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Sunday, January 8, 2012
Monk Seals Dying in NW Hawaiian Isles Because of Fishing Ban
By Andrew Walden @ 2:34 AM :: 12111 Views :: Energy, Environment, National News, Ethics

by Andrew Walden

What does a bureaucrat do when his bureaucratic management scheme fails? He extends it.

That’s what is happening with the bureaucratic management of Monk Seal populations in Hawaii. Concurrent with the imposition of a total “no take” zone around the NWHI Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Monk Seal populations began declining at a rate of 4% per year according to marine scientists. Meanwhile, Monk seal populations in the main Hawaiian Islands are increasing 7%.

So what does the NOAA want to do about this? Governor Linda Lingle warns:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is proposing to designate almost the entire coastlines and surrounding waters of Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau and Kahoolawe as a critical habitat for monk seals. The designation would include the shorelines up to 16 feet inland and the oceans out to a depth of 1,640 feet. The total area would cover 4,787 square miles. To put this into perspective, the entire State of Hawaii is 6,459 square miles. The habitat would be equal to almost 75% of the size of our State.

The extended period for comment on the NOAA proposal ended January 6. Some believe that killings of four Monk Seals on Molokai and Kauai were part of the “testimony.”

A study of proposals to save the Monk Seals from NWHI was led by conservation biologist Leah Gerber of Arizona State University in Tempe and published in September 13, 2011 Conservation Letters and written up in the September 12, 2011 edition of Nature. We have added appropriate commentary in parenthesis and underlined the key points.

From Conservation Letters:

Despite (Because of) complete protection within the PMNM, monk seals in the NWHI are declining at approximately 4% per year (Baker et al. 2011), a decline that is driven by low rates of juvenile survival (Baker & Thompson 2007; Baker 2008; Figure 1). In contrast to the situation in the NWHI, a small subpopulation of monk seals in the densely human-populated MHI is growing at an estimated rate of 7% per year (Baker et al. 2011), despite (because of) a myriad of anthropogenic impacts, including intense fishing pressure, coastal habitat modification and frequent harassment (Figure 1). Juvenile seals in the MHI exhibit excellent body condition, rapid body growth and much higher rates of survival (Baker et al. 2011). Hence, the seemingly counterintuitive (only to enviros) difference in population trajectories of monk seals between the NWHI and MHI is likely due to reduced interspecific competition and reduced predation experienced by juvenile seals in the MHI, where other large predators (sharks and ulua) have been depleted through past and ongoing harvest (Baker et al. 2011). (BINGO!) The proposal to translocate weaned female pups from areas of low juvenile survival in the relatively pristine NWHI to areas of high juvenile survival in the more heavily impacted MHI is a bold management action (PIFSC 2010). The translocation proposal, as well as other monk seal research, monitoring, and enhancement activities, were recently published in the draft programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (NOAA 2011).

Here’s a better idea. Instead of imposing your failed management scheme on the MHI, lift the NW Hawaiian Islands fishing ban. That will cut down on shark and ulua populations, thus bringing the environment back into balance by reducing food competition and shark predation. Man is top predator. And when you remove the top predator from the ecosystem, bad things happen.

As a compromise, if NOAA just can't come to terms with reality in NWHI, at least transplant the Monk Seals without imposing federal controls on the shorelines of the main Hawaiian Islands. 

Nature proves that the reintroduction of fishing is the necessary solution before coming up with some truly amusing excuses to explain away the obvious:

The difference in the seals' survival rates could be a result of an increase in shark predation within the reserve. Locals (huh?) in the French Frigate Shoals, a group of islands that are part of the protected area, have noticed a steep increase in shark predation, says Gerber. "They actually started a shark-culling programme" to control 'problem sharks', she says. "It's not something they like to broadcast," she adds, because of the conservation status of sharks.

Although the authors don't know for sure whether shark numbers have gone up, they speculate that the population could have been boosted by fishing discards before all fishing in the area was banned in 2006. A few of those sharks could now be wreaking havoc on seal pups. "All you need on each atoll is one really hungry rogue shark," says Kaufman.

So even though the environmentalists are wasting sharks by killing them—instead of letting fishermen catch them for food--the finger of blame is pointed at fishermen from six years ago. And a shark which eats a lot is a “rogue.” Who do they think they are fooling? All you need is one grant-hungry “scientist” who is good at making up excuses in order to keep his gig on a deserted tropical island—and yes, the excuse is -- drumroll please—global warming:

Other possible explanations for the decline, which is being caused by a low survival rate of seal pups, include a change to the food supply owing to warming waters; competition for food from large fish called jacks; or the possibility that the reserve is simply too new for its ecosystem to have settled down. It can take 15 years of monitoring, says Kaufman, to properly understand the dynamics of an ecosystem.

This is a “sandwiching” technique where the truth is given equal weight with two utterly ridiculous propositions and the resulting false uncertainty is cause for 15 years of research grants. Obviously the competition from ulua (Jacks) is the cause of the decline and poorer health of seals within Papahānaumokuākea. Ulua hover around as Monk Seals disturb the sea floor and/or reef areas. They then gobble up all the food. More ulua means less food for the Monk Seals. No, global warming is not the cause. And no, we don’t need 15 years to figure this out.

Humans’ role as top predator is maintained in the main Hawaiian Islands. Sharks become steaks and ulua are sashimi. This means that fewer Monk Seal pups are eaten by sharks and it means that fewer ulua are hanging around as Monk Seals forage for food.

To save the Monk Seal, humans must re-take their rightful place at the top of the food chain.


Related: The Ulua... Hawaii's Prize Fish!

NOAA proposes critical habitat revision for the Hawaiian monk seal, seeks public comment

Nature: Seals slide towards extinction in Hawaiian reserve

CL: Managing for extinction? Conflicting conservation objectives in a large marine reserve

AP: Hawaiian Monk Seals Bludgeoned To Death




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