Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Seafood boycotts and just say no

Is this the way to get to sustainable seafood? Maybe, now and then, but it's not good dogma.

Should we refuse to buy bad (unsustainable) fish, and expect fishermen to toe the line of sustainability? Should we hang banners off a store or dump bycatch on a sidewalk, and expect big business to respond with kinder, gentler seafood policies? If that's all you do, don't hold your breath.

Just say no might get some attention, but then what? How can that attention be turned into conservation?

I find myself called to answer this question at the Seafood Summit, again & again. Not always in times and places of my choosing.

Why do these questions come up repeatedly? The theme of Seafood Summit 2007 is the business of sustainability. Now that sustainability is a buzzword, something that everyone wants to claim, the important question is: how to make it real?
Some call for stringent action by conservationists--don't support anything but the very, very best in sustainable seafood.

OK, a fine and noble idea...but what should we do about seafood business people who want to do better? Should we criticize them if they aren't ready to make a single magnificent leap all the way to sustainability? I think not.

Anyone who wants to do better should be encouraged and rewarded. Anyone who wants to do a lot better should be encouraged and rewarded a lot. And nobody stops there, we should expect to see more improvements a later.

One question put me on the spot, asked me out of the audience to speak to using activist tactics like dumping a load of bycatch on a storefront sidewalk, or occupying the roof of a store and hanging banners criticizing unsustainable practices. The moderator wanted the perspective of a US enviro group, in response to Greenpeace's European approach of activism to help make the case for change.
My answer: activism can be helpful, but not as a lifestyle. Yes, activism can be a good idea as a way to get attention if businesses are unresponsive to legitimate concerns. But once you have their attention, you have to have some good productive solutions to propose. Otherwise activism is just a feel good stunt.

Lasting change only happens when people are converted to a new way of doing things. Conversion is harder than organizing a good stunt.

...but speaking of stunts...that reminds me of the time we had a demonstration in Roseburg...picketed the new Oregon Democratic environmentalist Governor on his first public visit back to his hometown after getting elected...all over bogus show-and-tell fish restoration projects. We got some attention, made our pleas for change, it didn't amount to much...but it was at least a fabulous futile gesture of disagreement. Still seems like it was a good idea.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sustainable Seafood Summit

Sustainability means different things to different people. That leaves lots of room for arguments. Almost everyone agrees that sustainability is important, so that makes the arguments important.

The most interesting thing about the summit is that we're having the conversation about sustainability. That's a victory. Many seafood business people want to be viewed as sustainable. Hooray. Now for the hard work of making sure the claims mean something.

That's hard in a business environment where profits are everything and margins are thin. There isn't a lot of slack to devote to fluffy concepts. So sustainability must have bankable benefits for businesses to join the sustainability parade.

But what is gained if we endorse businesses that are not truly sustainable? We may make some progress today, but will we have to give up bigger progress towards the ultimate goal?

I think we have to figure out which small steps forward are pointing us in the right direction, towards the ultimate goal. Because nobody will take giant leaps towards the goal if progress is long, hard, and has no interim rewards. OK, almost nobody.

It's nice to hear so many people talk about sustainability, and hear reports of progress. I'm optimistic that we're headed in the right direction.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sustainable Seafood-a solution you can take to the bank

The Ocean Conservancy wants to link marketplace and policy efforts to achieve sustainable fishing practices

In 2005, The Ocean Conservancy, an organization long respected for its work in fisheries policy, launched the Campaign for Sustainable Fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. This major effort aims to return these storied fisheries to health through improved fishery management combined with economic incentives that work for everyone—seafood businesspeople, fishermen, and consumers—and that ensure long-term sustainability of the fish.

The Ocean Conservancy didn’t invent the idea of sustainable seafood, but we do see an opportunity to align sustainability incentives with fi shery management reform. The result will
be a powerful integration of regulations and incentives that can return Gulf fisheries, and perhaps others, to sustainability.

Together with our partners, we are taking the first steps to:
• Improve fisheries management and restore red snapper to abundance;
• Build market networks that support sustainable red snapper fishing in the Gulf; and,
• Reward innovative fishermen and buyers who support sustainability.

How can you help?
• Buyers … buy red snapper only from fishermen actively working toward sustainability.
• Fishermen … adopt the most sustainable practices and support red snapper rebuilding.
• Advocates … join us to align sustainability incentives with management reform efforts.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What is a sustainable fish?

Time to hear from ENGOs and the seafood industry, all about sustainability at the (Sustainable) Seafood Summit 2007 in Jacksonville.

How high should the bar be set for "sustainability," and who gets to decide? Is it a consumer movement or a business tool controlled by big seafood buyers looking for green cred? What is the role of ENGOs, are we the keepers of all that's holy and sustainable?

And...who cares anyway?

Blogfish is here, and I'll bring it to you live (OK, after I can get back to my computer).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How smart are fish?

Smart enough to know who's the top fish in a school, just by watching.

Scientists found fish capable of some fancy reasoning. Cichlids could tell who would win a fight among fish in a nearby tank after watching some pairs fight. They used "transitive inference," predicting the outcome of fish A fighting fish E without ever seeing A fight E.

Hmmm...sounds like a useful skill, maybe I can get some cichlids to help me bet on football games.

This ability is equivalent to the reasoning skill of a 4 or 5 year old human. Does this mean the fish are as smart as a 4 or 5 year old? Fish are really smart at being fish, and they need to know who would win a fight. But don't expect a fish to read a Dr. Seuss book.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fiddling while Europe's fish disappear

Who will disappear first, Europe's fish or fishermen? The way things are going, the last fisherman will go out of business just after selling the last fish.

Crippled by arguments and failed policies, European fisheries are in even worse shape than US fisheries. Conservationists are upset, fishermen are upset, managers are beleagured and upset, and the fish are smaller and fewer every year.

The thousand pound bluefin tuna of yesterday are only a memory, and famous North Sea cod are almost gone--scientists advise no more fishing until they recover.

Overall fish levels in the North Sea have dropped 60% in the last 100 years, showing that fishing taken much of the life out of Europe's oceans.

Are there signs of change in recent fishing cutbacks? Is the glass 1/4 full or 3/4 empty?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Seafood chowder tells a tale of decline

You can read the ocean in a bowl of chowder, and local Maine chowder says the ocean is hurting.

Fisherman Dick Bridges of Stonington, Maine is worried, now that his chowder has nothing but lobster. There's nothing else to catch nearby. He's not sad about the recent lobster boom, the problem is that there's nothing else left. The death of local cod is a bad thing, even though it's probably allowed the lobster to boom.

Why? Because the only healthy ocean is a diverse ocean. And this isn't coming from an egghead ecologist, it's a salty fisherman.

What is Dick Bridges, a biodiversity advocate or a common sense fisherman? Both.

Read Molly O'Neill's lyrical piece in the NY Times for the whole story.
photo: NY Times

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Is the ocean starving?

We know about missing cod, and some know about missing zooplankton. One person's view is that these are all symptoms of an ocean in starvation.

The news at is all bad. Some scientists have criticized the conclusions, but there are some worrisome facts at the base of the arguments.

Is the ocean starving? It's a radical hypothesis, and I invite you to draw your own conclusions.


Monday, January 15, 2007

White marlin an endangered species?

The plight of white marlin will test the mettle of fishing conservationists on the US East coast. A potential ESA listing may restrict fishing to save the fish.

What's a fisherman to do? The decline of white marlin is not in dispute, and the need for stringent action is obvious.
Some credible fishing conservationists argue against listing, even though white marlin need help. ESA may not be the best tool to help these fish.

But what's the alternative? Will anyone take the plight of white marlin seriously if they're not listed?

The experience of salmon advocates can be informative. Listing of salmon as endangered does disrupt fishing, no question about that. But it seems to be the only thing that gets serious conservation action moving.

All of us fishing conservationists need to decide where we come down...on the side of the fish or on the side of our fishing? What is more important?

image: pointrunner

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dams come down for fish

It's one small step for fish, one giant leap for mankind. Dams are coming down for fish in the San Francisco Bay area.

De-engineering streams is an idea whose time has come. Resource managers are removing obstacles from Alameda Creek, in hopes of seeing steelhead return after a 40 year absence. Silly? Not at all, ask the Alameda Creek Alliance, or the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration.

Big dams, little dams, bridges, culverts, roads, it all adds up. Especially in raising consciousness about the many ways we've neglected fish, and how we can right those wrongs.

If we want fish in our future, then we need to remember to rebuild a world that's friendly to fish.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Loss of arctic sea ice

Going, going, gone by 2040(?)--arctic sea ice may vanish within our lifetimes. Effects are hard to predict, but some sea mammals are likely casualties.

Rapid changes are surprising scientists, including the loss of ice shelves on Canada's remote northern coasts. One particular event was startling, an ice island bigger than 11,000 football fields went walkabout one fine summer day in 2005.

Loss of sea ice is linked to global warming, which has recently been admitted by the US government to be caused by humans. In an announcement that 2006 was the warmest year on record, the Bush adminstration finally admitted that humans are a cause of global warming. Public affairs officials were suprised, since they were used to Bush administration higher-ups trimming such language out of press releases.

We seem to be headed for an ice-free Arctic Ocean by 2040 if we don't do something soon (see model results above).

diagram: NCAR

Monday, January 08, 2007

Reef sharks declining in Australia

Reef sharks are doing poorly on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, an area considered by many to be a healthy and well-managed reef system.

Fishing seems to be driving sharks into decline--unfished reefs have up to 10 times more sharks. This is an interesting result, sharks are mobile fish that don't stay put in no-fishing zones, so even mobile fish can benefit from protected areas.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Island lost to rising seas

Global warming fears become reality, as inhabited islands are lost to rising seas in the Bay of Bengal. Yes, Virginia, many factors are involved, but global warming IS one of them.

The island of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, vanished beneath the waves recently, with only a satellite as witness. Rising seas, erosion, flooding, storms, and subsidence were all involved. Global warming is a likely cause in some or all of these threats to low-lying islands.

I suppose we could deny and debate for a few more years or decades. Or, we could get serious about solutions. Global warming IS an ocean issue.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What's in the ocean?

Simple question, with a complex answer. This year's fabulous finds include shrimp that flirt with boiling water and birds that migrated 40,000 miles in 200 days (photo at right).

The Census of Marine Life is just beginning to yield results, and scientists are like kids in a toy store, giddy with joy. New animals, previously unknown...20,000 different kinds of bacteria in a liter of sea ocean life has changed over time...and the success of conservation efforts (yay, I love that one!).

Get lost on their website, and please tell blogfish what you find! Also look for sub-sites, such as Tagging of Pacific Pelagics, with such treasures as real time tracks of blue whales, leatherback sea turtles, thresher sharks, and other migrating animals.

Photo: Migrating shearwaters, tracked by TOPP

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

More on seafood mercury risks

Just when you thought it was safe to eat seafood...pregnant women who eat more seafood have elevated mercury in their blood, putting their babies at risk.

Most women who ate seafood 3 times per week or more had unsafe mercury levels, according to a study of women in Taipei. Few details were offered in the Taipei Times news article, but the details are likely to be very important. What kind of fish? Caught where? Etc.
The mercury struggle goes on.