Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Heavy metals mucking up the arctic

Like the tiny atmospheric particles he studies, Dr. Joe McConnell's latest research study has been slowly permeating the news, finally wending its way to my inbox. We marine-types are so often starved for long-term data that the thought of a 200 year record makes us salivate. That's one benefit of working on ice cores in Greenland instead of fish. The ice doesn't move around so much.

But back to the data. Lead, cadmium, and thallium are all nasty, bioaccumulating toxics that are released by burning coal. Lo and behold, when the world started burning coal in the 1860s to fuel the industrial revolution, heavy metal deposition also spiked and stayed high until the 1940s, when the world's engines began shifting to oil and gas. The lead peak stretched out a little longer, with high contamination levels lasting until the 1970s. What changed in the 1970s? The passage of the Clean Air Act and the advent of unleaded gasoline.

Once heavy metals like these and our good friend mercury are freed up into the atmosphere getting them out of circulation is difficult, if not impossible. So the best way to keep heavy metals out of your fish is to keep them out of the air and water in the first place. The Greenland ice cores show that human activities can affect far away ecosystems, for worse and for better. Which means we should all be concerned about the rapid growth of coal-fired power plants in China. That includes you, big catcher-processor boats hoping to take advantage of an ice-free arctic to plunder new fishing grounds. Nobody wants toxic arctic cod.

The Desert Research Institute provides the full article here

Learn to love salmon goddammit

Like your mama making you eat peas, the Seattle school district says ya gotta study salmon every year...and many students resent every moment of it.

Not that they hate salmon, they just dislike being force-fed fish every year.

I'm a fish guy that thinks salmon are lovable, even sexy (ok, I'm weird). But I do know that force-feeding salmon facts to kids won't work. Instead, find a way to offer salmon education to kids that they will queue up to join. And that usually means getting outside and getting wet and dirty.

Like the experience-based learning mentioned in the article linked above. There's nothing like tramping around in the woods and finding real live salmon in a real live stream that changes people's view of salmon.

Force-feeding facts and figures in a classroom? Might just do more harm than good.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fishing protest not for the squeamish

Here's a sharply-pointed protest against shark fishing.

Artist Alice Newstead had her back skin pierced with shark fishing hooks and suspended herself by the hooks from the ceiling of a cosmetics shop on London's trendy Regent Street.

Onlookers gasped to see the extreme piercing on display, complete with some blood trickling down Alice's back from the piercings.

"I am doing this because the demand for shark fin soup and other shark products is wiping out the shark population. I have had my torso, legs, arms, stomach and knees pierced before so that I could hang from them, so this is no big deal."
There is a small picture included here. Click the link in the first paragraph to see a closeup photo if you want a more graphic view.

What do you think? Will this raise awareness of a conservation problem? Or, will observers merely gawk at an example of extreme behavior? I think it may work in the context of Regent Street, but it won't translate well to a general audience...it's too severe for middle America.

Grey Goose and (sea) cucumbers

Friday night the drinks were strong, Blue Planet was on, and the locals were looking curiously at the science bloggers and fans talking about deep-sea habitats and hit counts. Somehow, no one has yet posted pictures of the event and I really thought Andrew would be over his hangover by now, but see my first sentence.

Since Zooillogix is in recovery, I will beat them to the news of the prehistoric giant killer goose. Maybe if today's albatrosses had a fifteen-foot wingspan and "pseudo-teeth" they would be better able to avoid fishing lines. Or maybe they'd just eat the boats. An ocean with scissor-tooth sharks and fanged geese would be something to see, preferably as your own a well-armored critter rather than a soft, tasty mammal.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lobster fishermen must do more to protect whales

Says who? Says a federal judge. I can't link to it because it's not yet in the sluggish traditional media.

On Friday afternoon, a federal judge ordered lobstermen to do more to protect whales. This is especially ironic right now, with lobstermen wanting to sell sustainable lobster, to capitalize on the "green" market. Strangely, Maine lobstermen haven't yet figured out that sustainable fishing means not catching whales.

Maybe Maine lobstermen will follow the lead of Massachusetts, start protecting whales, and get serious about sustainability.

Transsexual eels invade New Jersey

It's too bizarre to be true. Slimy, invading eels that survive drought, and can change sex if needed to reproduce.

It's the invasion of the Asian swamp eels. One more in a series of unwelcome creatures that are replacing native fish because they can.

The Asian swamp eel is a protandrous hermaphrodites. Those are big words that mean
beginning life as males but able to change into females if the need arises.
Wonder what that means, if the need arises?

hat tip: Zooillogix

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ocean fashion

Too good to be true, eye candy for the ocean lover who wouldn't be caught dead in drab.

Hat tip: Oyster's Garter

The men and women behind the curtain

It takes a village to raise a candidate. Between the two of us, blogfish and I probably know most of the folks working behind the scenes to keep Senators Obama and McCain informed on ocean issues. You, however, may not. So you may want to visit ScienceDebate and Nature to see the campaigns' responses to a series of science questions. Because these paragraphs are your introduction not just to the positions of each campaign, but to the staffers who will be running the National Science Foundation, NOAA, and placed in key science and environmental in the next administration.

Now, you may be shocked (shocked!) by the idea that your favorite presidential hopeful does not know the ins and outs of the Coastal Zone Management Act or the NASA Constellation program. And far be it for me to say that either McCain or Obama is not secretly sweating out regulatory language for the west coast fisheries observer program right now. Could be a pet project; everybody has them. But realistically, these issues get delegated.

Reading these replies is a way to glimpse who those delegates will be, and which issues get more or less importance. At ScienceDebate, the replies vary enough in tone and phrasing that you can detect different writers. Just going by word count (i.e. how much certain staffers were allowed to write and how jazzed up they got) Obama's hot on stem cell research and health, while McCain has a fully staffed space program ready to go. The Wordle of both candidates shows that everybody loves research. How more research fits into a budget with a trillion-dollar financial bailout plan is another question indeed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ice cream from human breast milk?

Who is PETA kidding? PETA suggested the use of human breast milk to make Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Here is their letter to Ben & Jerry's, and the response.

There is a restaurant in Switzerland that is toying with the idea of using human milk in their food. Swiss officials were taken aback, and have threatened legal action. I can only imagine what the reaction would be in the US, probably a lot less tolerant than in Switzerland.

This is an animal welfare effort that seems downright nuts to me. I hope conservation never gets lumped together with this weirdness.

PETA has not thought this through, do they care more about cows than people?

John McCain says fish love oil rigs

Here's John McCain talking about fish. There's some truth to his claim that fish love oil rigs, and it is great to see fish mentioned on the Presidential stage.

But watch the rest of this clip and see a Fox News report on how well the oil infrastructure held up under stormy weather, along with a personal endorsement of the message by a fish at the end.

Hat tip: Effect Measure

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ocean garbage likely to increase

Scientists think we have to do more to keep garbage out of the ocean. OK, that's a duh.

But that's the way science works, sometimes we need big studies to show the obvious. Now the National Research Council, in a study directed by Congress, says the ocean garbage problem is getting worse, and plastic junk is the biggest problem.

Unless we act strongly, we'll see more ocean garbage in the future, not less.

What's an ocean lover to do. Picking up trash won't solve this problem, we need to eliminate garbage before it gets to the ocean.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Save the vampire fish

Scientists are now engaged in a desparate effort to save an ugly and fatty vampire fish. That's right, the endangered lamprey has a rasp-like mouth that it uses to attach to other fish and suck their blood.

Why protect vampire fish? Because lampreys play a crucial role in the life cycle of salmon and other fish, living as little worms on the bottoms of rivers when they're young and providing a rich fatty food supply for salmon.

Lamprey were neglected and even reviled because of their unseemly blood-sucking habits as adults, but now we know better.

Just goes to show, don't discriminate against someone or something just because it's a disgusting blood-sucker. Vampires need love too.

Making fishing safer for birds

Birds are fond of fish, and industrial fishing has a nasty habit of snaring them with nets and lines. That shiny sardine hooked on a longline looks like dinner to an albatross. In the U.S., there are a number of programs meant to stop fishing boats from killing these 'protected species' and groups like WWF work around the globe on technological fixes that make fishing gear safer. Some fixes are easier than others, like hanging streamers off lines that act as scarecrows.

If this new FAO release is to be believed (and since it doesn't link to any underlying documentation, blogfish remains slightly skeptical) Chile has done a remarkable job, reducing the number of seabirds killed from 1600 to zero in only four years. Impressive. This due to a voluntary U.N. agreement called the International Plan of Action on Seabirds, or IPOA-Seabirds, for short. Now it's time to translate those improvements in hook and line fisheries to trawl and net fisheries.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tongue biter too strange to be real

Watch out for the tongue biter, unless you want a little animal to live in your mouth and replace your tongue. (Photo at right, yeah I had to post it).

No, not just a bad kisser, or a child with sharp teeth, this tongue biter is a parasitic louse that eats the tongue of a host fish and then settles into place and replaces the fish's tongue.

It seems that the tongue biter draws blood from an artery in the host fish, and also controls the fish's eating and gathers food bits that it steals from the host. Yuck.

The tongue biter was found in Australia in a recent ocean research expedition, along with many other strange things.

See you knew you were drawn to the ocean, and especially to an ocean blog that brings you all the news that is too messed up to find anywhere else. Can you really believe that that fish has an animal living in place of it's tongue?

Considering David Foster Wallace

I am one of those whose world was changed when I stumbled on "Infinite Jest" in 1996. Before IJ, the only place I'd seen lengthy footnotes as text was in law review articles, and they were generally much less amusing. Also, in 1996 the idea that advertising would be everywhere, that even years would change from a numerical system to one of sponsorship(1), well, that seemed more fanciful than prophetic.

DFW covered topics from porn to tennis (as befits a Macarthur fellow) and I recommend "Consider the Lobster" to blogfish readers for its contemplation of the ethics of seafood eating. The book of the same name also contains "Up, Simba", DFW's story of travelling with McCain during his 2000 presidential bid, which you may also find a useful essay at this particular moment.

RIP, David Foster Wallace.

(1) Wherein years no longer have numbers, like 2006, but names like "The Year of the Trial Sized Dove Bar"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Great white sharks attacking seals

Having a bad day at work? Well it could be worse...you could be a seal trying to swim through a small channel out to the open sea to find some food. What happens? Somebody finds food.

Watch the video, and be glad you've got it easy.

BTW, these sharks leaping clear out of the water are something like 15-18 feet long and weigh about a ton. That's almost as big as your car.

Superheroes attack Great Pacific Garbage Patch

What's bigger than Texas, floats, and is a stinky rotten mess? It's the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating convergance of our garbage that lives in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Who's doing something about this nasty mess? You are! Yesterday a half million people cleaned up ocean garbage in the world's largest volunteer event for the ocean. Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup is a day when people get together and do something good for our oceans. If you want to help, it's never too late, just go out and do it. I picked up garbage on Vashon Island, Washington, and it felt good.

You can do something about ocean garbage, and be part of something big. We can't eliminate ocean garbage with a one day cleanup, but maybe one turtle won't get tangled up in junk like the photo above. And maybe we'll all be more careful with our buying and disposal habits the other 364 days of the year.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Killing whales to save them?

Japanese scientists are worried that climate change is making whales skinnier. But they killed 4,500 whales to get the data, in defiance of international opinion.

What do you think? Does the end justify the means? And is it good use of resources to butcher those whales and sell the meat?

The Save the Whales movement has been fairly effective, but so-called "scientific" whale hunting by the Japanese has been the most hated loophole. Now we have some actual, useful scientific results, but at a very high cost.

Some scientists have argued that the research results shouldn't have been published, because it was unethical to collect the data through sham research that was thinly disguised commercial whale hunting.

Whales have been the subject of heated debate for centuries, including a raging controversy in the early 1800's over whether or not a whale is a fish. What seems like a biological question blew up over religious implications and lucrative taxes on fish products.

Now will we see whales at the center of another culture clash, the global warming debate? For the sake of whales, I hope not.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Alaska's half-farmed salmon

Alaska's love affair with farming of salmon (despite words to the contrary) is slowly coming under scrutiny. Fish people in Alaska should be up front about their salmon hatcheries that are really a lot like fish farms.

Image: boyhood home of a so-called "wild" salmon?

Blogfish has noted previously that Alaska's so-called wild salmon include some fish that are raised for part of their lives in fish farms called "hatcheries." These fish live for up to half of their lives in farms, before being released into the ocean. When caught and sold, half-farmed fish are called "wild."

The problem is worst for less-preferred species like pink salmon and chum salmon, but even some sockeye and a very few chinook (king) salmon begin their life in hatcheries (fish farms).

Just this week, a letter to the editor of the copyrighted and subscription news service Intrafish has a scathing critique and a new term that just might begin to stick (excerpt below). Fish farmer Neil Sims of Kona Blue refers to Alaska's hatchery fish as "half-farmed" and writes about the hypocrisy of Alaska's opposition to fully-farmed fish, while simultaneously half-farming huge numbers of salmon.

This is an interesting take on the wild salmon vs. farmed salmon debate. The best answer is that we need 3 categories, wild, hatchery, and farmed salmon. But I don't look to Alaska for progress on this issue.

Alaska's half-farmed salmon are a waste of resources

From: Neil Sims
President, Kona Blue Water Farms, LLC

10.09.08 15:23

John Fiorillo had a “chuckle” over Alaska’s opposition to offshore aquaculture , when he argued – quite soundly – that Alaska is already the world’s biggest offshore aquaculture program, because of the massive salmon stock enhancement effort.

how does Alaska’s half-farmed salmon measure up...

The easy answer is to imagine the furor if there were 58 million farmed fish escapees each year! But when they are deliberately allowed to escape (i.e. released) into the ocean, Alaska’s hatchery-reared stocks compete with truly wild fish for prey and other resources...
Hope you don't mind me posting this excerpt, Intrafish

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Drugs dumped into water

Yet another story about pills and medicines that get dumped into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. The medicines go right through sewage treatment after being flushed.

Today's article focuses on institutional drug disposal, including hospitals and long-term care facilities, from sources such as unused pills prescribed to patients that die, expired drugs, and over-prescribed drugs.

Drugs in our waters are bad for fish, and we need a solution. Check out Smart Disposal for an interesting campaign to solve the problem.

Stuff white people don't like?

Seafood. That's according to this odd little snippet of a graphs I found at NOAA today. It appears that the feds conducted a survey on consumer seafood demand in 2005-06. The site promises that "more rigorous analyses" are coming soon, but so far this one page is all there is. And what it says is that white households purchase less seafood than blacks or "others" -- only Hispanics bought less fish than whites.
Overall, households that were in the Northeast, upper-income and from “Other” racial/ethnic groups (e.g., Asian, Pacific-Islander, etc.) were more likely to purchase seafood from a retail outlet relative to other regions, income groups and racial/ethnic groups.
Seafood isn't cheap, so you would expect purchasing to correlate with rising incomes, but what about these other trends? Do they really hold up? Was the study abandoned for lack of funds? Are white people just catching their own fish instead of buying it? C'mon, don't leave us hanging, NMFS!

Monday, September 15, 2008

More fish endangered now than ever before

In 1989, the American Fisheries Society published its last list of imperiled and endangered freshwater fish. They've just released the update, and the news is not good:
"Of those that were imperiled in 1989, most (89%) are the same or worse in conservation status; only 6% have improved in status, and 5% were delisted for various reasons."
The black "bar of death" is slowly creeping up as well in this graph, with fish species becoming extinct a little faster than estimated, about 9% loss per decade.

Kudos to USGS and AFS for providing both the full article and a lovely interactive map online. Last I visited the sorting function on the lists wasn't working, but it's a great way to get the know the fishes of your bioregion (hello, woundfin!) and remarkably hi-tech for the government.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Urban fishing proves our oceans are still alive

The ocean is alive, even in New York City. And here's a story about catching some fine fish from New York's gritty shores.

I can't help but think of hot city fishing when I hear that our oceans are dying. I know that we have real ocean conservation problems. But I also know that life is tough and resilient and not easily snuffed out.

I love city fish because of what they prove. And because of the way they provide an ocean connection to people who can't get out to remote islands. I've done some city fishing myself, although not in New York. As said in the article, when you pull in a thrashing ocean fish from a city beach, "you're really in a different world" when you're out there and "you feel like you've gotten away with something."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Insert inappropriate headline here

Today's news of the ethics scandals in the Interior Department raises more questions about who would benefit the most from increased domestic oil production, as government employees in the oil revenue program took trips, hotels, drugs, and other, um, "favors" from the oil companies they were supposed to be watching. Here's a quote from the IG as reported in the Houston Chronicle:
"These same ... marketers also engaged in brief sexual relations with industry contacts," Devaney wrote. "Sexual relations with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms-length."
Blogfish is trying very, very hard to resist the "drill here, drill now" jokes. Okay, not that hard.

Fat bellies for salmon

I'm in Boise this week for the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting and the northern party boats are talking about whales. With salmon fishing closed and pacific rockfish limits low, whale-watching trips are the fleet's new bread and butter. And this year, word is the whales are plentiful -- humpbacks and blues close to shore, moms and babies. One captain told me he sees krill washed up on the beaches of Half Moon Bay.

I was a little suprised by all the cold water talk, since Southern California fishermen are having a banner tuna year, which means warm currents within a few miles of the coast. But, NOAA Fisheries's scientists are reporting strong cold-water currents off the Oregon coast, full of tasty copepods. That's good news for the millions of young salmon out foraging the sea right now. If there's water in the rivers in 2010, we should see a strong salmon return.

This August 31st sea surface temperature image shows the nice cooler water (green) pushing down the coast, with a little warm yellow wedge sneaking back up to shore around San Diego. Looks like the yellowfin tuna guys might have a few more good weeks as well.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Puffins in trouble?

Nothing is cuter than a puffin, and with the North Sea puffins now in trouble, Newsweek asks: Are they cute enough to inspire a rescue effort. It's "The power of cuddly."

For those of you who don't know puffins, they're the silly little sea bird with the big colorful beak shown in the photo at left.

We've been through this before, with baby seals and pandas, and the power of cuddly is huge. Let's hope it does the trick for puffins. Now isn't this a great excuse to pust some intolerably cute pix of baby seals and pandas?

Monday, September 08, 2008

The problem with plastic bags

Are plastic bags really a problem? What should we do about them?

Here's an answer, from the Greenhouse gang and the Gorilla in the Greenhouse. You know it's bad when they're making cartoons about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, including an evil villain and nefarious plots.

For the plastic lovers, here's the industry take on Gorilla in the Greenhouse.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Redfish Lake sockeye salmon success

Is it a good idea to spend $Millions$ on heroic efforts to rescue sockeye salmon in Redfish Lake? I'll admit to being skeptical of the heroic Redfish Lake sockeye rescue program. Just like I was skeptical about the California condor rescue effort.

Well, it's a pleasure to report that Redfish Lake sockeye salmon are doing well this year, and the rescue effort may ultimately prove worthwhile.

I doubted that we'd succeed in maintaining sockeye salmon in Redfish Lake. And, if successful, I thought the remaining fish would be too domesticated. I think results show we can maintain a living sockeye population in Redfish Lake. Now, officials are releasing some to spawn in the wild, and we'll see whether they're too domesticated to survive.

There's still the nasty issue of downstream dams that kill too many fish. This year's good news is not anything close to full recovery for Redfish lake sockeye salmon. But now it looks like we just might have some sockeye around when the dams ultimately come out (dams are not forever).

Intensive care for sockeye salmon is looking good this year at this magnificent lake in the sky (some 900 miles from the ocean at 7,000 feet elevation).

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Risky way to catch bluefin tuna

When a fishing boat accident puts you in a pen of bluefin tuna, being fattened for market, what do you do? What the hell, let's wet a line.

Five fishermen had the bluefin tuna day of their lives, catching 20 of the monsters after mistakenly running their boat into a bluefin tuna feedlot.

The story isn't all fun a games. First, the boat almost sank. Second, the Mexican navy almost hauled them to jail. But, being fishermen, they did what comes natural. Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.

“Of all the far-fetched fishing stories in my life, I've never heard the likes of this one I just participated in,” said crew member Bobel. “This is one I'll pass on to my grandchildren.”

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Help save critically endangered right whales

Blue alert: have you seen this young right whale (see photo)? He was one year old when he went missing, after being run over by a ship, and he'd be 3 now if he's still alive.

Now is an important time for right whales, those critically endangered giants of the sea. Efforts are underway to reduce harm to whales, including whales getting run over by big cargo ships and whales getting tangled up in fishing gear.

To learn more and find out how to help save right whales, drop by Ocean Conservancy and/or the New England Aquarium. These venerable institutions are leading efforts to protect right whales, and they can use your help.

And, check out the info on whales and more at the New England Aquarium's great blog, The New Blue.

BTW, let me know if you'd like to see more of these calls to action for ocean conservation.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A sense of place

Slow Food came to town this weekend, and I stopped by Friday night to see the fish booth in the "Taste Pavilion". The big hall down at Fort Mason was filled with exquisitely designed little houses and displays: chocolate beans hid inside a cabin made of old pallets, jams and jellies were arrayed beneath thousands of jar lids hung from the ceiling in waves. I dropped off materials for the Crab Boat booth and watched Tom Worthington arrange whole fish in a bed of ice. Monterey Fish Market was one of the earliest local suppliers to take an interest in sustainability, picking certain fish and fishing gears over others and selling them to restaurants like Hayes Street Grill and Chez Panisse.

Fish are impressive animals, shiny and brightly colored, with large eyes. Coffee, chocolate, olive oil, salami -- we may not see the process that transforms the raw original into the edible, but we can easily imagine an olive or a pig, we can see photos of cocoa pods. Few people see fish whole anymore and filets give no sense of the original fish. Discovering the diversity of fish takes a simple label -- fish -- and explodes its meaning into a technicolor world of life.

I stood to the side with a motley crew of volunteers, fishermen, and other ocean sorts. We could all name the easy fish, even though few of them were local. California halibut, albacore tuna, Alaskan coho and chinook salmon still silver from the ocean, sablefish from Washington, striped bass, ling cod, and a group of deeperwater Pacific rockfish that could be sharpchinned or squarespot. One of the local salts had never seen a monkfish whole before, since it's a denizen of the Atlantic, and the true cod (Gadus morhua) stumped a few folks before we pulled its distinctive barbels out of the ice. We all work on fish, but naming the bounty of the sea was tricky, even for us. I have no doubt Tom could have rattled them off, since he signed the sales bill, but that's just one link in the chain from sea to plate.

Later that weekend, my friend Amy and I talked about 'terroir' and pondered a similar word for fish. After all, salmon from different rivers can taste distinctively different. Aquoir? Meroir? I wonder if we weren't ahead of ourselves, if we have to start with naming the fish before we market the place. Then again, knowing the names of fish may only be fun sport for us fish geeks, while places can captivate anyone. How many wine drinkers make it to Bordeaux, or even Napa? Perhaps we have to move away from splitting and wallet cards to certifying places and portfolios of fisheries. Perhaps that's the next tool for sustainable fisheries, not identification but location.

Margot Neebe took this nice photo of the rockfish peering out of the fish display

Monday, September 01, 2008

Carnival of the blue 16

Go to The Saipan Blog for this month's ocean blogging special. Comes complete with appetizer, beverage, and dessert.

Celebrating fish in the northwest

Don't let the dead sturgeon fool you, we revere our fish here in the northwest. In fact, some might say we regard them too highly. Ray Troll asks: Fish worship, is it wrong?

Regardless, here's a freeway overpass in The Dalles, Oregon, with a truly beautiful salmon and sturgeon sculpture doing double duty as a fence to make sure people don't drop bricks on passing cars.

I took this picture the same day I took the picture of the sturgeon in the previous post. Can we harness this sentiment and solve our problems? I sure hope so.

I guess you can tell that I'm back from vacation and ready to inflict more blogging on anyone daft enough to read this stuff.