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Free-for-all in southern Pacific decimates fish stocks

Asian, European and Latin American fleets have devastated fish stocks in the southern Pacific, once among the world’s richest waters, a new investigation by the Center’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has found. Governments with the power to stop the plunder have stalled for years, and no binding rules are in place. The result: Stocks of jack mackerel are down 90 percent to less than 3 million metric tons in just two decades. The oily fish is a staple in Africa, but people elsewhere are unaware that it is in their forkfuls of farmed salmon. Jack mackerel is a vital component of fishmeal for aquaculture. Today, industrial fleets bound only by voluntary restraints compete in what amounts to a free-for-all in open waters from the west coast of South America across much of the southern Pacific. The investigation also found that in Peru, at least 630,000 metric tons of anchoveta have vanished over the past two and a half years between the holds of boats and factory scales. That is more than all the fish British fleets land in a year.

The defense cuts that aren’t

Hawks on Capitol Hill are screaming about proposed White House cuts to the defense budget. Here’s a secret, says the Center’s managing editor for defense Jeffrey Smith: Obama’s plan actually calls for increases. Here’s the backdrop: Between 2000 and 2009, the average annual growth in national security budget authority was around 6 percent. That made spending go up by around two-thirds, to nearly $720 billion. Before Obama announced his plan, the Pentagon was counting on an annual boost over the next 10 years. While there may be a net decrease in spending over the next year, the budget – in the long term — will soon revert to net increases, administration officials say. They have not said what the average annual increase will be if Congress approves his trims, but sources said the result after 10 years will still be a larger budget, even after inflation is taken into account.

West Africa oil boom overlooks tattered environmental safety net

The Jubilee offshore oil field in Ghana has proven a blessing for investors and curse for locals. Even as the field was in development, environmentalists warned it was moving too fast. To activists, official silence surrounding a November 2011 spill was evidence that Ghana lacked the ability to properly oversee offshore oil operations. Located along Africa’s Atlantic Coast, Ghana is slipping down the same unregulated slope as other countries that hug the Gulf of Guinea: Promises of economic development along with a lure of easy money have prompted governments to encourage the rapid growth of an industry in a regulatory vacuum. The oil industry, in effect, is left to monitor itself. The story was produced in cooperation with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Sarah Burke and the tragedy of American healthcare

Our healthcare commentator Wendell Potter puts the U.S. insurance system on trial in his latest column. Since the promising Canadian skier Sarah Burke was mortally injured earlier this month in the U.S., her family is pleading for money to help cover the estimated $550,000 they owe for the medical care she received at University of Utah Hospital over nine days. The irony, says Potter, is that had the accident occurred in Canada, her family would not be facing having to come up such a huge sum to pay for her care. Her care would have been covered because, unlike the U.S., Canada has a system of universal coverage. An estimated 700,000 American families file for bankruptcy every year because of medical debt. No one in Canada finds themselves in that predicament, nor do they face losing their homes as many Americans do when they become critically ill or suffer an injury.

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