Can the United States have its fish and eat it too? / by Francisco Blaha

A recent paper caught my attention a few days ago. In the present situation of unilateral marine management policies that force greater reliance – and biodiversity impacts – on distant ecosystems, the authors call into question their global effectiveness and conservation from an ethical point of view. The paper has 3 NOAA employees as authors (one is retired), one of them Stephen Stohse, was kind enough to send me the paper.

I would like to have the time to do similar work with the EU approach (and with ecolabels), I’m sure the results will be in the same line, rich countries make a “firewall” around them and say, “we play our part because we can”, that way placating their “conscience” and pass the bucket down to the poor.

I quote below some parts of the paper that impacted me (the numbers refer to the bibliography)

As domestic affluence increases, nations advocate for conservation policies to protect domestic biodiversity that often curtail natural resource production activities such as fishing. If concomitant consumption patterns remain unchanged, environmentally conscious nations with high consumption rates such as the U.S. may only be distancing themselves from the negative environmental impacts associated with consuming resources and commodities produced elsewhere. 

This unintended displacement of ecosystem impacts, or leakage, associated with conservation policies has not been studied extensively in marine fisheries. This paper examines this topic, drawing on case studies to illustrate the ways in which unilateral marine conservation actions can shift ecosystem impacts elsewhere, as has been documented in land use interventions. 

The authors argue that the U.S. should recognize these distant ecological consequences and move toward greater self-sufficiency to protect its seafood security and minimize leakage as well as undertake efforts to reduce ecosystem impacts of foreign fisheries on which it relies. 

Six solutions are suggested for broadening the marine conservation and seafood consumption discussion to address leakage induced by U.S. policy.

1. Introduction
Due to the spatial separation of production from consumption activities, consumers in higher-income countries may be unaware or otherwise fail to account for the full environmental costs caused by the production of goods they utilize [9]. These negative environmental externalities, or impacts which manifest outside existing borders, are referred to as “leakage”,2 of which there are four types: conservation, production, consumption, and trade. Conservation leakage results when domestic measures to conserve resources lead to negative environmental impacts from an increase in foreign production to meet persistent demand; production leakage arises when regulation of domestic producers results in a transfer of production effort to foreign producers; consumption leakage results when unmet internal consumption demand is satisfied by external supplies (e.g., imports); and trade leakage results when an import ban from particular industries causes a redirection in the flow of trade to other consumer markets Leakage related to land use including forest conservation policies has been well documented at local and national [12–16] and at international [17–20] scales. Similar efforts to evaluate leakage caused by marine conservation policies affecting U.S. fishery production systems (i.e., the capture or culture of finfish and shellfish resources) are limited (i.e., [21–25], even though the U.S. continues to be a major importer of seafood [26], ranked second only to Japan for all fishery and fishery product imports [27].

A recent debate has emerged over whether U.S. marine conservation policies3 that curtail fishing activities externalize negative environmental impacts of U.S. seafood consumption to other jurisdictions.
Some conservation policy advocates argue that marine conservation efforts in the U.S do not redistribute ecosystem impacts.4 However, the potential for transnational leakages seems probable when U.S. consumers rely on fishery production systems beyond the reach of U.S. management authority. Given international trade in seafood products, a unilateral conservation regulation that reduces production in one nation's fishery can be met by increased production in another nation where such conservation measures may be less stringent, thereby offsetting the environmental protections in the regulated fishery. Furthermore, the limited availability of information on such conservation leakage impacts makes them difficult to detect - much less address.

4. Leakage related to U.S. fisheries
Leakage occurs in a given fishery or fisheries when production impacts such as overfishing, habitat degradation, or bycatch are curtailed by regulations resulting in reduced supply in one area and a shift in production to other less regulated areas. 

For example, regulatory policies to address sea turtle bycatch in the Hawaii swordfish fishery provide an example of multiple types of leakage occurring concurrently. Both swordfish and sea turtles are trans boundary (transnational) resources and vulnerable to multiple fleets serving global seafood markets. Concerns about domestic bycatch of leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles led NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to close the Hawaii swordfish fishery in 2001. The fishery was reopened in 2004 with several additional technological and administrative requirements. Sarmiento [21] measured trade leakages (i.e., transfer effects) generated by the closure and determined that imports of swordfish from other nations, primarily Ecuador and Panama, increased appreciably. Rausser et al. [22] calculated conservation leakage resulting from the closure, with an estimated increase of 1602 mt of swordfish imported annually due to the closure, resulting in an estimated 2882 additional (net) sea turtle interactions from the swordfish fisheries of foreign nations combined.

In a similar study, Chan and Pan [24] examined the period when the Hawaii shallow-set longline swordfish fishery reopened (2005– 2008), and estimated that the increase in average annual Hawaii swordfish production contributed to 1841 fewer turtle interactions worldwide by displacing imports from fisheries that had higher sea turtle bycatch rates. They concluded that the regulatory changes reducing Hawaiian swordfish production did not reduce total regionwide sea turtle bycatch because the Hawaii fleet has one of the lowest sea turtle bycatch rates among the fleets fishing in the region [41].bInstead, with the reduced swordfish production from Hawaii's fleet, foreign fleets increased their harvests to maintain overall production, resulting in a net increase in sea turtle bycatch.

Squires et al. [25] provide another example of leakage associated with a time-area closure in the West Coast drift gillnet (DGN) swordfish fishery. In an effort to reduce fishery interactions with the endangered leatherback sea turtle, NMFS established the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area (PLCA), which overlaps substantially with the DGN fishing grounds along the U.S. West Coast. Since 2001, this time-area closure has prohibited DGN fishing for three months during the prime swordfish fishing season. The authors’ benefit-cost analysis of the regulation's impacts determined a U.S. production leakage of $27.5 million due to lost producer and consumer surpluses in the West Coast fishery with increased imports. In addition, the transfer of swordfish effort to other Pacific Rim nation swordfish fleets is estimated to have caused a conservation leakage of an additional bycatch of 1457 endangered leatherback sea turtles compared to 45 turtles had the U.S. fishing grounds remained open.

Policy-induced leakage is not limited to international contexts; it also can occur domestically. Cunningham et al. [42] reportedly found evidence of production leakage between two adjacent regions subject to management by two separate U.S. fishery management councils (FMCs) resulting from a catch share program. The authors assert that such leakage is most acute in fisheries with low institutional barriers, similar gear, and high market substitutability for managed stocks with other species.

5. Discussion
While documented examples in fisheries are rare, the foregoing examples suggest that market-driven, economically-based leakage can occur in fisheries when unilateral conservation policies are put in place similar to land use interventions. Marine conservation policies can stimulate resource production or exploitation activities in other locations, leading to production leakages in foreign [25] or neighbouring jurisdictions [42]. This finding is not surprising as a regulated decrease in production at one location coupled with unchanged demand is expected under standard economic theory and assumptions to shift demand to other locations, stimulating increased production and increasing producer revenues elsewhere. Wear and Murray [12] documented the case where U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA)-driven restrictions on federal timber harvests in the Pacific Northwest implemented to protect northern spotted owl habitat redirected production to southern U.S. and Canadian lumber producers. Mayer et al. [17] demonstrated how the increasing demand for wood products along with new forest conservation programs in Finland increased pressure on forests in neighbouring Russia through wood imports.

The case studies also illustrate examples of trade leakages from increased imports [21], and conservation leakages from increased bycatch [22,24]. Consequently, reducing domestic production to achieve a particular conservation objective can lead to unintended negative consequences, reducing the net gains – and possibly increasing net losses – globally. Such outcomes suggest the need for multiple within- and across-border policy instruments to reach an optimum regulatory strategy.

The need for global cooperation has been recognized in fishery [43] and forest conservation efforts [18,44]. At the local and regional scale, policy-makers should be mindful of negative consequences that may arise from unilateral actions especially in the context of global markets and possibly weaker environmental governance in other locations. In particular, as part of the ESA and National Environmental Policy Act consultation processes, federal managers need to take leakage into account as part of the net effects analysis for any proposed Federal action.

In terms of marine biodiversity, conservation leakage is of particular concern because much of the seafood imported into the U.S. is believed to be harvested under less stringent conservation requirements than imposed on U.S. fisheries [49–51]. Such leakages could be minimized if there were greater reliance on countries with sustainable fishing practices and more importantly, on U.S. capture and culture fisheries. However, efforts for greater self-sufficiency can only succeed if there is a fundamental change in U.S. attitudes that reconciles marine conservation goals with the reality that eating fish means harvesting seafood somewhere, just as Berlik et al. [44] reasoned that using wood means cutting trees somewhere.

Such changes in attitude could begin with shifting from excessive or outright fishing prohibitions to finding ways to minimize domestic biodiversity impacts. For example, the PLCA closure was implemented as an avoidance strategy to prevent interactions between DGN gear and leatherbacks sea turtles. A more effective alternative might have been considering other gear types that produce a comparable volume of swordfish catch with lower sea turtle interaction rates. Such a tactic would have reduced the negative economic impacts to fishermen and the reliance on imported swordfish while still achieving conservation goals. 

Another approach could include transitioning from static management regimes to dynamic ones where fisheries are managed in real or near-real time in response to shifting oceanographic, biological and ecological conditions [52–55]. The use of adaptive tactics also could be adopted by other nations to enable compliance with proposed NMFS regulations prohibiting seafood imports that do not meet U.S. standards for marine mammal protection.

6. Solutions
Global demand for food is expected to continue increasing well into the second half of this century corresponding with continuing population growth [45]. Seafood consumption is expected to continue to rise at a faster rate than freshwater fish consumption in both industrial and developing countries [56]. Environmentally concerned U.S. consumers can distance themselves from leakage concerns by reducing their seafood consumption, albeit at the expense of foregoing the known health benefits derived from seafood [57]. Further, limiting consumption of fish may generate leakage into agricultural production systems, which can create other environmental externalities such as fertilizer and pesticide runoff, which degrades terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. Alternatively, the U.S. can consider its own seafood security by moving toward greater self-sufficiency as well as undertaking efforts to reduce biodiversity threats in foreign fisheries it relies upon to meet domestic seafood demand. To meet these challenges, several approaches for addressing leakage are suggested:

1. Increase awareness of U.S. fisheries. Most Americans remain unaware of the high environmental standards by which U.S. federal marine fisheries – and many state fisheries - are managed, in compliance with multiple state and federal laws. These standards conform to or exceed internationally accepted guidelines for sustainable fisheries adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [58]. Sea Grant Extension Programs in U.S. coastal states and territories have conducted education and outreach, with NOAA Fishwatch and a number of nongovernmental organizations also helping to bridge this gap. However, further efforts to address this lack of understanding are needed.

2. Develop U.S. domestic aquaculture to complement capture fisheries. The global status of marine capture fisheries is considered stable; however, increased catches are considered unlikely [59], suggesting that aquaculture will need to play a greater role in seafood security [60]. Aquaculture is considered the fastest growing animal food production sector and supplies more than half of the world's seafood for humans [61]. While there has been a reluctance to embrace aquaculture more enthusiastically in the U.S. because of its own set of externalities (e.g., environmental impacts of fish feed, waste, disease control substances), it is a form of seafood production that can be managed for ecological and economic sustainability.

3. Support sustainable fishing practices in other nations. Such capacity- building efforts include transferring best fishing practices, technologies and monitoring practices to nations whose fisheries continue to supply U.S. markets. A few examples include NMFS programs for training Columbian fishermen on the effective use of turtle excluder devices in Caribbean and Pacific coast shrimp fisheries, instructing fishery observers in Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Gabon, and providing circle fishing hooks to South American countries.

4. Multilateral cooperation. Overarching World Trade Organization consistent trade laws and regulations can help address production and trade leakages and their negative impacts across the entire ranges of affected stocks. Policy instruments and harvest strategies addressing information requirements (e.g., eco-labeling, certification, standards, consumer awareness campaigns and similar approaches) on bycatch reduction can be designed to create market prices and conditions that address external costs and benefits. U.S. delegations participating in international regional fishery management organizations and other fora can initiate that dialogue.

5. Recognize the externalities of management decisions. Leakage occurs when the spatial scale of intervention does not match the scale of the targeted problem [62]. Ignoring environmental impacts associated with goods produced elsewhere creates what Berlik et al. [44] described for U.S. timber management as the “illusion of natural resource preservation.” Policy-makers need to be mindful of and evaluate the challenges and trade-offs among the full range of impacts, including those beyond their jurisdictions, as part of the decision-making process.

6. Treat wild capture and aquaculture fisheries as part of the food system. Seafood represents a part of the nation's food system [63,64]. Nonetheless, within the context of managing marine resources and ecosystem impacts, seafood rarely is acknowledged as a component of the human diet, despite its recognized importance as a source of nutrition and sustenance. Olson et al. [64] argue that treating seafood as a food production system provides a different frame of interpretation that does not end with harvesting but also includes distribution and use. Such a broader conceptualization can re-establish the connection between consumption and production behaviours, which underlies the reality that humans are part of the marine ecosystem.

7 Concluding remarks
The title of this paper plays on the popular 16th century English proverb questioning whether people can both have their cake and eat it too. This aphorism describes the challenge confronting fishery management decision-makers and seafood consumers. Reckoning with the inherent tradeoffs between conservation goals and seafood consumption demands may be a more practical approach rather than assuming “win-win” outcomes, where both are fully satisfied [65].

Decision makers cannot dismiss this reality especially in the context of climate change and a growing human population [60]. Unilateral marine management policies that force greater reliance – and biodiversity impacts – on distant ecosystems call into question their global effectiveness and conservation ethicality.

Rothman [31] questioned whether wealthy nations were merely “passing the buck” when distancing themselves from the environmental degradation associated with their consumption habits. The full impact of U.S. seafood consumption patterns needs to be considered at the global level in light of continuing efforts to further marine biodiversity protections. Failing to do so only serves to counteract the effectiveness of domestic actions by externalizing negative environmental costs to others.