Our oceans are huge. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that about 97 percent of the earth’s water is contained in oceans. It was once assumed by many that we couldn’t possibly make a dent in this vast fisheries resource. However, we continue to study our influences and thus learn better methods for ocean conservation.
The orange roughy is good case of a need for fishing conservation studies. This delicious, deep water fish found its way to restaurant menus in the 1980’s. When commercial catch rates began to decline, it was learned for example in New Zealand that these fish are extremely slow-growing. We now know orange roughy don’t reproduce until 15-20 years old and may live as long as 120 years. It takes many years of monitoring fish, especially deep-water, slow-growing species to learn what harvest rates are sustainable.
Fish populations fluctuate naturally over time. There are good years and bad years, affected by factors such as weather and currents. This complicates assessment of ocean conservation efforts. Marine life conservation takes great amounts of continual research to determine trends and the best methods to manage harvest. However, instances of declining fish populations such as redfish and striped bass have rebounded due to changes in catch rates and harvest size restrictions.
But what can I do to help with ocean conservation?
- Share your observations and opinions. Different organizations are trying to promote marine life conservation. For example, the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust is asking for help from anglers as they try to learn historical sites of bonefish spawning because these areas may still be used. Or, there are several goliath grouper workshops this month in Florida which will be used to gauge public opinion on the possibility of a limited harvest. Grassroots campaigns can influence fisheries policies.
- Practice water conservation methods. Pay attention to what chemicals and excess nutrients you may be contributing to your watershed. Eventually some of that water may end up in the ocean and could have a detrimental effect. For instance, there is some evidence that the occurrence of red tides, a natural algae bloom that sometimes can be toxic, might be tied to nutrient runoff from various land uses.
- Practice selective harvest. Catch and release is great, but then again, fish do pair well with a little butter and a squirt of lemon juice. The use of circle hooks helps you decide what fish can be released, such as larger spawning adults, after a quick photo.
We love the ocean but possibly take it and its enormous buffering capabilities for granted. We are constantly making new discoveries and learning better ocean conservation approaches. And don’t forget, funds from fishing licenses and boating registrations go toward great conservation efforts too.