Monday, April 30, 2007

Strange mating rituals in marine worms

Imagine the dating game if you couldn't get out of your house. Some non-swimming marine worms respond by breaking off their tails and sending them out to mingle and mate--after growing a second rudimentary head to guide the process

It's called epitoky, and it's even more interesting than a pharyngula.

There are ocean creatures stranger than anything we landlubbers could imagine.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ocean wilderness

What is it? Big pristine ocean areas where fish run amok? Or does ocean wilderness live in the hearts of people? It matters, because the answer guides our ocean future.

Imagine a young city person at a beach, putting on a mask and diving cautiously under the surface. What’s there? Murk and muck, and the bright shimmering of the surface seen from below. Further out, what’s that?…A fish. A real live ocean fish in a real live ocean, the first time. A brief sight, and then it vanishes into the depths, a magic visitor from another world. Running up the beach, tearing off the mask and shouting, sky-high with joy.

Is this ocean wilderness? An electric feeling that changes a life?

Picture a scientist, drawing lines on a map. After reading studies of currents, fish, dolphins, whales and corals. Lines on a map become an idea…then a goal, protect a big area forever. Save a piece of the ocean’s finest, forever.

Is that ocean wilderness? Protect the best we have left, save ocean ecosystems for future generations?

The difference is the role of people.

Are we partners? Lovers and protectors of our oceans? Is there a place for us since we’re trustworthy friends who didn’t mean to cause harm?

Or are we some sort of plague on the earth, a virus or cancer that only destroys oceans?

I think we need to be careful of misanthropy when we answer. Do we dislike people, and seek reasons for a purge? Is wilderness just an excuse to create a zone of exclusion where there are no people?

In the underwater world of blogfish, people are welcome. Here, wilderness is a state of mind, and if people say they’re friends of the ocean, then they are. And when that city kid comes roaring out of the ocean with a shout of joy, I want to be there and offer encouragement, because that’s a person who is ready to join the cause.

It's true that we need Ocean Wilderness areas that are protected from human impacts. But we'll never get there by needlessly alienating people. We need to find a way to embrace people, work with their feelings of connection--whatever the source--and pursue shared conservation goals. Sometimes, it seems that too much of conservation has an alienating holier-than-thou flavor. That's not good.

Because we'll never save our oceans by attacking people.

Monday, April 23, 2007

How to save our ocean fish

The secret lies in that most American of values…shared investment in a better future. We need to pull together in this difficult time, but it’s tough when too many people are looking backwards and crying.

Remember the glorious rush of pulling together in a crisis? Whatever has been yours, I’m sure you’ve been there. Remember a hurricane that flooded streets and cut power? Maybe an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption that produced a snowfall of ash? How about that snowstorm that brought everything to a standstill and drew the whole neighborhood out into the silent streets to marvel at the magic of it all? Nothing pulls people together like rising together to meet a challenge.

Is that our response to our declining oceans? Not yet. We’re not getting busy with solutions, instead we’ve spent our precious time and energy locked into a struggle over what’s really happening and why, and hey don’t dare take away what’s mine.

We’ve got too many people looking backwards and crying about loss. It’s important to know what’s missing, yes, but that doesn’t guide us into the future. If you want to catalogue and remember, that’s good. But if you want to freeze a version of what used to be, that’s not helpful.

It's true that coral reefs are under siege, there are way too many problems. And things are likely to get worse. So what do we do? Moan about what’s going, going, gone? Rail uselessly against our messed-up system and the sad fact that our ocean doesn’t matter to most people? Or do we look for a glimmer of a better future?

What do we see looking back? Once upon a time, we had a glorious past. Fishermen were noble and strong, and they went down to the sea in boats to catch fish that were famously abundant. And everyone cheered. Why can’t we have that again? And once upon a time, fish swarmed around magnificent multi-colored coral reefs, and all you had to do was put your head underwater to see a fantastic ocean that looked like the pages of a book. Where can I go to see that now?

We can look backwards and yearn for the good old days, but that’s a posture of fear and resignation. Or, we can look forward into an uncertain future, and ask how best to have a say in what’s coming. The future belongs to those that embrace it. That is the most American of values.

Picture a sailing vessel at sea, battered by an unexpected squall. Shall we shrink from what lies ahead? Or sail on?

As blogfish moves into year 2, the future has never looked brighter. Why? Because that’s what the future is for.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Does blogfish matter?

Funny you should ask, I was wondering too.

If you’re reading this…blogfish matters, because you’re here when you could be with Paris Hilton.

If you’re reading this…

…in the office of a seafood business, then blogfish matters because you’re getting into sustainability be informed, then thanks for caring about fish and blogfish is glad to help

…then maybe you can tell me whether, how, and why blogfish matters, so I get a real answer to the question

…among a group of environmental communicators, then we’re doing some nice narrowcasting aren’t we?

…in your bathtub, then you must be strange,

Now since this is blogfish’s first annual birthday editorial week, I’ll tell you what I think. Blogfish matters because it’s useful practice with new media and it may come in handy some day. Meanwhile, we’re having a bit of fun, getting fish conservation into the blogosphere, and doing some righteous duty by standing up amongst some that we have little business being among.

For example, click on this google
search (“is seafood good”) and see what comes up. First a university, then blogfish (“Seafood good for baby brains?”) AND ONLY AFTER BLOGFISH comes Time magazine (“Is Seafood Good for the Heart”), and after that comes everybody else.

Then try this google search for “Ray Hilborn fishery management”
and find the good professor’s work in the top 4 entries, and blogfish’s critique in the next 2 slots.

I say blogfish matters because we’re pushing egalitarian micro-media into the world where it can compete on its merits with things that might have stood alone a decade ago. And it’s well targeted to people who might care.

So yes, blogfish matters, and lacking something better to do we’ll keep doing it. Happy birthday to blogfish and now you can go back to Paris Hilton and her fish.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The well-defended fortresses of denial

They’re everywhere, you’ve seen them. They guard outdated power structures, revealed truths, and other things that can’t stand on their own—like the sad ruin of our oceans.

You can find these fortresses wherever people use money and power to protect privilege. Each time a challenge arises, a new fortress is built to overwhelm with superior force. Even if the victory is not assured by merit, building a large fortress of denial can do the job…for a while…

Venture near these denial fortresses at your peril. Challenge a hallowed claim, even obliquely, and you get your reward of reactionary zeal, attacking your character. Undermine established practice and expect to enjoy an old-style fraternity hazing by the guardians of jewels.

Of course there are limits to these attempts to arrest interlopers and freeze change. The bluster won’t work forever. They may drive off some critiques, but the weakness will eventually show. Good vision clarifies the situation and what looked like an impenetrable wall resolves as just a few feeble defenses in a vast field.

Case in point: the stunning paper by Myers and Worm in 2003, concluding that 90% of the world’s big ocean fish are gone. The well-defended fortresses of denial roared, launched invective, waxed lyrical and satirical, belched outrage and otherwise challenged Myers and Worm for methodological heresy and faulty ritual. Once the heat and noise settled, the leading critique by Sibert, Hampton, Kleiber, and Maunder amounted to a rather overblown nitpick.

Sibert & Co. conceded an 80% decline of the largest fish. But they used this to strongly critique the 90% claimed by Myers and Worm and they added the "fact" that fish depletion is what happens when you catch fish. The planned fish decline is what managers euphemistically call “fishing down” a fish population. Depletion defined as a Goal. The well defended fortress of denial says that fish declines are not a problem, it’s just The Good Depletion, the cost of doing business in fish.

Even according to their most vehement critics, Myers and Worm had uncovered something true. Large-scale fishing has removed most of the largest fish out of the ocean. Any differences were mere details. The vision of Myers and Worm saw through the sad status quo of ocean fish depletion and spoke the truth. Of course they were rewarded with the expected hazing. It was unpleasant agreement to receive from Sibert & Co., but conceding 80% decline really amounted to agreement.

The Myers and Worm example is one among many, as fishery managers and their scientific defenders struggle to protect their over-exploitation of ocean fish. But bluster can’t work forever.

The well-defended fortresses of denial may look imposing, but they’re little more than the windmills of Don Quixote.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Slow motion revolution in ocean conservation

I see good things ahead for oceans. I know it’s popular to talk doom, but that’s mostly the curse of the specialist talking. Those that know the most find disaster everywhere, but their problem is that they can’t see outside the frame. In every situation I know of, big change looks impossible until after it happens, and then it looks like it was inevitable.

Tell me you saw the Berlin wall falling in 1984--yet 5 short years later, it was gone and now everyone says of course. I grew up in Oregon where trees were for cutting and nobody would have guessed that soon forest health would be more important than timber jobs.

Of course, surprising changes can work both ways. Everyone would have laughed 20 years ago if someone predicted that Oregon’s coho salmon would be a threatened species. And who knew that those abalone that littered the California coast would be soon be gone?

So what’s positive for oceans?

In 2005, I was nervous about a big foundation proposal with the goal of ending overfishing in US waters by 2012. I thought my colleagues would laugh at me. They did laugh, but I think we’ll get there with the new Magnuson-Stevens Act—or damn close—and maybe even a year or two early.

Fishing interests have held an exclusive franchise on fish for generations, but that is changing. MPAs are advancing, in Florida, in Hawaii, in California, and beyond. Fishing interests are resisting, because they see their franchise slipping away. But until they truly embrace conservation—and most don’t—they’ll keep losing influence.

Seafood buyers are worrying about sustainability, for business reasons or because their customers care. Now Wal-mart is bringing you sustainable seafood. When America’s store gets on board, the train is moving.

This is not to say that the problems are solved, they’re not. Overdevelopment of coasts is a serious threat, and the coming global changes will stress ocean ecosystems. Invasive species will displace natives, and fishing is not going to go away so long as people like to eat. So what will we do?

We’ll beat the problems, just like we solved the devastating disease crisis caused by dumping shit out the windows of our houses a few centuries ago. We beat that one with the radical and unworkable solution of sewers.

Most of the crisis in ocean conservation is a crisis of vision and courage. People see oceans decline and they can’t see the way out. The toughest part of conservation is seeing a good opportunity for change and going after it with everything. Give yourself the gift of optimism and start seeing the way out.

There you have it, the ocean world according to blogfish. More to come if you’re interested.

Mark Powell

Monday, April 16, 2007

What ho, we're still here?

Happy birthday to blogfish, after a year of fogging up the blogosphere with fishy sense and nonsense. Thanks to the some few of you who have checked in now and then, numbering 13,000 + guests and you wonderful 95 or so subscribers! Drop a note or comment sometime, and let us know what you like and don't like (well, feel free to skip the don't like part).

As a reward to me, Blogfish will have a brief editorial phase, wherein actual news is eschewed and opinions are unleashed even more fully than before.

This is well-timed since blogfish has taken a bit of heat recently and the best response seems to be to pour some more coal on the fire. Make that hitch up a few more photovoltaic cells to the grid. Va bene.

We begin with: what is happening in our oceans and our governing canyons these days? Is there hope, or does doom loom just ahead? Blogfish speaks, rather than just relying on devastatingly witty yet subtle barbless hooks.

Mark Powell

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Fish conservation reborn in California

Here's a fascinating read, a recreational fishing leader rethinks strategy after deciding that his side is "losing" in California (they fought against MPAs, saying they were not needed).

Now they plan to become more reasonable and become the purveyors of conservation. Good idea, if they actually walk the walk.

The Log
Guest Editorial - Common Ground

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

For better or for worse, the end results of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) will be not be determined by the actions of recreational anglers, but rather the general public's perception of what is best for the ocean. While fishing is important, a decade of beating up on the problems of the ocean by recreational anglers (that's right - us!), followed by environmental groups singing the same tune, has left California citizens with the impression that our ocean is on the verge of collapse. Remember, we led the fight against gill nets, long lines and bottom trawls, highlighting their highly destructive nature. The enviros came later! Then, we took them on as we had taken on industrial fishing excesses.

For recreational fishing to prosper, we need to understand the dynamics of the conflict we face. It's a battle for the hearts and minds of the real deciders - the millions of Californians who care about the health of our ocean. The MLPA provides the stage - a public process garnering headlines that equate the Act with the health of our ocean.

Looking at this battlefield from above, one would see two camps of extremes. On one side we find the protectionists, those who would be all too happy to close all fishing and access to our ocean. On the other side, we find the polar opposite - unbridled commercial exploiters who assume anything in the ocean is rightly theirs and fair game. Here's the rub: Perception is everything and, in the public's eyes, if we're against the Act, we're against conservation. We are equated with the exploiters who created these problems in the first place.

Today, sportfishing is at a crossroads. Recreational anglers are perceived as being in this second camp. In fact, UASC (and I personally) can take responsibility for much of this public perception. Leading "red shirt rallies" through the Channel Islands and initial MLPA process, we garnered support from thousands of anglers. At the same time, we fueled the ire of the extremists and alienated millions in the general public who - through the eyes of the LA Times and other media - saw us as spoiled children mad about losing our toys.

But, as Yogi Berra put it: "it ain't over 'til it's over."

The MLPA process is going into high gear on California's north Central Coast and Coastside Fishing Club, our Northern California partner, will be at Ground Zero. We will work closely with Coastside, its founder Bob Franko, and the American Sportfishing Association, to ensure a vibrant future for recreational anglers. Franko will lead the team, taking a conservation-based approach to the Act that will risk the ire of not only the protectionists, but also the trawlers, gillnetters and long liners who make up camp number two. He will also face the anger of recreational anglers who stand with those destructive industrial fishing interests.

I am proud to stand at Bob's side in this battle. Together, Coastside, UASC and ASA hope to reclaim the conservation ground between protectionism and exploitation by building coalitions. We will balance the need for healthy oceans with the light footprint of recreational angling - and maintain the widest possible access to pursue our passion.

Tom Raftican, President of United Anglers of Southern California

Friday, April 13, 2007

California protects ocean ecosystems

Marine Protected Areas are becomming a tool of choice for conserving ocean ecosystems. Today, California joined the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as home to the first solid networks of MPAs in the US.

Along with the overfishing ban passed recently in the US Congress, these MPAs promise to restore ocean ecosystem health.

A key role of MPAs is to provide unfished areas to demonstrate what our oceans might be like without fishing. That's something worth knowing. Too many ocean areas are sadly depleted, and for some places there is nobody left alive who knows what's gone missing. Ask a young person in southern California whether they've ever seen an abalone in a tide pool.

The California Fish and Wildlife Commission voted this morning to create a network of Marine Protected Areas along California's central coast. Some areas will ban all fishing and others will allow some types of fishing or resource use (e.g. kelp harvest).

This after hearing from fishermen, scientists, conservationists, divers, boaters, and other concerned people. The lengthy processes sought to balance the interests of all concerned, and everybody was forced to accept something other than their preferences.

Thanks to the Commissioners for their courageous action, and thanks to Republican Governor Schwarzenegger for his bold leadership of this process. Conservation need not be a partisan issue; this Republican governor has done more for ocean health than his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis.

You'll read about this elsewhere tomorrow, but you saw it here first!!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Massachusetts fishery disaster: too much of a good thing

New England's cod fishermen are victims of their own success. Now the governor of Massachusetts wants a federal disaster declaration so he can get federal aid for the victims.

How did this happen? New England's fishermen are too good at the spin game and they've spun themselves into disaster. They paint a "woe is me" tale of beleagured victims, and ask for permission to overfish for just a few more years. Years turn into decades, and there are no cod left to catch.

Consider those great conservationists of New Englad. Politicians like Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy (among others) get very good lifetime scores from the League of Conservation Voters. But when it comes to conserving fish, they bow to their handful of fishing constituents and call for softening federal rules against overfishing.

Thus we get the overfishing entitlement in New England (and a few other places). This is one sad and tired story. With the total collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery hanging over the northeast like a sword, how can it be that anyone dares to call for more overfishing?

The only hope for New England's cod fishery is some tough love to break the overfishing entitlement. Cries to save the infrastructure and keep people afloat ring hollow when they're just another in a long litany of cries that justfiy decades of overfishing.

Many fishery problems deserve forbearance and outside support, but not this one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Seabirds dying, oceans crying

This year it's Oregon, last year Washington & California. West coast seabirds are dying in record numbers, is this part of a larger ocean crisis?

Starvation seems to be the cause, perhaps becasue of weak upwelling currents, unusual climate conditions, or lack of normal plankton supplies. Nothing simple here, complex linked cycles of physical and biological conditions seem to be failing the birds.

There are troubling signs that our oceans are not doing well, but how can we be sure? Do we ask for more studies and wait for rigorous proof of what's going on? Even if we wanted to try, is there anything we could do? Should we try to intervene, maybe it's just nature's way?

I think the only certainty is that it's hard to watch this happening.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Should ocean lovers eat seafood?

Seems a bit of a silly question, but hey, why not weigh in at the new shifting baselines blog, where Randy Olson has turned over the reins to Jennifer Jacquet.

These two heavyweights have done a point-counterpoint thing on seafood ethics. Blogfish finds both sides wanting, and I've popped off down around comment 22 or something like that.

Jennifer just says no to seafood, and she thinks you should too although she doesn't push too hard. Randy says yes to seafood, at least until saying no can be part of a mass happening. Hmmm...they both seem to be missing the point.

I'll eat seafood and try to save the oceans that produce seafood. If I give up on seafood, then I'm giving up my ocean and I'm not going to do that. I say keep eating seafood, stay connected and engaged with the ocean and the ocean creatures that stir your soul (they must or you wouldn't be here). And then, so fortified with the right stuff, go forth and save the ocean.

I won't be satisfied with something so trivial as making a statement with refusing to eat. Seafood anorexia doesn't seem like a powerful statement, it's more like hiding in a cave and hoping really hard that things get better. No thanks.

Monday, April 09, 2007

When oysters ruled the world

It was a better time, waters were clear, fish were abundant, and the (eel)grass was greener. Alas, those days are gone along with the oysters.

Massive oyster reefs 20 feet high and miles long have now been lost to a tide of overfishing, along with secondary harm from habitat destruction and disease. Once upon a time, in 1880, 100 million pounds of oysters were pulled from the Chesapeake Bay. Now, oyster catch is down to 250,000 pounds, just 0.25 % of the former bounty.

Oysters are amazing for more than their heavenly taste. A large adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, and filtration is what the Chesapeake Bay sorely needs. With nutrients up, filtering out plankton is a vital service to the ecosystem. If only...

Is there hope? Maybe we can rely on farmed oysters for reversing some of the damage. That certainly seems better than the scary prospect of introducing an exotic oyster and hoping it helps. Anyone remember the Zebra mussel?

The Chesapeake may not recover from our destruction of the heroic oyster populations, and that's a shame. This is a lesson for those who would overfish to provide jobs. If we had it to do over again, I doubt anyone would support overfishing of oysters. Instead, overfishing of oysters would probably be a serious crime punishable by several years in jail.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Giant rockfish caught off Alaska

Here's a fish that was too valuable to kill: a century old "Teddy Roosevelt" rockfish--born when the roughrider was President.

The 44 inch, 60 pound giant shortraker rockfish was what's known as a "BOFFF," a Big Old Fat Female Fish with specieal breeding value. It was stuffed full of developing embryos in it's ovaries, just about ready to give birth to many thousands of live baby fish. It was worth more in the water than anywhere else.

Caught as
"bycatch" (not what they were fishing for) by a commerical fishing boat, at least the fishermen recognized the value of the fish and delivered it to scientists instead of throwing it overboard (it was probably dead since it was hauled up from deep water).

Fishery science is only just beginning to recognize the value of BOFFFs. Or rather, scientists already know and it's fishery managers who don't acknowledge the value of BOFFFs. In fact, nutty as it sounds, getting rid of especially valuable breeders like this Teddy Roosevelt rockfish is part of fishery managers' grand plan for fish. It's all part of "The Good Depletion," an idea that is as obsolete as a buggy whip.

It's time for a paradigm shift in fishery management, one that makes use of modern ecological knowledge like the value of BOFFFs. Unfortunately, the die-hard proponents of The Good Depletion seem to want to go down swinging. Check out Ray Hilborn's unscientific diatribe against fisheries iconoclasts who dare to challenge The Good Depletion.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Conservation success builds hope for ocean fish

A big ugly bird laid an egg in February, and now biologists are cheering. The California condor is providing hope for endangered species everywhere.

After dropping as low as 21 birds, the California condor seemed doomed. In the mid-80s, biologists captured all the wild birds and began an intensive captive breeding project. Now the population numbers around 270, with about 125 re-released back into the wild.

The latest good news is a wild-born egg laid in an abandoned bald eagle nest in Mexico, by a bird raised at the Los Angeles zoon.

If there is hope for the California condor, truly a bird in dire straits, then there is hope for the endangered fishes of the sea.

Now on to Atlantic halibut, Grand Banks cod, smalltooth sawfish, nassau grouper, canary rockfish, humphead wrasse...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More girlie-men fish in Seattle

Metrosexuals? Or maybe just the unfortunate victims of industrial disease? Either way, the boys are not alright if you're talking about male fish that live around Seattle.

Male English sole are producing egg proteins in their bodies, and the problem is worse than we thought when Blogfish first brought you the news. It's not just the guys having trouble, females are producing eggs in the offseason and becomming sexually mature at younger ages.

Birth control pills, detergent, plastic bottles, and yes, makeup all contribute to the problem, which is at it's worst where a sewage outfall dumps into Elliot Bay.

King County is planning to sell treated wastewater to a golf course, I wonder if the golfers are keen on the idea? Maybe cosmetic sales will go up in the pro shop.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Want to know where your seafood comes from?

The Alabama seafood industry wants you to know, and they're pushing legislation to force restaurants to tell you the source of the seafood they're serving.

This is common cause between consumer advocates, the seafood industry, and fish conservation groups. Who's opposed? Restaurants think it would be a pain to have to tell people where their food comes from, and they don't like the bill.

Alabama shrimpers are looking to gain the upper hand on imported shrimp from Vietnam and China, and they think good Alabama shrimp consumers would vote with their wallets for local shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico.

How has labeling fared for retail seafood sellers? At least some seafood sellers seem unhappy with mandatory country of origin labeling for seafood, and they'd like to substitute a simpler, voluntary, industry-designed plan.

Letting people know where their food comes from seems like good business all around. Here's to the Alabama seafood industry.

Monday, April 02, 2007

What's black and white and brings hope of ocean renewal?

The new baby orca in Puget Sound’s L-pod spouts hope and optimism of renewal in a troubled sea.

The endangered orcas (killer whales) of Puget Sound have it rough. They have scary levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies, reduced food supplies thanks to our overfishing, and a nearly endless list of other major and minor complaints. But today, with a new birth, we can dream of a better future.

The first sighting of the new baby orca was near Monterey, CA, with the L-pod vacating Puget Sound to forage in greener pastures elsewhere. The orcas are known as Puget Sound orcas because they spend 6 months or more in Seattle's inland sea.

Baby orcas have such a tough time that the only name for the new one is L-109. It will get a more frinedly name if it survives beyond 1 year.

Scientists are trying to identify the mother, since firstborns tend to get most of the toxins from their mother's body and have only a 50-50 chance of survival. There have been 5 deaths in the L-pod this year, including two young calves.