Sonoma County group seeks to protect ocean resources

  • Lance Morgan, the CEO of the Marine Conservation Institute, in his office in Glen Ellen.

From a small office next to a Nepalese-Indian restaurant in Glen Ellen, Lance Morgan plots a response to the world's overwhelming appetite for seafood.

About 4.4 million fishing vessels ply the world's oceans, hauling in about 90 million tons of seafood a year and providing the human race with one-sixth of its animal protein.

The numbers are staggering, and marine conservation biologists like Morgan say the expansion of global fishing grounds -- by an area nearly twice the size of Alaska per year during the 1980s and '90s -- is unsustainable.

"There aren't many more fish populations to go out there and exploit," said Morgan, who was named president and CEO of the Marine Conservation Institute in June.

The nonprofit organization, founded in 1996, maintains a staff of 20 people -- mostly scientists -- at offices in Seattle, Washington D.C., and Glen Ellen.

They are largely engaged in "biogeography," the identification of ocean tracts to be protected from fishing, and the more ticklish task of convincing governments around the world to protect them.

In 2006, the United States established the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, covering 140,000 square miles of the Hawaiian archipelago, home to 7,000 marine species including green turtles and monk seals, in a conservation area larger than all the country's national parks combined.

It will take about 100 Papahanaumokuakeas to meet the goal -- set by international treaty in 1992 -- of protecting 10 percent of the world's oceans by 2020, so the remaining waters can continue to feed and support a world in which fisheries provide $63 billion in household income.

"We have a lot of work to do," said Morgan, a former Southern California surfer whose teenage love of the ocean led to a 25-year scientific career defending it.

Morgan, who joined the Marine Conservation Institute as a post-doctoral fellow in 2000, has seen the damage done by commercial fishing with his own eyes, piloting a one-person submarine off the coast of British Columbia in 2009.

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