by Guest Blogger

July 3, 2006

The following posting is from oceans campaigner John, who is onboard as Greenpeace begins our 2006 tour of the Bering Sea

We are heading west out of Kodiak Island and life is good. The sun is setting behind the mountains; the sea is silky calm. It’s 11 p.m., the end of another long Alaskan summer day.

Our boat is gorgeous, an 84 foot former fishing vessel that has been refitted as a research vessel. Our team joined the boat in Kodiak, after Captain Bob and Willie drove it up here from Newport, Oregon. This was a last minute partnership, so these guys really had to go all out to get the boat up to Alaska in time for us to begin our work.

We’re here to take a good look at the Bering Sea, one of the wildest and biologically rich places on earth. Everyone knows that the Bering Sea is changing, but there are a lot of different thoughts on what is causing it – and what, if anything, needs to be done to protect the Bering’s ecosystem and the billion dollar fishing industry it supports.

Steph and George saw the first whale of our trip today, a giant humpback that surfaced right next to our boat. Humpbacks are one of the most dramatic of the nearly 30 species of marine mammals found in Alaska waters.

This was the second endangered species we’ve sighted so far. The first was a male Steller sea lion, probably about 1500 pounds, that cruised by our boat while we were in the harbor at Kodiak. Their numbers declining dramatically over the past 30 years, Steller sea lions are at the heart of the controversy about what is happening to the Bering Sea.

Steller sea lions feed on pollock, a cod-like fish that has long been abundant in Alaska. Unfortunately for the sea lions, humans also feed on pollock, and in numbers that stretch our ability to imagine. Laid end to end, the Alaska pollock caught in 2004 would stretch 957,900 miles, enough to circle the globe almost 40 times. As much of this catch occurs in areas that are critical habitat for the sea lions, fishery managers have recognized the “acute” potential for conflict between the pollock fishery and the food needs of sea lions. Despite recognizing the conflict, fishery managers do not account for the needs of sea lions or other predators when setting catch limits. This is a fundamental problem with the way fisheries are managed in the U.S., and something that Greenpeace is working to change.

Now it’s time to grab a few hours of sleep before I need to stand watch at 4 a.m.. After all the months of preparation, I’m going to sleep well knowing that we are finally underway!


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