Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gulf of Mexico red snapper mess

Can the impossible become real, and will people read about fishery management? We'll see...

Today's question: why is red snapper in the crapper?

Answer: because nobody's responsible.

To explain: too many people have been killing too many fish, for a long time.

Federal law puts an odd group in charge, the so-called "Fishery Management Councils." These people are mostly fishermen and seafood processors, and they can't decide who has to stop killing fish, so they let everyone keep doing it; this is called "mangement." Red snapper go downhill and fishing economies decline; this is called "a problem" and "troubling." Someone says we don't really know there's a problem and we should wait for a while before we do anything; this is called "dumb." Finally, politcs happen and we limp through to the same crisis next year, and we call it "bad boogie." Some people get grouchy and sign this petition, which is considered rather "cool."

Oh well, now you know why no one is happy, at least among red snapper afishianados. Fishermen can't make a living, fish can't survive long enough to spawn, somebody sells you Northern Pikeminnow for $18 per pound and calls it red snapper even though it tastes like polarfleece, and next year is just a little bit worse. Ouch. It's enough to make a respectable red snapper go into hiding.

If you made it this far, please click out to here and see what life would be like without red snapper, then I'll know you don't have anything better to do. ;) You can tell I don't.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Atlantic salmon fishing in Maine

To fish or not to fish, that is the question.

Today's atlantic salmon fishing is good, even though the fish are endangered. How very different from yesterday's story on summer flounder overfishermen.

The difference is reverence for the fish. This year's atlantic salmon fishery, the first catch in 7 years, is all about keeping people engaged and connected. It's designed carefully to avoid harming the fish.

The beautiful words from the salmon fishermen reveal all, they're so happy just to be there. Blogfish can support any fishing where the needs of the fish come first. That's what sustainability is all about. Think about no fishing if the water temperature is too high, to make sure that the fish have the best chance of surviving. Too bad if someone made a long drive to fish that day, sorry. Try again another day. How common is that type of thinking?

If summer flounder overfishermen could show just a fraction of this deference, they'd rebuild summer flounder in no time and have a dream fishery. It worked for striped bass, because the needs of the fish came first.

I dream of the day I can say proudly "I ate a wild Atlantic Salmon today..."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Overfishing and rebuilding summer flounder

It's fishermen vs. environmentalists again for summer flounder off the US East coast. How did we get into this mess, when we should be allies?

Right now, too many fishermen are focused on their "need" to catch fish.

At stake is the rebuilding of fish that are in trouble. Are we willing to lay off fishing so that fish can recover? It worked for striped bass. Alas, too often it seems like we're focused on keeping the fishing experience satisfying as a primary factor, and the fish just have to rebuild with "reasonable" fishing allowed.

Unfortunately, it turned out that "reasonable" fishing for summer flounder still resulted in overfishing. Uh-oh. We all know that overfishing is a bad idea, and overfishing during a rebuilding plan is a really, really bad idea.

Summer flounder overfishing dug a deep hole, and it's hard to get out. It's really hard to get out when you keep overfishing.

So who's the villian? The environmentalists who say let's stick to the rebuilding deadline? Or the people who overfished and now want to get out of the rebuilding deadline? And who really believes that we'll EVER rebuild summer flounder if we get rid of the deadline?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

When London freezes over

Buried in the details of a dry "news release" is some worrisome news on ocean currents. Nobody is paying attention now, but they just might when London freezes over some winter.

Seems the North Atlantic Ocean is getting less salty, due to more rain. Why is this important? Because it just might slow down or stop the world famous "Atlantic Deep Water formation."

The sinking currents in the North Atlantic bring warm water north, and help keep Europe greener and warmer than other places that far north. Look at a globe, and see how far north Europe really is.

OK, not exactly front page news, but it's one of those rare moments when real oceanography has something important to tell us. Ocean currents, like sewage systems, only get noticed when they quit working.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fishermen vs. fish for Klamath salmon

Fishermen cheer talk of bigger catches!

Great news, fish populations are going up somewhere, right? Well, not exactly. It's just a story of managers bowing to pressure and allowing more Klamath salmon to be caught, even though too few fish are returning to spawn.

The Klamath salmon debacle goes on and on. Managers will undo fish protections, because fishermen "need" more fish. Never mind that the science doesn't show more fish are coming.

Excuse me, but isn't this a wee bit hypocritical?

Fishermen were among the loudest complainers when this thinking was applied to irrigation water. Farmers "needed" more water, so managers gave it to them. Never mind that there wasn't more water to give them.

Why is it ok for fishermen to bust fishing limits (and get managers to look the other way), but it's not ok for irrigators to bust irrigation limits (and get managers to look the other way)?

It's litmus test time on Klamath salmon. And the response of fishermen will make it harder to argue against other things that kill fish. Once again, the fish are the losers.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Killing sea lions to save salmon?

Is it OK to kill marine mammals that are eating endangered salmon? Now that's a tough question.

How about when the seals are so cheeky that they're swimming into fish ladders at Bonneville dam? That's 140 miles upstream from the ocean.

Sea lions have invaded the big Bonneville dam fish ladders on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. They wait for fish dinners, right where the salmon have to swim to get upstream and spawn. Outraged fishermen are seeking permission from the US Govt to kill sea lions that they believe are taking away their fish. All manner of screens and loud noises and rubber bullets have not kept the sea lions away, so maybe it's time to bring on something stronger. Never mind that the real problem is the dam and fish ladders, we have a situation here.

Some biologists support killing predators in unusual situations where endangered fish are subject to especially harmful impacts. Is this one of those situations? Sea lions are estimated to take only a few % of the salmon. And...fishermen primarily want the salmon for themselves.

The plot thickens...there's a long tradition of fishermen killing seals and sea lions that are eating "their" fish. Some fishermen in New England want to propose seal kills, based on the idea that seals are harming cod and other species. There are the same cod that have been overfished by humans for at least the last 2 decades in a row, and probably much, much longer.

Certainly the sea lions aren't doing themselves any favors by waving out the window of the fish ladder at people who came to see salmon.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Low oxygen kills fish in Washington

Who says dead fish tell no tales? These dead fish have a tale to tell indeed, a tale of a waterway in decline.

Hood canal in Western Washington was the site of a major fish kill this week. Divers observed dying fish swimming near the surface, gasping for oxygen. Failing, they expired in front of the shocked eyes of the divers.

Hood canal is not near a major population center; humans are fairly sparse on the shore. This fishhook shaped fjord was once home to fabulous ocean ecosystems, and my father used to drive hours to dive in it's rich underwater worlds. Now all that's left is a sad reminder. Go here for a Hood canal map.

How did we get in this mess, and what's to be done? There are no easy answers, since the major problem seems to be non-point runoff of nitrogen from dispersed human sources. Leaky septic tanks, lawn fertilizer, and modest waste like grass clippings and food thrown to seagulls are blamed, and it's a big effort to tidy up all of that.

One of the main things we must do is mourn the decline of a place once-great, so we don't forget what we've lost. Otherwise, we'll see things get worse and we'll accept a pathetic fishless place as just the way things are.

photo: Erika Schultz/Seattle Times

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What is sustainable fishing?

Is it ok to eat Chilean seabass again? Sustainably harvested Patagonian toothfish (aka Chilean seabass) will soon be sold in Whole Foods Markets. The Marine Stewardship Council has identified a small south ocean fishery as sustainable, and Whole Foods will jump back into the sustainable Chilean seabass market. is it ok to eat Chilean seabass again? Or should all Chilean seabass be vilified since much is caught illegally and overfishing is a problem elsewhere?

How about the broader question, should we buy and eat fish if catching practices are good? Or should we hold out and buy fish only if methods are perfect?

Interesting questions to debate, and Blogfish is coincidentally ensconced in London talking with Marine Stewardship Council staff and others about the vexing question: "What is sustainable fishing?" and "how will we know sustainable fishing when we see it?"

It would be quite nice to stand on a soapbox and shout out about ideals and ideology, and what is perfectly sustainable, but I have a great fear that nobody would be listening. Instead, we might find a bigger audience if we identify the best of the bunch in the fishmonger's icebox.

Either way, Blogfish is finding it difficult to remember to look right when crossing the street here...just goes to show that comfortable perspectives can mislead.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pollution shrinking genitals of polar bears

Don't look down, my friend, you may not like what you see.

Pollution will definitely be a thing of the past once mostly-male politicians (at least in the US) find out that pollution is shrinking genital size in polar bears.

This is hitting where it hurts. Preserved penises were larger than the small versions found on today's polluted polar bears. There's no reason to believe this can't happen to us. Will we see some research on humans soon?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Umpqua woes inform Klamath River misery

Should the North Umpqua River be in a pipe (see photo), or in a natural river channel? Such questions motivated many people to work with and against Pacificorp/Scottish Power, the owners of the hydroproject, as they sought a new license.

Hopes were high when dam relicensing started in the mid 1990s, and the full set of problems began to reveal themselves. Hopes were dashed.

Most people do not know about the extensive human plumbing that has drastically altered the upper reaches of the world famous North Umpqua River, renowned for summer steelhead fly fishing. There are actually 7 hydrodams, and around 40 miles of hydropower pipes that nearly dewater the headwater streams and rivers. Typical diverson can be greater than 90% of the flow. It is not a stretch to say that the river travels in pipes instead of stream channels for these 40-some miles.

An engineering marvel and a biologists nightmare, and Pacificorp/Scottish Power is actually proud of it!

After hydropower relicensing, and lawsuits against the raunchy "agreement" that was reached, the improvements to the system are relatively minor. The river still runs in pipes for 40 miles, but the power company agreed to leave just a bit more of the water in the natural streambeds.


In fact, new problems have emerged, as the power system's owners have struggled to squeeze even more money out of the system. It didn't have to be this way, they could have made some reasonable and affordable improvements that would have protected the health of the North Umpqua River.

What does this say about the Klamath? The same power company owns the key hydropower dams. So don't get your hopes up that they'll actually agree to improvements. They've shown a Houdini-like ability to squirm out of their obligations to rivers and people who care about them.

I know, I was there for the Umpqua doings.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Klamath salmon misery & solutions

How can the Klamath salmon disaster be fixed? An excellent series in the Newport (Oregon) News-Times explains the geography, technography, and charts the misery.

The Klamath is an unusual watershed, with large headwater lakes and a complicated system of dams and diversions. Add in the typical hot, dry summer weather and you have a recipe for trouble for cool water fish like salmon.

Survival of salmon depends on intricate ecosystem functions that kept flows high and waters cool in the pristine ecosystem. Now, with the watershed engineered to serve other purposes, it's no small wonder that the Klamath salmon are in trouble.

The problems are now naked for all to see, and solutions are at hand although they will require sacrifice . Hydropower dams and irrigation are at the heart of the matter, and saving salmon will require finding a way to keep rivers closer to natural flow regimes. Also necessary will be restoring the valuable ecosystem functions of streams and adjacent lands that keep water cool in the hot Klamath summers. Can we do it? Yes, of course, if a high priority is placed on restoration.

The table is set for a challenging task that will say a lot about what we value as a nation. Will we rebuild a place for rivers and salmon? Or will we wave goodbye to our natural inheritance when it was in our power to save it? Who are we anyway?

Basin graphic: Newport News-Times

Friday, September 15, 2006

El nino returns

The tropical Pacific is heating up again, with a weak El nino.

Dry conditions are already apparent in Indonesia, Malaysia and nearby, and we can expect a warm, dry winter in the NW.

Will this worsen ongoing problems such as plankton declines and the Oregon dead zone? Nobody knows, but there has not been much good news for ocean ecosystems lately.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hope for endangered Redfish Lake sockeye

Idaho Governor Jim Risch helped release 470 sockeye salmon into Redfish Lake today, as part of the heroic effort underway to save these salmon.

These salmon were raised to spawning age in a hatchery in Washington, since their natural environment is soooooo hazardous.

The hatchery program forestalls debate over removing 4 dams on the lower Snake River that kill lots of fish but have relatively few benefits. Some believe removing the dams is a money-maker, but others disagree.

Fishpolitics and fisharguments go on, but at least there are a few sockeye salmon still swimming in Redfish Lake. Not what I would wish for, but likely better than extinction. Are these heroic efforts to save endangered fish a good way to spend money? Or would it be better spent on situations less critical, where success is more likely?

Come back in a century, and we'll know the answer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Scary invaders in Long Island Sound

Venomous and scary-looking Pacific lionfish are invading the US East coast, as far north as Long Island Sound.

Divers have captured hundreds of lionfish this summer. “For us to be finding that many, there must be thousands and thousands more out there,” said Todd R. Gardner, a biologist at Atlantis Marine World aquarium in Riverhead. “It’s a population explosion.”

Nobody knows how the lionfish arrived, what the impacts are, and whether they'll survive winter's cold water (doubtful).

Increasing Atlantic sightings suggest that lionfish are in the Atlantic to stay, at least in the warmer waters further south.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Vicious global warming cycle

A new climate change horror story--melting arctic permafrost may unleash a beastly new level of warming.

It seems that melting permafrost from our normal garden-variety warming may cause methane release and a self-reinforcing cycle that melts more permafrost and releases more methane. Scientists knew this could happen, but it's much worse than previously thought.

What does this mean for fish? Look for mahi mahi in the Bering Sea and Atlantic cod in a museum in a century if this proves true. Maybe take a few pictures of your favorite cold water fish for your great-grandchildren to look at, it might be the only place to see them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

DC males turning female

Pollution may appear on the national agenda, now that the "intersex" phenomenon is showing up in DC.

Intersex is the problem of males developing female sexual characteristics. Now that it's happening to record levels of Potomac residents, the problem may get attention.

...except that it's still just showing up in Potomac FISH...

Maybe Congress will get worried since some members of Congress must drink the water and eat fish, and they might get a dose of whatever did this to local fish.

So far, action has not exactly been swift. Dale Kemery, media contact for the EPA’s Office of Water, said that the Agency is waiting for more scientific investigations before declaring a position.

And since it only affects SMALLMOUTH bass, I suppose members of Congress need not worry.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Florida MPA working after 5 years

Sportfishing magazine reports that the Tortugas Ecological Reserve is working, 5 years after implementation. Fish are more numerous and bigger in areas closed to fishing.

The benefits are appearing fast, and in some surprising ways. Spawning aggregations are reappearing and the benefits seem likely to spread to nearby areas that can be fished.

Reports of success in the sportfishing press? Does that mean that future MPA proposals will meet with less resistence?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Female seahorses play the field?

Seahorse relationships are strained by female promiscuity, a surprising finding for animals thought to mate for life.

It seems that the males, burdened with pregnancy, birth and child-rearing, stay true to their mates. Female seahorses, with fewer family obligations, are more likely to be engage in promiscuis sexual behavior and mate with other males.

Scientists have enlisted aquarium voyeurs in the study of the sex lives of seahorses. Seahorses were fitted with tiny color-coded necklaces and aquarium visitors are asked to watch seahorses mate and report on exactly who is mating with whom at Sea Life Centers in the UK and Germany. Things to watch for include colour-changing, twining tails and leaning towards each other quivering.

When aquarium visitors find out about this project, "their curiosity is immediately aroused and they seem happy to watch for quite long periods to see if there's any hanky-panky going on," said biologist Stefan Inselmann.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Signs of coral reef recovery?

Arabian Gulf corals are recovering from climate-caused damage. Studies suggest recovery could be complete within 10 years, if all goes well.

This is good news for corals and ocean health, and we sure need some good news these days.