Thursday, October 30, 2008

Turning a corner on dam removal

I never thought I'd see the day that a rural Oregon county called for removal of a dam. Jackson County in resource-using southern Oregon wants a dam removed from the Rogue River, nice.

Why am I surprised? Jackson County is famous for, among other things, the longest public library closure in the United States,
thanks to residents voting not to fund the libraries cuz who needs those damn books anyway?

For years, rural Oregonians have fought against dam removal on the Rogue River, on the Umpqua River, and almost everywhere else (I know, I was part of these struggles).

We've really turned a corner away from the days when removing a damn was considered un-American.

And to make the whole thing seem like an epidemic, the McKenzie River is also being freed of some salmon-killing dams.

Maybe we weren't wasting our time when we tried to start this trend!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Green porno reaches out and touches you

In a way that dry facts can't touch you. I especially like the big, wet slimy foot images in snail sex (below). Isabella Rossellini delivers bug sex performance art like you've never seen it before.

Fight over dams fueled by new study

It's a shocker, a new study that claims dams make no difference to salmon survival. But don't start planning new dams just yet...the study has serious flaws and the conclusions are overstated.

Think about it...if one new study came out saying smoking doesn't cause cancer, would you be ready to change your mind after years of studies to the contrary?

The journal that publised the study heralded the findings with a stupid press release that claimed: "Dams make no damn difference to salmon survival." Now that's adding gasoline to a fire, with a ridiculously overstatement of the study's results. Thankfully, this title was quickly removed from the press release.

How did we get into this mess? What's up with PLoS Biology, the online journal that published the study and pushed the findings with a sensational press release? I'll pose the question to PLoS's online community manager and get back to you with the answer.

Here's what happened. Researchers compared survival of young salmon moving downstream to the ocean in two different rivers, one with dams (Columbia River) and one without (Fraser River). They survived equally well, or I should say equally poorly.

From this, a conclusion that dams don't matter? A better conclusion is to report that salmon survived poorly in both rivers, so they both have problems. One (Columbia) has a dam problem, and the other (Fraser) has a non-dam problem.

This study is more reasonable than the press release, but it still invites foolish interpretations with some of the language in uses to describe the results.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Killers killing killer whales

The killers killing salmon are now killers killing killer whales now that we have attribution of a killer whale decline to declining salmon.

We love orcas and salmon out here on the damp coast, and we're very sad to see both of our friends going missing. It's especially bad that they're in the crapper together. With outsiders blogging about this, I was reluctant to dive in. I wanted to mourn in private But this awesome picture in the PI was just too good to not steal and now I'm diving in. Here goes.

The only real question here is whether we will get serious about saving our friends. Or will we continue to write lots of plans expatiating our guilt and doing too little. We can save them if we really want to. And it doesn't necessarily have to hurt our economy or otherwise carry a high price. We just need people to live their lives as though killer whales and salmon matter to them.

We see the killers killing killer whales when we look in our mirrors. They're the same killers that are killing salmon. What shall we do about the killers that are running free in our midst?

Global warming wake up call

No, not the kind you want...where people wake up and start to do something. This is a wake up call for those who think what's needed is more information in front of the public, or in front of our leaders.

In a fascinating experiment, highly educated and informed people were asked to respond to credible information about climate change. They failed. According to Communications Professor Matt Nisbet:

When presented with highly technical and science-laden depictions of a problem such as climate change, even our brightest minds with advanced specialized training often lack the required mental frameworks and models to accurately interpret, make sense of, and arrive at correct judgments.
What does this mean? Throwing more information at people is unlikely to result in smart responses to problems such as climate change.

Sorry for you scientists out there, the facts DO NOT speak for themselves. In fact, few things do speak for themselves in the public arena. Maybe nothing does, except free money and big, bad, scary threats that are perceived as personal, real, and immediate.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Seafood is the scariest food.

According to this poll, seafood is the scariest food. Seafood is even a little worse than beef, and a lot worse than lettuce.

This is a problem for the seafood industry, and I hope it gets taken seriously in the future. Will we see moves to secure the future of seafood by improving regulations, including labeling, monitoring and enforcement?

Or will we let dead fish continue to be even scarier than live fish?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wave energy technology advances

Want cheap, green energy that doesn't produce CO2? Scientists have developed a new device that captures wave energy using more efficient technology.

Now it's time to ask whether we want to build wave energy parks on our coasts. The developers of the new technology think we could meet 10% of the energy needs of the state of Oregon with wave energy, using only a small portion of Oregon's coastline.

What do you think? Should we build wave energy parks? What if we take this further, and what if we could eliminate CO2 production and eliminate threats to coral reefs, would it be worth developing our coast?

There's no easy answer, but I think we can't afford to "just say no" to coastal development that can help us fight climate change.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Swimming Around Bainbridge Island

I'm doing a new thing, and you might find it interesting. I'm going to swim around Bainbridge Island, Washington.

We have a bit of everything here on Bainbridge Island, pristine and beautiful ocean habitats, an industrial port, and a Superfund site. And I'm going to swim around the 53-mile shoreline and take a look at all of it.

Along the way, I'm going to write about what I see and what comes to mind on a new blog, Swim Around Bainbridge. It's already a deeply personal story from an ocean guy. I was planning to keep it private for a while, but why not open it up from the very beginning? Stop by if it sounds interesting.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Damning the West with dams

What do you think about building big new dams? Scary threats to rivers? Or sweet renewable energy? The answer is both, and we have to figure out how to do the balance sheet.

Green energy is everyone's big new thing. Let's build a green economy, using renewable energy, save the planet, and create jobs. Cool, I'm on board.

What is renewable energy anyway? The closer we look at supposedly renewable energy like hydropower dams, the more we see resources being consumed. Hydropower dams are not completely renewable energy, they consume river ecosystems. But is it more important to protect river ecosystems or to avoid CO2 production?

These big, scary questions need answers.

Because the pressure for new dams is very current and very real. Lacking a smart plan, we'll just go ahead and do it piecemeal. And that's a move we'll regret. Just like we're reconsidering the dam-building frenzy of the early to mid-1900s.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lost fishing gear keeps on killing

What happens to old fishing gear? Lost nets, known as "ghost nets" can keep on fishing for decades, killing ocean animals indiscriminately.

Here in Puget Sound, people are trying to clean up the mess of lost fishing gear. It's an amazingly huge problem. The Seattle Times reports on a pilot project that aims to remove 12 tons of gear. That's just the beginning of solving this problem. Yikes.

According to the Times:

Officials believe that 4,000 nets and 14,000 crab pots still rest abandoned in Puget Sound, and the gear has already trapped and killed more than 30,000 animals.
How does old fishing gear kill?

Lost and abandoned fishing nets, crab pots and monofilament line lurking in the depths can mean catastrophe for marine life. Fish, crustaceans, sea birds and marine mammals die after becoming entangled in lost or abandoned commercial and recreational gear.

The dead animals attract predators and scavengers who then perish. In this manner, "a derelict fishing net can fish for decades," Williams said.

"These things are killing fields," said Gary Wood, executive director of Island County's marine-resource committee. "If they were terrestrial, that's what we'd call them. The reason there isn't a big hubbub is because they're underwater, so we don't see them."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spinning a fishery decline

Is it a good thing or a bad thing for managers to cut back a sustainable fishery. Is it a problem that the fish decline? Or is it a good thing that managers respond to that decline? It seems to depend on how you look at the situation.

The MSC-certified sustainable Alaska pollock fishery must reduce fishing next year. Everyone seems to agree on that. But opinions diverge widely on how much to reduce fishing and what it all means.

According to Greenpeace, we're looking at a historic fishery collapse, signs that the entire Alaskan ocean has been devastated by a so-called "sustainable" fishery, because common sense has been thrown out the window due to the amount of money involved. Strong words.

But the fishery scientists who count the fish think that would be an overstatement.

The fishery stock assessment that will be the final word on the status of Alaska's pollock isn't done yet, and when it is done, that will be the best answer. Greenpeace is responding to some preliminary and incomplete scientific results, and may not find support from fishery scientists for their stark claims.

Meanwhile, here are the views of some of the people who catch pollock, although there's nothing on the current situation yet.

Blogfish is keenly intersted in how this turns out, and how the players respond. Stay tuned for more as the situation develops.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

US losing catfish war

American fish farmers seemed to be on a winning streak with catfish, but things have turned. Now catfish farms are going under, and the name "catfish" is being replaced by the more upscale invented name "delacata."

Ironic, considering the battle over who could use the name "catfish." American fish farmers won, but they don't want their prize anymore.

Catfish farms were on a winning streak just a few years ago. They turned out a good fish at a good price, with a positive sustainability ranking, and people were buying it. Then foreign competition shuffled the deck.

Vietnamese catfish farms (photo above right) grow good fish at a good price, and the fish are cheaper. They're coming back under their own names, tra, basa, and pangasius, and winning again at the fish counter. The only hope for American catfish farmers is to win the race to the top, by selling for a high price to discerning fish lovers. You'll soon see a new American catfish product that will compete by featuring the higher environmental and sustainability standards used in US fish farms. Only it won't be called catfish, a name that's not suitable for a premium fish.

Enter "delacata," a new name for a fillet that's better than catfish. You'll see it soon if you haven't already, and it'll be free of the risk of contamination that hovers around imported farmed fish.

Who's winning the catfish wars? You decide, after you try delacata.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Crotch lobster

Oh my. While some folks are hard at work designing new marine protected areas for southern California, others are shoving lobsters down their pants. Stealing lobsters isn't particularly difficult -- wardens say it's one of the most common poaching targets, after abalone. Either the La Jolla Conservation Area is working well, producing swarms of lobsters, or pickings are slim on the outside. NBC points out that California lobsters don't have claws -- true -- but they aren't called spiny lobsters for nothing.

Some may consider his theft its own kind of punishment, but I hope the judge throws the book at him for not having his required report card and taking from a protected area. Too often judges see poaching as a lesser crime, not worthy of the time it takes to hear a case. But those are our lobsters in his pants, and fines support the hard work of wardens catching those wildlife thieves.

photo of lobster checking out your jeans by Barbara Lloyd

Mysterious fish said to eat people in India

It's called a goonch, and it's a catfish that can get really big and is said to be eating people in India and Nepal.

The story is strange. The goonch probably started down the path of eating people by scavenging bodies disposed in rivers in the area, a common practice apparently. Now, some mysterious cases of disappearing people are attributed to a goonch pulling them underwater and eating them.

This is no run-of-the-mill catfish, they're BIG. They can get to be 200 pounds and they are certainly capable of pulling a person underwater. In one case of a disappearing Nepali boy, he was said to be pulled underwater by "an elongated pig." I suppose a goonch could be described as an elongated pig (see photo above).

The goonch that ate people, sounds like a Dr. Seuss book.

Hat tip: zooillogix

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

Blogfish would be failing you if we didn't bring you the very best in fish and ocean literature.

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall is an awesome novel and a national bestseller. It has a fascinating shark story as a key part of the plot. Yes, the shark is threatening, but not in the way you think. This is a Ludovician shark, after all, something you have not yet heard about.

"Rousingly inventive" says the Washington Post, "Sharp and clear...writing on the edge of the form" says the Los Angeles Times, and "pretty good stuff" says blogfish. Way to go Steven hall.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Carnival of the blue 17

It's a cephalopod-fest this month over at, where carnival of the blue (the best in ocean blogging) meets International Cephalopod Awareness Day.

I'm all for cephalopod education, but I'm not sure we need a special day when we all focus on making cehpalopods aware.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Small steps matter in saving the earth

U.S. consumers have direct or indirect control over 65% of the country's greenhouse-gas emissions says a new report from the famed consultants of McKinsey & Co. This means that the small steps YOU take can be an important part of saving the earth.

This is a bit of a controversial subject, and the nice Treehugger blog offers both the pros and the cons in one place. How tidy.

Now, what's your next step?

I'll probably reduce the number of trips I take on my private jet each week, and stop flying across the country just to watch sporting events (especially if I think my team will lose). After all, I'm now exposed by the bad press in Green, Inc.

Smokestacks at sea

Last week, an old friend called me to gloat over Governor Schwarzenegger's veto of Senate Bill 974. This friend, who I will call Rutherford, works in the world of shipping. He was delighted that Arnold had apparently taken the advice of his fellow Republican governors -- Linda Lingle and Sarah Palin -- and rejected pollution fees for container ships for the second time. My friend Rutherford agreed with their analysis that even a $30 fee per ship would make U.S. ports less competitive and raise prices for consumers. Fair enough, though I think the weak dollar is a larger problem.

Since I also know many of the people who were down in the trenches alligator wrestling over the bill language for the last four years, I was hard pressed to share Rutherford's glee, though I appreciated the chance to catch up. But now it looks like his ships will be forced to cut their pollution after all, though on a much longer timescale. The International Maritime Organization just approved rules to cut sulfur emissions from ships over the next twelve years. The target is bunker fuel, a dirty beast you may remember from last year's Cosco Busan crash in San Francisco Bay. At the time, there was much debate over whether or not newer, cleaner fuels would have caused as many problems as the Busan's bunker fuel. I guess we'll find out.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

How safe are oil tankers, really?

An interview with a responsible official after an oil tanker accident and oil spill (humor).

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Save your favorite seafood, FishVote08

Finally, a new way for seafood lovers to help save their favorite unsustainable seafood!

Do you feel torn when you're buying seafood? Do you want to do good, but still find it hard to turn away from the long list of tempting but unsustainable items?

Now there's another option, go to Ocean Conservancy's FishVote08 and join the effort to improve your favorite unsustainable seafood.

How does this new option work? FishVote 08 is a direct effort to improve fishing practices for desirable but unsustainable seafood. Starting with the winner, Ocean Conservancy will identify practical steps towards sustainability for unsustainable fisheries and rally seafood lovers to support this progress. Actions might include supporting new regulations, rewarding seafood businesses that promote sustainability, and building markets that reward innovative fishermen.

Why is direct engagement the best approach for improving your favorite unsustainable seafood? Such high demand seafoods are not likely to be improved if consumers "just say no" to unsustainable seafood.

The "just say no" approach that tells consumers not to buy unsustainable seafood is based on a critical but questionable assumption. Relying on "just say no" assumes that the invisible hand of the marketplace will induce fisheries to improve when customers reduce demand. There are several problems with "just say no" to unsustainable seafood.

1. Reduced demand is unlikely to matter for desirable seafood items, since demand already exceeds supply (that's WHY they're in trouble!).

2. Problem fisheries tend to get worse when prices go down as fishermen struggle to make a living. If seafood buyers reject unsustainable seafood, the unfortunate result may be worse fishing practices.

3. Seafood supply chains are not controlled by retail consumers or fishermen, so there is no way for seafood consumers to "send a message" to fishermen through purchasing practices.

4. There are few opportunities for fishermen to innovate for sustainability and be rewarded by consumers. Barriers include perverse incentives in fishery regulations and lack of market outlets for innovative fishermen.

5. Inadquate labeling and traceability make it difficult for consumers to know what they're buying.

Check out FishVote08 and lend your voice to a new sustainable seafood movement. Let's roll up our sleeves and work together to fix unsustainable fisheries, rather than simply walking away and hoping the marketplace will fix the problems. These days, it's hard to have faith in the ability of the invisible hand to do anyting but slap everyone around.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Plastics are a penis-shrinker

Men, don't let your sons chew on plastic unless you want them to have a small penis. That's right, chewing the wrong kind of plastic (with phthalates) causes male babies to have smaller penises.

Do YOU want YOUR SON to be the subject of this kind of ridicule (above right)?

This has got to be the death knell for phthalates. Shrinky dinks and pacifiers are on their way out if they mess with America's manhood.

Dealing with bad plastic products is a macho issue now.

Gasping for breath

Ah Raquel Vaquer-Sunyer. You are a master of the dry wit. Here is the opening statement for your latest PNAS article:
Hypoxia is a mounting problem affecting the world’s coastal waters, with severe consequences for marine life, including death and catastrophic changes.
Yes, death is indeed a severe consequence. Also those 'catastrophic changes'.

Scientists don't use these words lightly, so the science-speak of this paper translates to a fire alarm. Hypoxic zones in the ocean, aka dead zones, are on the rise at a rate of about 5% per year since the 1970s and this is not just a case of better monitoring. No, we're talking about changes in the coastal zone, waters close enough to shore for fishermen and local residents to notice when fish start jumping onto shore. Some call it a "jubilee" where you can fill your basket with fish by walking along the shore. For the fish, it's just swimming from one suffocation to another.

Plastic, the best thing since sliced bread

The Boston Globe has gone all plastic on us, gushing about the virtues of the ever-present menace.

Why an oil-sucking, landfill-clogging, non-biodegradable, it's-everywhere material is so good for the environment. Really.

With a campaign that seems as likely as a Barbie revival, the plastics industry is working hard at rehabilitating their image. Is it working? Well, they're gaining at least a bit of positive news.

It's a transparent ploy, as if we didn't really know that plastics are really quite lightweight and sturdy. Golly, that makes plastics quite convenient, doesn't it?

Forget the ocean plastic problem, let's just listen to Mr. Shrinky Dink and go plastic. It's green and lovely.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mack Daddies

Mackerel is one of those small, oily fish that never seems to inspire American palates no matter how much conservation types exhort eating lower on the food chain. But part of the population has caught on -- in prisons, mackerel is money. Literally. The Wall Street Journal reports that after smoking bans drove cigarettes out of prisons, inmates had to come up with a new local currency. Stamps, PowerBars, and cans of tuna all barter well, but mackerel is king. Prison demand for mackerel packs has increased over the last four years, though apparently prisoners don't want to actually eat the fish either.

People, do not fear the mackerel. Check out Paul Johnson's "Fish Forever" for some great mackerel recipes. After all, without mackerel, there would be no mackin'.

Thanks to the indomitable Pesco for the tip

Turning environmental guilt into gold

Are you a climate sinner? Don't worry, be happy, just write a check and buy down your guilt with carbon offsets.

Buying down climate guilt may be the only market in the world that's thriving right now. Demand for carbon offsets is rising and prices are up, even in this time of economic fear. Somebody's turning a profit from carbon guilt.

Can this market-based solution actually help stop climate change? Or, is it a way for the rich to feel better while they keep sinning against our climate? Opinions differ, and only time will tell whether it's really helping.

But one thing is clear--the demand for carbon offsets shows that the message of human-caused climate change is beginning to matter. That's a good thing. And that should help, even if you don't like carbon offsets as a solution.

Now pardon me while I buy my expiation for that trip to Washington, DC. Seems it's hard to save the ocean without accumulating a little carbon guilt. ARGH.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Death from a thousand golf balls

Our oceans are choking...on golf balls. OK, maybe not choking, but here's a story that made me sad for how our oceans are viewed by some.

The Korean captain of a container ship says the ocean "makes a pretty good driving range." Oh great, he works on his golf swing while at sea by smacking balls into the ocean. Without a second thought.

Leaving aside the likelihood that he's violating international law, let's consider what he's doing. It's recreational littering. Maybe we should all get on board the recreational littering fad. I know, let's have fun by throwing wadded up paper onto people's lawns, because we get to exercise our throwing arms. Great.

Captain Seo is not alone, of course, cruise ships have driving ranges. But wait, they use simulators or driving cages to prevent ocean pollution by golf balls. It seems that they responded to international law by solving the problem.

Maybe I don't feel so bad after all. International law matters, people sometimes solve problems, and fewer golf balls are being hit into the sea these days. Captain Seo is an outlier, and maybe he'll come around someday. Right after the black helicopters come down and shake a "nasty finger" at him. I'll send in my helicopters right after I track down his ship.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The missing fish

Float from California to Hawaii and what do you see? If you went in 1958, you saw a lot of fish and NO PLASTIC! If you do it today, you'll see a lot of plastic and very few fish.

And that's a big stinking sad thing.

I can already hear the complaints: that's not science, it doesn't prove anything. You can't say that the fish are gone just from this haphazard look at the surface of the Pacific Ocean, at two points in time...

It's not science, but it's still a big stinking sad thing to float the Pacific and see more plastic than fish.

The most important thing this trip proves is what's in our hearts. If we can't just say it's a big stinking sad thing, then something is missing from our hearts.

We need to respond to Randy Olsen's video, comparing the two trips. Do we respond with denial? Or by feeling bad?

One response is right...the one that makes us redouble our vow to do something about our ocean. So that a raft trip in 2058 sees more fish than plastic. I won't be around to make that trip, but I want it to happen.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Short attention span science theater

Wanna know a bunch of stuff, but don't have much time? You're in luck with Short Attention Span Science Theater.

It's microdocs (as in small documentaries, not tiny scientists), a new video format designed to give you a quick hit on some interesting science subjects.

Like "It Really Sucks Being a Tuna."

So far, it's mostly ocean stuff, but the sky's the limit if it works. What do you think?

Somali pirates say overfishing drove them to crime

It's not his fault (right). Overfishing made him do it.

Reports say that the Somali pirates in the news blame overfishing for destroying their livelihood and driving them to crime.

Maybe that, and the lack of a government, and the $20 million in ransom money, and the dashing image (left).

This has to be the strangest link to overfishing that I've ever seen. Well, maybe the recent extreme piercing to protest shark overfishing is the strangest.

It seems that things get weird when there's overfishing somewhere in the world. So if you like normalcy, let's work together to end overfishing.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Climate change solved

There's now a carbon dioxide eating machine that can suck CO2 out of the air. And it eats more CO2 than it takes to produce the energy to run the machine. In other words, we come out ahead if we use it.

We're saved. Maybe, although there's a few details to be worked out like scale-up.

Naw, this can't be true. It would be too easy.

There's big money in ocean waves

And it's not just in ocean energy. Protecting a high-quality surfing wave makes good business sense.

Here's a study of a surfing spot in Spain and it's value to the local economy. Once people read this, we'll probably see a rush of projects to make new surfing waves in small coastal towns around the world.

Thanks to the Save the Waves Coalition, we now know that saving the wave pictured above, in Mundaka, Spain, is good business. Surfing adds $4.5 million to the local economy and supports 95 jobs in a town of 1900 people.

Oh yeah, let's not forget that surfing is good clean fun.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Are you buying green products?

A new survey says consumers talk a good game about buying green produts, but many of us are not putting our money behind our words.

We say we want green products, we put pressure on stores to stock green products, and we even acuse businesses of greenwashing when they make imperfect claims of sustainability. But, when it's our turn, too few of us actually buy the green products.

Why does this matter?

Stores are reluctant to stock green products if we don't really buy them. It's not enough to say we want them, stores look to see whether we're walking the walk on sustainability.

So who's dropping the ball on green products? Manufacturers? Retailers? Or consumers? The current study says we should look in the mirror to find the problem.