Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chews Wise helps you navigate food issues

Another great blog to recommend, Chews Wise

Chews Wise aims to shine a light on the food system and discuss where our food comes from and what we really want to eat.

We are opinionated without being simplistic, smart but not condescending, and we will try to consider issues from multiple angles, since food choices are never one-dimensional. Think of these articles as Chews You Can Use.

This news and blog site was started by Samuel Fromartz, a longtime journalist and author of Organic Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew

This is relevant stuff. The organic food industry is more mature than the sustainable seafood movement, and we seafood people can learn a lot from looking at the growth of the organic food movement.

From a Q & A with the author, Sam Fromartz:

So why is the organic movement conflicted?

Many organic farmers and consumers have had trouble with the industry's growth, especially with the entry of big companies into the sector. For many, this kind of corporate ownership chafes at the ideals of local and small-scale foods, such as farmers' markets. They also worry these companies will loosen organic regulations, a process many think is underway.

What I found was that the demand for organic food proved so robust that the small-scale system couldn't quite meet it. Ironically, an anti-industrial movement needed an industry to support its growing success. So small distributors merged to form bigger ones. Whole Foods Markets, the largest natural and organic grocer, gobbled up regional supermarkets. And smaller companies sold out to get the capital to expand and win larger distribution.

And what fun to find this, since Sam is an old college buddy, we played together on our college basketball team way back when!

More scientific debate on the future of seafood

Will we see the end of seafood in 2048? This projection generated a lot of debate, and now it's time to see the next installment.

Emmett Duffy over at Natural Patriot announces the next installment in the debate over "the end of seafood" in 2048. The debate includes Ray Hilborn who likens this debate to the evolution/intelligent design circus. Guess which side he wants to be on?

Worm and colleagues (including Emmett BTW) answer their critics in the issue of Science released today, and they find their work continues to stand. I haven't fully digested the whole exchange, but my initial opinion is that the original paper remains valid. More on this after I digest further.

Thanks to Emmett for his work, for this tip, and for his great work at Natural Patriot, check it out sometime if you haven't already.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Did save the whales strategy backfire?

A new analysis raises the question: did anti-whaling strategy backfire and push Japan into their current "scientific whaling" charade?

This is an interesting question on strategy, when is it smart to push for conservation, and when is it smart to settle for a compromise or partial solution? There is no definitive answer, but the author of this article makes an interesting case that anti-whaling activists pushed too hard on Japan to stop whaling.

When does strong conservation advocacy become counter-productive?

Of course, there is the opposite question, when is it good to stay strong, push hard, and hold out for a principle or a high goal?

To me, this is the toughtest question in conservation, and I wonder if readers can suggest useful case studies like this whaling analysis.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ocean blog carnival (carnival of the blue)

World Ocean Day is June 8, and blogfish will host an ocean blog event. Please send links to some of your best recent work, and I'll post a list of links together with a brief comment.

This is a chance for all of you ocean bloggers out there to come together in one place. I've asked around, and there seems to be enough interest to call this a carnival, as the first installment in a regular (monthly) event. Dare we call it carnival of the blue?

Send your links to mpowell at oceanconservancy dot org, and I look forward to hearing from all of you ocean bloggers that I know, along with (hopefully) some that I don't know.

Improving seafood sustainability

Many people seem to think "just say no" is the only answer to unsustainable seafood. If you're a seafood lover and you actually want to help fix some of your favorite unsustainable fisheries, there are things you can do.

For example, Gulf of Mexico shrimp are in the news these days, and The Ocean Conservancy is leading efforts to reform the biggest problem in that fishery: excessive bycatch (killing and discarding) of juvenile red snapper.

Click here for more info, and options to get involved.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Erosion of seafood quality and safety

Seafood can be a great food, but not if the seafood industry sacrifices quality and safety in pursuit of profits. So says John Sackton, seafood industry journalist and blogger.

From a business perspective, it makes sense to serve the interests of buyers. More and more, buyers seem interested in quality, safety, sustainability, and simple reliability. Who wants to pay for 5 pounds of shrimp and get 4 and a half pounds? Who wants to buy fish treated with preservatives to mask a lack of freshness?

There have been too many scares and scandals lately, and the seafood industry needs to get it's own house in order...says one of the industry's own. I couldn't agree more.

Carnival of the green

A weekly roundup ofenvironmental news, opinion, and more, is at sustainablog this week. Stop by if you've never tried it before. It's fun, it's free, it's often enlightening, and sometimes leavening.

Stay tuned for a "Carnival of the blue" here on blogfish on World Ocean Day June 8. Cause green is good but blue is wetter.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Irish, Welsh dolphins have distinct dialects

Accents and dialects may be not unique to humans. Bottlenose dolphins from Wales and Ireland use different whistles to communicate, suggesting language differences that could be like dialects.

Why not, if the Irish dolphins have been isolated for a long time as researchers speculate. This is not the first suggestion of animal dialects. People have been listening to birds for a long time, and the idea of bird dialects seems to be well accepted.

So this American dolphin goes into a pub in coastal waters of southern Ireland and orders a mackeral...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ocean decline leads to Spain's jellyfish patrol

A jellyfish plague has Spain's environment ministry planning a jellyfish patrol this summer. The goal: scoop up jellyfish and protect people from stings.

Overfishing, drought, and global warming are likely causes of the stinging horde.

This is just the most recent in a long series of stories about jellyfish explosions worldwide, and even fishing for jellyfish. This is Jeremy Jackson's "rise of slime," a sad story of a shifted baseline.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Save the lobsters that lay the golden eggs

Throw back the big ones. It's a new principle in managing commercial fishing, designed to save the lobsters (or fish) that lay the golden eggs.

Finally, some of the old, broken ideas are giving way. It used to be thought that a simple mathematical construct (maximum sustainable yield) was actually a good way to manage fishing. Only there were too many neglected factors that fell outside of the model and undermined it's utility. Things like the special reproductive value of big old fish (and lobsters) and the value of life history diversity in maximizing productivity.

Fishermen will now be required to throw back the biggest lobsters, following the lead of Maine. It's an overdue step and one that promises to help protect the future of lobsters and lobstering.

Maybe we'll see more efforts made to save the fish (and lobsters) that lay the golden eggs. Some fish (and lobsters) are too valuable to kill, they're worth more in the water than in the fish market.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dams come down for fish

In a remarkable feat of river un-development, Marmot Dam on Oregon's Sandy River will be demolished and removed starting this summer.

Portland General Electric is taking out the dam without a fight, an unusual situation in the hydropower industry. PGE took a fairly responsible position in relicensing their hydropower dams, voluntarily agreeing to take out the worst ones. Of course, this bought them something. They get less resistance when they propose modest modifications instead of removal for some other dams.

PGE's big prize that they get to keep? The Pelton-Round Butte project on Central Oregon's Deschutes River, which is a much more significant blockage of salmon and river continuity, and a maker of much more money. I worked on the Deschutes in the mid 1990s and it was interesting to see how effectively PGE got their way by being more reasonable than most hydropower utilities. For example, PGE was much better than PacifiCorp, who gets more opposition from friends of salmon. Especially for their role in the Klamath River's problems.

PGE is smarter than a lot of resource users, they choose to help draw a line about what impacts should go and which should be allowed to stay. If they fought all environmental restoration, they might lose more. Rather than roll the dice and hope to win everything, they made a safer bet. The Sandy River wins this bet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Read my lips--no new taxa

The science of taxonomy is now under the doleful gaze of the conservation humbugs at The Economist. Is this the next intrusion of politics into science? Will politicians referee species determinations?

With an analogy to currency markets, The Economist warns against species inflation, worrying that it will diminish the value of species: "It therefore behoves taxonomists to be honest. If they debase their currency, it will ultimately become valueless." This is a chilling message hidden within a reasonable-sounding plea.

Of course taxonomists should be honest. And if individuals fail, their peers should call foul. That's the essence of the scientific method. But the dismal journal inappropriately doubts honesty if species are discovered in the lab and not in the jungle.

As modern DNA-based methods have emerged, a revolution in species identification has rightly taken place. Reclassification based on incisive genetic studies is not unusual. Are these powerful and important findings of new species suspect if the results somehow discomfort those who covet their habitat?

I would hope for better from The Economist, a journal that appears to support learning and intelligence. Advances in science do not always conform to political agendas, nor should they. Let's leave species identifications in the hands of biologists where they belong, and out of the political arena.

Years ago, I was warned that University promotions are based on counting publications rather than judging their merit. Apparently, University Deans are not the only science-watchers who can count but can't read.

CSI: seafood--who is that fish, really?

Grouper in Florida are so rare you need a forensic fishologist to identify what's really in your grouper sandwich.

Overfishing and scarcity have pushed up the price of grouper, and cheaper substitutes like Vietnamese catfish are now routinely sold as grouper.

This problem has several dimensions: it cheats you out of your seafood dollars, masks the decline of our precious groupers, and it shows that the seafood business needs better oversight. Who will step up and address these problems?

This is not fresh news. The seafood business seems slow to step up. Where's the outrage from restaurant owners? I think everyone in the seafood business is afraid of rocking the boat. They won't like the outcome if they keep serving fake grouper and refuse to get their fish houses in order.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reef recreation that doesn't hurt (reefs)

Are we loving our coral reefs to death? Here's something that might help, a set of standards for coral reef recreation that will reduce the footprint of tourism on coral reefs.

Rick MacPherson over at Malaria, bedbugs, sea lice, and sunsets directs us to this groundbreaking new piece of work from CORAL, a first for the marine tourism world. It's a handbook for safe tourism on the Meso-American reef that extends from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to Belize to Honduras. Here's hoping for wide and effective implementation and healthy coral reefs.

I've been there and it's fantastic. I enjoyed swimming out to the reef from the Hotel Ojo de Aqua in Puerto Morelos . Of course, maybe it was so great because it's where my wife and I decided to get married, after a long naked midnight swim in the warm, warm water from a perfect deserted beach.

Starving grey whales linked to global warming?

Grey whales are dying of starvation off the US west coast, and global warming is a possible cause. Too bad, they were just recovering from the end of commercial whaling--out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Climate change is an ocean issue even though you don't know much about it yet. Oceans are already getting more acid as atmospheric CO2 goes up, and that will create harm before warming causes harm. Acidification has already slowed the growth of corals.

Now starving grey whales are the next ocean victim of climate change. What's happening is that warmer water has reduced upwelling of nutrients by increasing ocean stratification (think trying to mix oil and vinegar). Warmer surface water in the ocean makes the top layer refuse to mix with deeper water.

And...deep water is the major source of nutrients that fertilize plankton growth. Once plankton growth is reduced, everything else goes hungry. Now, big grey whales are suffering, after a near-miraculous rebound once whale hunting was stopped.

The alarm on declining plankton isn't coming from only green groups.Crusty oceanographer John McGowan, who taught my first oceanography class at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is sounding the alarm on declining plankton.

Like I said, climate change is primarily an ocean issue, even though you don't know it yet. It's easy to look at oceans as a threat with sea level rise threatening to flood coastal zones and hurricanes getting worse. But the ocean is more victim than villain and ocean life may well suffer more than life on land. Stay tuned and get active if you want your future to include an ocean that you like.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The future of sustainable seafood

In the cacophonous big tent of sustainable seafood options, how to pick the winners? Now that sustainability matters and there’s a thousand versions for sale, which can rebuild our oceans and thrive in the marketplace?

It won’t do to build a stunning model fishery that can’t compete. Who’s going to pay $500 each for sustainable harpoon-caught shrimp?

And we can’t bet our future on empty words. What do we gain if every fish is called sustainable while overfishing goes on?

There is a place for many different flavors of sustainability. There are certainly high-end niche markets that will reward the most sustainable catch of our favorite high-priced seafood. And if sustainability can be delivered by Wal-mart with “always lower prices,” then the marketplace really will create more sustainable fisheries. These vastly different markets serve distinct buyers and they’ll probably rely on different sustainable seafood products.

Is there a place for everyone who’s trying to get in right now? Or are there some ideas that just won’t fly? And should the marketplace decide, or do we need something more, some regulations or standards like USDA Organic? What does the future hold for sustainable seafood?

I think some trends are obvious. First, sustainability is a way of thinking more than a precisely defined set of measurable criteria. When people commit to sustainability, the most important thing is to develop new sustainable thinking and not merely adjust the details of today’s fishing. Over time, we’ll learn more and revise our management plans, and good sustainable thinking will carry us through all of the challenges. Today’s precise “sustainable” standards may look unsustainable using tomorrow’s better knowledge of ocean ecosystems and fishing impacts.

Second, sustainability is not just about using inefficient fishing methods. We won’t get to sustainability by locking in place some romantic vision of noble fisheries that use yesterday’s supposedly “kinder & gentler” technology. We’re going to need every bit of our ingenuity to create tomorrow’s sustainable fisheries. The most sustainable fishing of tomorrow will probably be done using tomorrow’s best high-tech gear. There’s not a great history of success for regulating fisheries by requiring inefficiency.

Third, sustainable fishing may not provide as many fishing jobs as today’s unsustainable fishing. Some people are probably going to have to go out of the fishing business to create a prosperous and sustainable future. We have too many fishing fleets that have been bloated by wrong-headed government subsidies, and that’s actually the root of unsustainable fishing. Fish can’t provide jobs for everyone who wants them. Fisheries can not be a jobs program if we want to make them sustainable.

Finally, and this was my main advice to the Seafood Watch Program...we’ll see if they find it useful. Conservationists should try to help create a viable path to sustainability. It’s not good enough to articulate some grand high goal, and stand back and criticize anyone who doesn’t meet it. That’s preachy, soapbox environmentalism, and it’s not going to solve the problem. It’s fine to talk about ultimate goals, but it’s even better to help fisheries get to the goals. I think too many of my colleagues don’t see the need to create a path to sustainability, they prefer to talk about how high to "set the bar" of sustainability. And many think the most noble thing is to set the bar so high that there isn't one fishery in the world that meets the standard. Those can be fine ideas, but they don't have much practical value.

Anyone else care to offer some thoughts on the future of sustainable seafood? I’m all ears, and deeply curious.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Celebrating sustainable seafood at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Eating well is a joy that elevates and sustains us. When we appreciate and invest in the sources of our food, we connect the circle and build ourselves.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium shows the world that sustainable seafood works for everyone. No matter who you are, you can eat seafood without contributing to ocean decline, and we’ll all profit from the investment in fishing done right.

Last night’s “Cooking for Solutions” Gala at the Monterey Bay Aquarium was a high point for me in the pursuit of sustainable seafood. The experience bordered on overwhelming. Wandering through the aquarium, communing with the life of the sea and sampling sustainable offerings from top chefs, it was easy to picture a world of seafood done right. A world where fish are abundant and what we take goes unnoticed. A world where fishing success means a healthy ocean. And especially, a world where investing in the future of the ocean is so richly rewarding. Sustainability has never tasted so good. Thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for creating a better world for a night.

It’s hard to promote sustainability if it means giving up what you want the most. For a seafood lover, the Aquarium’s Gala proves that there’s reward, not sacrifice, for eating in balance with the ocean. And that’s an attractive vision of sustainability.

The Aquarium’s sustainability work goes well beyond the Gala. So far this year, more than 10 million people have received the Aquarium’s well-loved Seafood Watch cards, packed with advice on how to promote sustainability when you buy seafood. And now, through working with Bon Appetit and other major seafood buyers, the Aquarium is helping transform the larger seafood marketplace by rewarding sustainability. Another featured guest was the head of Wal-mart’s seafood division, who’s busy proving that sustainability need not cost a fortune. The Aquarium’s vision works, and it’s proving that sustainability is a mainstream value.

It’s true that a few favorite seafood items didn’t show up on the menu, but I’ll be looking for them next year, or in perhaps two or ten years. And when they do show up at the Aquarium, they’ll be like good friends welcomed back to the party. So long as there’s a party to be had without them, I can wait.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Protecting fish benefits corals

Corals benefit from no-fishing marine protected areas. Grazing fish such as large parrotfishes that thrive in the MPA remove algae and improve coral reproduction.

This is the first finding of benefits to coral reproduction from reduced algae cover in no-fishing MPAs, thanks to the helpful work of grazing fish. Not a big surprise, really, but proof is always necessary given the abundance and persistence of MPA critics.

Stunning video of diving with sharks

I don't know the story behind this video, but it does seem like we're looking at a future Darwin Award winner.

Posted by Rick MacPherson over at Malaria, bedbugs, sea lice and sunsets, it shows several divers practicing to be shark whisperers with one or more great white sharks. I've done a lot of diving and I've NEVER seen anything like this.

Riding the dorsal fin of a huge shark? Again and again? Patting it on the snout? I don't think this needs a "don't try this at home" warning.

I'll ask Rick where this came from.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Monterey Bay Aquarium sustainable seafood events

Off to Monterey this week, to talk about sustainable seafood with experts. Sort of like taking coal to Newcastle.

Going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is like making a pilgramage. This is the home of the modern ocean awareness movement, thanks to the Packard family. This is also the home of consumer education about seafood. And...this is also the home of my first inklings of getting out of science and into conservation advocacy.

It all started when I was a postdoc at the Hopkins Marine Station, and I started to find scientific research to be an incomplete answer to the concerns that were concerning me...yeah I'm sure you all want to hear about that.

Fast forward to 2007, and I get to come back as a conservation expert. As they say where I come from..."well shut my mouth"

But I probably won't. I have now some ideas on what we all need to do to get to more sustainable seafood. I think we need some solid, practical steps for seafood businesses to take, that move things in the right direction. It's not good enough to articulate the goal, we need to help demonstrate purchasing practices and policy engagement options that will make tomorrow's seafood more sustainable than today's seafood. Too many people seem to want to "set the bar high" for sustainability. What good is a high measure of success if NOBODY can meet it?

Going back to Monterey reminds me of a few late evenings at Lover's Point on the peninsula, and some late evening diving off of beaches that weren't exactly public. And windsurfing at Asilomar during a strong stormy southerly that spawned an actual waterspout. And the great trail running in Pebble Beach. There is good fun to be had in Pacific Grove and Monterey.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Is your Copper River salmon really wild? (the odds)

If you love to eat salmon, the first fresh fish of the year is truly welcome. But the prices are outrageous, $35 per pound at the market or $65 per plate in a restaurant. Would you pay that much for a salmon spawned in a fish farm and later released to be a so-called "wild" salmon?

If you buy Copper River salmon, you might have paid fancy prices for a farm-bred fish. After all the negative press around fish farms, spending that much for a farm-bred fish is a depressing thought. Today, when the first wild salmon of the year is flown into Seattle, blogfish brings you the odds.

The proportion of hatchery fish in the "wild" salmon catch is not widely publicized. Hatchery breeding doesn't really fit with the glorious stories of why Copper River wild fish are truly the best. The promotions usually run something like: "spawned in a cold mountain river, after swimming many miles upstream." So it's hard to get exact numbers on hatchery supplementation of wild salmon production. Here's what I could find.

Overall, the Copper River catch is 24% hatchery origin. This is mostly sockeye, and the sockeye are 25% hatchery origin. So far as I can find, there are no hatchery chinook (king) salmon in the Copper River catch, so it looks like Copper River kings are all wild fish, except for possibly a small number of strays.

So if you want to stay away from farm-spawned fish in your fancy Copper River "wild" salmon purchases, go for the more expensive kings. If you go for sockeye, you have a 1 in 4 chance of getting a hatchery fish.

It's an open question, whether hatchery fish are really inferior as seafood. Even hatchery salmon put on most of their growth after release, so it might not matter a lot. But the hype around "wild" salmon sure doesn't tell the truth about hatchery salmon, and I really think people ought to know what they're buying. They can decide for themselves if they want to pay fancy "wild" prices for a farm-bred hatchery fish.

Image: spawning "wild" salmon at a hatchery. Note orange eggs flowing out chute at bottom.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Premium wild salmon--raised in a fish farm?

Do you want to know if you're getting a salmon that was raised in a farm for a year when you buy wild salmon? Blogfish is likely to be the only place you can find out.

Do you care if your wild salmon dinner was spawned in a bucket, hatched in a tray and raised for a year in a concrete pond and fed salmon chow? Would you even call that a wild salmon?

What if you paid top dollar for wild salmon, only to find out that your fish was raised for a year in a fish farm (called a hatchery)? Is that the premium product that you intended to buy?

Would it bother you to buy a fish after reading a story about swimming far upstream to spawn in cold, clear mountain water, only to learn that people pulled them out of a trap, knocked them on the head and sliced them open to mix eggs and sperm in a bucket?

The contaminated feed issue has people wondering about wild salmon. What type of fish get to be called "wild" salmon? And the answers to this question can be unsettling, especially since so many salmon live part of their lives in captivity.

Scientists are careful not to call salmon wild if they're raised by people for part of their life cycle. For a scientist, there are three main types of salmon, wild, farmed, and hatchery. But fishermen and the seafood industry call salmon wild if they're caught in the ocean, no matter how long they actually lived free.

How many salmon spend part of their lives in fish farms, before being caught and sold as wild salmon? Comprehensive numbers can be hard to find, but here's what I've found for you so far.

In Alaska, fish hatcheries are the source of about 25% of the so-called "wild" salmon. In Washington, Oregon, and California, fish hatcheries are the source of about 75% or more of the so-called "wild" salmon. In British Columbia, the best information I could find says about 25% of "wild" salmon come from hatcheries. The proportion of hatchery fish vary with species and locality.

So far as I know, NOBODY distinguishes between hatchery fish and truly wild fish when they sell salmon. So when you buy salmon, you're taking a chance on getting a hatchery-bred and hatchery-raised fish when you pay wild fish prices. The odds of winning your bet vary depending on what you buy. Let me know if you want to learn the odds for some important fish like next week's Copper River kings that will sell for maybe $35 per pound at the fish market, or $65 per plate in a restaurant.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Fishing seen from space

A stunning new view of fishing proves the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you've ever wondered whether fishing can disrupt ocean ecosystems, look at fishing seen from space.

Rows of Chines shrimp trawlers near the mouth of the Yangtse River in the photo above present the modern face of fishing. This is very different from the over-romanticized image of fishing that we're often sold--tough weather-beaten men going out to sea in small boats, heroically battling the elements, and bringing back a bushel of food.

This is not to villainize fishing or fishermen, it simply tells a story of what fishing can be like in the modern world.

Image: Remote observation of mudtrails from fishing trawlers, Kyle S. Van Houtan & Daniel Pauly

Wild salmon fed melamine-contaminated feed

Wild salmon are not safe from the melamine contamination problem. The news keeps getting worse, and it now touches more than 250 salmon farms and "wild" salmon hatcheries in the US and Canada.

A news service has reported that a Canadian fish feed company has recalled feed from 198 US fish farms and hatcheries, and 57 in Canada.

Note that hatcheries are fish farms that produce young salmon that are later sold as "wild" fish. How can this be? The hatchery-produced fish are released into the ocean for a grow-out period and then are availbale to fishermen for catch and sale into the so-called "wild" fish market.

All reports suggest that no salmon are a threat to human health, so maybe the biggest news from this contaminated fish feed scandal is the very loose definition of "wild" in the salmon marketplace.

Up to 90% of salmon sold as "wild" is actually salmon raised in fish farms for up to one year or sometimes more. The proportion of hatchery fish among "wild" salmon varies with region and species. Your best bet for finding true "wild" salmon is chinook, sockeye, or coho salmon from Alaska. For these fish, it appears that less than 10% are raised in hatcheries.

For more info on the origins of so-called "wild" salmon, go to blogfish May 9 and May 10.

Image: feeding time for some so-called "wild" salmon.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

So-called wild salmon fed contaminated feed from China

Wait a minute, wild salmon ate the contaminated feed from the pet food scandal? How can that be? Was the food sprinkled out on the open ocean for wild fish to eat?

Well no, actually, most wild salmon start their lives in fish farms called hatcheries, where they eat pellets and live in concrete ponds. It's only later that they are released into the ocean to become "wild" salmon.

See blogfish for details on this "wild" fish problem.

News is out so far on contaminated feed being given to wild salmon in some hatcheries in Washington and British Columbia (see below). No doubt more revelations to come. Will we start to see more disclosure of what is a "wild" salmon? We'll see.

Check out the Native Fish Society for a thorough discussion of what is a "wild" salmon, and wild salmon vs. hatchery salmon issues, from Bill Bakke, the "Dean" of wild salmon conservation.

Short clip from copyrighted, subscription-only news service

Contaminated feed apparently fed to wild B.C. salmon
Ben DiPietro

Published - May 10. 2007

Some of the fish feed U.S. and Canadian authorities say is contaminated with the banned chemical melamine may have been fed to wild salmon smolts raised at one British Columbia hatchery, a company official said Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Fish farms produce so-called wild salmon?

When is a wild salmon not really wild? When it's raised for part of it's life in a fish farm called a hatchery.

Those so-called wild salmon you enjoy eating might have been fertilized in a bucket, then hatched in a tray and grown in a concrete pond for a year or more before being released into the ocean.

It's a dirty little secret of the "wild" salmon industry that the difference between some so-called "wild" salmon and "farmed" salmon is really just a matter of degree. Numbers vary with region and salmon species, but anywhere from 40% to 90% or more of so-called "wild" salmon come from salmon hatcheries that are essentially large-scale fish farms. The numbers are lowest in Alaska and higher in Washington, Oregon and California. For some species, notably chinook and sockeye from Alaska, it's likely (but not certain) that a fish called "wild" has never been inside of a bucket, tray, tank, or pond.

This is not the same problem as the mislabeling of farmed salmon as wild salmon. Hatchery fish are actually considered to be wild fish by all seafood standards currently in place, and hatchery-raised fish are considered to be wild fish by all seafood standards currently in place.

Definitive numbers are not available, but about 80% of west coast "wild" salmon from major rivers come from hatcheries. Even in Alaska, hatchery fish can be 70% or more of the catch of so-called "wild" salmon. So for many if not most salmon, a fish called "wild" has probably spent a major part of it's life in captivity being fed by people. Sort of blurs the distinction between wild and farmed fish, doesn't it?

Why should we care? Several reasons, including the huge price premium for "wild" salmon based on claims of health benefits, better taste and texture, lower environmental harm, and sustainability. If those benefits are only real for fish that have NEVER been in a fish farm, then you are being deceived. But if those benefits accrue during the last half of a salmon's life, then maybe it's ok to call a fish wild even if it was produced and raised in a hatchery.

Some evidence shows that young fish become contaminated during short periods exposed to toxic chemicals, so even a grow-out period in the ocean doesn't ensure fish are clean and healthy. Such problems loom even larger now that the melamine pet food scandal has spread to farmed and hatchery-raised salmon.

Many fishing guides believe strongly that hatchery life breeds salmon (or their cousins, steelhead) that are more like livestock than real wild fish, including my North Umpqua mentor Frank Moore, the world-renowned guide who first noticed the inferiority of North Umpqua hatchery steelhead. Sometimes, reeling in a hatchery fish is like a dead weight when compared to a robust and fiery fish that is truly wild, spawned in a river and never touched by a human.

What exactly is a "hatchery?" In general, hatcheries kill adult fish, mix their eggs and sperm in buckets, raise the eggs in trays until they swim, and then raise fish for up to 2 years in tanks or concrete ponds until they are ready to go to sea. The salmon then begin the wild portion of their lives in the ocean for 1-4 years until they return to freshwater to spawn (or get caught).

Thus, a "wild" salmon may live half its life in a pond and the next half swimming in the open ocean, compared to a "farmed" salmon that lives half its life in a pond and the next half in an open-ocean net pen. When in captivity, the "wild" and "farmed" salmon are in nearly identical conditions.

It's true that a year or more swimming free in the ocean is a significant difference. But is it enough to justify the whopping judgment of superiority given to "wild" salmon, even if they were spawned, hatched, and raised for part of their in a fish farm?

Decide for yourself. One thing is certain, the world of salmon is a lot more complicated than just wild vs. farmed. Hatchery fish that are called "wild" are somewhere in between these two extremes of wild and farmed, and nobody really knows whether hatchery salmon are more like farmed salmon or more like real wild salmon. Also certain is that if you eat so-called "wild" salmon you have probably paid wild fish prices (up to twice as high as farmed salmon or more) for fish that were spawned in a bucket and did some hard time in a concrete pond.

Image: hatchery where so-called "wild" fish get their start

Why we need ocean refuges in California

Blogfish listens, and a sincere commenter asks why MPAs (ocean refuges) in California? Big question, here's a short version of the answer.

Most of California's natural reefs have very few big fish. According to Milton Love and his colleagues: "High fishing pressure on most rocky outcrops in central and southern California has led to many habitats almost devoid of large fishes." This is a problem that needs a solution. Big rockfish are important for reproduction, and the term BOFFFs was invented to describe the special value of big old fat female (rock)fish.

What to do? These habitats are dominated by Sebastes rockfish, which are generally slow-growing, long-lived fish that congregate near rocky reefs. It is much more efficient to protect these fish by closing some areas to fishing. As a more difficult alternative, overall fishing rates would have to be drastically reduced if lower catch limits alone were used to allow some of these fish to escape capture year after year and grow big.

It's true that the biggest problems in California are offshore in deeper water, but some nearshore fish are also experiencing heavy fishing pressure and localized depletion if not overall depletion. With fishing now restricted in deeper water, increased pressure is occurring in the nearshore area. If we don't protect some areas now, the nearshore area will be the next great crisis.

Basically, we need some refuges where fish can grow and reproduce unmolested. They aren't perfect, because fish move, but they work on land for creatures that move. Ducks Unlimited has had great success protecting migratory waterfowl by protecting some critical habitats, even though the birds move and are hunted elsewhere during part of their lives. It's a practical, commonsense idea that works even for migratory animals like ducks and duck hunters are among the strongest supporters (are THE strongest supporters perhaps).

Are you a duck hunter, Brett F? If so, then thank the refuges. If not, then ask a duck hunter about the value of refuges.

Besides, do you really need to fish everywhere? If you can't catch everything you want in 90% of the ocean, why do you think the remaining 10% will satisfy you?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Ocean restoration in Puget Sound

Puget Sound borders Seattle, and it's time to see whether we're up to the task of restoring our degraded sea.

Yesterday, our Governor signed legislation establishing the Puget Sound Partnership, a cooperative effort that will be headed by Bill Ruckelshaus, head of EPA under Nixon and Ford.

The same day, Puget Sound steelhead were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, joining chinook salmon and orcas

Lest anyone doubt whether this task is possible, remember the "impossible" task of restoring Seattle's huge urban lake, Lake Washington. It was once a problem and now it's clean and healthy, and the pride of the city.

Check out Saving Puget Sound by John Lombard, a guide to what must be done. Come on Washington, let's show everyone else how it's done.

I'm optimistic, because the track we're on is an attempt to build a shared investement in a better future, BACKED UP with some actual regulatory teeth due to ESA listings. Voluntary efforts alone would leave me doubting the commitment.

I watched Oregon Governor Kitzhaber try to build an all-volunteer effort to restore Oregon's endangered coho salmon in the mid-1990s, and credibility was lacking. The real goal of the plan was to avoid an ESA listing. At first, the Governor said he would evaluate the plan when it was done and if it was inadequate he would personally request a listing. When it was done, I got a leaked copy of an internal evaluation from the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife that said the plan was insufficient to do the job.

When the Governor met with fish advocates, I asked the Governor how he would review his plan for adequacy and decide whether he would request a listing as promised if the plan was inadequate. In response, he stormed out of the meeting. He never did a public review and didn't support a listing. No credibility.

This plan smells better.

Overfishing is a political problem

I stand accused of being a raving environmentalist. Actually, it's even more fun than that, I'm told: "you are just another ranting environmentalist yelling half truths" because blogfish says something that was not published in a peer reviewed journal (see comment 7 from "anonymous").

Note: this is a blog, which is a personal take on the issues of the day. It includes commentary, also known as opinion. Below, I offer some opinions on why we have so much overfishing in the US and beyond. My views are based on my own observations of the fishery management mistakes I've observed first-hand.

Fishery managers often respond unevenly to scientific advice. Where science suggests fishing can increase, the management response is typically a quick and certain increase. Where science suggests that fishing must be reduced, managers typically defer and delay and sometimes deny the need to reduce fishing. Such an approach inevitably leads to fishery collapse. All because of intense political pressure. There are exceptions to this pattern, but it's fairly typical in the US and elsewhere.

Surprisingly, some blame inadequate science for this type of failure. The expectation seems to be that fishery science will unerringly identify the very maximum limit of fishing that can occur without endangering the health of a fish population. By pushing right up to the predicted limit every year, overshooting the limit is a near-certainty and fish population collapse is likely.

To use an analogy, this is like assuming that I can drive my car just one mile per hour below the very limit of safety and expect to avoid a crash every time. All because I have a scientist with me predicting exactly how fast I can go without crashing. If I crash, do I get to blame the scientist for being wrong?

We won't succeed at ocean conservation until we can reverse this risky approach to fishing.

Andy Rosenberg said it very well, and maybe this takes the point out of the "raving environmentalist" category:

Managing to the margins: the overexploitation of fisheries

Andrew A Rosenberg

Front Ecol Environ 2003, 1(2), 102–106

Overfishing persists in many of the world’s fisheries, despite the fact that scientists have clearly identified overexploitation as a problem. The solution seems straightforward – reduce fishing pressure – and the benefits are clear and often obtained rapidly, if action is taken before stocks are driven to very low levels. The problem persists, however, because the politics of fishery management favor continued exploitation. How stocks will recover and who will be able to reap the benefits is uncertain, so the political incentive is to maintain the status quo. Management immediately tries to capitalize on any apparent stock increase or marginal fishing opportunity, but only slowly responds to apparent decreases in the stock. This approach inevitably results in resource declines, and therefore cannot succeed in conserving public resources. We need to change this perspective and view the oceans as a system to be managed wisely, rather than a resource to be exhausted.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Intelligent design, overfishing, and scientific whaling

Can blogfish really tie overfishing to fake science like intelligent design and scientific whaling?

Let the record show that blogfish didn't start this debate. Fishery scientist Ray Hilborn said, using very strong language, that proponents of fish conservation are using faith-based pseudo-science similar to intelligent design. OK, let the debate begin.

First question, which side of the overfishing debate is more like the anti-evolution silliness of so-called intelligent design, as exposed by bloggers PZ Myers, Greg Laden, and others?

Fishery scientist Ray Hilborn equates fish conservation science with intelligent design pseudo-science, and says there's nothing wrong with taking most of the fish out of the ocean, in fact it's the goal of management.

But wait...who's really acting on faith when Mr. Hilborn and other fishery scientists recommend removing most of the big fish from a population in order to increase fish productivity? That's a remarkable leap of faith that seems contrary to common sense. Yet that is the upside-down belief of some leading fishery scientists, despite evidence to the contrary.

And let's bring whales into the debate, now that killing whales for science is now being rebranded as "ecosystem management." The so-called thinking is that without whale hunting, those darn whales eat all of our fish. Another example of rebranding a bad idea, like rebranding intelligent design by folding in a made up version of evolution.

To give proper credit, this was an issue raised first in blogfish comments by Rick MacPherson, who's doing great work over at Malaria, bedbugs, sea lice, and sunsets.

This debate has a ways to run before we know which fishery scientists are really using faith to bolster their conclusions. One thing is sure, the rhetoric is heating up so we may be headed for a climactic conclusion.

New blogfish features

So long as I can overcome my technofutilia. Please notice the new features in the sidebar at right: recent comments list, post subject index, better post archive, etc.

Sorry for the hiccups this is causing, like flooding some feed readers.

My avatar (right) will be taking complaints Friday from 1-2 pm.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Climate change justifies overfishing?

In a stunning twist, climate change is a new shield for failed fishery management. Why did cod collapse off New England and Newfoundland? Al Gore did it.

Global warming is blamed for slowing cod growth, so that as fishermen removed cod they were not replaced fast enough. Beware the topsy-turvy thinking that makes fishing an unchangeable baseline and the messy ocean and capricious cod a villian that undermines our economy.

Such reasoning enshrines overfishing as an entitlement, a right. Fishermen were happily catching cod, and they caught way too many until the fishery crashed. But now a new study by Brian Rothschild says the environment failed, cod had too little to eat, and that was the problem. The darn cod just weren't growing fast enough to support the fishing that was happening.

So, if I spend more money than I make, I can just blame the darn economy for failing to provide me with enough income?

The author of the new study has a long history with fishery management, and he testified before Congress in favor of Mr. Pombo's bill weakening US fishery laws to allow managers more leeway to keep overfishing. This is not the mainstream of US fishery science or management.

Mr. Rothschild does agree that fishing matters. He explained that fishing has a "much stronger effect" on the health of cod stocks when there is a negative environmental change happening in the ocean. However, when the environment is in a more positive state, the same level of fishing has a "much lesser effect," he said.

In other words, the environment (and the fish) are responsible for overfishing.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Apologies for repostings, I'm adding subject tags to old posts so I can use them for an index, and they're coming through as new posts in my feed reader. Sorry about that, I don't know how to stop it.

Ocean returns our foul gifts

In a foul turnabout, people are complaining about the ocean polluting their environment. Rotting sea lettuce, gorged on sewage and nutrient runoff, is piling up on beaches and angering beach-front residents.

It's an ironic reversal to see the results of human pollution create a nuisance for the owners of prime beachfront property. Since people have more votes than fish, maybe this will get things moving in a way that never happens when fish are the only victims.

Finally, the ocean is learning to communicate effectively. I wonder what's coming next?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Talking about science to non-scientists

Yikes, there’s a great fog in the blogosphere as science advocates eat our own. All over how best to talk about science to non-scientists. Blogfish has an idea…let’s stop arguing and talk about what we can do to move forward together. Duh, let’s try some experiments. Here’s my first draft at designing a productive experiment. (note: long post, conclusion at the bottom).

1) Can we agree on why we’re talking about science to non-scientists? If not, then different goals are a key part of the argument.

My assumption: we want to talk about science to non-scientists. But what do we want the audience to do? Once we’ve answered that question, we can state the hypothesis. Here is a first draft of our options. We want the audience to…

A: Listen (hear & understand the material).
B: Learn (be able to repeat the essence).
C: Be persuaded, change their minds (agree).
D: Change their behavior (e.g. vote differently).

I think this is a bit of a sequence or hierarchy, and I put the highest value on the end--C and especially D. I assume we all agree on this, but it’s worth exploring. If some place the emphasis on A or B and not so much on getting to C or D, then at least we’ve identified that we’re really arguing about goals. (I think this is the key, if you want to skip from here to the conclusion go straight to the bottom)

2) Can we agree on who we’re trying to reach? If not, then audience selection is a key part of the argument.

My assumption: we want to talk to a wide audience of people with basically open minds. This excludes the unreachables (dogmatic, anti-science types), de-emphasizes the converted (scientists and others already pro-science), and emphasizes the reachables (basically open-minded, but not already pro-science).

3) Can we agree on what scientific subjects we want to talk about? If not, then we’re really arguing about what subjects we should emphasize.

My assumption: we want to talk about science basics like how science works, how science can inform our decision-making & public policy, and how to deal with imperfect knowledge.

4) Starting with my assumptions 1-3 above, here’s a draft hypothesis that we should set about testing. These options a-d are not exclusive, they represent different emphases. Apologies to those cited here for what will likely seem like caricatures of their views.

The best way to talk about science to non-scientists is:

a) “Explain the fruits” of science in non-scientific terms (PZ Myers' apple analogy).

b) Show “we’re in this together” by connecting with people’s values first (Nisbet & Mooney’s framing science).

c) "Stick to the facts" of science, and stay away from PR and spin (Greg Laden's framing of framing).

d) “Educate the masses” to build science literacy (Larry Moran’s no apologies approach).

5) Measure the effectiveness of hypotheses a, b, c, d. To do that we need some way to measure effectiveness. Somehow, I think this is the key. I think much of the debate revolves around different measures of effectiveness.

My personal experience as an advocate emphasizes getting people to change their behavior, as measured by involvement in public policy debates (citizens) or actual policy decisions (decision-makers). When I use this measure, it’s clear to me that hypothesis b) is the best way to go. Obviously, others disagree. I think I’m in the minority, in fact. Much has been said on this issue, and much is highly credible. For now, I’ll focus on one key example. PZ Myers emphasizes option a) and he says it works based on his experience in teaching. I think he’s right in getting people to learn, but not in getting people to change their behavior.

So here’s the Blogfish bottom line: Nisbet and Mooney (Framing Science) are right if we actually want to change people’s behavior. They’re wrong if we want to focus on learning and stop there. Some will argue that learning is the basis of changing behavior, but I disagree. I think connecting with people is the basis of changing behavior, and framing is basically about connecting with people first.
Ask an advocate if you want practical experience on this topic.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What good is science blogging?

Science blogging can create a new type of geek chic--where scientists are more than just the people you didn't talk to in high school.

Probably most scientists will eschew such plebeian pleasures. After all, who wants to be Paris Hilton? But if we want to bring people to our side, we have to connect first. Would we expect understanding and support for science if we always spoke latin in public? Oh wait, we do that, nevermind.

The tech industry boom brought us a geek chic that hasn't totally faded with the stock prices. For a while it was cool to ride first class unshaven in grubby clothes. Jacques Cousteau created oceanographique chic, and suddenly everyone wanted to study marine biology. Decades later, marine biologists are supposed to have a french accent.

So why not a new chic of the week, science bloggers? It'll do more for public understanding and support for science than any amount of scholarly conferences.
Now for the roar that we're above such things, and "the facts" should speak for themselves.

Such talk reminds me of friends from Earth First! who would shout "no compromise in defense of mother earth" but wouldn't take out their facial piercings when trying to talk to rural residents about forest conservation. Is it better to stay pure to some ideal? Or to find a way to change minds? I guess it depends on whether you really do want to change the world.

How does a science geek change the world?

If you're a professor and you want to change the world, what do you do? In 1993--quit and become an activist. In 2007--start a blog.

Or so it seems.
PZ Myers blogging at Pharyngula is probably doing more for evolution than PZ Myers publishing papers in scientific journals. Is that true PZ?

Does that mean I blew it when I quite my job as an Assistant Professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut in 1993, and became a full-time environmental advocate? Could I have done more to save the ocean as a blogging professor?

Things were different in 1993. My Dept. Chair was fond of saying "I'm an ecologist, not an environmentalist" and directing me to follow his model. Scientists were not supposed to be advocates, and "
conservation biology" was new. The pioneering AIDs activists of ACT UP had changed scientific research forever, but the changes had not spread very far. Big tobacco still reigned supreme. Nirvana was hot and Frank Zappa died. And who had heard of blogging? I was an early adopter of this strange thing called email. Who knew that regular professors with the gift of blog would be charismatic media stars?

Fast forward to 2007, and the age of democratic micro-media. Anyone can take a turn at bat, and grad students mostly outshine professors in the blogosphere. A professor with an itchy activist streak can have his/her cake and eat it too, tenure and a public soapbox. Damn, once again I got off the train before it really got started. Like when I quit my first real job after college in 1980, working for a
modest tech company called Intel (no kidding). Back when a chip with 64k of RAM was a big deal.

I could look back and moan for missing the boat. But then I wouldn't have blogfish, and who knows, I might be a boring rich guy with high blood pressure and a mansion because of my Intel stock.

The best lesson from looking back is that clearly I'm a good predictor of what's about to get big. Just watch what I stop doing and go there. But it's gonna cost you, this time I'll be smart and charge for the advice. For $100 I'll tell you what I'm getting out of this year. It's my only chance of making it big.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Melting arctic sea ice to chill Europe?

The Sea Around Us is many things, including the title to Rachel Carson's other book...and the title to my college course at the University of Connecticut in the early 1990s. As you ponder today's news about ice, currents, and Europe's winters, go back to her chapter on "the global thermostat" and see how she got oceans right too.

NASA scientists have discovered that sea ice in the arctic is melting much faster than predicted. The changes in the arctic may have serious consequences for major ocean current patterns, including the Gulf Stream that brings massive amounts of heat to the North Atlantic Ocean. In particular, loss of sea ice is likely to chill Europe and parts of North America, as part of the quirky hip-hop of global warming.

All because we depend on the massive "ocean conveyer belt" that moves water and heat in a worldwide circulation pattern. If you want to get really deep, look at the science of rapid climate change. And yes, it matters for fishing too.

Who knew that ocean currents matter? (besides Rachel Carson in the 1950's)