Monday, July 31, 2006

I ate a coho salmon

I ate a coho salmon, few though they are
I asked myself should I feel bad?
Since they’re endangered or threatened or some such

I ate a coho salmon
I dove into it, a strong, fast plunge
No worry, no regrets

I ate a coho salmon, so familiar
It tickled deep memories of others
How many, hundreds? thousands?

I ate a coho salmon, it was like stepping back in time
Back to when they swam thick in Oregon’s coastal rivers
And I didn’t have to wrestle with guilt.

I ate a coho salmon and it was good
I could feel the forests and rivers and clouds
And a better world where we both live

I ate a coho salmon, and I’ll do it again
So I don’t forget

Morals, scruples, and eating endangered fish

I guess I should explain myself. I ate a coho salmon. I bought it at the seafood counter of my local supermarket. Somebody else caught it and sold it for about $2 per pound and it found it’s way to the seafood counter for 8.99 per pound. I was about to fly east on Alaska Airlines flight 2, Seattle to Washington, DC, and spend days arguing with people about fish and laws and management and what should we do. All of a sudden I knew what should I do, I should eat a coho salmon, just like I’ve done a thousand times before. To fortify myself, to permeate myself with fishness, to go deep and meditate on thousand year old trees and rivers full of fish. Then I might do better at having the right stuff brewing in me while I stumble through my fish-saving business in the nation's capital.

I know I should probably get all rational and think about whether or not this was a sustainable purchase and if I’m using my consumer power to support the right things. But it wasn’t a head thing, it was an instict thing. I grew up eating coho salmon. The memories of it run deep in me, oh yes.

......Seven years old I waded waist deep into the swift cold creek, my dad had a big fish on, it had dropped down a couple of pools (we followed) and now there was a barbed wire fence, we could go no further down. If the fish went downstream under the fence it would break off. “Wade in there scare it back up if it heads under the fence.” I took the net and got in the middle and waited. Sure enough it started coming downstream and I splashed and thrashed but it didn’t turn, it kept coming so I netted the ocean-bright still-strong fish. Then commenced a prodigious epic struggle as the fish splashed and smashed and boy that I was I tried to drag it to shore. It seemed to take forever. Reaching the bank among splashing and thrasing suddenly all went quiet. I stepped one foot on shore, net in hand but there was no fish. What the? Hot to spawn , that fish had torn through the bottom of the net, dropped into the water, under the fence and broken free. Lived to spawn I expect, with a fiery spirit like that. The one that got away....

It’s good to have that in mind when I think about what next, what now? If I give up coho salmon to them that have driven them down, then I’ve lost too much, I feel like I’ve lost hope. I want to do the right thing, and mostly I’ll not molest them. In fact, I'll spend my fishing energy on saving fish instead of catching them. But every now and then, at the right time, I think I need a small ceremony. I ate a coho salmon, and it was good. Now it’s part of me. I’ll save the coho salmon, because I must. Because what we do to them, we’re doing to ourselves.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ocean decline--the rise of slime

You've been hearing about the rise of slime and ocean decline here on blogfish. The LA Times has put together an incredible effort to describe the current state of our oceans, on the web and in their print edition.

It's a five part series in the paper, starting today with "Runoff from modern life is feeding an explosion of primitive organisms. This "rise of slime," as it's called by one scientist, is killing larger species and sickening people."

Yikes. What shall we do?

Photo: LA Times

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dead zone big this year in Gulf of Mexico

Heavy spring rains mean the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico will be bigger than average this year.

Once again, nutrient pollution from upstream areas will accumulate and fester in the Gulf of Mexico, making ocean waters toxic to most ocean life.

The Dead Zone is an interactive site with more info and some interesting effects.

NOAA's dead zone news shows this year's prediction and other useful information.

The Dead Zone may give you the diversion you need to cope with the recent spate of bad news.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

California ocean ecosystem collapse

For the second year in a row, ocean upwelling has failed and ocean animals are starving off California.

The Farrallon Islands northwest of San Francisco are ground zero in the crisis, where Cassin's auklets (puffin-like birds) are in the second consecutive year of "unprecedented" breeding failure.

“How many years in a row do you see this before you start raising your eyebrows?” said oceanographer Frank Schwing.

Blogfish told you earlier about the plankton crisis, and now we have confirmation that the effects are spreading up the food chain. This is not good.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Male fish turning female in shocking numbers

One third of the male fish in British rivers are turning female, and roach in some rivers show up to 80% of male fish with female characteristics.

This shocking finding is probably due to human female hormones from birth control pills and horomone replacement therapy that drain into rivers through sewage systems.

Gender-bending problems have also been seen in ocean fish like cod and salmon in Britain and elsewhere.

Are transsexual fish a problem? Moral concerns aside, we need to make sure that similar things don't start happening to people. There is cause for concern that gender-bending chemicals are already harming people, but skeptics say "balderdash!"

Me, I'm heading for the organic aisle in my market, and avoiding fish from contaminated water.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fish ice cream?

Doesn't sound yummy? How about using a fish protein to make better low fat ice cream?

The deep sea ocean pout has an anti-freeze protein in its blood that protects the fish against tissue damage from ice crystals. That's a useful adaptation to life in the sub-freezing temperatures of the deep North Atlantic ocean.

In ice cream, the fish anti-freeze protein replaces fat by lowering the temperature for ice crystal formation.

So far, so good, but it would take squeezing too many fish to extract the protein from real fish, so Unilever wants to use genetically modified yeast to produce the fish protein in vats.

Opponents of food produced from genetically modified organisms probably don't want to see this happen. Will we see blockades of ice cream factories?

Who knew deep sea fish had such potential for commercial success and scary technology?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Converting sushi virgins to sushi lovers

Midwestern sushi chef Erik Reuter has a plan for luring sushi "virgins" to the pleasures of eating sushi.

He starts slowly, with California rolls and cooked seafood, before leading them on to the deeper pleasures of raw sashimi.

Sounds good to me, as a dedicated sushi lover, preferably fresh out of the water on a fishing boat. If you're a sushi virgin, there are support groups out there seeking to recruit people to the sushi lifestyle, check out the sushi world guide, or

Hey, there are worse addictions than fresh seafood!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Does nutrient pollution cause red tides?

Larry Brand thinks red tides are getting worse thanks to nutrient runoff caused by people. Needless to say, this has not made him popular in his home state of Florida.

Florida's agriculture industry, in particular, would like him to go away.

Links between pollution and red tides have been cited by others, so the suggestion is not exactly implausible. But hey, maybe things are just different in Florida where developers have clout and red tides are natural events.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Rebuilding not happening for US ocean fish

Overfishing continues to harm US fish populations, and even where so called "rebuilding" plans are in place, overfishing often continues to prevent recovery.

So says a new study of how well US rebuilding plans are doing at restoring our prime fish populations to former abundance.

With Congress debating US fishery laws, it's an interesting time to consider how well things are working under existing law. The unfortunate answer is not so good. Check out the Overfishing Scorecard for another look at the problem.

Solutions? One response by our proud Congress to the failure to rebuild overfished populations is to redefine them as "diminished" in order to reduce the stigma. Now there's a solution!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ocean sewage dumping--still ok?

No, Victoria, there is no free lunch. Especially when it comes to sewage.

The nice city of Victoria wants to keep dumping untreated sewage into our oceans, since it's cheap and hey it's a big ocean and who cares?! Many people have said they oughtta stop, but it took an authoritative panel of scientists and $600,000+ for a buch of fact-finding to get Victoria to start to listen.

I guess it just wasn't enough to hear from Victoria mayoral candidate "Mr. Floatie" who dressed as a piece of ...umm...poop and offered the same advice for free.

At press time, Blogfish was struggling to determine whether Mr. Floatie was a serious poop candidate or just another frivolous person dressed up as feces and campaiging for mayor. Lacking a solid answer, we ran it anyway because you deserve to know.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Our fishing future--jellyfish?

Is this the best trophy our grandchildren can hope for, a 65 cm long 8 kg jellyfish?

Jellyfish now dominate some African waters and fishermen are finding jellies in the way when they're after their favorite fish. Quite a surprise for the Benguela, an important upwelling zone off Namibia that was once the home of rich fisheries. Opportunistic jellyfish have taken over thanks to decades of heavy overfishing.

With jellyfish recipes now appearing in the media, how long until people forget about the "good old days" of those fish with the nasty bones?

Ridiculous? Check out Shifting Baselines if you think it can't happen. Or the big fish photo gallery to see the forgotten giants of just a few years ago. I'm old enough to remember what seems impossible today, a cooler full of coho salmon and giant rockfish, now both sadly depleted and protected.

Think the rise of jellyfish can't happen here? Check out the bad news from Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, California, and even the Bering Sea and George's Bank.

Now back to the important question--do you prefer chardonnay or pinot grigio with your chili-sesame jellyfish?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Real ocean monsters--giant rogue waves

Real monsters prowl the world’s oceans, rogue waves that can damage or sink even the largest ships, like this 80+ foot wave (right) breaking over an oil tanker. There may be as many as 10 of these monsters at a time looming somewhere on earth, up to 198 feet high. Until recently, scientists thought ocean waves could not get this large and scary.

What are rogue waves? They are monster waves produced when more typical "big" waves stack up on top of each other. They may be more common where strong winds blow opposite strong currents, and the resulting maelstrom creates irregular big waves with the potential to escalate to freakish heights.

Thought to be mythical until just the last few years, science now shows rogue waves to be real. What other monsters lurk hidden in our oceans?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cleaning water with floating islands

Bruce Kania developed floating islands to clean nutrients out of the pond on his Montana farm. Water for the pond comes from the hind end of a 60 mile long irrigation ditch, loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus.

He thinks the islands may have a bigger future, helping clean polluted water as a cheaper substitute for artificial wetlands.

His next step? He hopes to work on floating islands to breathe life into the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, and to sequester carbon on a global scale. Who knows, there may be floating islands in our future.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Salmon overfishing?

It's hard to talk about salmon overfishing for two reasons. One, salmon fishermen are not villians, and two, I'm part of the problem. But integrity demands a few words.

It's important to say that salmon fishermen bust a** in protecting salmon habitat. I've rarely seen stronger conservation advocates than angry fishermen seeing salmon killed by dams or water diversions or anything else. But salmon fishermen have a blind spot when it comes to killing salmon directly, with a line, net, or whatever, believing that fishermen are the "good guys" that would never overdo it.

So is salmon overfishing a problem? Salmon fishermen routinely killed up to 50% of adult salmon in recent years and sometimes up to 80%, in many different places (see pp. 18-22 of this link for data). That's killing too many fish, and it's hard for me to believe that anyone seriously thought that was a biologically acceptable kill rate (we can go into this more later, if anyone asks for it--there's a lot to say).

Things are better now, overfishing of salmon is much less of a problem. But unfortunately, some salmon fishermen continue to push for higher salmon fishing rates, even when salmon are so depleted that they should be left alone.

I understand this problem. I fished commercially for salmon in 1976 when I was young, and I didn't think we were the ones harming salmon. Only later did I see data showing that we killed over 80% of the adult coho salmon that returned to Oregon that year. We helped drive Oregon coho into listing as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (see page 6 of this link for data). I refuse to hide behind ignorance, I feel bad even though I didn't know what was happening.

Fishermen and other conservationists are now united in saving salmon. But let's keep our own house in order while we criticize those that kill salmon using dams or water pipes or chain saws. It wasn't that long ago that we killed 80% or more of adult salmon, and criticized everyone else for their impacts. Integrous? I think not.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Who says fish need water?

Politics are killing salmon in the Klamath River, when politicans let farmers take too much water for their fields, and there's not enough water left for salmon.

This has trickle-down effects, the commercial salmon fishing season was nearly closed because there are too few fish and out-of-work fishermen are seeking state and federal aid. The struggle to save the Klamath salmon has a long and difficult history, and the political connections seem to go all the way to the White House.

It's a tough issue, a federal irrigation project built many years ago has built wealth and jobs, but it's now a culprit in fish deaths. The farmers make poor villians, they're just making a living using water that they believe belongs to them.

If we can't resolve crises like this, then we can see who loses the most (picture above right).

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Killing fish by ignoring science

Fish would have been among the losers if important research on logging effects had been censored. Fortunately, this time the truth came out and contrite officials have been forced to apologize.

The controversy started when Daniel Donato, a graduate student at Oregon State University (affectionately known as Timber State U in the region), discovered that salvage logging slowed regrowth of a forest after a fire.

Big deal, right? People discover things all the time. But when he tried to publish his findings in a prestigious scientific journal, he and his co-authors found themselves attacked by Professors, University officials, an Oregon state senator, a federal agency, and some members of the US Congress. Yikes!

I've seen similar power plays in support of logging when I was working on watershed and salmon health in Oregon, and it's not a pretty sight. I wonder how many times this type of censorship has succeeded?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Buying conservation in the ocean

Fishermen paid to stop destructive bottom trawling off California, in a new twist to the Nature Conservancy's market-based approach to conservation.

This effort should help ocean bottom habitats recover, and support rebuilding of depleted bottom fish.

Famous for promoting conservation by buying land from willing sellers, the Nature Conservancy is getting wet and salty with a partner group Environmental Defense. The groups do not intend to end all fishing, when fish recover they hope to promote fishing using sustainable methods.

Buying conservation is more complicated in the ocean, here's to hoping that this approach works.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Heroic measures to save fish?

When do we let endangered fish go extinct? For Redfish Lake sockeye salmon, the time is now says the so-called "God Squad." Is it worthwhile to spend millions of dollars trying to save these unique and distinct salmon that swim over 900 miles and up to 7000 feet elevation from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in landlocked Idaho's Redfish lake? Or, is it appropriate mitigation to spend money on sockeye in exchange for dams that have spread benefits to many but hurt the fish?

The Redfish Lake sockeye rescue effort is an interesting story in trying to hold off extinction, in hopes for restoring once-vibrant fish populations.

Some say that society made the choice when we chose to build the dams, and we should let the fish go extinct. But we were promised that we could have the dams and the fish too.

We brought back the bald eagle, and the osprey, and now they're thriving. Was this worth the cost? Some say we should bring back DDT, that the benefits of DDT are worth the cost.

We have an obligation to try to live with nature, instead of carelessly eliminating what gets in our way. Also, we're too reliant on nature's services to blithely eliminate pieces of nature's works, in the hope that we won't eliminate anything important.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Singing fish and sneaky fish

Would you rather build and house and sing to attract a mate, or sneak into someone else's house? Young male midshipman face this choice early in life and must commit to a lifelong strategy. That's the plainfin midshipman (a fish), not naval cadets.

Some male midshipman opt for the straightforward competition of singing and letting females choose the best singer. But smaller "sneaker" males wait for a female to select a male and then sneak into the mating party and try to win by what's called "sperm competition."

To help, the small sneaker males have one body part that's much larger than the singers, the testes. The testes of sneaker males are 15% of their body weight, that would be 25 pounds in an average human male. This allows the sneakers to produce more sperm than the singers in an attempt to win the sperm competition. Improbable? Scientists believe that sperm competition is a part of human biology, although 25 pound testes are thankfully not part of it.