Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Iron in rivers fertilizes ocean

Oregon rivers deliver iron to the Pacific Ocean in winter rains, and the iron fertilizes plankton blooms during summer. This new finding helps explain the rich productivity of coastal waters in the region.

There are several surprises here, including the role of iron in controlling productivity of coastal oceans, the delivery of iron from rivers, and the iron cycling in sediments that fuels summertime plankton blooms.

There's a lot we don't know about oceans and ocean life.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Wired fish reveal ocean secrets

Everybody gets a microchip and sensors track movement. Big brother? No, a vital study of how fish move.

Hundreds of years of fishing show how to catch fish. Unfortunately, that's about all we know about fish. Most fish science comes from using a crystal ball on fishing records to study the ones that got away. Is that the best we can do in the 21st century? No.
The Canadian Foundation for Innovation is buying fish scientists an Ocean Tracking Network to study fish even if they don't end up on the deck of a boat. The idea is to radiotag a million fish and monitor their movement with a worldwide network of receivers. The results will show for the first time where lots diffent kinds of fish live and how they move around.

There's more to fish than fishing, and now there's more to fish science than studying fishing.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

North Atlantic fish suffering from climate change

Ocean water is now a little less salty in the Northwest Atlantic. Who cares? You do, because this means fabled atlantic cod are in trouble.

Fishermen have been killing too many cod for a very long time in the Northwest Atlantic. Now, just when fishing is being reined in, climate change is making recovery difficult. Where does this show up? In the geeky world of oceanography, and the deeply unsexy task of measuring just how salty is the ocean.

The effects are indirect, but powerful. Climate change is melting ice and increasing freshwater flow to the area. This inhibits top-to-bottom stirring of the ocean in the fall, and disrupts typical plankton blooms, reducing food supplies for the fish people care about.

The cascading effects of climate change are hard to predict, but if this is a harbinger of things to come, it won't be pretty. Shocking changes have been reported, and trends are worrisome. Plankton declines here, low oxygen there, with causality chains that look derived from Mother Goose or even Dr. Seuss.

So stand by...because

this is the time
and here is the place
where the ice did melt
and the water did flow
and the ocean won't mix
and the plankton won't bloom
and the herring won't grow
and the cod won't eat
so there's no fish to catch
it's it's the end of the house that cod built

Friday, February 23, 2007

Parasitic males

Males are blood-sucking parasites that don't contribute anything but sperm. Girl talk at the gym? No, the real story about deep-sea anglerfish.

Since it's hard to find a date in the deep sea, some angler fish have evolved an unusual mate-for-life strategy. Males are born with a strong desire to find a female quickly, because they can't even eat on their own. Males search for the smell of a female, make a beeline for the lucky girl, bite hard and hold on forever.

Eventually the jaw of the male fuses with the female's skin, the male's organs wither, and he is reduced to little more than a pair of testicles. Lucky females can have more than one "male" attached. The male is the small blob attached to the back of the female in the photo.

A story with absolutely no social significance, right ladies?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fishing for the future

How do we solve the overfishing problem, is it a massive overhaul or a minor tweak? To borrow from my daughter, we need a big-big-little-little change. Dr. Science would translate that as a subtle but profound revolution in thinking.

On the surface, a few small adjustments seem adequate. We can lower our fishing goals, let fish populations rebuild, and fishermen can prosper with good, reliable catches (Ray Hilborn’s “pretty good yield”). If a few small worries pop up, a tweak here and a nudge there and everything’s fine again. Right?

Well…yes and no. Ask any big business how easy it is to move towards sustainability. It’s more than just buying a few compact fluorescent lightbulbs and reducing packaging.

The important part of moving towards sustainability is the revolution in thinking that underlies all the many small changes that appear on the surface. And solving the overfishing problem is more about changing the way we think than how we adjust fishing.

Why is sensible blogfish headed for these dangerous waters--fuming at flawed belief systems that promote dysfunctional behaviors? I’ve been getting comments, public and private, asking why criticize Ray Hilborn and his “Good Depletion.” And it’s hard to answer without this risky expedition.

On the surface, Mr. Hilborn is doing OK, he says maybe we should back away from Maximum Sustainable Yield and settle for “pretty good yield.” This will leave more fish in the ocean, so everything’s fine right? Well, Mr. Hilborn is just tweaking a broken system. He’s buying a few compact fluorescent lightbulbs and saying he’s done, he’s now truly sustainable. The problem is…he’s still focused on YIELD, the taking of fish out of the ocean.

What necessary to fix the problem? In the immortal (tweaked) words of John Kennedy: “ask not what your fish can do for you, ask what you can do for your fish.”

What Mr. Hilborn (and all of us) need to do is invest in fish population health and ocean ecosystem health, and quit worrying about how many fish we can squeeze out of the system. Ironically, and paradoxically, that’s the best way to catch a lot of fish—by not focusing on catching a lot of fish.

It’s not astral woo-woo nonsense, it’s reality.

Every time we try to squeeze the system and get lots of fish we end up harming some of the ocean processes that produce lots of fish. If we fish too hard, we kill off the big, old fish and reduce spawning success. If we fish everywhere, we lose locally distinct fish populations that might be the big winners in the spawning lottery next year or next decade.

The best way to get the ocean to produce a lot of fish is keep oceans and fish healthy. We should focus on keeping fish populations looking something like unfished populations, with lots of young fish, old fish, and middle aged fish. We also need to keep all, or nearly all local population segments alive and reproducing, waiting for their turn to thrive as ocean conditions vary.

Mr. Hilborn’s tweak of Maximum Sustainable Yield is not a solution, it’s a minor tweak to a broken idea. Pretty Good Yield still fails to focus explicitly on important needs, such as protecting big, old fish. It lets a few fish get a little older, but fishing is still likely to remove the biggest, oldest fish. Pretty Good Yield may keep more locally distinct populations alive, but fishing is still likely to reduce life history diversity. The funny part is that iconoclastic Mr. Hilborn likely knows all of this. He comes most of the way to a solution, only to turn away within sight of the real goal. Why? Maybe because he wrote the textbook on Yield modeling, and it’s easier to smash other people’s icons than one’s own.

To fix the overfishing problem, we need to shift the focus of management towards investing in the health of oceans and fish. We need to monitor and manage for geographic range, life history diversity, and letting fish get big and old. If we manage according to the advice of that eminent fishery biologist John Kennedy, then we’ll be most of the way there ;) I repeat: ask not what your fish can do for you, ask what you can do for your fish.

How’s that for a big-big-little-little change?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

10 commandments for saving fish

Thou shalt not deplete the fishes of the ocean. Sounds good, especially with thunderbolts for violators. But since the recently released "10 commandments" for saving fish came from scientists thay have a decidedly astringent flavor.

Like: "keep a perspective that is holistic, precautionary and adaptive." OK, that's good stuff but who's going to belly up to the bar for another shot of advice after finding that in their glass?

Well, anyone who made it this far may as well read the original g(r)eek version of the hard-to-swallow "10 commandments for ecosystem-based fisheries science" Or...try my 10 commandments for saving the fishes of the sea.

That's right, blogfish wishes to help, so I've translated them here (somewhat loosely):

1. Seek not narrow advantage--think big, learn and be careful.
2. Don't worship old ideas.
3. Respect the old fish for they breed most effectively.
4. All the fishes of a species are important, even the most humble.
5. Harm not the homes of fishes.
6. Let some fishes live for the pestilence is surely coming.
7. Let the lionfish lay down with the lambfish, for they need each other.
8. Seasons change.
9. The largest of the fishes may be gone forever.
10. There are no fishes untouched by people.
Now...armed with this great wisdom...go forth and do good. Namaste.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Scary ocean blob creature invades Seattle

What's slimy, comes from Seattle, and smothers all competition? It's the scary blob alright, but it doesn't sell software or coffee. It's called a tunicate, and it's threatening ocean ecosystems.

Tunicates are encrusting invertebrates, which means they are blanket-like blobs that can cover anything solid. They thrive as invaders and they're turning up in more and more ocean places.

Blogfish raised the ocean blob alarm last year, and things are only getting worse. The Blob was doing well in Hood Canal last year when nearly everything else was dying from low oxygen. There's a blob alert website with info on identifying the blob and advice on what to do if you find one.

The best tip? Get ready for Soylent taupe.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Colossal artificial reef blunder

The road to ocean ruin can be paved with good intentions. What do you think about a project that is supposed to create ocean habitat and get rid of unwanted garbage?

Here's an example of a colossal blunder that's costing big money to undo.
About 2 million tires were dumped into the ocean off Fort Lauderdale to create artificial reefs, and now there is a $2 million budget to clean up the mess.

The tires have turned out to be a terrible nuisance, washing up on beaches and destroying natural reef habitat as they churn around in currents and tides.

According to project proponent Ray McAllister, a professor of ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University, "The really good idea was to provide habitat for marine critters so we could double or triple marine life in the area. It just didn't work that way. I look back now and see it was a bad idea."

Excuse me, but blogfish is amazed that anybody really believed it was a good idea to dump garbage in the ocean. Of course, we've only learned part of the lesson. Now that we know tires are a bad idea, we've moved on to mothballed warships, subway cars, and human remains cast into "reef balls."

Great ideas, good intentions, big mistakes.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Seafood good for baby brains?

Smarter babies when moms eat seafood during pregnancy? A new study says yes. This surprising result may contradict mercury fears raised in other studies.

Nearly 12,000 British women reported seafood consumption and their children were tracked for 8 years after their birth. Higher fish consumption was linked to higher IQ and better communication skills.
How can we understand the contradictions? Perhaps the British moms ate seafood that was low in mercury. So what's a mom to do? Eating seafood seems smart, and avoiding seafood with lots of mercury also seems smart, since we know mercury is harmful.

There's probably more to come on these complex issues.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Global warming news

Is the global warming debate over? It oughtta be. An authoritative panel concluded that human-caused global warming was "highly likely."

Blogfish says that it's time to stop the fuss over "if" and get going on "what do we do about it?" One place to focus...we need healthy oceans if we want to keep fishing as the changes arrive.
Who will lead on this issue?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chesapeake cleanup dead in the water

The Chesapeake Bay cleanup has foundered on the shoal of good intentions. Bold promises were made, but it's not happening.

What's wrong? Lack of political will, an unwillingness to change...basically people don't care enough to do the job right.

This is a sad story for a clean up effort that was supposed to be a national model and an inspiration to those of us hoping to see improvements in Puget Sound.

Is there still hope for the Chesapeake? Yes, so long as there are brave activists and watermen left alive. Read about the bay and become a supporter of restoration, because what we do to the bay we do to ourselves.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Klamath River dams to come down for salmon?

Salmon are cheering a federal order to fix harmful dams on the Klamath River. Dam removal is now a leading option since removal is cheaper than fixing the 4-dam network.

This opens a new chapter in the debate over how to fix the PacifiCorps dams that are strangling the important Klamath River. Poor salmon runs in the Klamath system have been driving federal salmon fishing policies recently, so the federal order is a key West coast salmon policy.
Dam removal is the cheapest option for a fix, and PacifiCorps officials finally seem forced to consider how they will deal with the harm caused by their dams.