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?


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?