Friday, March 30, 2007

Man bites shark

Again & again & again, until some large sharks are nearly extinct. Overfishing of sharks is changing our oceans.

Slow to grow and reproduce, sharks have nevertheless been big winners of the evolutionary sweepstakes. Now humans are threatening to undo millions of years of success in a few decades of reckless fishing.

Recent evidence shows how overfishing of sharks, by removing apex predators, can undo ocean food webs. The problem is so bad that there are few places on earth where sharks and other apex predators remain abundant.

Studies of the relatively pristine Northwest Hawaiian Islands, in the fabulous Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, provide a rare glimpse of a predator-dominated marine food web.
So beware, Mr. Shark, the new kids on the block are a real threat.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ending overfishing with catch shares (ITQs, etc.)

It's time to move beyond ideology and use catch shares (ITQs, LAPPs, etc.) to help end overfishing. A new study by Environmental Defense shows how this can be done.

Market-based solutions to environmental problems have created a sharp ideological divide. Some say they're the best answer, and others say they're no answer at all. Where's the pragmatic middle that says they're a useful tool?

Right here, that's where. Blogfish steps boldly into the crossfire between ITQ true believers and dyed in the wool opponents and says catch shares (ITQs, DAPs, LAPPs, co-ops, etc.) can be a good way to manage fisheries.

The key is that catch shares--like any other tool--must be well designed in service of clear objectives. They're especially valuable where too many boats are chasing too few fish,(hey tell me someplace where there are too few boats chasing too many fish?).

OK, let the crossfire begin.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Red snapper rebuilding begins

Finally, after decades of overfishing, red snapper are on the road to recovery in the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued long awaited management measures to help restore depleted red snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico. These measures known as the ‘interim rule’ address two critical issues that have driven red snapper populations to dangerously low levels, overfishing and bycatch.

The interim rule sets responsible catch levels that will help reduce overfishing, reduces bycatch by up to 60 percent in the commercial fishery and locks in the bycatch reduction gains of 50 percent realized over the past two years from the reduced shrimping effort. The reduced shrimping effort is a result of recent active hurricane seasons and poor economic conditions in the fishery.

“We applaud the actions by the Fisheries Service to begin the process of truly ending the overfishing of red snapper and restoring this signature fish back to healthy levels,” said Chris Dorsett, Gulf of Mexico Fish Conservation Director with The Ocean Conservancy. “This interim rule is a major step in complying with a federal court ruling earlier this month finding the current red snapper rebuilding plan illegal and requiring federal regulators to produce an effective rebuilding plan by December 2007.”

Red snapper has been managed by state and federal regulators in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1980s. Red snapper was first identified by scientists as severely overfished in 1989, yet for almost two decades, federal managers failed to set catch levels based on the advice of its scientists and consistently allowed too many fish to be caught and killed as bycatch. As a result, the latest health assessment of red snapper conducted in 2005 showed the spawning population is now under three percent of its historic abundance.

Based on this assessment, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, an advisory body to the National Marine Fisheries Service was tasked with adopting a new rebuilding plan for the 2007 fishing season. The Gulf Council ultimately failed to produce this plan. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the lead federal agency, was therefore forced by law to step in with this interim rule to save red snapper. “We are now looking to the Gulf Council to uphold its stewardship responsibility by crafting permanent management measures to restore red snapper back to healthy levels capable of supporting catch levels almost three times higher than current levels.”

The interim rule is effective for the 2007 fishing season, the Gulf Council is responsible for developing the management plan for the 2008 fishing season and beyond.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Eating up Asia's reef fish

Insatiable demand is driving Asia's reef fish towards extinction. Destructive fishing seems to be the norm, and reefs without fish are becoming a common sight.

The high-end market, where prices can exceed $100 per pound, requires live fish.
Unfortunately, destructive cyanide fishing seems to be the preferred method. Cyanide kills corals and most fish, but those fish that recover can be sold alive for rich profits.

This tragedy seems to defy solutions. Trade restrictions are in the works for humphead wrasse, one of the most endangered reef fish, but the process is laborious, loopholes exist, and there are many other species with no relief in sight.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Can careful consumption save the world's fish?

The sustainable seafood movement may not win, by itself, says a new analysis by Jennifer Jacquet.

Seafood is a tricky business, and mislabeling alone might confound dedicated consumers with an eye for sustainability. Chances look even worse when you add in the complexities of a global marketplace and lackluster interest in Asia--where there's a great sucking sound of seafood being eaten.

OK, Jennifer what's the alternative? You must be kidding!? Elect politicians who support conservation? Nice try, considering who gets elected these days, I think I'll stick with sustainble seafood. Since when do people vote based on fish?? Or even trees and cute furry wildlife?

Sustainability is only just beginning to impact the seafood and fishing businesses, and I think it's too early to bury the movement just yet. New approaches seem more promising than simply hoping consumers will carry complex wallet cards to guide purchasing. Now that big buyers (including some REALLY BIG buyers) are signing up for sustainability, we might actually see purchasing power have an impact.

Check back in a couple of years, and see whether politicians or big seafood buyers are doing more to save the world's fish.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Requiem for the Grand Banks

Fishing off the edge of the Grand Banks in thousands of meters of water. A joke in 1982, earnest fishing business in 2007. This spells trouble for deep water fish.

My first exposure to the Grand Banks was in 1982, as a young student on a research trawler. We left from Newfoundland and fished the deep water around the Grand Banks, looking for deep sea fish that only a scientist could love...or so we thought. We fished in water so deep that it took nearly 2 hours just for our net to reach the bottom. It was hard fishing that nobody else would bother with...until all the easy fish were gone.

We'd haul up a squirming mass of
rattails & eelpouts, fish not fit for market. And then a squirming mass of scientists would descend on them with instruments in hand. We were the weirdos back then, nobody else would bother fishing like us when the world's richest cod fishery was going on nearby.

Fast forward to 2007, the cod fishery is closed and people actually
catch and sell rattails on purpose There are even worries about overfishing of rattails and other deep sea fish. In a mere generation, we've driven some rattils close to extinction. How have we sunk so low?

Somehow, we've managed to
kill the cod that once seemed infinite. We fished them out, closed the Grand Banks cod fishery in 1992, and still the cod aren't coming back. Even a "closed" fishery kills too many cod to allow recovery.

This is a
tragedy of epic proportions, and we need a tragedian of similar measure. Who will tell this story? Will we find rattails in Hollywood, or eelpouts on best-seller lists? I don't think so. It's a crisis of no significance...

Back in 1982 our scientific fishing expedition was chased off the Grand Banks by the remnants of a hurricane. But the deep sea fishing business of today is not so easy to slow down.

Monday, March 19, 2007

In motion for the ocean

An idea to throw on the the ocean best saved by getting us moving in the right direction or by setting a goal and aiming for it?

Why does blogfish care? Much ado lately about
-what is sustainability?
-defining & measuring conservation success
-greenwashing among ocean users

Here's my idea, I think we have too little emphasis on getting ocean people moving in the right direction, and too much riding of high horses and telling others they're not sustainable enough. I doubt that I'm the only one that's tired of being hectored, lectured, and otherwise picked on for not being holy enough.

So...a proposal: maybe we could try to encourage people to do better this year than last, and better yet next year. If you're creating ocean impacts, try to reduce them, and then try again later to reduce them even more.

Or...the alternative: we could set a high threshold for ocean conservation success, and criticize everyone who doesn't get there right away.

Now which seems more likely to build an ocean conservation movement?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ocean jellies in the news

No, not the kind you spread on toast. These are gelatinous sea creatures like jellyfish, and they're more important than you thought.

Check out this fascinating website with links to "jellies in the news" and other treats for jelly lovers. Yes, there's even a jellies FAQ. Also lots of great pictures of jellies that are copyrighted so you'll have to click through to them.

Where else could you find the truth revealed about
whether it's really helpful to urinate on a jellyfish sting, as portrayed on the TV show "Friends." And does Adolph's meat tenderizer really help take the pain away from a sting?

If you've ever seen a stupendous fleet of
Velella, or the magic lights of a ctenophore, then you know jellies can be some of the most interesting little-known sea creatures.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Stunning new ocean discoveries

Craig Venter's excellent adventure has now produced results, and it's looking like a modern version of Charles Darwin's 19th century voyage aboard the HMS Beagle.

Using the new lens of genomics, the team's fabulous finds including doubling the number of known genes, along with mind-blowing potential for new energy sources and drugs. This is like inventing a new microscope and finding--surprise--lots of amazing new stuff we couldn't see before.

Overturning the view of open oceans as sterile and uninteresting, the study found a vast diversity of new bacteria and other microbes. The world of the wet, salty, and very small turns out to be where the action is in our oceans.

Perhaps most exciting, said study leader J. Craig Venter, is that the rate of discovery of new genes and proteins was as great at the end of the voyage as it was at the start, suggesting that humanity is nowhere close to closing the logbooks on global biodiversity.

"Instead of being at the end of discovery, it means we're in the earliest stages," said Venter, chairman of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit gene research center.

My mind is boggled, my jaw has dropped and I've got a big bruise from being struck by awe. New ways of looking almost always produce new things found, but this is unbelievable.

So what do you see in the blue ocean pictured above? If you look right, you can see amazing intricate ecosystems of microbes with striking adaptations to the diverse microhabitats present. No longer is it just a clear blue ocean.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Red snapper lawsuit: judge orders rebuilding

In a major legal victory, the Ocean Conservancy and partners won a federal court order for a credible red snapper rebuilding plan within 9 months.

This lawsuit followed decades of failure as managers refused to end overfishing and kept putting off the necessary task of rebuilding this severely depleted fish. Conservation advocates have been beating their heads against a wall and finally filed this lawsuit in 2005 after managers once again delayed rebuilding efforts.

Red snapper would be rebuilt by now if modest fishing cutbacks had been implemented in the late 1980s, when problems first became apparent. But now the pain will be much more severe. It didn't have to happen this way.

Stay tuned as managers begin the difficult task of rebuilding. Let's all help invest in rebuilding by supporting those doing the hard work.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Fish farming: blessing or curse?

Be ready for the next wave of ocean development--the US government wants more fish farms.

Aquaculture, or fish farms, hold the potential to help solve the world's food problems if done right. If done wrong, ocean farming could cause serious problems for our existing wild fish. Just like farming on land, it's all about doing it right.

What should we expect? Well, there's one branch of government that's designated to promote aquaculture and also to regulate it, the Dept. of Commerce.

With that conflict of interest, it's hard to share Commerce Secretary Gutierrez's confidence that the government “can be pretty objective” about regulating aquaculture despite seeking to promote it.

Yeah, and I'd like to be in charge of auditing my own tax return.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Deep sea mining

New ocean uses may create new concerns. Now we have to worry about deep sea mining.

What are the impacts of dredging the deep sea for minerals? I don't know, but I doubt anyone else knows either. Given the lack of care exercised in the early days of ocean fishing, I'm not confident that deep sea mining will be carefully managed.

But I suppose I really shouldn't worry since concerns about impacts are already being dismissed as "knee-jerk environmentalism" by a geologist promoting deep sea mining. Yeah, and Silent Spring is still being attacked by some.

Let's hope that cool heads prevail and that ocean mining gets a thorough review before widespread dredging begins. Go to digistar and see for yourself their view of the future of ocean mining.

image: digistar

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Climate change brews ocean trouble

It's not just in models now, climate change seems to be disrupting ocean ecosystems in unexpected ways.

The surprising low oxygen dead zone off Oregon is just one example of how unexpected ocean shifts can harm marine ecosystems. Who knew that upwelling--the engine that drives high productivity off Oregon and elsewhere--could turn into a problem?

"These are complex systems," marine scientist Andrew Bakun says. "And when you change their basic functions, they can run away from you in ways you don't expect.

I have a feeling we haven't heard the final word on this situation.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Stressed? Try slow food

Want more time for the good things in life? Slow down your dinner. It's a paradox, but it works.

So say the good people at Slow Food. They encourage you to spend more time enjoying that seafood, preferably caught locally and shared with others. Sounds nice, but who knew it would work as an antidote to Fast Life (a too-fast world)?

Sustainability is a key part of slow food. Protecting the rich variety and taste of our favorite fish and shellfish is essential if we want to savor them in the future.

Is slow food a hopeless longing for the past or a smart way to thrive in the future? Who can say? Maybe it's not for everyone, but it might be right for you. If you're like me and you're upset by the decline and loss of some of your favorite seafood, then slow food is worth a look-see.

So slow down, join a convivium, share your favorite seafood with your friends, and see if you find more time to enjoy life.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Who will save our ocean fish?

Fish have a way of drawing the best out of people. It’s funny how those slimy and scaly things can turn people into heroes.

World famous fishing guide Frank Moore has lived for years alongside his beloved North Umpqua River. He caught fish, and watched as blind, stupid logging brought ruin to one tributary creek after another. The fish called to him and spoke through him. Frank became a volunteer monitor and environmental activist before there were such things. After he and Hal Riney (later Ronald Reagan’s ad man) made the 12 minute film “Pass Creek” in the 1960s, they turned the tide. Frank flew around the northwest in his private plane and showed Pass Creek to the people in charge. Later, he traveled around the country spreading the gospel. After several governors asked Frank what to do, the fish had a real voice. Frank Moore is a spiritual leader in the great American church of the outdoors. Those steelhead are something special, and they drew the very best out of a very fine man, Frank Moore.

I tried and tried, and caught a grand total of 3 North Umpqua summer steelhead, even with Frank Moore by my side. Later, when Frank had given up on my weak fishing (“you’re not one of those guys who stand on the same rock hour after hour are you” “yes frank, that’s what I do.”), I still kept after it. The river was doing it’s work on me.

In those days, Roy Keene and I were running around in the woods. It was a grand time, the old growth forests were being transformed into American cathedrals. Loggers found their very footing eroded, nobody gets to make a living selling the Sistine Chapel to make toilet paper. We were “tinkering” as Roy would say, showing people what was happening in their forests. This was timber country USA. I was living in a cabin up river from Roseburg, OR, up hill from Glide, and even beyond the outpost of Idleyld Park (see if you can find it on a map). In the heady days of the Clinton “Forest Plan,” when the nation, briefly, paid attention to the native forests of the Pacific northwest. Self-made forester and high-rolling timber broker Roy Keene, in the business of using forests, had the audacity to say “no, not here” when the timber beast went too far. No matter what happened to his business.

Together we looked at logging plans, overlaid the timber sales with topo maps, and went plunging into the biggest “holes,” the deepest, darkest forest primeval. We came back with the righteous evidence of damage done. Bridging the gap between environmentalism and forestry, Roy helped turn the tide. Even though it came with a high personal cost, Roy drew the line in the sand. Roy Keene was ordained by nature in the cathedral forests of the northwest.

Giants do walk the earth. They’re the people with the strength to use their vision-not just their eyesight. They go where the path in front of them leads, and they have the courage to keep going when the faint of heart turn back.

So who will save the fishes of the sea? They need some saving now that we’ve driven them down. Where will they find a champion, someone with audacity and spirit? I think it probably will be a fish person, someone who has been there and seen the sun come up on the water and who has been changed by the experience. Who else will have what it takes to see the path and rally the faithful? Our ocean’s fish need some new American spiritual leaders. Will our ocean fish people show up? Or will they be too busy with the catching of fish?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Global warming causes stronger hurricanes?

Global warming seems to cause stronger hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Recent destruction may not be a fluke.

Elsewhere, results are not so clear, and it may be that conditions are marginal in the Atlantic Ocean so a small change favoring hurricanes is enought to tip the balance.