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«The Economic and Social Aspects of Biodiversity Benefits and Costs of Biodiversity in Ireland REPORT PREPARED BY: CRAIG BULLOCK, OPTIMIZE CONSULTANTS ...»

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I rish c ora l re e f s Reefs, formed by the skeletons of countless generations of corals, are some of the most biologically diverse habitats on the planet. As well as providing shelter for corals themselves, the reef system supports a huge diversity of other organisms. It has been estimated that over 4,000 species of fish inhabit the world’s coral reefs (Spalding et al, 2001). Primary production in shallow water reefs is high due to the symbiotic partnerships between corals and photosynthetic algae, and the degree of nutrient cycling that occurs between corals, algae, and other organisms. Reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reef and those in the Red Sea, are major tourist attractions as well as a fisheries resource.

Much of the economic value of coral reefs - estimated at nearly $30 billion per year - is generated from nature-based tourism, including scuba diving and snorkelling (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).

Coral reefs are not confined to warmer climates. They also occur in deeper cold waters, up to depths of 3,000 meters, often in areas where there is no significant primary production, and where they may be supported by nutrients and organic compounds re-suspended from the seabed or brought down from highly productive surface waters by ocean currents (Thiem et al, 2006). A large cold-water reef system, located approximately 200km off Ireland’s west coast, has only recently been explored in detail. These reefs are formed mainly by the coral Lophelia pertusa which forms the most structurally complex physical habitat for species in the deep sea. Lophelia reefs can have a species diversity as high as reefs in shallow tropical waters. Over 860 species of animals have been recorded on such reefs in the north-east Atlantic. Reefs can grow to 35 metres in height, be hundreds of metres wide, and reach 13 km long.

The value of Lophelia reefs to fisheries has not been determined. It is likely to be significant for some commercially important species, and probably performs an important role in sustaining a productive food chain in deep sea environments, e.g. through nutrient cycling, by providing a habitat for suspension feeders, and by providing nursery and rest areas for species which in turn support larger predators. Over 1,300 species of invertebrates and fish have been found in Ireland’s Lophelia reefs, including commercially important cod and redfish.

Reefs are endangered by the dragging of heavy fishing gear along the sea bed. In 2006, the Irish Government announced plans to conserve these reefs by nominating four sites in Irish waters as Marine Protection Areas, and by preventing harmful fishing practice in three others in international waters.

S e aw e e d s Ireland has a diverse seaweed industry which has developed in the past 30 years. Certain species of seaweed have always been harvested on Irish coasts as a food resource and have been a traded good for thousands of years. Carrageen or Irish moss (Chondrus spp) and dillisk (Palmaria spp) have long been part of the culture of many communities on the west coast and can still be found on the shelves in many Irish supermarkets. Recognising the potential of this natural resource, the government launched the Irish Seaweed Forum in 1999 to collate the opinions of a range of stakeholders. The Forum’s report on the sustainability of the Irish seaweed industry determined that natural seaweed resources in Ireland are under-utilised and that potential high-value industrial applications has yet to be fully realised.

The most economically important seaweeds in Irish waters include two types of maerl; maerl is a collective term for several species of calcified red seaweed which grow as unattached nodules on the seabed, often forming extensive beds. Maerl is slow-growing, but over long periods its dead calcareous skeleton can accumulate into deep deposits overlain by a thin layer of pink, living surface.

Maerl beds are an important habitat for a wide variety of marine animals and plants which live amongst or are attached to its branches, or which burrow in the coarse gravel of dead maerl beneath the top living layer.

The Irish seaweed industry is broadly based, with the product being supplied to agriculture/ horticulture, cosmetics, thalassotheraphy, the biopharma sector (functional foods, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals) and for human consumption. At present, about 32,000 tonnes of wet weed is harvested in Ireland. There is considerable interest in expanding the potential product range and especially in adding value to extracted components for a wide range of uses (Marine Institute, 2006).

The introduction of mechanical harvesting of seaweed was identified as a key area in the development of the domestic seaweed industry. Kelp is the largest and most structurally complex brown algae and often forms dense standing stocks or “kelp forests”. They are exploited worldwide and are of major economic importance to the hydrocolloid industry as a source for alginates (used in a wide variety of products from soups, jellies and ice cream to antiacids, burn treatments, cosmetics and fire proofing). They also are of high ecological significance. Kelp are complex threedimensional structures providing habitat, food and shelter for various species and are characterized by high productivity and a diversity of associated flora and fauna.They also form important reproduction and nursery grounds for fish.

Kelps are the most prominent constituents of lower intertidal and subtidal Atlantic rocky shores.

Studies recently conducted by the Irish Seaweed Centre have provided information on kelp growth, biomass, biodiversity of kelp beds and the impact of experimental harvesting. Based on these data, total natural kelp resources (L. digitata plus L. hyperborea) are estimated to be 81,641 tonnes in Galway Bay and about 3,000,000 tonnes for the entire coastline of Ireland. The value of these beds to the fisheries sector has yet to be determined.

5.3 T H R E AT S TO F I S H E R I E S A N D A S S O C I AT E D R E S O U R C E S

Between 1995 and 2005, 85 million tonnes of fish were taken from world marine fisheries, of which about 60 million tonnes was used directly for human food. The projected world food demand for fish in the year 2020 was about 130 million tonnes. The increase in the world’s population between 1970 and 2000 has resulted in a massive increase in demand for seafood, encouraged especially by economic growth in Asia where fish consumption has doubled in the last three decades. Ireland is not immune from these international developments given that some high value species such as abalone are exported to the Far East, while processed fish products are imported from as far away as New Zealand.

Given predicted declines in productivity, it is not possible for wild fish to continue to meet this demand (Delgado 2003). The European Commission has estimated that 81% of the Community’s commercial fish species are being fished unsustainably (Marine Institute 2007). Another study reports that over-fishing has led to the loss of about 90% of the global ocean’s large predatory fish (Myers & Worm 2003). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) has determined that “harvest pressure has exceeded the maximum sustainable yield in one quarter of all of the world’s wild fisheries and is likely to exceed sustainable levels in most other wild fisheries in the near future. In every ocean in the world, one or more important target species stocks have been classed as “collapsed”, over exploited, or exploited to their maximum sustainable levels. Freshwater fisheries have been similarly impacted. Approximately 20% of the world’s 10,000 freshwater fish species have been listed as threatened, endangered, or extinct in the last few decades.

A feature common to all major world fisheries is, not only the decline in overall catches, but a decline in the average trophic level of the species landed (Pinnegar et al, 2003). That is, the highervalue predator species at the top of the food chain are being replaced with smaller and lower value species. The size of most species caught is also declining.

Estimates based on current rates of diversity loss indicate that there will be no viable fish or invertebrate species (molluscs, cephalopods, crustaceans, etc.) available to fisheries by 2050 (Earthwatch Institute, 2006). However, the trends in species loss are still reversible.While the demand for fish is increasing, fish farming could relieve the pressure on wild fisheries, but only if sustainable practices are adopted.

Long-term plans aimed at restoring fish stocks to a safe level are having a painful impact on fishing communities. The European Union is implementing a major restructuring of the EU fishing fleet in order to tackle the decline in fish stocks. Essentially, this has involved large scale decommissioning of sea fleets, including the Irish fleet. The pressures are exacerbated by increasingly sophisticated catching and changes in the composition of fish caught.

State aid has been available to support the sector during this restructuring process under the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). A Commission Action Plan to counter the social, economic and regional consequences of the restructuring of the EU fishing industry was adopted in 2002. The latest reform of the Common Fisheries Policy extended the scope for the permanent decommissioning and temporary removal of vessels as well as compensation, early retirement, and diversification. However, there is too much reliance on fisheries protection enforced by locally based fisheries officials or national navies. The multi-national nature of the fleets makes it even more difficult to apply legal penalties, especially in that courts may be more accustomed to dealing with criminal acts than fisheries issues. Much faith is being placed in the future real-time monitoring of vessels to ensure that these do not stray into protected areas.

A further potential threat is presented by climate change. Already, it is being reported that cod and other cold water species are moving north in response to small changes in sea temperatures. There are also concerns that cliff based seabird colonies – one of the more dramatic wildlife sites in Ireland and Britain – will be rendered empty and silent by declines in small fish species which provide their major food source.

H ar m fu l A l ga l B lo o m s ( H A B s ) Since 1950, nutrient loading from pollution has emerged as one of the most important drivers of ecosystem change in freshwater and coastal ecosystems (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).

This pollution has caused acidification, has depleted oxygen levels in freshwater and estuarine environments through eutrophication.

Pollution can cause hypoxic “dead zones” in coastal areas, but its effects also extend hundreds of kilometres out to sea. An indicator of this pollution, reactive (biologically available) nitrogen, has increased by 80% from 1860 to 1990. Human activity supplies more reactive nitrogen than is produced by all natural pathways combined and projections suggest that levels may increase by a further two thirds by 2050.

Along coasts around the world, outbreaks of pathogens and harmful algal blooms (HABs) are becoming increasingly common (Knap 2002). These regular population explosions are believed to arise from elevated nutrients in coastal waters, removal of filter feeders such as oysters, and transport of contaminated ballast water between major ports worldwide. Sometimes referred to as red or brown tides, the resulting biotoxins are harmful to humans and animals. Filter feeders such as oysters and clams accumulate these biotoxins in their tissues and they can concentrate further as they move up the food chain.When eaten, symptoms include nausea, respiratory problems, memory loss and even death. A recent study has determined that the global economic losses associated with HABs over the 30 years has reached $1 billion (Anderson et al. 2000).

5.4 E CON O M I C A N D S O C I A L VA LU E S Although the Irish catch has fallen slightly in the last five years, the value of the catch has remained steady at around 180 million. An approximate 5% fall in the value of landings since 1998 represents a very minimal level of the cost of loss of biodiversity in that the fall is mainly a consequence of reduced quota. Overall, values have been maintained due to the sale of higher value species to premium markets. BIM has been instrumental in encouraging higher value processing. In addition, the value of externally traded fish and fish products has also increased to 391 million. One consequence of these developments is that Irish landings in foreign ports now total over 120,000 tonnes compared with only around one quarter of this amount in 1994.

Trends to landings abroad have not been in the interests of Irish fishing communities. They have to be seen in the context of the remarkable decline of ports such as Castletownbere, Rathmullen, Arklow and Carlingford and the relative concentration of pelagic landing in Killybegs. Moreover, the forces of supply and demand in response to declines in the European catch do not appear to have had an impact on prices at the quayside. In part, this has occurred because of the impact of fixed quotas. Another factor is that owners of many smaller vessels have been reticent to respond with better marketing or simple processing given the tightness of margins and the uncertain policy future.

From a biodiversity perspective, the cuts in the catches of familiar demersal species such as cod and haddock are too little too late. The capacity of the population to recover has been questioned by many scientists. For instance, the Marine Institute has observed that 75% of Ireland’s stocks are now outside of safe biological limits (2006). Policy has reacted only hesitantly to the scientific advice. Illegal catches and misreporting have undermined conservation strategies directly, but also indirectly by depriving scientists of accurate data for the modelling of fish populations. Discards of smaller fish or less desirable fish are a significant problem in terms of age structure and biodiversity (Trenkel & Rochet, 2003). In some Irish and Scottish trawl fisheries, discards account for an incredible 70-90% of the catch (EC, 2007). In the same category, the continuing by-catch of whales and dolphins is of much ecological concern.

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