo/Jabuka lost the level of protection required for the most important nursery grounds of the Adriatic and for the recovery of its depleted fish stocks.

MedReAct and the Adriactic Recovery Project are calling on Italy to reconsider its decision, resume the collaboration with Croatia on the Pomo/Jabuka Pit and ensure the permanent and wider protection of the area key nurseries and spawning grounds.

[1] Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) is a general term to describe systems that are used in commercial fishing to allow environmental and fisheries regulatory organizations to track and monitor the activities of fishing vessels.