Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in the ocean

How can you tell when it's Christmas in the ocean? By the cinnamon & vanilla flavoring the water. Holiday cookie baking shows up in Puget Sound, after the cookies are eaten and...well...processed.

Digging deeper, researchers estimate that Seattle desert lovers ate about 200,000 cookies per day containing cinnamon & vanilla.

It's incredible how our habits influence oceans, even our cookie habits. Previously, we've heard about caffeine, antidepressants, birth control hormones, and antibiotics showing up in Seattle-area streams, with possible effects on fish and other animals.

Do the cookies matter? Smell is important to some fish, and spices are used because of their pungency, so who knows? Fish probably appreciate the end of the season and the seasoning.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Cephalopodmas

Mollusc lovers, note the new holiday-Cephalopodmas-championed over at Pharyngula, an entertaining and popular blog that touches on molluscs, evolution, and debunking intelligent design.

Are molluscs and Cephalopodmas mainstream, now that Macy's is on board (left)?

Advanced molluscophiles may want to try some more esoteric treats from Pharyngula, such as octopus sex, squid sex, or even slug sex. Pharyngula knows how to blog.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Live giant squid film!

See a real sea monster, a giant squid filmed and captured alive. This is actually a small one, only 24 feet long--giant squid reach up to 60 feet.

Giant squid are the real KRAKEN, an ocean monster from ancient legend. Japanese scientists put out some bait and lured this mysterious and fantastic squid out of the depths.

Squid are actually molluscs, related to clams, oysters, snails, octopus, and the cuttlefish. Yes, molluscs are some of the most lovable and cuddly creatures in the ocean.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The tragedy of overfishing in New England

The human cost of overfishing will be featured on national tv on January 2. PBS presents "A Fish Story," a film about the human costs of fishery management failure in the US. Check out the website for more information.

Two women are the focus, as they struggle to defend their fishing community in the face of collapsing fish stocks. Bloated fishing fleets, built by generous federal subsidies, are hammering their fish. Yet each fishermen says they have a right to continue. Making a plea for survival, they repeatedly ask for and win permission to keep overfishing to sustain their livelihood.

To me, this is a tragedy in the classic sense. Are our fishing community activists tragic heros in the classic sense?

Call it: "The tragedy of overfishing in New England"

An Aristotelian tragic hero must have four characteristics:

Nobleness or wisdom (by virtue of birth).
(Noble fishing heritage)

Hamartia (translated as tragic flaw, somewhat related to hubris, but denoting excess in behavior or mistakes).
(Support for overfishing)

A reversal of fortune (peripetia) brought about because of the hero's tragic error.
(Collapsed fish stocks)

The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero's own actions (anagnorisis).
(Stay tuned for the last act--wherein fishermen in New England realize the folly of the overfishing entitlement)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

International protection for spiny dogfish?

Europeans may save us from ourselves and protect spiny dogfish, just as hooks are being sharpened to go after spiny dogfish again in New England.

The European Union will propose trade restrictions under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Trade restrictions would largely shut down some unsustainable US fisheries since most spiny dogfish is exported.

Action by some US managers to allow fishing beyond scientific advice may ironically add weight to the CITES proposal by demonstrating poor management and the need for trade restrictions. Is this really what the Atlantic states fisheries managers were thinking when they voted for unsustainable fishing of spiny dogfish?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Are big fish disappearing or not?

Depends on what you mean by "disappearing." Would you say that tuna are disappearing if only about 1 out of 3 are left?

A new study reports the mainstream view from fisheries scientists. They say that 64% of yellowfin tuna are gone, but that's not a problem. In fact, removal of 64% is the goal.

The study's authors say that fisheries management is working and yellowfin tuna are being managed appropriately and sustainably. They also note that previous studies reporting problems were "half-baked" and based on "cherry-picked" data, and that these issues "cannot be reduced to sound bites." Hmmm...I have no doubt that the study is good, even if their metaphors are badly mixed and their criticism is self-referential.

How do the two studies really differ? The new study shows that the biggest tuna have declined by 80%. This is actually quite similar to the 90% decline of large fish found previously. Both studies agree that the largest fish are at least 80% gone. That's a striking similarity. In the new study, the sharp criticism of previous results is based on relatively modest declines of a few smaller species such as skipjack tuna.

Interesting, the methods are different, but the findings are fairly similar when comparing big fish to big fish. By far the largest difference is the threshold for concern. So decide for yourself...is it ok to take most of the big fish out of the ocean?

The real conflict here is over the goals of fishery management. At stake is the future of our oceans and fish.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

When is a crab not a crab?

When it's "crab-flavored seafood, made with surimi, a fully cooked fish protein." So read your seafood label carefully, and read the fine print on the salad bar, if you can find it.

The FDA has now made it legal to drop the word "imitation" from imitation crab, because it was supposedly confusing customers. In place of "imitation crab," you'll find the bizarre mouthful of words about crab-flavored seafood.

I think we were better off without the change. Why? Because imitation crab is simple, it means something made to resemble crab. The new terms are more complex and more misleading. To me, "crab flavored" should mean flavored with crab.

Who's better off with the new rules? That's easy, the people who sell pollock or other fish that are used to make surimi, that are used to make imitation crab-er, crab-flavored seafood.

What is this really? Call it obfuscational profit enhancement, or better yet call it "profit-flavored gains, made with influence, a fully cooked federal rule-making process."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Some fishermen want all the fish

Conservation of fish has broken out in California, and some fishermen are having none of it. They want to win back the mere 18% of ocean waters protected recently in central California's coastal waters.

A surprising aspect of this attack is that they're supported by fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn, acting more like a pro-fishing activist. Likening anyone who disagrees to religious zealots, Mr. Hilborn proclaims that all is well in California. Has he noticed that California's groundfish fisheries were declared a federal disaster in 2000?

This attack on California's new MPAs is hard for blogfish to understand. To my fishing friends in California: if you can't catch everything you want in 82% of the ocean, why do you think the other 18% will give you what you want?

The real conflict seems to be over who controls our oceans. Fishing interests and fisheries scientists, used to being in charge, want everyone else to butt out. Scientists and others with broader agendas are tired of waiting for the promised land of self-managed fisheries that actually conserve fish.

Note the map at right, seems like quite a bit of ocean is still open for fishing. California's ocean conservation actions will likely be heralded as visionary in 100 years, click here for more including detailed maps.

Mr. Hilborn, with his dogmatic defense of fishing is drawing some sharp new battle lines in the debate over how much fishing is too much. Apparently, The Good Depletion is more than just a good idea to Mr. Hilborn. This struggle is far from over, and blogfish is keenly interested.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Predator extermination in the ocean?

We're about to go after a new ocean villian, the cownose ray. These shy creatures have an unfortunate fondness for oysters, and we humans can't stand the competition.

Now that we've dredged, polluted, and otherwise plundered oyster reefs, we are targeting a natural predator that has no guilt in the decline of oysters. Why? Because cownose rays had the audacity to eat our "restoration" projects. Apparently, we're the only ones allowed to exterminate oysters.

Naturally, baby oysters tend to settle on shell mounds, and the rays can't touch that. But restoration projects have sprinkled naked baby oysters into the Chesapeake Bay, and rays simply did what came naturally, munching them up. Fishery managers have responded with an urgent call to find markets for cownose rays, so we can make money while getting rid of this "pest." Cownose ray medallions anyone?

Haven't we learned our lesson from previous attempts to exterminate predators? The results aren't always the simple expectation of kill predators and get more prey. Cascading ecosystem effects can produce surprising results, such as wolf reintroduction producing better streamside habitats. Who knows what surprise will pop up if we eliminate cownose rays?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Overfishing to end in the US

Boldly inching foward, Congress says no more US overfishing after 2010. This modest improvement is welcome, but the real story of this action is one of bullets dodged and opportunities missed.

It could have been much worse...some people wanted to keep overfishing where fishing fleets and processors are dependent on overfishing. Thanks to Senator Ted Stevens for his determination to "just say no" to overfishing. It will be interesting to see whether fishery managers can kick the overfishing habit.

Now for the hard work...learning what it really takes to sustain fishing. We have scary hints that fishing for maximum yield (The Good Depletion) doesn't work. Small wonder, how many of our bold and happy ideas from the 1950s still survive?

Looking forward, there will be much discussion in the next few years over just what is overfishing. Killing too many big, old fish that are needed for reproduction? Removing too much biomass, and causing ecosystem shifts? Where and when do such things reduce productivity? It's now time for a 21st century fisheries debate.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Global warming reducing ocean productivity

The heat is on, and our oceans are suffering. Declining ocean productivity is the new concern.

Lost ocean productivity means less food for fish and other ocean animals. This scary problem comes from reduced upwelling and lower nutrient levels. Nutrients are the fertilizer that determines how much phytoplankton (tiny, free-floating ocean plants) can grow in the ocean. Upwelling is when water comes to the ocean surface from the dark, cold, nutrient-rich depths.

All of this from global warming that is making ocean surface waters warmer, and that strengthens ocean stratification--the development of pancake layers of ocean water that resist mixing because they have different temperatures and different densities. Sort of like a layer of oil floating on top of vinegar in salad dressing that needs a shake.

To make things worse, reduced ocean productivity means oceans can't absorb as much CO2, so this is a feed-forward cycle that might worsen global warming-which worsens ocean productivity loss--etc.

Yet another reason to try to control CO2 emissions from our machines.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ok Go Shrimp

Here they go again. Check out the latest thing in ocean entertainment, a music video featuring shrimp.

Not just shrimp, but shrimp on a treadmill, banking on the runaway success of Ok Go's 4 guys dancing on treadmills. Of course, shrimp have an advantage, with 10 or what looks like 24 legs, it's much easier for a shrimp to create a spectacle on a treadmill.

It could be that Ok Go Shrimp gets even bigger than blobfish. Ocean celebrities are everywhere these days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Deep sea fish pictures

It doesn't get any better than this. Here is a Japanese website with the most amazing images of deep sea fish (and some other critters as well).

I can't read the captions, does anyone in blogfishland know what these pages say?

Click, explore, enjoy. Magnificent.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Race for fish bad for fish, fishermen

What's wrong with this picture? It shows how $millions have been wasted on fancy, bloated fishing boats in an absurd "race for fish."

Why? Misguided rules and subsidies lead fishermen to foolishly invest more and more money to catch the same or fewer fish. Now the fleet is going bankrupt, beaten by foreign competition.

The boat at left is a "modern" Bristol Bay salmon boat. It's a massive and unsafe 32-footer, tall & wide with a cut-off bow, because of rules that limit boat length. It's built big to catch lots of fish fast. In contrast, the boat at right is a "normal" 32-footer. There are nearly 2000 salmon boats permitted to fish Bristol Bay, many of them expensive, fast, bloated behemoths like the boat at left. Yet once the same catch was made using only 1200 sailboats!!

One casualty in this race for fish is conservation. In a race for fish, who has time to think about conservation? Gotta beat the next guy to the fish, to pay of last year's boat improvements and make the boat even faster for next year.

Some are trying to reform the Bristol Bay fishery, and ending the race for fish would help fishermen and advance conservation.

Photo: Norm Van Vactor

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Global bottom trawling ban fails

The United Nations will not act this year to limit high seas bottom trawling, thanks to opposition from fishing nations led by Iceland.

proposal was to ban bottom trawling in unregulated high seas areas, which include some 60% of ocean waters. The proposal was designed to protect vulnerable habitats such as seamounts and long-lived deep sea fish such as orange roughy and blobfish.

This failure isn't the end, international conservation action is always slow and progress made this year can be used to elevate the issue and spur future action.

Iceland led the fishing nations that harpooned the ban, and now some are proposing a boycott of Iceland for resuming whaling and also for blocking the bottom trawling ban.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blobfish, Bono for the oceans

Charisma moves mountains, and a new ocean celebrity is moving sea mountains closer to protection.

Bono? No, the unlikely hero is the Blobfish (left), an obscure deep sea fish with a captivating wry scowl. Blobfish has reluctantly agreed to come out of seclusion because of deep sea fishing that is threatening his clan. Fronted by CENSEAM, a leading agent for new deep-ocean celebrities, Blobfish has rocketed to superstardom.

Gelatinous and slow-moving, blobfish is not a typical ocean celebrity with action movie potential, like a bluefin tuna or a big shark. Sedentary lurking habits probably limit blobfish to more of an "Animal House" type anti-hero idiom.

Now appearing almost everywhere, blobfish is a spokesfish for protecting seamounts (like the one at right), the Republican party (in a satire), and Nutella (just kidding on the Nutella). Blobfish also has some spots on ocean blogs nearly as good as blogfish, from Oceana and Greenpeace.

Blobfish is probably the biggest deep sea celebrity since, well, Riftia pachyptila(left), the deep sea worm who was (briefly) REALLY REALLY BIG.

blobfish and seamount photos: censeam, census of marine life on seamounts

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ocean blob fears grow

News of the scary ocean blob creature has people on edge. Blogfish brought you news of the nasty blob invasion 6 months ago.

Now the blob is starring in reports from web media, major newspapers, and less ocean-savvy blogs. Some are talking in horror movie terms like "a giant blob is swallowing up everything in it's path" and worrying that it will smother scallops and fish.

What to do? The best way to stop the blob is to rebuild healthy oceans, since invaders usually thrive best where habitats are torn up by people and natives are removed. Likely help for the blob comes from bottom trawling and dredging that tear up habitats along with fishing that has dramatically reduced populations of valuable native fish and shellfish.

Stay with blogfish for all the ocean news that's fit to blog, well before you hear it elsewhere. And we have the best links.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Salmon restoration is a good investment

Want to make $5 billion, restore salmon, and support economic growth? OK, let's remove 4 dams from the Snake River.

A new study reveals the subsidy-busting value of removing dams to restore Snake River salmon. There are people who argue against dam removal...the same people who benefit from having Lewiston, Idaho as a seaport. Idaho does not deserve a government-subsidized seaport, it's too far upstream (435 miles from the ocean) and uphill (738 feet above sea level).

Take a look at the unreal fish flyway necessary for adult fish to swim upstream past Little Goose dam (right). Juvenile fish are not so lucky, they get a scary ride downstream through turbines, spillways, barges or trucks. Thanks to the US Army Corps of Engineers for the dam, the ladder and the nice photo.

Even the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees that the dams must come out to save Snake River salmon. So what are we waiting for?

Map: www.epodunk.com

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The big blue

On this Thanksgiving Day, blogfish is thankful for the wonderful big blue ocean and the fish within.

For the occasional chance to get out there and be a part of it.

For the interest and excitement of being on a boat far from land.

For the amazement of swimming with something big, or looking at swarms of something tiny.

Big waves, bioluminescence, schools of fish that swim in synchrony, seeing forever under a shimmering surface.....a world of water that soothes the soul.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Good Depletion

Fish depletion is not a problem, it's the goal of fishery management. So says Ray Hilborn in "Re-interpreting the Fisheries crisis." So don't worry about disappearing fish, it's part of the grand management plan.

Thus we have The Good Depletion; it allows us to maximize our fish catches. Or so say the equations. The Good Depletion has us liquidating the big fish, shrinking population size by 60-80%, and thus increasing the "productivity" of exploited fish populations. Mr. Hilborn says the decline shown in the figure is not a problem, because we're still catching plenty of fish.

The Good Depletion was an advance in the mid 1900's, and it has some practical value. But it's time to give it a gold watch, a rocking chair, and a graceful retirement. Unfortunately, Mr. Hilborn and others want to keep it working in it's dotage.

We need a new paradigm for 21st century fisheries, and here's what I think it needs. It should maximize the probability of good reproduction years by valuing big fish (because of high reproductive value) and life history diversity (e.g. wide range of spawning times and places). It should maintain fish populations' geographic and age distribution. In brief, it should emphasize the value of what's in the ocean, not what comes out. Fishing should "make hay when the sun shines" by fishing hard during fish population booms, and switching to other species during lean times when reproduction is weak. To me this would be good ecosystem-based fishery management.

This whole fight reminds me of the transition in managing public old-growth forests of the Pacific northwest. When I came of age, we were clearcutting old-growth forests to produce maximum sustained yield, following the rationale of The Good Depletion (forestry version). It failed for many reasons, such as the forests that didn't regrow well in hot southern Oregon, or the wildlife that went missing in massive tree farms.

Science has undermined the assumptions of The Good Depletion (fisheries version). Equilibrium doesn't exist, all spawners are not equal, life history diversity is important, the ecosystem context matters, etc., etc.

Interestingly, Mr. Hilborn says this within the family, just not in public when The Good Depletion is threatened by outsiders. According to Mr. Hilborn and colleagues: "For some years the concept of maximum sustained yield (MSY) guided efforts at fisheries management. There is now widespread agreement that this concept was unfortunate," and "Distrust claims of sustainability. Because past resource exploitation has seldom been sustainable, any new plan that involves claims of sustainability should be suspect."

Circling the wagons around The Good Depletion won't save it. I suppose the testiness of its defenders (watch the video link) is evidence of the coming paradigm shift. Fishery scientists would do well to help fisheries make the transition, rather than propping up The Good Depletion until it's really too late and everything falls with a great crash.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Energy from San Francisco's tides

Tidal currents are strong in San Francisco's Golden Gate, why not harness them to produce clean energy? So says the Mayor, and he's backing the idea with a feasability study.

It's an idea who's time has come, and new tide energy enterprises are sprouting.

Ocean tides are interesting in how the vary around the globe, how they affect ocean animals, and most importantly, how opposing wind and tide make for great windsurfing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The (fishery management) empire strikes back

Fishery scientist Ray Hilborn is mad, and he isn't going to take it anymore. He's launched a new attack on critics of fishery management. His lecture illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of his profession.

Mr. Hilborn has a clear bottom-line message: it's the catching of fish that matters. If fish are still coming over the side, then all is well. It's a message straight out of his
classic fishery science textbook. Fish depletion? It's not a problem, it's part of the plan.

In celebrating YIELD (# of fish caught) as the King, the empire crumbles. Apparently, fishery scientists have yet to learn that they neglect the fishes' ecosystem at their peril (and at the peril of the fishermen). With near-religious faith, they assume that fish depleted today will boom again tomorrow. It's a comforting kind of faith, that unfortunately hasn't proven true.
Too many fish don't recover after being fished into depletion.

Mr. Hilborn's profession seems set to play out a tragic verison of the oath of Hemingway's Santiago: "Fish, I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends." This is poor service to the fishermen Mr. Hilborn so clearly respects.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Can we restore coastal oceans?

Guess which of Seattle's two coasts is clean--the urban lake or the ocean? Despite massive hurdles, we have perhaps the cleanest urban lake in the world. Now it's time to fix Puget Sound.

Past restoration has built local pride in sparkling Lake Washington, so we have a model of what's needed. Read about how science and public action combined to restore Lake Washington, as told by the late UW Professor W.T. Edmondson in "The Uses of Ecology." It's a fascinating and inspring story.

Lake Washington was not an easy fix. The water in Lake Washington has a residence time of 2.3 years. Puget Sound should be easier, tidal flushing means the residence time for water in Puget Sound is only a few days to a few months (depending on location).

Can we show the world how to restore coastal oceans? We're making a start. The Governor is pushing Puget Sound cleanup, the state has a budget surplus, and the EPA has pledged to help. We've seen fines for oil spills and dumping cruise ship waste. Let's show the world how it's done!

Check with People for Puget Sound for updates...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New fish blog-Gonedau

Tim Adams from the idyllic South Pacific has started a new fishy blog. And he started right off with a bang, a map I just have to borrow.

It's a world map with countries scaled according to fish imports, with the US showing up big, Europe big, and Japan HUGE. Map credit = Worldmapper

Bush administration says end overfishing now

Who said: "Over-fishing is harmful. It’s harmful to our country, and it’s harmful to the world?" Did you know it was President George Bush?

Now the Bush administration has provided new direction for fishery managers to get to work and end overfishing now. This came in remarks by Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary Sampson, speaking to the fishery managers who must carry out the task. And he said their jobs are at stake. Ouch, that's hitting where it hurts.

The "First Fisherman" is talking the talk, and he has backed it up with some strong action. The Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument is an admirable step, and it came over the objections of some powerful and politically connected fishermen.

Now lets see if his appointed staff will walk the walk and end overfishing in the numerous troubled fisheries around the country where persistent overfishing has hurt fish and fishermen.

This could be conservative action of the finest kind.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ocean snails relieve chronic pain

Not just another pretty shell, an ocean cone snail may help people with chronic nerve pain like sciatica.

Ocean cone snails are beautiful but deadly, with toxic venom that can be fatal to humans. Isolated and used carefully, certain toxins can be useful medicines for difficult tasks such as pain relief.

The new finding is a treatment for neuropathy, the nearly-untreatable chronic pain that comes from nerve injury or pressure on nerves from tumors, swelling, or back injuries.

Cone snails are fascinating creatures, they use a modified tongue as a type of "harpoon" that injects toxin into victims, so the slow-moving snails can capture and eat fast-moving prey like fish. Sounds like something from a horror movie, good thing there are no large cone snails that live on land.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Limits on Antarctic shark fishing

Which is more common, shark bites man or man bites shark? Surprise, sharks have more to fear. Sharks are in trouble worldwide from overfishing.

But there is good news for sharks in the cold Southern ocean, where managers have adopted the world's first international shark fishing limit. Shark fishing will be prohibited until we know enough to do it right. What a surprise, fishing is being regulated before fisheries have collapsed.

Elsewhere, shark fishing knows few limits, even though sharks are easily overfished. Fueled by intense demand for shark fin soup, fishing often exceeds the reproductive abilities of sharks.

Who needs sharks? We do, if we want to keep ocean ecosystems intact. Sharks play a vital role in keeping coral reefs healthy, and they are vital predators in all of the oceans ecosystems.

If only we could learn to do it right everywhere. Sharks are in trouble around the world, and even in the "advanced" U. S., we have a poor record at preventing overfishing of sharks.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Free the (lost) Rivers of Los Angeles

Audacious dreams are a good thing, and Jessica Hall's are big. She wants to make rivers run free again in Los Angeles, and help restore ocean health.

Nothing is real in LA-LA land, and rivers are no exception. Silicone, collagen and botox ensure that nothing sags or wrinkles, and concrete does the same for flowing water.

But nature remains alive, asking only for a chance. And a great article in LA Weekly tells us about the bits of life that remain in L.A.'s rivers, and the dreams of a few activists who want more.

They tell us about how stream restoration makes economic sense. And about how crazy it is to punish people by eliminating nature. But most importantly, we are reminded of what we would recover if we "unpaved paradise" and tore down a parking lot.

"It takes a big imagination to think like this, maybe even a few loose screws," says author Judith Lewis. Hooray for people who can see a better future.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

New drugs from ocean bugs?

Strange and wonderful bacteria live in our oceans, so why not use them to make fabulous new medicines? Or wondrous new energy supplies?

Because we didn't know enough about them until recently. With the acceleration of genomics, and star power from Craig Venter, ocean microbes have now hit the big time.

Ventner helped decode the human genome ahead of schedule, and for his 2 1/2 year summer vacation he sailed around the world on his own yacht and decided to bring his work (DNA sequencers) with him. This sounds like a boondoggle, but after his shocking private success competing with the government-funded human genome project, nobody laughs at his ideas anymore.

Now he's ready to use information from the expedition to design new ways to treat human diseases or new ways to fuel civilization's machines. This is an exciting new chapter in the long history of using ocean organisms to develop new medicines. It was different in the old days, when chemists extracted strange compounds from bizarre toxic sponges and the like. Now the focus is on interesting genes from strange microbes.

Will it work? I wouldn't bet against Craig Venter, he has a record of confounding skeptics.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Natural gas port built fish-safe

Rather than making a fish egg omelet, a new natural gas port will be more expensive but will save fish.

In a stunning grassroots victory, fishermen and environmentalists worked together to get Louisiana Governor Blanco to veto a fish-killing port for liquified natural gas. Now the next planned port has an expensive redesign that will save fish. Check out the list of those working together in the "Gumbo Alliance."

Costing $30 million more to build, and $25 million more per year to run, the new design is still a bargain considering what will be saved.

Nice to see a good news story for a change.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ocean uses undermined by loss of biodiversity

Oceans how do I rely on thee?--Let me count the ways. And almost all of them unravel when we overuse our oceans.

When we overfish, damage habitat, and pollute, we muck up the ocean systems that give us food, clean water, and oxygen. Yikes. In technical terms: the loss of ocean biodiversity undermines valuable ocean ecosystem services that humans rely on.

What's at risk? Clean water, safe beaches, and edible shellfish. What can happen instead? Toxic algae blooms, dead zones, fish kills and unwelcome invasive species.

This is the neglected message from the recent paper by Boris Worm and his colleagues that was more widely noted for it's projection of "the end of seafood" by 2048 if we don't stop abusing our oceans.

So the costs of ocean misuse run deeper than the loss of fish.

The good news? It's not too late. Ocean ecosystem services were restored by protected areas and fishery closures that restored biodiversity, based on 48 examples.

This is kind of a "duh." The risk is obvious when we blithely take parts out of ocean ecosystems and expect them to keep working. We wouldn't randomly take parts out of our car and expect it to keep driving it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Who's afraid of the big bad enviros?

I tell my daughter not to be afraid of monsters, so it’s ironic to read in National Fisherman that I am one.

According to featured columnist Nils Stolpe and Editor Jerry Fraser, environmental NGOs are the real enemy of fishermen. Mr. Stolpe finds us guilty of fronting for Big Oil in a battle against fishing, and Mr. Fraser blames us for the New England groundfish crisis (among other evils).

Their remedy for the big, bad, ENGOs is to eliminate us, by fiat or famine. Change the law to put fishermen back in charge, or cut off our funding so that we starve and go away.

I expect better from the leading national magazine devoted to “informed fishermen, profitable fisheries, and sustainable fish.” Fear and isolationist dreams are a poor solution to complex multi-jurisdictional problems.

It seems better to keep talking, even if we’re big and bad and scary. If Reagan could talk to Gorbachev and Nixon could go to China, maybe National Fisherman could host “an enviro talks to fishermen.” I’ll volunteer to write that column.

My suggestion for a few things fishermen might like to hear. What is my vision of the future? Does it include fishing? (Yes.) How can we fix the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery? What’s wrong with cod? Who knows, we might find some areas of agreement?!

In fact, I have found areas of agreement with fishermen around the U.S. It’s not all that difficult. Let’s start with our shared goals of abundant fish and sustainable fisheries, and work from there towards the details. Some fishermen have found that we aren’t so scary after all.

The Magunson-Stevens reauthorization bill passed by the Senate this year is an example of working together. Nobody is pleased with everything in the bill, but the bipartisan effort produced a compromise that almost everyone can live with. All thanks to an inclusive process led by Senator Ted Stevens.

With yesterday’s election results, the country seems to be asking for less partisanship and cooperation in problem solving. We may have to debate fisheries issues with a new, divided government. Talking to each other might be a good start. So what do you say Jerry? We’ve talked before about an “Enviro” column in National Fisherman, are you ready to give it a try?

Or, you can follow the advice of Nils Stolpe who told a fisherman friend at a public meeting to “watch out” because “you can’t afford to be seen in public talking to Mark Powell.”

My daughter’s nighttime fears are usually simple, an unfamiliar sound or a scary shadow. Turn on the light and the bogeyman is gone.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Kenai River fouled by anglers' engines

Small impacts matter--the Kenai River is officially "polluted" by the motors of fishermen chasing salmon.

This is a barbecue of a couple of sacred cows. Salmon swimming through a soup of oil, gas, and exhaust, in "pristine" Alaska? All because good people like you and me are driving boats, fishing, and having a good time?

Note that wild Alaska salmon deserve "organic" status, according to some Alaska politicians.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Saving our disappearing fish

World’s Fish Supply Running Out, Researchers Warn.” The front page of the Washington Post, at my hotel room door last Friday. A shot of panic, it’s too much

...the wave of bad news is getting bigger...

The world will run out of seafood by 2048 unless something changes. So says Boris Worm and colleagues, projecting forward our fish-killing ways of the recent past. Records show us fishing out the best and moving on. First further from port, then switching to other fish we used to throw away like trash. Can it be so bad? From abundance to fish poverty in my lifetime?

Maybe it’s not too late. Quick we've got to fire up the conservation machine, let’s blockade a fishing port, hang banners on a building, boycott something, dump thousands of letters on someone’s desk. Somehow, we have to end the mad race to catch the last fish.

“No problem” say Dr. Worm’s critics, the study is flawed. Government and industry assure us we’re doing fine; the only thing we have to fear is the fearmongers. Don’t worry, keep buying fish.

Everything's fine???
Global fish catches started to decline in 1988.
90% of the ocean’s big fish are gone.
Worldwide diversity of big ocean fish has declined by 50%.
So-called rebuilding plans are failing.
Success stories are scarce, collapsed and collapsing fisheries are everywhere.

A future without fish? Too bleak to imagine. It can’t be. We must redouble our efforts, talk to anyone anywhere who will help make things better. Maybe conservation becomes mainstream. Conservatives conserve. Wal-mart, California Governor Schwarzenegger. Even the Bush administration acknowledges the obvious and moves to fix the problem.

…what does it feel like to try to surf this wave? It feels a lot like falling…

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Saving salmon to catch them

Fish lovers agree on how to save salmon...until we focus on fishing.

Now a cooperative recovery plan for Puget Sound chinook salmon is being challenged because it allows too much fishing. Up to 76% of wild chinook are caught before they get a chance to spawn, a ridiculously high catch rate.

The justification for the high catch rate is that we're all working together on habitat restoration, and "some careful fishing" is part of the cooperative recovery plan. Catching 76% of the fish doesn't seem like "some careful fishing."

Why 76% for Puget Sound chinook when Klamath salmon are much more stringently limited, and fishermen are suffering as a result?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Wisdom of the fishes

A tuna tail will save us? Maybe, if the tuna tail power generator works as hoped.

The good people at BioPower Systems hope to gain inspiration from tuna tails and kelp fronds to produce energy from the motion of the ocean.

The idea is to use natural structures as models for effective power generation from the low intensity but high power present in slowly-moving water. Since tuna tails are so efficient at converting energy into motion, why not reverse the process and convert motion into energy?

A great innovation if it works.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Spiny dogfish-dead fish swimming

Who will stand up for the troubled spiny dogfish? These small sharks that fishermen love to hate were targeted after their favorite fish like cod were fished out.

Following a quick fishery boom and bust, the preferred mature females (larger and more profitable) have been fished out in the Atlantic and elsewhere. With few mommies and no babies, these long-lived fish will take decades to recover.

Unfortunately, roving male dogfish are bothering fishermen who find their nets and lines otherwise empty. Their solution? Blame the dogfish, nevermind the decades of overfishing that are the real reason they can't catch cod.

Now, fishermen are hoping to restart the dogfish derby, and dogfish have few friends. Lacking an image makeover, the best hope for spiny dogfish is international trade sanctions, stay tuned.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Try an ocean conservation vacation

Go diving and help save coral reefs, all on your next vacation.

There's more to time off than pina coladas, suntans and romance. Now you can get close with damselfish and help make sure your grandkids have the same opportunity.

Earthwatch Institute offers opportunities to get involved in environmental research around the world, including this fun coral reef research vacation in Thailand written up by "ethical traveler" Jeff Greenwald.

Who knew that conservation is fun?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Alaska fishermen struggle with warming ocean

Warmer water is moving Alaska's fish, and fishermen must go further for their catch. So far they're still finding fish, but the future is uncertain.

Warming is affecting almost everything that's caught in Alaska, the source of about half of US-caught seafood. The changes aren't limited to fish, blogfish brought you the news on sea ice and mammals affected by warming.

These changes have Alaska's politicians on the leading edge of US politics, seeking solutions.

Some groups doubt warming is the problem and claim instead that changes in fish, birds, and mammals, "are likely due, in large part, to the massive Alaska pollock fleet, which is the nation's largest fishery." Fishing is a cause of changes in Alaska's oceans, and so is warmer water.

Image: dark areas warmed the most, source Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bluefin tuna overfishing

Japan has been busted for serious overfishing of bluefin tuna. These magnificent oceanic "cruise missles" are among the most valuable seafood on earth. Without effective protection we might see the last one sold in our lifetimes, for some fantastic price.

In this context, the Japanese overfishing is a serious offense.

The Australian government was responsponsible for the bust, and they claim 20 years of Japanese poaching worth up to $8 billion, and illegal catch levels that prevented bluefin from rebuilding.

The Japanese government admits only modest and short term overfishing of bluefin tuna. However, they accepted stringent penalties that will cut Japanese bluefin quotas in half for 5 years.

It's a shame that some fishermen would so wantonly slaugher such a magnificent creature as bluefin tuna, in defiance of international management and conservation agreements. Bluefin are warm-blooded fish that can grow over 1500 pounds and swim nearly 50 miles per hour. The ocean version of a lion that runs like a cheetah.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Iceland resumes whale hunting

Defying a ban and international disapproval, Iceland resumed commercial whale hunting and killed an endangered fin whale this week.

The justification from Iceland is that minke and fin whales are abundant and they intend to pursue sustainable use of all living marine resources. This argument holds more water for minke whales which are not endangered.

World opinion is largely against Iceland, because commercial whale hunting has been banned by treaty for 20 years. Pro-whaling Japan welcomes Iceland's whale hunt.

Many factors argue against commercial whaling, including the charisma of whales, and the sad fact that some whales have not recovered from being hunted to near-extinction. In addition, whale products are no longer needed and barely wanted by anyone. But most importantly, whaling has become symbolic of reckless disregard for scientific and ethical limits to resource use.

For many people, hunting and butchering whales and selling the meat is simply wrong. It doesn't matter whether whale populations can survive the hunt.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Texas great barrier (artifical) reef?

Since Texas doesn't have a great barrier reef, some people want to build one. The ambitious plan would build a reef along the entire Texas coast 8 miles offshore in 40-90 feet of water.

Proponents say the artificial reefs will enhance fishing for red snapper, and escape the unwelcome fishing restrictions that are coming otherwise.

Never mind that artificial reefs may just attract fish and make them easier to catch, thus pushing red snapper even deeper into a hole. Seems like there's always a receptive audience for fishy "solutions" that sound good on paper. The scientific verdict is not yet in for artificial reefs, and whether they produce more fish. One thing is certain, artificial reefs can act as "fish aggregating devices" (FADs) and worsen overfishing. This is one FAD I could do without.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fishing worsens boom & bust cycles for fish

California's sardines have another story to tell. If we listen, we may have to change the way we manage fishing.

A new study shows that fishing worsens boom and bust cycles for fish, including boom and bust cycles triggered by changing ocean conditions. This happens because fishing removes the biggest fish, and the big ones are critically important for reproduction during the tough years.

What can we do? Find new ways to manage fishing so that we don't catch all of the biggest fish. That could include setting aside some areas where big fish can thrive unmolested. Other options include catching fewer fish or developing new fishing methods that lets the big ones get away.

It's fascinating to see another layer of insight added to the well-studied California sardine fishery collapse in the middle of the last century. First it was overfishing, then ocean conditions were blamed, and now we're back to a focus on overfishing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fish: to eat or not to eat?

Seafood is yummy, but questions can make buyers hesitate. Do I have to worry about mercury? Which fish are best, and how much can I eat?

What's a busy shopper to do, with 30 seconds or so to decide at the counter or with the menu?

Thank goodness for a new government report that tells us don't worry, eat fish. According to the study, health benefits from seafood outweigh the risks. The major worry is that kids and pregnant women should not eat certain highly contaminated fish.

But wait, some environmental groups have criticized the study as biased. And the report notes that too few studies have been done on contamination levels found in seafood.

Credible people say some seafood can be risky, especially for vulnerable groups. Real people have been found to have health problems from overeating contaminated seafood right here in the good ol' US of A. Consumer fears exist, and they won't go away until the seafood industry tries to help consumers make informed decisions, through credible testing and labeling. Denial will not make the problem go away.

Thankfully, astute seafood sellers are seeing the light and looking for credible answers. At an open house I attended yesterday near Seattle, Plitt Seafood hosted a forum on contamination in seafood, with a presentation by a toxicologist. Now that's a step in the right direction.