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Executive Summary for February 2nd

In this week’s news roundup, we report on a new tool to assess human rights abuses in fisheries, protections for sensitive deep sea corals from fishing and a study that shows why polar bear populations are rapidly declining.

Published on Feb. 2, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

New Seafood Watch Tool Rates Slave Labor Risks in Fisheries

The Monterey Bay Aquarium launched a new database this week, the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool, that will help buyers of seafood gauge the risk of forced or hazardous labor or human trafficking in fisheries.

The tool, produced with partners Liberty Asia and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, builds on the aquarium’s long-running Seafood Watch program, which helps consumers and businesses buy more sustainable fish.

According to a press release, the project was developed over two years and is a response to many reports documented in the media and by human rights groups about abuses in the global seafood supply chain. A recent report by Human Rights Watch, for example, showed continuing abuses on many fishing boats in Thailand.

However, it has been hard for buyers to know what seafood was potentially associated with such abuses. Using public domain data, the new tool rates specific fisheries as “critical, high, moderate or low risk” for human rights abuses.

Protections for Atlantic Deep Sea Corals

United States managers of New England fisheries voted this week to protect a 25,000-square-mile area in the Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine from destructive bottom fishing practices, acting on a proposal debated over the past several years. As a major expedition found in 2017, the area contains unique, slow-growing deep sea coral ecosystems.

Conservation advocates such as Oceana called it a mixed win, however, as the New England Fisheries Management Council voted to protect a smaller seafloor area than a more ambitious proposal developed by its scientific committee. In a blog post, Brad Sewell, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s fisheries director, said the protections voted on will leave open some of the most vulnerable corals to future fishing.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration still must approve the plan. In 2016, President Barack Obama created the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the area – but its future is far from certain as the Trump administration considers shrinking or eliminating marine monuments.

Why Polar Bears Starve

Study after study has documented the decline of polar bear populations as their sea ice habitat melts. New research published in Science now looks more closely at exactly what is killing them.

The study found that the bears have higher energy needs than most scientists had thought and as sea ice melts, they are unable to catch enough seals to survive. Scientists monitored collared Beaufort Sea female bears without cubs as they hunted in the spring – when they usually catch the most prey – and measured their metabolic rates. Five of nine bears lost body mass and were not catching enough fat-rich prey, they found. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2014 that the polar bear population in the Beaufort Sea have declined by 40 percent over a decade.

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