Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
A new finding or theory is like a lamb shank lowered into a piranha pool. Competing teams nibble away until only the sturdy bone is left. A rugby scrum forms over the ball and strangely lumbers up or down a field even as heaps of burly players fight epically for the advantage. It’s a journey, with the state of knowledge held in dynamic tension, either crystallizing or dissolving depending on new sources of data or new ways of thinking. What’s your favorite description of the scientific process?
Monday, April 25, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
Let Us Eat Fish
By RAY HILBORN
Published: April 14, 2011
THIS Lent, many ecologically conscious Americans might feel a twinge of guilt as they dig into the fish on their Friday dinner plates. They shouldn’t.
Over the last decade the public has been bombarded by apocalyptic predictions about the future of fish stocks — in 2006, for instance, an article in the journal Science projected that all fish stocks could be gone by 2048.
Subsequent research, including a paper I co-wrote in Science in 2009 with Boris Worm, the lead author of the 2006 paper, has shown that such warnings were exaggerated. Much of the earlier research pointed to declines in catches and concluded that therefore fish stocks must be in trouble. But there is little correlation between how many fish are caught and how many actually exist; over the past decade, for example, fish catches in the United States have dropped because regulators have lowered the allowable catch. On average, fish stocks worldwide appear to be stable, and in the United States they are rebuilding, in many cases at a rapid rate.
The overall record of American fisheries management since the mid-1990s is one of improvement, not of decline. Perhaps the most spectacular recovery is that of bottom fish in New England, especially haddock and redfish; their abundance has grown sixfold from 1994 to 2007. Few if any fish species in the United States are now being harvested at too high a rate, and only 24 percent remain below their desired abundance.
Much of the success is a result of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which was signed into law 35 years ago this week. It banned foreign fishing within 200 miles of the United States shoreline and established a system of management councils to regulate federal fisheries. In the past 15 years, those councils, along with federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations and commercial and sport fishing groups, have helped assure the sustainability of the nation’s fishing stocks.
Some experts, like Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia Fisheries Center, who warns of “the end of fish,” fault the systems used to regulate fisheries worldwide. But that condemnation is too sweeping, and his prescription — closing much of the world’s oceans to fishing — would leave people hungry unnecessarily.
Many of the species that are fished too much worldwide fall into two categories: highly migratory species that are subject to international fishing pressures, and bottom fish — like cod, haddock, flounder and sole — that are caught in “mixed fisheries,” where it is impossible to catch one species but not another. We also know little about the sustainability of fish caught in much of Asia and Africa.
The Atlantic bluefin tuna is emblematic of the endangered migratory species; its numbers are well below the target set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, and the catches in the Eastern Atlantic are too high. Many species of sharks also fall into this category. Because these stocks are fished by international fleets, reducing the catch requires global cooperation and American leadership. But not all highly migratory fish are in danger; the albacore, skipjack and yellowfin tuna and swordfish on American menus are not threatened.
Managing the mixed fisheries in American waters requires different tactics. On the West Coast, fish stocks have been strongly revived over the past decade through conservative management: fleet size reductions, highly restrictive catch limits and the closing of large areas to certain kinds of nets, hooks and traps. Rebuilding, however, has come at a cost: to prevent overharvesting and protect weak species, about 30 percent of the potential sustainable harvest from productive species (those that can be harvested at higher rates) goes untapped.
A similar tradeoff is going on in New England, where the management council, made up of federal and state representatives, restricts the harvesting of bottom fish like cod and yellowtail flounder in both the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, off Cape Cod. In trying to rebuild the cod, regulators have had to limit the catch of the much more abundant haddock, which are caught in the same nets.
The Magnuson Act regulating federal fisheries has been successful, but it needs to be revised. The last time it was reauthorized, in 2006, it required the rebuilding of overfished stocks within 10 years. That rule is too inflexible and hurts fishing communities from New England to California. A better option is to give the management councils greater discretion in setting targets and deadlines for rebuilding fish stocks.
We are caught between the desire for oceans as pristine ecosystems and the desire for sustainable seafood. Are we willing to accept some depleted species to increase long-term sustainable food production in return? After all, if fish are off the menu, we will likely eat more beef, chicken and pork. And the environmental costs of producing more livestock are much higher than accepting fewer fish in the ocean: lost habitat, the need for ever more water, pesticides, fertilizer and antibiotics, chemical runoff and “dead zones” in the world’s seas.
Suddenly, that tasty, healthful and environmentally friendly fish on the plate looks a lot more appetizing.
Ray Hilborn is a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 15, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
Thursday, April 07, 2011
They are reforming their seafood purchasing, but that's not all. To me, the most impressive part is their work outside of what they buy and sell. Safeway has sailed into some rough waters around Marine Protected Areas in California, including no fishing zones in California and around Antarctica. And the California action is not risk-free.
California's Marine Life Protection Act has supporters and detractors. Some activist recreational fishermen are aggressively fighting closure of fishing spots, even though most of the coast remains open for fishing. But Safeway is willing to stick their necks out and support the rational, transparent, inclusive, science-based process of creating marine protected areas that allow fish some refuge areas.
This is real green, when entities with political clout use their influence for the public good. Safeway can help achieve ocean protection that will make their sustainable purchasing goals easier to achieve. Go Safeway!
You can see for yourself, read about Safeway's sustainable seafood pledge:
Tweet"As one of the nation’s largest food retailers, Safeway recognizes its responsibility to be a steward of our natural resources. We aim to develop an unrivaled reputation for pursuing growth through leadership in environmental, socially responsible and ethical business practices.
As part of this important “sustainability” journey for seafood, we are fully engaging with our vendors to balance our ongoing business requirements for meeting growing consumer demand for seafood while making a measurable difference to our rivers, lakes, and oceans. To achieve our goal, we have joined forces with FishWise, a non-profit organization focused on improving the sustainability of seafood retailers, distributors, and producers, and have implemented a comprehensive sustainable seafood policy centered on four key areas: formation of a sustainable seafood task force, supplier outreach, staff training and customer outreach. In fact, information about our seafood sustainability policy can now be found at most Safeway seafood departments.
An important part of being a responsible seafood business is to not only limit the impacts of where we are fishing, but to set aside areas where we are not. Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) are important to ensure the biodiversity and productivity of our oceans. In California, Safeway is a proponent of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPA), which balances the use and conservation of living marine resources through a statewide network of MPA's. Additionally, we are helping to preserve one the last pristine marine areas on earth; Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Safeway has pledged to not buy or sell toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass) harvested from the Ross Sea and encourages Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) member countries to designate the entire Ross Sea as an MPA.
We are also taking the following actions:Supporting groups that make a difference, such as the Food Marketing Institute’s Sustainable Seafood Working Group, the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions and the World Wildlife Fund’s Aquaculture DialoguesNot selling “Red List” species, for example, bluefin tuna and sharkSupporting fishery and aquaculture improvements by encouraging unsustainable fisheries and farms to establish credible improvement projects designed to both meet our purchasing policy and result in measurable conservation gainsSeeking sustainable alternatives from sources that are working towards eliminating the environmental impacts of traditional harvesting and production methods, like coho salmon and shrimp from contained aquaculture production and handline caught tuna from Indonesia"
Thanks: Casson Trenor
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
An interesting new study says rebuttal papers have little impact on recent high-profile papers in fisheries science.
The biggest problem is that most rebuttal papers are ignored compared to the attention lavished on the original claims, based on a review of citation patterns. Rebuttals do matter when they get noticed; scientists citing rebuttals tend to be more criticial of the original claims.
Does this mean something is wrong with science? Since rebuttals "aim to highlight substantial flaws in published papers and act as the first line of defense after scientific research passes the review system," what should be done? The authors suggest:
"Our results point to an urgent need to change current publishing models to ensure that rebuttals are prominently linked to original articles."
But there may be some self interest here. The authors of this paper are mostly on the "rebuttal" side of a divide that separates two competing research programs. The splashy papers come from some researchers who are challenging established views of fisheries science, and getting the expected rebuke.
So the identified "need" to change current publishing models looks like an attempt to get more attention to their own rebuttals.
I think people writing rebuttals should get attention focused on their rebuttals the old-fashioned way. Instead of seeking to change current publishing models, they should write a more compelling rebuttal.
This is probably coming from the highly radioactive water spilling from the damaged reactors.
According to PanOrient News:
Fisheries minister Michihiko Kano said later in the day that the government intends to toughen inspections of marine products in Ibaraki and increase the number of inspections off Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, in light of the continuing leaks of radioactive materials into the Pacific Ocean from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.Private companies are taking matters into their own hands. I just happended to notice this press release from Royal Greenland:
During the current events in Japan, there have been some concerns about the safety of food stuffs from this area. We are monitoring the situation in Japan closely, including the hazard of contamination of our raw materials that come from or transit in this area.
The raw material currently used in our factories have been caught, processed and shipped before the catastrophic events occurred. Fish caught, processed or shipped in this area of the world after the 11th of March 2011 will only be handled at our factories after satisfying results of relevant analyses. Current goods on stock are exclusively taken from 2010 catches. We will submit to international requirements for controlling and analyzing of the quality in general of our goods and raw material.
This means that all products from the Pacific or stocked goods from Japan will be thoroughly analyzed before sales and we are in constant dialogue with the relevant authorities regarding the situation.
How long will it be before Royal Greenland will open the doors again for seafood from the region? I wonder what other seafood companies are doing. Tweet
Harmful levels of radioactive iodine were found in sand lance, small fish that feed on plankton. Later, larger predatory fish will acquire radioactivity from eating smaller fish.
Radioactive iodine has a half-life of 8 days, meaning it loses radioactivity quickly. More worrisome are the longer-lasting radioactive elements likely to show up later if releases of radioactive water continue. Stay tuned.
About 20,000 metric tons of low-level contaminated waste water is being released from holding ponds at each of two reactors owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to make room for more highly contaminated water, as the company struggles to cool overheating fuel rods.Tweet
Plankton and small fishes that are low on the foodchain, like the sand lance, are expected to be affected first. As larger fish consume these smaller fish, the substances may become concentrated; however, unlike the case of mercury, the radiation will dissipate over time. Radioactive iodine has a half-life of eight days, and if the problems at the reactor can be solved it should not pose a long-term hazard to human health.
The population boom of turtle nests in the Sunshine State mirrors trends observed for other Atlantic leatherback sea turtle populations and is "very encouraging news," says Larry B. Crowder, director of the Duke Center for Marine Conservation. "It suggests that conservation and recovery efforts mandated under the Endangered Species Act are paying off region-wide."
The growth has likely been fueled in part by improved monitoring and protection of nesting beaches over the last 30 years, Crowder says, but other less benign factors may also be at work.
"Nesting is increasing even where beach protection has not been enhanced," he says. "Changing ocean conditions linked to climate variability may be altering the marine food web and creating an environment that favors turtles by reducing the number of predators and increasing the abundance of prey, particularly jellyfish."
With plenty of jellyfish to munch on, breeding-age female leatherbacks may be able to build up fat reserves more quickly, allowing them to nest more frequently, says Kelly Stewart, lead author of the study. Stewart received her Ph.D. from Duke in 2007 and conducted the research on Florida's leatherback sea turtles as her dissertation research. Crowder was her faculty adviser.
Reduced populations of large predators, including the collapse of shark populations in the northwest Atlantic over the past decade, may be playing an even larger role in the turtle boom by decreasing at-sea mortality rates for juvenile and young adult turtles, she says.
Sunday, April 03, 2011
The CEO of the company that owned the oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico got a raise and a bonus. And the company compounded the public relations error by declaring last year their "the best year in safety performance in our company's history." No wonder Transocean Ltd. found themselves on the front page of CNN, and BBC. Next stop, the Onion.
Just in case you want to look back and laugh while Transocean executives take the oil spill to the bank:
First sea otters, then whales, and finally sardines fueled boom and bust economies that overturned people and ocean ecosystems. What elevates this story is the green economy that comes after the bust.
Monterey and the Cascadia coast to the north are lucky to preview this ocean future. It's a resilient bioregion with low population pressure that came late to development. And, fortunately for this story, it's a place where people thrive on change. So when faced with a decaying waterfront caused by a lack of sardines, it was only natural to invent the modern aquarium and ocean research institution. And, not coincidentally, to invent sustainable fisheries management once the sardines finally came back. California is showing the world how to ride ocean decline downwards and learn from the problem.
The Death and Life of Monterey Bay is another new book that I'm reviewing without the benefit of having read it. But that's OK because I know the story well from living there, studying the ocean, and hearing author Steve Palumbi his version of the story in person.
BTW, don't forget to read Cascadia Times, the award-winning newspaper of the region starting at Monterey Bay and north to Alaska.