Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in the ocean

How can you tell when it's Christmas in the ocean? By the cinnamon & vanilla flavoring the water. Holiday cookie baking shows up in Puget Sound, after the cookies are eaten and...well...processed.

Digging deeper, researchers estimate that Seattle desert lovers ate about 200,000 cookies per day containing cinnamon & vanilla.

It's incredible how our habits influence oceans, even our cookie habits. Previously, we've heard about caffeine, antidepressants, birth control hormones, and antibiotics showing up in Seattle-area streams, with possible effects on fish and other animals.

Do the cookies matter? Smell is important to some fish, and spices are used because of their pungency, so who knows? Fish probably appreciate the end of the season and the seasoning.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Cephalopodmas

Mollusc lovers, note the new holiday-Cephalopodmas-championed over at Pharyngula, an entertaining and popular blog that touches on molluscs, evolution, and debunking intelligent design.

Are molluscs and Cephalopodmas mainstream, now that Macy's is on board (left)?

Advanced molluscophiles may want to try some more esoteric treats from Pharyngula, such as octopus sex, squid sex, or even slug sex. Pharyngula knows how to blog.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Live giant squid film!

See a real sea monster, a giant squid filmed and captured alive. This is actually a small one, only 24 feet long--giant squid reach up to 60 feet.

Giant squid are the real KRAKEN, an ocean monster from ancient legend. Japanese scientists put out some bait and lured this mysterious and fantastic squid out of the depths.

Squid are actually molluscs, related to clams, oysters, snails, octopus, and the cuttlefish. Yes, molluscs are some of the most lovable and cuddly creatures in the ocean.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The tragedy of overfishing in New England

The human cost of overfishing will be featured on national tv on January 2. PBS presents "A Fish Story," a film about the human costs of fishery management failure in the US. Check out the website for more information.

Two women are the focus, as they struggle to defend their fishing community in the face of collapsing fish stocks. Bloated fishing fleets, built by generous federal subsidies, are hammering their fish. Yet each fishermen says they have a right to continue. Making a plea for survival, they repeatedly ask for and win permission to keep overfishing to sustain their livelihood.

To me, this is a tragedy in the classic sense. Are our fishing community activists tragic heros in the classic sense?

Call it: "The tragedy of overfishing in New England"

An Aristotelian tragic hero must have four characteristics:

Nobleness or wisdom (by virtue of birth).
(Noble fishing heritage)

Hamartia (translated as tragic flaw, somewhat related to hubris, but denoting excess in behavior or mistakes).
(Support for overfishing)

A reversal of fortune (peripetia) brought about because of the hero's tragic error.
(Collapsed fish stocks)

The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero's own actions (anagnorisis).
(Stay tuned for the last act--wherein fishermen in New England realize the folly of the overfishing entitlement)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

International protection for spiny dogfish?

Europeans may save us from ourselves and protect spiny dogfish, just as hooks are being sharpened to go after spiny dogfish again in New England.

The European Union will propose trade restrictions under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Trade restrictions would largely shut down some unsustainable US fisheries since most spiny dogfish is exported.

Action by some US managers to allow fishing beyond scientific advice may ironically add weight to the CITES proposal by demonstrating poor management and the need for trade restrictions. Is this really what the Atlantic states fisheries managers were thinking when they voted for unsustainable fishing of spiny dogfish?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Are big fish disappearing or not?

Depends on what you mean by "disappearing." Would you say that tuna are disappearing if only about 1 out of 3 are left?

A new study reports the mainstream view from fisheries scientists. They say that 64% of yellowfin tuna are gone, but that's not a problem. In fact, removal of 64% is the goal.

The study's authors say that fisheries management is working and yellowfin tuna are being managed appropriately and sustainably. They also note that previous studies reporting problems were "half-baked" and based on "cherry-picked" data, and that these issues "cannot be reduced to sound bites." Hmmm...I have no doubt that the study is good, even if their metaphors are badly mixed and their criticism is self-referential.

How do the two studies really differ? The new study shows that the biggest tuna have declined by 80%. This is actually quite similar to the 90% decline of large fish found previously. Both studies agree that the largest fish are at least 80% gone. That's a striking similarity. In the new study, the sharp criticism of previous results is based on relatively modest declines of a few smaller species such as skipjack tuna.

Interesting, the methods are different, but the findings are fairly similar when comparing big fish to big fish. By far the largest difference is the threshold for concern. So decide for yourself...is it ok to take most of the big fish out of the ocean?

The real conflict here is over the goals of fishery management. At stake is the future of our oceans and fish.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

When is a crab not a crab?

When it's "crab-flavored seafood, made with surimi, a fully cooked fish protein." So read your seafood label carefully, and read the fine print on the salad bar, if you can find it.

The FDA has now made it legal to drop the word "imitation" from imitation crab, because it was supposedly confusing customers. In place of "imitation crab," you'll find the bizarre mouthful of words about crab-flavored seafood.

I think we were better off without the change. Why? Because imitation crab is simple, it means something made to resemble crab. The new terms are more complex and more misleading. To me, "crab flavored" should mean flavored with crab.

Who's better off with the new rules? That's easy, the people who sell pollock or other fish that are used to make surimi, that are used to make imitation crab-er, crab-flavored seafood.

What is this really? Call it obfuscational profit enhancement, or better yet call it "profit-flavored gains, made with influence, a fully cooked federal rule-making process."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Some fishermen want all the fish

Conservation of fish has broken out in California, and some fishermen are having none of it. They want to win back the mere 18% of ocean waters protected recently in central California's coastal waters.

A surprising aspect of this attack is that they're supported by fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn, acting more like a pro-fishing activist. Likening anyone who disagrees to religious zealots, Mr. Hilborn proclaims that all is well in California. Has he noticed that California's groundfish fisheries were declared a federal disaster in 2000?

This attack on California's new MPAs is hard for blogfish to understand. To my fishing friends in California: if you can't catch everything you want in 82% of the ocean, why do you think the other 18% will give you what you want?

The real conflict seems to be over who controls our oceans. Fishing interests and fisheries scientists, used to being in charge, want everyone else to butt out. Scientists and others with broader agendas are tired of waiting for the promised land of self-managed fisheries that actually conserve fish.

Note the map at right, seems like quite a bit of ocean is still open for fishing. California's ocean conservation actions will likely be heralded as visionary in 100 years, click here for more including detailed maps.

Mr. Hilborn, with his dogmatic defense of fishing is drawing some sharp new battle lines in the debate over how much fishing is too much. Apparently, The Good Depletion is more than just a good idea to Mr. Hilborn. This struggle is far from over, and blogfish is keenly interested.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Predator extermination in the ocean?

We're about to go after a new ocean villian, the cownose ray. These shy creatures have an unfortunate fondness for oysters, and we humans can't stand the competition.

Now that we've dredged, polluted, and otherwise plundered oyster reefs, we are targeting a natural predator that has no guilt in the decline of oysters. Why? Because cownose rays had the audacity to eat our "restoration" projects. Apparently, we're the only ones allowed to exterminate oysters.

Naturally, baby oysters tend to settle on shell mounds, and the rays can't touch that. But restoration projects have sprinkled naked baby oysters into the Chesapeake Bay, and rays simply did what came naturally, munching them up. Fishery managers have responded with an urgent call to find markets for cownose rays, so we can make money while getting rid of this "pest." Cownose ray medallions anyone?

Haven't we learned our lesson from previous attempts to exterminate predators? The results aren't always the simple expectation of kill predators and get more prey. Cascading ecosystem effects can produce surprising results, such as wolf reintroduction producing better streamside habitats. Who knows what surprise will pop up if we eliminate cownose rays?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Overfishing to end in the US

Boldly inching foward, Congress says no more US overfishing after 2010. This modest improvement is welcome, but the real story of this action is one of bullets dodged and opportunities missed.

It could have been much worse...some people wanted to keep overfishing where fishing fleets and processors are dependent on overfishing. Thanks to Senator Ted Stevens for his determination to "just say no" to overfishing. It will be interesting to see whether fishery managers can kick the overfishing habit.

Now for the hard work...learning what it really takes to sustain fishing. We have scary hints that fishing for maximum yield (The Good Depletion) doesn't work. Small wonder, how many of our bold and happy ideas from the 1950s still survive?

Looking forward, there will be much discussion in the next few years over just what is overfishing. Killing too many big, old fish that are needed for reproduction? Removing too much biomass, and causing ecosystem shifts? Where and when do such things reduce productivity? It's now time for a 21st century fisheries debate.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Global warming reducing ocean productivity

The heat is on, and our oceans are suffering. Declining ocean productivity is the new concern.

Lost ocean productivity means less food for fish and other ocean animals. This scary problem comes from reduced upwelling and lower nutrient levels. Nutrients are the fertilizer that determines how much phytoplankton (tiny, free-floating ocean plants) can grow in the ocean. Upwelling is when water comes to the ocean surface from the dark, cold, nutrient-rich depths.

All of this from global warming that is making ocean surface waters warmer, and that strengthens ocean stratification--the development of pancake layers of ocean water that resist mixing because they have different temperatures and different densities. Sort of like a layer of oil floating on top of vinegar in salad dressing that needs a shake.

To make things worse, reduced ocean productivity means oceans can't absorb as much CO2, so this is a feed-forward cycle that might worsen global warming-which worsens ocean productivity loss--etc.

Yet another reason to try to control CO2 emissions from our machines.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ok Go Shrimp

Here they go again. Check out the latest thing in ocean entertainment, a music video featuring shrimp.

Not just shrimp, but shrimp on a treadmill, banking on the runaway success of Ok Go's 4 guys dancing on treadmills. Of course, shrimp have an advantage, with 10 or what looks like 24 legs, it's much easier for a shrimp to create a spectacle on a treadmill.

It could be that Ok Go Shrimp gets even bigger than blobfish. Ocean celebrities are everywhere these days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Deep sea fish pictures

It doesn't get any better than this. Here is a Japanese website with the most amazing images of deep sea fish (and some other critters as well).

I can't read the captions, does anyone in blogfishland know what these pages say?

Click, explore, enjoy. Magnificent.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Race for fish bad for fish, fishermen

What's wrong with this picture? It shows how $millions have been wasted on fancy, bloated fishing boats in an absurd "race for fish."

Why? Misguided rules and subsidies lead fishermen to foolishly invest more and more money to catch the same or fewer fish. Now the fleet is going bankrupt, beaten by foreign competition.

The boat at left is a "modern" Bristol Bay salmon boat. It's a massive and unsafe 32-footer, tall & wide with a cut-off bow, because of rules that limit boat length. It's built big to catch lots of fish fast. In contrast, the boat at right is a "normal" 32-footer. There are nearly 2000 salmon boats permitted to fish Bristol Bay, many of them expensive, fast, bloated behemoths like the boat at left. Yet once the same catch was made using only 1200 sailboats!!

One casualty in this race for fish is conservation. In a race for fish, who has time to think about conservation? Gotta beat the next guy to the fish, to pay of last year's boat improvements and make the boat even faster for next year.

Some are trying to reform the Bristol Bay fishery, and ending the race for fish would help fishermen and advance conservation.

Photo: Norm Van Vactor