Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Overfishing impacts on ocean food webs

It's a risky move to elevate scientific thinking into dogma.  Because sooner or later, it's likely to come crashing down.

This time the crashing dogma is "fishing down food webs," the now-classic finding by Daniel Pauly and colleagues.  It turns out to be a productive and important idea that got taken too far when it was imagined as a single, universal indicator of overfishing and fisheries sustainability.

The original finding remains important.  But a new study shows that it's not always true, and that it's a mistake to use the trophic level index too widely.  There are just too many problems and exceptions.

Hmmm...the original finding is important, subsequent work turned it into a universal tool, and that elevation took the finding too far..?  This isn't surprising, and it's barely interesting.

Except, perhaps, as a story about the folly of turning science into dogma.  According to the Vancouver Sun, his emminence objects to the new study, and it seems like he's taking it personally:
"This paper is a hatchet job, and it's a bad hatchet job," says Pauly, who has a collection of international awards, leads the Sea Around Us Project, and is former director the UBC's fisheries centre.
A hatchet job?  A "crude or rutheless effort ending in destruction?" That's a bit ridiculous as an indictment of a valid scientific study.

For a nice discussion of the issues, check out jebyrnes' blog post on the subject

Monday, November 29, 2010

How to sell a cause

This controversial video has people talking.  It might even remind people to vote.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Politically correct fish and Powell's Law

"...good thing there's no fish..."

Did I hear that right? I'm with a group of seafood experts having dinner, and someone's glad there are no fish on the menu? Asking around the table, the feeling is mostly shared, I'm the only oddball who wants seafood.

This is sustainable seafood gone too far. Something's wrong when some of the world's experts on seafood sustainability don't want seafood on the menu in front of them.

So I'm ready to offer Powell's law:

Enthusiasm for (sea)food should increase with knowledge.

Isn't it obvious? Learning more about your dinner should make dinner better. And for seafood in particular, a bit of knowledge about seafood should make you eager to order fish for dinner.

Otherwise, why bother? Will you listen to a story about sustainable seafood if the message is to eat chicken instead? If learning about bad fishing methods makes you turn past seafood in the menu, will you really make the effort to learn about the impacts of bottom trawling?

Of course it does make sense to smother seafood in guilt if the real reason for explaining catch methods is to scare people away from seafood.

But most sustainable seafood advocates say they want you to choose the best seafood, right after a sermon about how our oceans are in trouble and your appetite is to blame.

Knowledge about fish and how they're caught ought to make you a happier, more enthusiastic seafood consumer. This doesn't mean you have to like every item. Learning the facts about grouper fishing in Southeast Asia may turn you away from grouper caught by dynamiting coral reefs. But enthusiasm should go up when you learn more about seafood or there's no reason to make the effort.

Regarding food correctness used as a weapon Peter Meehan offered these thoughts after getting lectured about buying grain-fed beef:
And I’m left to wonder: Is all this righteousness going in the right direction? Or will the snake eventually eat its own tail? What originally drew me to so many of these better-practice/better-flavor foodstuffs was the joy, the passion behind them. What I’m worried about is that as the food thing gets trendier and trendier, at some point the know-it-alls will scare off the casually interested. Maybe even their fellow foot soldiers. Is that sustainable?
And as Navneet Alang blogs at Scrawled in Wax, food correctness can become a kind of achievement badge:
At times, this is about the the personal political: the small choices we make in consumption and behaviour that mark out a kind of political choice in how we engage with the world. At others, however, it turns into a game of one-upmanship, peer-pressure and self-righteousness, those bugbears that have always been the dark, rotting underbelly of the left. Food becomes another kind of marker of an activist consciousness, in part perhaps, because it is one that can be performed through consumption. There is no better anti-capitalism than the one you can display through purchasing.
The "dark, rotting underbelly of the left?" Food-ism as a way to feel superior? Are things really this bad?

Sarah Palin has an answer, a celebration of salmon slaughter that is unabashedly put forward as a challenge to the left. From SarahPalinUSA (her twitter account): "Tomorrow-"Sarah Palin's Alaska" we slay salmon. A bunch of 'em. (Watch the Left's reaction to that, if harvesting halibut freaked them out!)"

If we're going after Sarah Palin for catching Alaska halibut and salmon in Bristol Bay, then we may have a problem. Since when is it a problem to catch a lot of fish from sustainable fisheries?

So while Sarah Palin is celebrating sustainable fish, compare this blog post from a Greenpeace sustainable tuna campaigner who asks where to find a good vegan dinner in Paris. And ask yourself who's capturing the hearts and minds of the seafood-loving public?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bluefin kill

How many bluefin can a bluefin killer kill
when a bluefin killer decides to kill bluefin?


Friday, November 26, 2010

Europe's bycatch mess--throwing away dead fish

Catch a fish and keep it--catch the next one and throw it away dead.


It's called bycatch and it's a waste. Worse, it's a sin. Click here for a video to see it an example of a fishing boat dumping tons of dead fish overboard.

What do you think? Is this a good way to fish? No, of course not. So why do we allow it?

Some fishermen (and fish lovers) would say the goverment makes them do it. They're WRONG. It's happening because fishermen can't be bothered to fish selectively. It's caused by sloppy fishing.

These days the big fight about throwing away fish is happening in Europe. The Common Fisheries Policy is Europe's main fishing law and it sets limits on how many fish can be caught. Limits on fishing lead to waste because fishermen can't control what they catch, and they run afoul of the limits. Does this mean that it's bad to have limits?

Sloppy fishing that catches unwanted fish is called "by-catch" in the fishy world. Bycatch means catching something you don't want while you're busy catching what you do want. Fish or other ocean animals can be caught as bycatch.

Europe's fishing rules set limits for some types of valuable fish. Fishermen are allowed to go out and try to catch fish. If they exceed the limits for any one of several fish, they're in trouble. So what happens then? Fishermen throw away the fish they catch which are over the limits. Throw it away, and they can't be punished for catching the fish over the limits. The real solution is that they should be prevented from ever catching the fish. The rules only limit what fish they're allowed to bring home and sell.

How does this play out on a fishing trip?Fishermen go out fishing with unselective gear, catch their limit of one fish (say cod) but then instead of stopping, they keep fishing for other fish (maybe haddock). Who's surprised when they catch excess cod and and then throw it away? Nobody should be surprised.

Who's responsible for the waste? The rules that set limits on fish? or the sloppy fishing that can't control what is caught?

Some politicians and fishermen say the rules are at fault. I say the sloppy fishing is responsible for the waste, and sloppy fishermen shouldn't whine about the rules. Instead, they should learn how to fish selectively and catch only what they are allowed to keep.

The rules are designed to protect fish. Science-based limits on cod can't be increased just because they're inconvenient, otherwise cod will disappear totally.

The problem can be solved. One easy solution is for fishermen to stop fishing when they hit their first limit. This is similar to how the problem is handled in the US (the land of enlightenment compared to this European mess).

Tuna canners answer Greenpeace tuna study

Hey, it's not illegal!

That's the response of tuna canners to the news in yestereday's blogfish post on the tuna mixup in canned tuna.

In other words, the law doesn't require tuna canners to tell European consumers the truth about what's in a can of tuna.

Note to tuna canners: so you think it's ok to tell consumers they're getting one kind of tuna, and then put something else in the can?

It may be legal, my friends, but it's not a good idea to mislabel tuna and you might want to fix that problem. Otherwise, the public will start losing confidence in canned tuna, and you'll have to do a lot of work to rebuild that confidence. Don't shoot the messenger.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What's in that can of tuna?

Canned tuna is full of fishy secrets, according to Greenpeace.

A new study says that the cans have tuna, but not always the tuna that you're promised on the label.

Sometimes the cans have the wrong tuna, and sometimes a single can may have two different types of tuna, which Greenpeace says is illegal in the EU (I don't know if that's true).

Not a good thing if tuna companies want to build public confidence.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eating seafood responsibly

Here's a nice editorial on eating seafood responsibly. I don't agree with everything it says, but that's OK. It has some overstated gloom and doom in my opinion, but I like the overall message. It's from Tim Winton, patron of the Australian Conservation Society.

AUSTRALIANS are passionate about food. It's impossible to ignore the fact our culture is in the grip of a food revolution. Eating well is no longer the preserve of an elite. Cooking creatively is a mainstream aspiration and diners enjoy a cuisine that's an eclectic regional fusion of old and new worlds.

For many of us, the centrepiece of Australian cuisine is fish. Whether we're at home or at a restaurant, seafood is the culinary currency of celebration.

In previous generations we served roasted meats on special days, but in many homes prawns, rock lobsters, fish and oysters are now more commonly served.

Seafood is lighter; it seems more suited to our climate. And of course, in an era when Australians seem to want to eat more and weigh less, fish is sold to us as a panacea to our health problems. We want to give our children the healthiest start in life that we can.

And tastes have broadened enormously. We eat species our grandparents considered bait. Restaurants and cafes now offer everything from mussels to marlin. But as our palates are educated and our curiosity constantly piqued, our expectations grow. And so does demand.

With so much good seafood on offer, and with such an abundance of energy and ideas in the business of cooking and promoting it, you could easily get the idea that this incredible plenty extends to the fisheries and oceans themselves. The seas that supply the stuff we hanker for seem to be limitless in their bounty. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

The world's oceans are in trouble. Yes, pollution and irresponsible coastal development are taking their toll, but overfishing is the single biggest threat to the marine environment.

Eighty per cent of the world's fish stocks are overfished or fished to their limit. Global catches peaked in the late 1980s and have been in precipitous decline since, and now 90 per cent of big predatory species such as bluefin tuna, swordfish and sharks are gone.

Unless fisheries management is radically improved, we face a catastrophic collapse.

Of the 53 top fishing nations, Australia ranks a startling 31st in sustainability. We continue to exploit vulnerable or overfished species such as southern bluefin tuna, orange roughy, gemfish and many species of shark.

For the past 50 years we've fished the oceans with the same industrial intensity with which we once clear-cut our forests, as if there were no tomorrow. On land we pulled back at the very brink, but on the high seas we're still kidding ourselves.

How do we reconcile this tough news with our appetite for fresh, healthy seafood?

Well, perhaps by acknowledging that this is not someone else's problem; this is about us and our habits and tastes. The oceans are at the mercy of our expectations.

But nothing modifies expectations like fresh knowledge.

To make informed judgments about the seafood they buy, consumers need coherent, well-researched, impartial information, material that's easy to access and free from commercial influence. Until recently, this has been hard to find. Non-government organisations such as the Australian Marine Conservation Society have begun filling the gap.

Discriminating diners want to make intelligent and responsible choices. Why should they accept low standards about the provenance of what's on the plate when only excellence will suffice at every other point of the dining experience? In a culture of excellence, why should a dodgy product from an unsustainable fishery be any more acceptable than something poorly cooked?

It's important to know where a fish comes from, how it's caught and how it fares as a species.

A sustainable choice favours quality over quantity, and this needn't come from any dour or ascetic impulse because, any foodie knows, elegance is born from restraint. Care, at every level, adds value. Chances are, if you buy fish carefully, you'll prepare it with similar deliberation.

Most sustainable fish tend to be smaller, faster-growing species, and they're often the most local produce, the kinds of things we overlook and undervalue.

A tasty fish doesn't need to be exotic; it needn't be as long as your arm. The chances are your best choice is one of the species you caught as a kid: squid, herring, whiting, mudcrab, mussels.

It's often startling to learn a fish's story: what's wild, what's caged, what's pointlessly wasted and which species are in trouble. It's an even bigger surprise to know how little independent information is readily available.

What's not so shocking is how quickly the mood has begun to change in favour of making informed choices. After all, nobody wants to be dudded.

Our buying habits at the market or restaurant will help shape the business of seafood. The explosion of food culture shows just how fast things change.

Suppliers will respond because they must. The choices we make as individuals and groups have tangible and multiplying effects on the market.

As people begin to favour sustainable fisheries, voicing their concerns to suppliers and retailers, voting with their wallets as well as their feet in restaurants, they will transform the seafood industry and perhaps even rescue it from itself. There are too many good reasons not to try. When we buy food we think first of our families, our children. For their sakes we need to know food is safe and secure. Unless we properly value what's left of our seafood it may, quite soon, be neither.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Flamingos use pink makeup

Not content with being pink, flamingos use pink makeup to get pinker.

For flamingos, oil glands near their tail produce an especially pink oil, which they daub on their feathers during mating season to get pinker and attract mates.

I guess preening and using color are perfectly natural, so there's no reason to be surprised at what people do.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More about "collapsing" Alaska pollock fishery

Are Alaska pollock in trouble in the Bering Sea? Are they "collapsing" as some suggest? The best evidence says "NO."

Here at blogfish we looked at recent good news for pollock, and a 20 year history and concluded that pollock are low but improving. But guess what? An astute blogfish reader suggested a look back to the 1960's might be informative. OK, let's go a back 45 years.

The situation looks a bit different based on a draft analysis provided to blogfish, which should be publicly released soon. In the 1960's, before substantial fishing began, pollock in the Bering Sea were less abundant than today. In fact, there were less pollock in the mid-1960's than during recent lows that led some to say the fishery was "collapsing."

Wow, that was a helpful look back. It looks like the fish go up and down, and there is no obvious decrease in the amount of pollock in the Bering Sea since big fisheries began to catch a lot of pollock.

What does the future hold? I hear that climate change may cause pollock to shift northwards, and fishing may have to move to keep catching the fish. And that might cause some to say "collapse" if only looking at certain areas.

It's easy to find fault or success in fishing with selective use of data. But not so helpful.

Of course fishing for pollock takes a lot of fish out of the sea. But so far, I'm not worried that the fishery is collapsing. Do some animals suffer from fishing that takes a lot of pollock out of the ocean? Probably, since some animals eat pollock and have to compete with fishing.

Pollock fishing has become such a political football that it's hard to know what to think these days. Things were looking a bit troubling recently for the pollock fishery, but that trend is now reversing and things are looking pretty good. The pollock fishery in Alaska is certainly one of the better managed big fisheries in the world. But I would still like to see just a bit more concern for the animals that compete with humans for pollock.

Friday, November 19, 2010

EU flip-flops, supports overfishing of bluefin tuna

After pretending to be the saviors of bluefin tuna, the EU is now the leading voice pushing for overfishing of bluefin tuna. This embarassing change of position happened thanks to a push by Europe's fishing nations.

It's ironic that the EU proposed a ban on trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna through CITES as a way to protect the species, but now the EU refuses to stop overfishing of bluefin tuna. Maybe the real reason is that the trade ban would mostly hurt Japan which trades for the fish, but the fishing controls would hurt the EU because they CATCH a lot of bluefin tuna.

The EU's flip-flop was led by France, Spain, Italy and Malta, according to news reports.

Disappointed by the EU's failure to fish bluefin tuna sustainably, Masanori Miyahara, Chief Counselor of Japan's Fisheries Agency says "Japan will take leadership in the meeting to ensure the recovery of the stock."

So Europe is now taking a back seat to Japan in conserving bluefin tuna in Europe's backyard?! How embarassing for Europe to be rebuked by the great bluefin tuna conservationists from Japan. How will the EU talk their way out of this one?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Collapsing" Alaska pollock fishery rises from the dead

Alaska pollock are doing better. So say the scientists charged with studying them. I wonder if those who predicted a pollock collapse are going to say something positive?

Nah, seeing fish do better isn't quite such a good story as predicting collapse.

Just like the Fraser River sockeye boom, more pollock this year doesn't mean that everything is fine. These fish have declined to about 1/3 of peak levels seen in the last 20 years, and they're only about halfway back. Scientists expect further increases in the next few years, perhaps back to peak levels. So we should wait and see about further increases before we get out the pom-poms and start cheering.

But let's be honest and say fish are doing better when they are doing better. And we should begin to ask whether predictions of impending collapse were perhaps just a bit too pessimistic.

Hiding issues in plain view--where's the octopus?

Why do people support stupid ideas? Because they can't see the octopus hiding in plain view. Politicos are adept at hiding issues in plain view and disguising stupidity as a good idea.

Take overfishing for example. It's obvious that overfishing is bad because it's like spending your inheritance...a nice binge that leaves a rotten hangover when the money's gone (or the fish are gone). It's hard for fishermen to resist, but managers and politicians ought to get it.

Unfortunately the tired and effective camouflage of "conservation vs. jobs" still works with many-maybe most- people. Ugh. We're probably going to overfish Atlantic bluefin tuna again next year, because fishing at a responsible level is unacceptable because "it will put people out of work." Nevermind that it's really last year's overfishing that is putting people out of work.

That's the octopus hiding in plain view. Overfishing is stupid, harmful, and ultimately self-defeating. But it's camouflaged as a good job for somebody.

Fishermen and their political supporters who want to catch more fish today have camouflaged overfishing by claiming that it creates jobs, despite the fact that overfishing actually kills jobs.

What's the solution? How can a politically unpopular necessity like stopping climate change be re-framed back into a good idea?

Natt Nisbet reports on the Frameworks Institute's answer:

A well-framed issue should move from the abstract to the specific, because that’s how the brain processes information.

  • Start with a value: What is at stake?
  • Describe the issue: What is this about?
  • Introduce the solution: How would policy help?

Manuel outlined FrameWorks’ six steps to reframing:

1. Explain the issue in a way that redirects people away from the default cultural model(s).

2. Identify values that make societal, not individual goals, obvious.

3. Create simplifying models that better explain how your issue works.

4. Provide metal shortcuts for ease of comprehension. Mental shortcuts include values, context, metaphors, numbers, visuals, tone, and messengers.

5. Explain the consequences of inaction.

6. Show how policy can be a solution.

I know it works, I was part of a project a few years ago where the Frameworks Institute gave some good advice. I didn't fully understand it at the time, it was deceptively radical and I was distracted by some aspects of the advice that didn't sit right with me. I was still seeing a rock instead of an octopus. Now I get it, and they're right. I won't talk about the details, but I've been part of effective campaigns that showed people the octopus.

In fact, that's now my personal mantra that reminds me not to get trapped in other people's bad framing...when things start looking wrong, I ask myself "where's the octopus" and it reminds me to get out of someone else's bad framing of an issue.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where's the octopus?

Where's the octopus? It's a question that goes well beyond cute videos and actually explains most of the world's problems and how to solve them. More on that later...

But first, the star of today's show. Watch the video below, and see how an octopus can hide in plain view, just like yesterday's blogfish showed you fish camouflage.

It's amazing how the octopus can hide so effectively as if it were a rock, a piece of coral, or a clump of algae. It's still an octopus, but its shape, texture, and color match perfectly with it's surroundings.

More later on solving the world's problems with the wisdom of the octopus...

Monday, November 15, 2010

How fish hide

Fish are smarter than you, just ask any fisherman.

OK, maybe fish can't do calculus. But that's not a fair comparison because you can't really do calculus either.

One kind of fish smarts is hiding. Some fish can morph their coloration to create a camouflage pattern, good enough to vanish in front of your eyes. Watch the amazing flounder in the video below. Then, you can read about the secret tricks of fish for hiding in plain view.

One surpriseg is that fish can do camouflage without their eyes. They can "see" with their skin and pineal gland, so well that they can camouflage themselves without needing their eyes.

And if that's not interesting enough, did you know that you have a pineal gland, sometimes called your third eye and believed by Descartes to be "the seat of the soul." It's one place where your nervous system and endocrine system (hormones) connect. And...

When awakened, the third eye (pineal gland) acts as a 'stargate' that

sees beyond Space-Time into Time-Space.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lake-run brown trout near Lake Geneva

Switzerland is not good to its rivers. Armored banks, flow disruptions, and cows everywhere. But there are still some fish, and it's the time of year for the best of the bunch.

I'm on the lookout for Salmo trutta lacrustis, the lake form of brown trout. They spawn in rivers, move down to a lake (like Lake Geneva) and then come home again to spawn as BIG adults. They act like salmon, and they can be as big as salmon.

Caught in 1926 in Switzerland's Lake Maggiore, this near-record lake-run brown trout (left) was 31 kg (68 pounds)! Unverified catches have been reported up to 41 kg (92 pounds), or perhaps bigger, up to 50 kg.

Lake Geneva brown trout were mentioned by Izaak Walton in his classic The Compleat Angler, and it's the right time of year to see some of the big adults coming upstream to spawn.

I'm been prowling the Promenthouse for the last 2 weeks, and yesterday I was led by Susan Brown to the Aubonne River (top right) for a better chance of seeing these great fish.

The Aubonne River was too high for jumping brown trout, last week's snow and rain the last two days had combined for high water. We did see some BIG fish milling around the base of the dam and the bottom of the fish ladder. Enough to pique my interest. I'll keep watching as the flows recede, although tomorrow's rain forecast could charge up the flows again.

The Aubonne River photo above right is where the river goes over a small dam, and it's good fish-watching because it's bad for fish. They pummel themselves against the structure, with about zero chance of success. There is a fish ladder around the dam, but it looks like a bad design and the fish don't seem to be very attracted to it.

These are the same fish we planted in local streams a couple of months ago. But I also hope to find some evidence of wild spawning.

What's right with Kansas

Quoting Randy Olsen, in The Benshi:



A tornado wiped it (Greensburg, Kansas) out. Within a week the town planners made the commitment to “rebuild green.” We visited it in September and shot some video. I put together this little 3 minute piece that hits on a few of the basics. My buddy Jeff King, who actually grew up in Greensburg, lined up our visit. M.I.T. professor John Sterman, co-founder of the Climate Interactive Project, came out from Boston to join the expedition. My buddies Ed Leydecker and Tim Lamar of Wide Awake Films in Kansas City came down to film it.John McEuen provided some of his excellent bluegrass music. Joe Romm premiered it on his blog, Climate Progress. And presto.

I think the story that’s emerging is amazing — that while all the climate folks and climate skeptics bicker back and forth, the good people of Kansas are hard at work actually DOING something about energy and carbon emissions.

I love people who actually DO things. Yay Kansas! Yay Greensburg!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ecology of fear

What happens when a predator wanders by? Do you change your behavior?

Now we know that scary predators can change the ecology of important habitats, and this "ecology of fear" makes a difference. Wolves affect grazing herbivores and may protect sensitive habitats. Meanwhile sharks scare dugongs out of shallow water areas (see video below).

I've personally seen harbor seals flatten themselves against the bottom in big shark habitat, and the behavior looks so dramatic that absence of sharks would probably make a difference in what seals eat, etc.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Oil in plankton in Gulf of Mexico

A new study found oil in plankton from the Gulf of Mexico.

Does this mean that we're all gonna die tomorrow if we eat a fish from the Gulf? Or does it mean that the Gulf ecosystem is working to break down the oil? Let the debate begin.

But first a quick correction.

Studies of Gulf plankton show a chemical signature of oil. This is not the same as finding oil. It's oil-derived carbon. How did it get into the plankton? It likely happened because bacteria ate the oil and plankton ate the bacteria. Voila.

This does not mean that the plankton are contaminated. Quoting the author of the study:

"What we found was that the system works. It doesn't mean everything is OK and it doesn't mean that there isn't anything out there that isn't toxic. It just explains that the ecosystem is working to process this oil as if it were food."

The oil was treated as "fuel" to grow and reproduce, Graham said. "It's all biomass conversion. If I eat a cow that ate grass, I'm not eating grass; I'm eating what got converted into cow biomass."

Carbon is the element that forms the backbone of all life forms, so the evidence of the oil carbon in the zooplankton doesn't necessarily mean the food chain has become contaminated, Graham explained.

OK, this is a bit tricky. Carbon from oil is making it's way up the food chain. This means the oil has been digested and converted into other forms of carbon--like zooplankton tissue. It doesn't say anything about contamination with actual oil.

Will the world see this as evidence of oil metabolism (the correct view)? Or as evidence that the plankton were dripping in black goo that will poison our seafood (the wrong view)? We'll see, but I'm betting on the incorrect view.

Of course it's good to worry about what our food ate. If we're eating a cow that ate cow brains, we may find ourselves with a brain wasting disease. That would be bad.

So what about this oil-derived carbon in plankton? I don't think seafood with oil-derived carbon is the scariest thing on plates of most people. I'd worry more about mass-produced meat and what those animals have been eating. Give me a Gulf snapper any day.

BTW, I must offer the now-traditional context statement: the oil spill was bad-bad-bad, and I'm not suggesting otherwise. Some animals in the Gulf are contaminated, we know that. And we have to be careful about oil in Gulf seafood. But this carbon from oil story doesn't address that point. This study says that the ecosystem is working to metabolize the oil and that's a good thing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Illegal fishing threatens bluefin tuna

Most seafood lovers know that fish fraud can trick you into paying a small fortune for cheap fish.

But did you know that fish fraud can do more than ruin your dinner party?

Fish fraud is a major cause of overfishing, and a new documentary just shown on BBC explains how this problem works for bluefin tuna, the most valuable fish in the sea and also one of the most threatened.

Through hook and crook, 1/3 of the bluefin tuna caught in recent years is illegal.

ICCAT, the fish managers who are supposed to handle this problem will be meeting soon in Paris. Will these revelations shame them into action? This problem could easily be solved if the fishing nations of the world work together with a serious commitment to solutions.

Monday, November 08, 2010

An end to fishing is oil spill's gift to the Gulf

What is a bigger effect on fish in the Gulf of Mexico...

The Gulf oil spill?
The Gulf oil no-fishing zone?

Some scientists are finding increases in fish and shrimp, and they think an end to fishing may help more than the oil hurt.

This is the proverbial silver lining in a black cloud. Similar ghoulish benefits have been seen when fishing was closed for some very bad reasons, like fish getting bigger during World War 2 in areas where fear of submarines caused fishermen to stop fishing, creating a so-called war dividend.

Don't get me wrong, the oil spill is bad-bad-bad. But it's amazing to see what happens when we stop fishing for a while. I'd like to see the no-fishing experiment done without an oil spill.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Scuba diving cat

Until today, I thought there were two things that just don't mix--cats and scuba diving.

Oh wait a minute, there's another scuba cat.

Nature hedges her bets

Do you like to make risky bets and ride a winning streak? That's not how salmon work.

Like a smart investor, Mother Nature prefers to spread her risk. For Bristol Bay salmon, there are many spawning rivers each with their own population of salmon that's a bit different than their neighbors. The net result? If one has a bad year because of a flood or drought, there are others nearby that might have a good year. The productivity of sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay is linked to within-species biodiversity.

It's the portfolio effect, and it's why biodiversity is good. Like a diverse investment portfolio, a diverse reproduction portfolio is good for fish and other animals.

And if you don't believe me, here's some science-y stuff that proves it (top right).

Sadly, we've undermined our salmon portolios in most places where salmon live, and now we're riding risky bets into winning (or losing) streaks. Remember the boom and bust for the Fraser River? Ouch.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Who's got the best salmon?

Is it John West?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Don't wash your jeans

How far will you go for sustainability? Levi Strauss, the jeans maker, says real jeans afficianados don't wash their jeans so sustainability is easy.

In fact, not washing jeans is a key step in greening up Levi Strauss, since washing is a major water and energy factor in the life cycle of a pair of Levis jeans. No problem, since Levi Strauss's sustainability VP says:

...true jeans lovers buy a tight pair of unwashed jeans, wear them for a while, and very occasionally -- maybe once or twice a year -- get in the bathtub wearing the jeans, let the water soak into them, then hang them to dry. That way, they mold to your body. What's more, you save water, detergent, energy and your jeans last longer by avoiding the wear and tear of wash and dry cycles.

Now since washing is in the hands of jeans wearers, Levi has some work to do. Maybe they should look at Killer Jeans' ad (above right) for inspiration.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Your car just ran over my plankton

Ocean phytoplankton (tiny plants) are in a century-long decline, and climate change appears to be the culprit.

This is bad news, since we rely on ocean phytoplankton for oxygen, and food (after they feed fish). And, of course, we shouldn't be monkeying around with the ocean like this. Or I suppose I should say we shouldn't be human-ing around with the ocean since no monkey could squelch ocean productivity.

The great salmon carcass caper

Restoration of ecosystems is good except when it's not.

What do you think about putting the dead rotting bodies of salmon into streams with water quality problems caused by excess nutrients? If you're like me, that sounds bad.

So why are smart and earnest conservationists doing it in the Molalla River, which is on Oregon's nutrient-polluted streams list? Because swarms of salmon used to die and rot in streams, so restoration means putting dead salmon bodies in streams where they "should" be. This seems to work in nutrient-limited streams, but a stream with nutrient excess may respond differently.

When salmon streams are healthy, then the rotting bodies feed bugs and fish. When salmon streams are degraded, lacking native species, and already burdened with excess nutrients, then adding more nutrients isn't likely to restore anything.

There's nothing magic about salmon carcasses. They will feed and make more of whatever lives there. It what lives in a stream is algae and non-native fish, then salmon carcasses will only feed the unwelcome guests.

I like the idea of salmon carcasses in streams. But only at the end of a restoration process when habitat is good, native species are present, and the ecosystem is fairly healthy. I'm happy when the rotting bodies are native fish that just spawned after swimming upstream naturally.

But putting salmon in streams to jump-start the process may just worsen existing problems. All things in good time.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

We learn a hard lesson about salmon

From miracle fish to unwanted compost.

That's the story of the man-made University of Washington salmon run once celebrated and now being mercifully extinguished from their home on the University's Seattle campus (right).

They are Lauren Donaldson's "Fish of Rare Breeding."

There is probably not a better illustration of our changed thinking on salmon.

Where once we thought we could built a super fish that surpassed nature's design, the University has announced their plans to kill these fish to save money and avoid sending the backwards message that salmon don't need natural habitat to thrive. It's about time we ended this failed experiment.

In 1976, Lauren Donaldson was king of the (salmon) world, and I was an 18 year old college student working on my dad's commercial salmon fishing boat out of Newport, Oregon--fishing what was the last great year for Oregon's coho salmon fishery. Since then Oregon's coho salmon have spiraled downhill into near-extinction and protection as a threatened species. Harm caused by salmon hatcheries are a major cause of Oregon's salmon tragedy. Ooops.

Now, the man is dead, his salmon are getting a mercy-killing, and I'm a conservation advocate raising the alarm over things like these hatchery salmon and the outdated thinking that created them.

There's a lesson here in creating the Green Economy. We have to be smarter and more careful than Lauren Donaldson.

Protecting the ocean

Enjoy this short film from the Chagos Islands, the world's largest (and newest) marine reserve (ocean wilderness). Thanks to the British government for this action--but hey why is Britain doing this in the Indian Ocean? Isn't this a bit strange?

Oh, wait a minute...I guess Jon Slayer wants you to click on his link and view his video on a different screen.

Chagos Marine Protected Area from Jon Slayer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Pacific Islands fishery collapse looming

More fish doom and gloom--this time from the people who manage the fisheries. Yikes.

Fisheries managers in the south Pacific worry that fisheries will collapse in the next 25 years unless fisheries are better managed. This bad news is in a report from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

You've heard the bad news before, but rarely from the people in charge.

From a summary of the report:

After identifying both threats and opportunities, the study presents scenarios for the future and identifies seven key objectives for Pacific

* reform and build fisheries agencies for better services;
* maximise long-term national benefits from offshore resources;
* sustain coastal communities;
* feed our growing populations;
* support private sector winners;
* provide committed support from the top (leadership); and
* measure and monitor changes.

Will fishery managers listen to the bad news and respond? Oh wait, they don't have to listen, they wrote the bad news. Can they wrestle the bad fisheries to the mat and fix these problems? We'll see...