Advocacy through Art: ‘Shark’ Brings the Animal’s Plight to Life

Happy Shark Week! In honor of this annual event, we sunk our teeth into a new book, Shark, by our friend and partner Brian Skerry. Skerry is an award-winning National Geographic photographer and photojournalist who won the 2017 Rolex-Explorer of the Year award. He recently spoke at the United Nations about the importance of ocean conservation and photographed former president Barack Obama swimming in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument – the largest marine monument in the U.S. Pacific. Per his usual style, Skerry is currently off on a month-long expedition shooting for the magazine.

Flipping through the pages of Shark, a layered and complex view of sharks is presented. Beautiful photos show sharks as powerful, elegant, and sleek creatures. Rulers of the ecosystem, they glide across the pages. Some of the photos are so close up, you cannot imagine how Skerry got the shot. But there are also images that show how sharks are losing control of their domain – often at the hand of humans. There is a shark stuck in a fisherman’s net, its eye forlornly looking out through the page. There is a shark on a beach with its fin being cut off, a victim of still-too-common shark finning. Mixed within the images, Skerry writes about his work, the environment, and the role of sharks in the wild.

Sharks are the top of the food chain, making them apex predators. Like wolves in Yellowstone, sharks are vital to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. When sharks are present, it’s a sign the ecosystem is working as it should.

But sharks occupy fragile standing in the world right now. Globally, more than 100 million sharks are killed every year for their fins alone. Sharks not directly targeted are often victims of bycatch, trapped on hooks or in lines meant for other fish. Sharks that survive these dangers, though, are still living in a changing world. Ocean acidification is harming reefs which provide food and shelter for the sharks’ prey. Climate change, and the resulting warming ocean has the potential to decimate a population that has not had to adapt for thousands of years.

Why Sharks?

Skerry has spent countless hours photographing sharks underwater. Part of his desire to write a book about sharks comes from wanting to show the world that sharks more than they appear in Jaws or the typical Discovery shark attack show. In an interview with National Geographic, he says, “For the artist within me, sharks represent an endless well of inspiration, a blend of grace and power that lures me into the sea time and time again in hopes of producing a new rendering that truly captures their essence. As a journalist, I’m driven by a sense of responsibility and a sense of the urgent need to broadcast that sharks are in trouble and need our help.”

You could say that Skerry views himself as more than an underwater photographer; he is an ocean advocate, using images to convey his message. Skerry, a New England native, believes that we need to fully protect more of the marine environment, and he was supportive of the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument about 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod.

When interviewed for Boston Magazine, he said, “Protecting the environment should not be, and historically in this country has not been, a partisan issue…If I could get our new president to see these things and care about them and realize how important they are for business and industry and commerce and weather and everything else that matters, then, boy, wouldn’t that be great?”

While it is unclear if the Trump Administration will be a willing audience, you can start to learn more about the issues yourself and become an advocate. You can find Shark online or at your local bookstore. Skerry’s photos are also on display as part of an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., until October 1.

You can also take action here to preserve the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, currently under attack by the Trump Administration. The monument is free from human threats and provides a space for sharks to find food and shelter. 

Celebrate National Seafood Month with our Favorite Sustainable Seafood

Seafood and New England go together like peanut butter and jelly. In our country’s founding days, early Americans fished the bountiful seas and laid the foundation for a strong connection with the ocean and seafood that remains to this day.

Everyone knows the New England seafood favorites, like lobster and cod. And Americans in general tend to stick to just three types of seafood: shrimp, canned tuna, and salmon. But there are so many fish in the sea – pun intended – that we thought we’d celebrate National Seafood Month by letting you in on some of our staff’s own sustainable seafood favorites.

1 Fish, 2 Fish, Redfish…

“I tried Acadian Redfish for the first time in the summer of 2015. Since its nickname is “rose” fish, matching my middle name, I figured it was a good place to start. And I’m glad I did!

Stocks of redfish collapsed in the 80s, and though they were declared recovered in 2012 – having since reaching thriving levels – redfish hasn’t returned to dinner plates as ubiquitously as it was in the 1940s and 50s. So go retro, and enjoy some redfish for #SeafoodMonth. You can enjoy redfish grilled, baked, or pan-fried. Or check out this delicious spicy redfish tacos recipe from FishWatch!”
-Amanda Yanchury, Ocean Communications Associate

Blue Fish Mussels

“As a kid, if given the choice between pizza and seafood, I always chose seafood (and still do today). One of my seafood dishes of choice has always been mussels, and growing up in New England, this means blue mussels. It’s tough to beat the traditional garlic and olive oil mussel dish served with some fresh bread. And when I got older, I was happy to learn that mussels are considered one of the “best choice” seafoods to eat by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In New England, and elsewhere in the U.S., mussels are typically grown rather than harvested from the wild; this can take place on suspended ropes or beds on the seafloor. They are fairly easy to raise because mussels get their food by filtering phytoplankton from the water column. They also improve water quality by filtering excess nutrients! Delicious and environmentally friendly – that’s a win-win for me.”
-Allison Lorenc, Ocean Conservation Program Assistant


“When folks think seafood, they don’t often think seaweed. But you should! Seaweed, the veggie of the sea, is both nutritious and delicious, with lots of protein and minerals and few fats and carbs. Seaweed has been a human food staple for millennia, and has recently been growing in popularity. This is good news for our ocean. Farmed seaweed cleans ocean water, requires few resources, and complements other fisheries.

I like to throw seaweed in soups – it can replace other greens and adds a tasty umami flavor. And although I’m not a vegan, I love this Caesar dressing featuring seaweed.”
-Megan Herzog, Staff Attorney


Swordfish: Sometimes caught with with handlines or harpoons, swordfish are an excellent seafood option because these manners of fishing are not harmful to the surrounding environment and bycatch is rare (meaning they don’t catch a lot of other marine life that must be thrown back). 

US Bluefish: Bluefish are sustainably managed and enjoy healthy population levels. You can feel good eating this fish knowing that the stocks are not in danger. Most bluefish are caught by recreational fishermen, whose hook-and-line gear has minimal impact on the environment. 

Black Sea Bass: Wild caught in Massachusetts, black sea bass is an excellent choice if you live in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or further south. Its populations are abundant and sustainably managed. 

Americans eat less seafood than recommended, consuming fewer than 15 pounds on average per person each year. But as a healthy, protein-rich option, sustainable seafood is an excellent choice. Want to dive deeper? Check out these handy guides from FishWatch and Monterey Bay Aquarium for more options, recipes, tips on what to look for when purchasing seafood, and more!

Seamounts Species Spotlight: Bluefin Tuna

The New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts are a special area 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. The unique geological formations make this area a biological hotspot, attracting many unique species. This blog post is part 3 in a series that profiles some of these incredible animals.

Just imagine a 10-foot long, steel blue, torpedo-shaped body darting through the water of the open ocean and it’s easy to understand why the Atlantic Bluefin tuna is at the top of the oceanic food chain.

This predator is one of the ocean’s most impressive swimmers, built for quick and calculated movements as its body is smooth with retractable fins, allowing it to minimize drag and maximize speed. Tuna also go far: some individuals have been observed making multiple migrations between the United States and Europe each year.

These world travelers spend their summers feasting upon herring and eels in the waters of the Gulf of Maine. At some 1,500 pounds, tuna prefer to swallow prey whole and are considered a very aggressive predator. To maximize vision (presumably helping with predatory ability), tuna are even partially warm-blooded, a rare trait for a fish.

Mating Grounds Discovered Near Canyons and Seamounts

Many details of the fish’s behavior were unknown until recently. A study released this year revealed the discovery and confirmation of a previously unknown mating ground in the “Slope Sea,” an area of ocean between the Gulf Stream and continental shelf, which includes much of the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts area. The area was identified after poppy seed-sized larvae were detected in the waters with further analysis confirming their birthplace.

Much attention has been paid in recent years to the Atlantic Bluefin tuna’s close relative, Pacific Bluefin tuna, an incredibly popular and valuable commodity in places across Asia. In 2013, a Pacific Bluefin went for a record $1.76 million in Tokyo.

The Pacific Bluefin’s global fame has, unfortunately, spelled collapse for global stocks. All three species of Bluefin tuna – Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern – are at risk of collapse because of human predation. The Atlantic population has decreased by as much as 51 percent in just three generations.

As a completely migratory species, comprehensive management has proven difficult, with responsibility currently falling to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT). Currently, there is effort being placed on monitoring and accurately reporting the origins of each landing along with strict catch limits.

As we continue to discover more about these powerful fish, it is important that we protect the areas that they rely on, such as their feeding and breeding grounds. The discovery of a North Atlantic breeding ground requires much more study so managers can learn more about how to better manage this species. Permanently protected the New England Canyons and Seamounts is an excellent step in the right direction.

Excerpt: The Potential of the Gulf of Maine

The following is an excerpt from a letter from the chairman of the board for Diversified Communications, Daniel Hildreth. Diversified Communications owns National Fisherman Magazine and other publications. The letter was published in the August 2016 issue of National Fisherman. 

Over the past year, Cashes Ledge and several canyons and seamounts on or near the southern edge of Georges Bank have been proposed as national monuments. We won’t know the outcome for sure until January 2017, but the question remains: Is there a need for a few carefully selected areas in the Gulf of Maine with permanent protection from natural resource use? I believe the answer is yes.

My family’s business, Diversified Communications, has served the commercial fishing and seafood industries for over 45 years, through the publication of National Fisherman, Pacific Marine Expo, and the Seafood Expos in Boston and Brussels. Our connections with the commercial fishing and seafood industries have been sources of inspiration and pride for us.

Because we are based in Maine, we are especially close to events in the Gulf of Maine. Unfortunately, since 1969 when NF was first launched, many trends in environmental health, fish stocks and the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf of Maine have not been good. In the 1960s and early ’70s, groundfish stocks were overfished by foreign fleets. There was a rebound after passage of the Magnuson [Stevens] Act, but then a renewed decline in spawning biomass set in. Even now many stocks remain depleted, and the commercial fishing industry is, as well.

There have been meaningful steps toward rebuilding in recent years. The implementation of quotas has resulted in even more fishermen losing their livelihoods, but at least some stocks are healthy or rebuilding. Another source of encouragement has been the opening up of rivers, through dam removal and culvert replacement, allowing the potential rebuilding of forage fish such as alewives and blueback herring.

Still, the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and fisheries resources are far depleted from what they were centuries ago. We can’t go back in time, but what is the potential of the Gulf of Maine to support a healthy marine ecosystem and abundant fish stocks?

Perhaps places like Cashes Ledge can help answer that question. Because of its challenging topography and closure in the past dozen years, Cashes Ledge supports a unique and vibrant ecosystem. It’s known for healthy bottom flora and fauna, and diverse, abundant, and large-sized finfish. There is no other area in the Gulf of Maine that gives as good an example of what the ecosystem and fishery could look like in relatively natural conditions.

Read the full letter here. 

An Ocean Warming: Sea Level Rise

In a previous post, we explored changing ocean chemistry through the phenomenon known as ocean acidification, and the effects of it on the people and species that call the Gulf of Maine home.

However, there is another important piece of the puzzle. As ocean water becomes warmer and more acidic, it expands and swells. This increase in volume, combined with fast-melting arctic sea and land ice, causes substantial changes in sea level – which can wreak havoc on our coastlines.

Numerous studies have shown that the East Coast, ranging from North Carolina to the Gulf of Maine, is experiencing this phenomenon, known widely as sea level rise, at a rate three to four times faster than the global average. In fact, researchers refer to the region as a “unique 1,000-kilometer-long hotspot” where the impacts will be “disproportionately felt.” For New England especially, sea level rise spells trouble because of the vulnerability of our coastal cities, utilities, and infrastructure – not to mention our strong dependence on our coastal economies.

Unquestionably, the threat of sea level rise demands our attention because frankly, this isn’t an issue to be discussed and acted upon at some point in the future – it is happening now.

Signs of sea level rise, including incidences of “sunny-day flooding” and storm surges, have shown that the threat is real and imminent. In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the coasts of New Jersey and New York, we saw the massive destruction that sea level rise and strengthened storm surges can have on a city.

Fortunately, Boston missed the brunt of the storm, but having seen its impacts, it’s clear that Boston cannot wait until it is too late or until a disaster like super-storm Sandy strikes to begin planning.

It is paramount that we have the necessary groundwork laid out so Boston, and New England at large, is able to adapt to the issue. Through the creation and implementation of forward-thinking policies, the consequences of sea level rise can be lessened. In most cases, with adequate energy and resources devoted to the issue, we will be able to anticipate some of what is to come and preemptively address the areas in which attention is immediately needed.

Some research and planning is already happening. Sea Change Boston has an interactive map which shows a variety of possible scenarios for what Boston might look like – and which areas might be underwater – depending upon the incidence of major storms over time. This map is based upon projections that global sea levels are projected to rise 1-2 feet by 2050. And the Boston Harbor Association put together additional maps showing the impacts of sea level rise to Boston and the surrounding areas if the sea level rises 2.5 feet, 5 feet, or 7.5 feet.

With the Gulf of Maine warming at a rate faster than 99 percent of other ocean areas, we in New England must be prepared with policies focusing on protection, adaptation, and/or accommodation to sea level rise, all of which will be critical in shaping how we respond to this imminent threat. It is only a matter of time before a rising sea level will begin impacting our infrastructure, transportation, and even our safety.



Shark-Saving Legislation Proposed During Discovery’s “Shark Week”

Just in time for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, a team of United States Senators, led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), has introduced legislation seeking to eliminate U.S. involvement in the global shark fin market.

The bipartisan Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act of 2016 aims to protect important shark populations by banning the commercial trade of fins in the United States and by increasing enforcement measures to the existing finning ban. The Senators hope these actions will provide a platform from which the United States can advocate for comprehensive global measures in the future.

The move to ban domestic shark finning began when President Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act in 2000, which made it illegal for United States fishermen to engage in shark finning – but left a significant loophole by not discussing fin trading specifically. Since then, eleven states and three U.S. territories – including Massachusetts –have implemented comprehensive finning bans that close this loophole.

What is Shark Finning?

Shark finning is a brutal practice that occurs when the fins of a shark are cut from the animal and kept for sale while the rest of the shark is tossed back in the water, incapacitated and left to die or be eaten by a predator.

The fins are particularly valued for medicinal purposes as well as for the key ingredient of shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese delicacy and status symbol. The price for a single bowl of soup can cost up to $100, making the global fin trade highly profitable despite being increasingly controversial.

At Risk from a Daunting Predator: Humans

All shark species, including the highly endangered scalloped hammerhead, are at risk of falling prey to shark finning. To make matters worse, recent estimates say global shark populations are decreasing at a rate of between 6.4 to 7.9 percent annually. This startling decline is largely caused by finning, overfishing, and from the animals being accidentally caught as bycatch.

Massachusetts is among the U.S. states advocating against shark finning, where there has been a heightened interest in shark research and conservation in part due to the return of great white sharks during recent years.

Groups like the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have been studying New England’s sharks for decades. The Massachusetts Shark Research Program’s shark-tagging research recently resurfaced in the news with the return of Scratchy, the Great White Shark, to Cape Cod’s shores.

Civic Interest in New England

During his tenure as a U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, Secretary John Kerry was a vocal supporter of the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, signed into law in 2011. The act gained bipartisan support and mandated that shark landings must be brought to shore with fins attached, thereby strengthening the Shark Finning Prohibition Act.

And in 2014, nine-year-old Sean Lesniak wrote to his State Representative, David M. Nangle, with a simple request: to allow him to share his passion for sharks with the Massachusetts House and tell them why they were worth saving. In doing so, Lesniak lent his young voice to a long-running conversation about why the Bay State should protect its marine resources. Gaining bipartisan support, the bill successfully banned the possession and sale of shark fins, and was signed by Governor Deval Patrick in July 2014.

Lesniak’s story is a good reminder that civic engagement and education are important conservation tools, and that when used effectively, can help ensure that shark populations are saved – and that events like Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

With the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act of 2016, the United States Senate has the opportunity to elevate global awareness of this issue and make shark conservation a more concrete reality. Contact your Senator today to ask him or her to support this legislation.



Saving Cashes Ledge: A Diver’s Perspective

In the summer of 2014, Lisa Smith picked up her Sunday Boston Globe and was taken aback by the beautiful images that graced the cover: waving forests of kelp, a rocky sea floor, and inquisitive fish who live at Cashes Ledge.

A diver for more than 9 years, Smith was immediately drawn in by the wonder: How could this tropical-looking habitat be in New England?

A Boston-area lawyer who works on peaceful dispute resolution, mostly in divorce law, Smith started diving as a way to enjoy the natural environment with her young son, who had requested diving lessons. She’s done most of her diving here in New England, where it’s not typical to see the gold, emerald, and red hues of an undulating kelp forest, or a uniquely red-colored cod. So she knows firsthand that Cashes Ledge is something special.

Smith wouldn’t normally consider herself a conservationist – her volunteer work typically revolves around human relationship issues, including domestic violence. But after seeing the images of Cashes Ledge, and learning more about the ways in which it continues to be at risk, she became active in the campaign to permanently protect this treasure.

Paying it Forward

When it comes to protecting Cashes Ledge, Smith says that from her perspective, it’s about preserving the country’s most important places, like America has done for more than a century.

“We have a responsibility to continue paying it forward,” Smith said. “Our parents and their parents were part of the generations that protected many important lands so that we can enjoy them today. And now we have a responsibility to protect our oceans for our children – and their children.”

Smith says she doesn’t want us to take for granted what’s under the surface; that diving in special places like this helps people feel a kind of connectedness and peacefulness that normal life typically doesn’t afford. The lasting physical and mental health benefits she’s attained from experiencing nature in this way, she says, are immeasurable – and that’s why special places like Cashes Ledge must be preserved for future generations.

A “Snow White” Experience 

Smith says she’s described deep-sea diving to her non-diving friends and family in this way: “It’s like that cartoon of Snow White, where she interacts with the creatures are all around her. They aren’t afraid of her. It’s magical.”

When we walk through the woods, she says, creatures hide from us. But underwater, they are all right there in front of us – we can be close to so many animals who watch us with curiosity but aren’t afraid of our presence. “It’s an idealized, almost unreal situation,” Smith says. “It’s really amazing.”

In preserving our natural resources at Cashes Ledge, we wouldn’t be initiating a ‘pay it forward’ movement: we’d be simply continuing one.

“We need to continue this path of conservation that was started before,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t stop with us. We need to keep this tradition going.”

Take Action Today – then like us on Facebook to follow the campaign.

Sea Rovers 2016: That’s a Wrap!

Last weekend, divers from across the region attended the Sea Rovers dive show in Danvers, MA. Throughout the two-day show, we had conversations with hundreds of people interested in learning more about our campaign to protect special places in the Atlantic.

At our coalition’s booth, we received more than 150 comment cards and captured many photos of supporters voicing why they believe that Cashes Ledge and the New England Canyons and Seamounts should be permanently protected. Here are a few of the highlights (Click here to see the entire Facebook album!):

“#SaveOceanTreasures because its an unseen world important to whales, sharks, and all things fishy!!”
Sea Rovers 3
“#SaveOceanTreasures because they’re critical for the North Atlantic ecosystem!”







Evan Kovacs at Sea Rovers
Undersea cinematographer Evan Kovacs shows video footage from a recent expedition to Cashes Ledge

On Saturday, we were fortunate to present to a packed room at our seminar, “Cashes Ledge: The Yellowstone of the Atlantic,” which featured new film footage from cinematographer Evan Kovacs, as well as an overview of the scientific importance of Cashes Ledge by Dr. Jon Witman of Brown University. CLF’s Dr. Priscilla Brooks wrapped things up with an overview of why these areas need permanent protection now – and what supporters can do to help.

Jon Witman at Sea Rovers
Dr. Jon Witman gave the compelling scientific case for protecting this ecologically important area

Over the span of the two-day conference, the enthusiasm and passion for protecting undersea treasures was evident, with many attendees expressing the desire to be able to dive in such an amazing place someday.

We hope President Obama will come through on his Administration’s stated goal of protecting more ocean habitat before his term ends. Because of that, we’re committed to showing the breadth and depth of support we have to save these ocean treasures.

Dr. Priscilla Brooks spoke about Dr. Sylvia Earle's dive at Cashes Ledge -- and how supporters can get involved to help save this special place
Dr. Priscilla Brooks spoke about Dr. Sylvia Earle’s dive at Cashes Ledge — and how supporters can get involved to help save this special place

Will you join us? “Like” our Facebook page today to stay in the loop about the campaign – and be the first to know when we have opportunities to take action to save these special places.