Friday, December 19, 2008

Urban beaver the delight of many

What's the best part of New York City? The beaver of course. And I don't mean Jim Bouton's voyeuristic kind.

Jose the Bronx beaver is back. Ironically, he lives wild in the Bronx zoo, where he cut down his own Christmas tree for a December nibble.

Jose is a success story, beaver were nearly exterminated from the US, after numbering perhaps 60 million at the time of European settlement in the US. After reaching a low near extinction, beaver are making a comeback. He joins the Manhattan falcons as a prominent symbol of nature in the city.

A little bit of wild in New York, brought to you by the riotous, rollicking power of life to make itself manifest.

See the photo? Yup, he's back. Go Jose, live, breathe, and inspire.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jellyfish replacing fish on UK menus?

Not quite yet, but that day is coming unless we end overfishing. So say reputable scientists, although they disagree about whether or not we should say we're "running out of fish."

Why the jellyfish boom?

It's a tired story, scientific advice is ignored as managers try to keep fishing jobs afloat by giving away fish that don't exist, even on paper. It's the Christmas spirit and it's quite nice, but it doesn't work when there's no fish left to give away.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Inhaling fear

You can't scare people away from smoking. That's the conclusion of a study talked up in a New York Times op ed today. So we're wasting a lot of money won in anti-smoking lawsuits, spent on futile scare stories that just happen to be true (smoke and you're gonna die, sucka!).

What does this have to do with fish?

We're using some similar scare stories in efforts to get people to stop eating unsustainable seafood (eat this fish and the ocean will die, sucka!). With a weaker pitch, it must be even less likely to work than the anti-smoking scare story.

Is there a lesson for save-the-fishes people in this story?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

French TV comes to US to find bass

A French film crew came to the US to film a special on striped bass fishing. Interesting to them since their sea bass is hurting. Maybe it's the french look, lacking the stripes, that has their sea bass in trouble? Or maybe it's those misplaced French urges that are getting them in trouble (see photo).

Anyway, here's a story from the NY Times that explains how our bass are doing well, and fishermen are vigilant in trying to keep the fish healthy. There was strong medicine doled out in the 80's and it worked, and (almost) everyone wants to keep the success. Invest in success, build a better future (now we're living in the better future that those 1980's regulations invested in), and watch the support emerge for conservation!! YEE-HAW, ya gotta love it.

Oh yeah, one thing to note. If you're ever in Bridgeport, Conn and wanna catch some stripers, stop by Jimmy O's bait and tackle and talk to Jimmy Orifice. He'll set you straight on getting ahold of the big ones.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

George Bush, environmental hero?

Can this be real? Yes, at least for oceans. President Bush is considering some new Marine Protected Areas, and he's already an ocean conservation champion for his work creating the Marine Protected Area around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument.

From the Christian Science Monitor article:

At issue: Proposals to protect at least one of two vast reaches of ocean that host some of the most pristine coral-reef and under-sea mountain ecosystems in the Pacific. One candidate, a loose cluster of islands and atolls in the central Pacific called the Line Islands, covers a patch of ocean larger than Mexico. The other, a section of the northern Mariana Islands, is larger than Arizona.

And this isn't the only thing President Bush has done for oceans, his adminstration has actually been fairly good on ending overfishing. Let's give credit where it's due, and hope that soon even more credit is due.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Female dolphins use sponges more than males

If you see a dolphin using a sponge, it's probably female. (The dolphin, not the sponge.) Is this any different than people? How many human households have males as the major sponge users?

Researchers think the sponges are used for finding food, but here's a more obvious idea.

Or, it could be something even more interesting...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Imposter fish

More about the problem of mislabeled fish. I'm not sure I buy the idea that mislabeled fish is "wreaking havoc on ocean conservation."

Either way, it has a lot of good info and a fun picture (right).

Friday, December 05, 2008

Underwater logging

Sounds like a joke, but it's not. Ghana is planning to log trees submerged in a man-made lake in 1964. The trees remain useful underwater because decomposition is slowed underwater.

Canada also has a substantial underwater logging program underway, and efforts will likely show up wherever there is wood underwater. Check out this breathless prose that describes an underwater logging machine:

Triton's Sawfish™ Underwater Harvester represents the first true arrival of viable marine technology in underwater forests. Developed and manufactured by Triton, it is the world's only deep-water logging machine, combining proven elements from timber-harvesting and submarine vehicle technology on an innovative platform.
This is not new, in the US northwest, logs were pulled out of streams to "clean" them, but also because it's an easy way to make a timber quota, haul a few logs out of a stream by a road to top off a year's logging.

There is a risk that mucking about underwater will harm underwater habitat even while it offers the possibility of sparing forests on land.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sea grape surprises scientists

It looks like a grape, lives in the ocean, moves really slowly, and it's actually a huge single-celled organism at 1 inch. It's the Bahamian Gromia.

The sea grape may be one of the slowest-moving creatures on earth. They leave tracks in the deep sea mud where they live, but scientists couldn't see them move. Now the idea is that they move really slowly, like 1 inch per day.

The sea grape may be responsible for fossil tracks made 530 million years ago, roiling the waters of how scientists view ancient life. The tracks were too complex to be made by simple single-celled organisms, or so we thought until we learned about the sea grape.

That's a lot of new thinking for a creature originally called doo-doo balls because they were thought to be some sort of poop.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Carnival of the blue 19

This month's best of ocean blogging is live at WaterNotes. Stop by and have a read, and say hi to your host Sarah.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Peter's excellent deep sea adventure

Blog maven Peter Etnoyer actually did some real work, and he's getting some fanstastic results and real-world respect. So much for the stereotype that bloggers are do-nothings.

Here's his description of the new species he discovered, a new species of deep-sea bamboo coral, a calcareous sea fan called Isidella.

Even more stunning, here's a YouTube video of the actual moment of discovery. Set to music, it's a poignant chronicle of the great passion of discovery, and the clumsy, robotic moves involved in plucking a specimen off the sea bottom and pocketing it for later study.

Monday, December 01, 2008

YES WE CAN save our ocean

Government works, and our ocean says thanks. Today, new federal rules were finalized that enhance protection of our ocean in California's Monterey Bay and elsewhere.

Marine protected areas (MPAS) are places in our ocean where harmful impacts are limited or prohibited, and the new rules expand and strengthen some MPAs. Also completed is a federal compilation and coordination process for existing MPAs. According to biologist Mark Hixon, “just writing down all the bodies of water that are actually MPAs is a huge accomplishment. Once we can look at an MPA map and determine gaps in protection we’ll really start seeing the results.”

image: orca jumping for joy at the news of new ocean protections

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Salmon spawn in a sewage stream

The salmon are running in East Chicago. This month marks the 20th annual return of a prized and ecologically sensitive game fish to a stream that is fed, essentially, by the toilets and drains of this city of 30,000 residents.

So says an article in the

This is a strange story. The fish are invasive Pacific salmon in the Great Lakes, and they're swimming up to a sewage plant to spawn.

But I love the story anyway, because this is nature bursting out with a power of life that astonishes. It's better than a sappy movie where the underdog wins against all odds. I say GO SALMON!

note: photo of Chicago salmon fishing, but it does not show sewage salmon

Friday, November 28, 2008

Walmart and Alaska salmon

Do you think of Walmart when you think Alaska salmon? You should.

The retailer known for low prices has changed it's tagline (now "Save Money. Live Better"). And now Walmart is selling wild Alaska salmon, a fish with a high-end image, a fish associated with fine dining and food snobs.

I bought Copper River salmon at Walmart 2 years ago, at 17.99 per pound when the same fish was running 25-30 dollars per pound elsewhere. The fish was fantastic, and I probably wouldn't have bought it at 25-30 per pound.

Wild Alaska salmon are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, and Walmart is moving towards sustainable seafood by carrying this fish.

photo credit: U Washington, Thomas Quinn

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Retailer group tackles seafood problems

Fixing our seafood problems is now on the national agenda of big retailers. A large retailer trade association, the Food Marketing Institute, is developing tools and advice for retailers on how to advance seafood sustainability.

The FMI is working with the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, reaching across the aisle to connect with advocacy groups rather than fighting.

Sounds promising.

Quoting from the FMI's press release:

FMI Developing Seafood Sustainability Guidelines
ARLINGTON, Va.—The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) is developing guidelines, best practices, case studies and other resources to help the supermarket industry address seafood sustainability issues.

“We seek to provide a wide variety of seafood to help consumers maintain a healthy diet, while also recognizing that sustaining the world’s fisheries is critical to preserving the environment,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI president and CEO.

FMI’s Sustainability Task Force formed a working group to identify issues that can be resolved on an industrywide basis. The group is consulting with the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, composed of the world’s leading environmental organizations and is developing guidelines to help companies create seafood sustainability programs.

The FMI Sustainable Seafood Working Group is gathering case studies of retailer best practices, including initiatives certified by independent agencies and developed with non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It also is compiling a list of experts, certification and auditing bodies, government agencies, NGOs and other resources with whom retailers can consult.

The resource list and case studies will be posted on FMI’s website.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Klamath River dams to come down

Blogfish is over the moon, the nasty Klamath River dams are going to come down. PacifiCorp, the owner of the dams, has agreed and the dams should come out in 2020.

There's much to be done, and years to wait. But I think I just might see this river without dams someday.

It's a good day for a fish and river guy.

Greenpeace fish head protest

What do you do if you want to save fish? If you're Greenpeace, you dump 5 tons of fish heads in front of the government Fishery Department.

What is the connection between fish heads and better government? According to Greenpeace:

Dead tuna heads for deadbeat tuna managers.

Paris, France — What does it take to get the governments responsible for the imminent collapse of the East Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery to wake up and do something? What about a mock "Pirates of the Mediterranean" poster of the responsible ministers in pirate gear in The Economist? How about more than 10,000 emails? OK, how about several tonnes of dead tuna fish heads dumped on the doorstep of the French fisheries ministry?

What do you think? Will this protest be effective? Hard to say, but here's the
National Fisheries Institute response, with an astute critique:

But further along, far from the pun-riddled headlines, reports also say a Greenpeace delegation met with staff members of the agriculture and fisheries minister. But because of Greenpeace's insatiable appetite for inappropriate and illegal publicity stunts (used later to raise funds for the organization) no one is talking about its meeting with agriculture ministry staff. No, they're talking about dead fish heads on the ministry steps.

Once again the messenger has succeeded in upstaging his own message.

Is it true that the tuna head protest was primarily to gain attention and raise money? Well, at the bottom of the webpage describing the action, Greenpeace said:

Ads in the Economist and dead fish heads don't grow on trees. Help us continue to command the attention of decision makers by giving whatever you can.

This is a fairly tight linkage between a protest action and an appeal for donations, making it easy for critics to accuse Greenpeace of focusing only on the money.

Bluefin tuna are in deep trouble, and serious action is needed. Protests may help bring attention to the matter, but is it the right kind of attention? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to hunt whales we go...

What if your job was to go smiling and whistling off to the bow of a ship to fire an exploding harpoon gun at a whale?

Or to sharpen up a big (BIG) knife and slice huge fillets off the side of a whale?

Would you say it was a rough job, but hey it's worth it for the health insurance and 401(k)?

It's that time of year again, when Japan's whaling ships go to work doing the so-called scientific whale hunting that has been much argued in the last couple of decades.

The Australian government objected, in the person of ex-rocker Peter Garrett, and anti-whaling activists vowed to go whistling off to work harassing the whalers.

Meanwhile, US fishermen continue to string spider webs of ropes in the way of critically endangered right whales.

What's wrong with this picture? (and I don't mean just the drawing and photos)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ocean observatory now live off California

Ever want to know what's going on in the deep ocean? Hey, it's more interesting than you think, with giant squid that could eat you like an appetizer, and massive deep-sea "landslides."

Well, lucky you, the first deep sea observatory is now operational off the US coast, 3,000 feet under the ocean surface. This observatory will allow scientists unprecedented access to the deep sea for observations and experiments, and if you win the lottery you can use it too.*

More than just a camera for watching stuff, the observatory is also an underwater power strip and internet connection, allowing scientists to "plug-in" their instruments and stream lots of data back home through a massive cable buried in the ocean bottom.

*just kidding about the lottery.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Underwater death star

And it's green! It's a giant brittle star with a frightening way of catching and eating fish. Who knew that a humble brittle star could catch a smarter and faster fish?

Thanks to The Echinoblog for this revelation of the brittle star of death from the Phillipines, Ophiarachna incrassata, described as a "crepuscular and nocturnal predator "...

Diagram credit, James Morin of UCLA from the 1988 International Echinoderms Conference (Burke et al. pp. 401-407.)

Quoting from Echinoblog:

At night (this behavior was only observed using red lights), this species will sit up on its armtips and form a "pseudocrevice" , maintaining the position (shown in the top diagram) for many minutes without moving. Apparently, he found many individuals found in this posture during the night.

From here, it gets interesting.

Short version: Fish get too close..and then...

Ophiarchna will RAPIDLY wrap its body into aspiral (as above) ..forming the "body spiral". This action apparently takes less than a SECOND.

The fish is trapped by the elongate spines on the arms creating "bars" to a "prison" formed by the helically arranged arms.

The brittle star holds the position for several minutes, gradually lowering the disk toward the bottom and moves its arms outward.

Prey captured was digested head first as it was swallowed WHOLE by the ophiuroid.

Interestingly, Ophiarachna takes advantage of several of these fish's natural nocturnal behavior to find hiding spaces. And although they feed on a variety of items (e.g., algae, etc.) this behavior was observed to be quite successful.
Oh my!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Swim Around Bainbridge

Swim Around Bainbridge is my other which I swim the 53 miles around my home island, Bainbridge Island. I'm swimming it a little bit at a time and blogging about the experience.

The sea lions and oysters, the salmon farm and the Superfund site, the sneaking through private land to get to the beach, and the invitation to dive under the covers with an alluring mistress, etc. So far I've made 5+ miles, and it's feeling good. Lots more fun to come, so check it out.

Blakely Harbor, close up (left) and wide angle (right)

Day 6, and I've been uncovered. Tristan Baurick, a reporter for the Kitsap Sun, found me and asked to talk. He came with me to my entry point today (photos above), we talked a bit, he took a few pictures, and then he watched me swim away from the beach.

I'm also getting some interest from potential guest swimmers. tres arboles said yes, we only need to set a time, but now my wife wants to be first and her mother wants to take a ceremonial dip in just her bathing suit as part of the next swim. Then a CA friend wants to fly up and join a leg or two. Wow, this is starting to take off. Will it be more fun or too much trouble to coordinate? So long as everyone is flexible, it should be fine.

I head into Blakely Harbor, expecting to find quiet water. It's been raining and windy for several days, but today is mostly sunny and almost calm.

Surprise, today there is an actual north swell running about 1 foot. That's unusual for a fairly calm day in Puget Sound. The water isn't quite as clear as I expected with the recent calm.

A few surprises today...a sea lion swam by the beach just as I was about to get in, I saw a kingfisher on a branch over the water, and I ended up swimming much farther from shore for part of the day since the bottom slope was very gradual in the sandy part of the harbor.

air temp: 49F
water temp: 52F
Nov. 13, noon, mostly sunny
wind from the northeast at 5mph
medium tide, slack
visibility 5-15 feet
slight swell from the north
today's distance: 0.93 mile
total so far: 5.26 miles

today's notables:
basket star
California sea lion

This is about 10% of the way around Bainbridge Island, and most of the way around the island's southern peninsula where I live. Things will get more and more unfamiliar from now on.

View Larger Map

The ocean bottom where I get in is mostly gravel with bits of bedrock and sandy patches. The water feels cold starting out, as usual. The water is also fairly dark, with the sun low in the sky (November at this high latitude) the hills and trees shade most of this north-facing shore. It's a bit hard to see, especially in a few places where there's a bit of murk in the water.

The harbor has more sand than the exposed coastline, including broad expanses of clean sand with little ripples formed by wave action. Patches of eelgrass are scattered around, and there are only a few obvious surface-dwelling animals. The action in these sand flats is mostly under the surface. Holes of different shapes and sizes are everywhere, and occasionally a stream of bubbles comes streaming up out of a hole in the sand.

After getting out, I notice a sign on the road for a beach replenishment project, a landowner wants to put sand on the beach, either to protect property or make a nice place to enjoy the shore. I wonder if they know that most of their sand is where I am, and that pumping sand onto the beach will end up replenishing the ocean bottom in a few short years? Maybe they don't care, and they'll just do it again in a few years.

I'm out of time and have to get out and go back to work, but the beach is a bit steep. After I haul out, there's a short hike up to the road, and my breath is steaming in the cold air. Later, back at my car, my whole body starts steaming after I peel off my drysuit. It's not really dry in this suit, enough water gets in and gets warm to produce steam when I peel off the suit.

Now I have to hurry back to my office and join a meeting, this longish lunch hour has got to end. I've only spent an hour and a half away and I got in a very nice swim!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ecuador gives rights to nature

What a novel idea, nature has a right to exist. What leading country declared such a basic fact? Ecuador.

According to Earthjustice:

the Rights of Nature section in the Ecuadorian constitution that recently became law does just that. In Ecuador today, an ecosystem:

Has the "right to exist" and—perhaps more importantly—to "persist."
Has the right to "maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, and functions."
Has the right to "its processes in evolution."
And most importantly, any person, people, or community can take legal action to defend those rights without showing personal harm.

Rights of Nature provisions may finally provide balance in legal systems around the world that tend to view nature as only an economic resource for humans.
BTW, this is from the great Earthjustice blog, unEARTHED. Read it, or find yourself hopelessly left behind.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Amazing ocean discoveries

Who says there's nothing new under the sun? All you have to do is look underwater to find a lot of amazing new stuff.

The Census of Marine Life has brought together thousands of ocean scientists to compile their results and draw big conclusions about the biggest habitat on earth, our oceans. The results are amazing, surprising, and mind-boggling.

There's the great white shark cafe

Warm spots in the Pacific where phytoplankton and big fish congregate, sort of like a public hot tub.

And the counterpoint, super-salty and super-cold waters where creatures live inside of ice tubes that get colder than you thought possible for liquid water, like -25C.

...and more...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A solution for excess CO2?

On the Island of Doubt, blogger James Hrynyshyn waxes enthusiastic about a new approach for getting pesky CO2 out of our atmosphere and chemically locked up in rocks.

I read his blog, and it's not every day that he finds something that rises above his doubt. It's atmosphere restoration.

Wouldn't it be nice to find a relatively easy techno-answer to our carbon dioxide pollution that threatens to acidify our oceans and change our way of life?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The decline of pink (salmon)

Pinks are the poor relations of the salmon world, although they shouldn't be. They lack the superstar appeal of king (chinook) salmon and they're not even in the second tier with sockeye and coho. And pinks are small. Along with chum, pinks are just plain fish.

They're not bad fish at all, I love a good canned pink salmon. And in biological terms, there's no reason to not think pink when thinking about salmon. Pink salmon are important ecologically, so they might be the superstar salmon for an animal like, say, a killer whale.

So even though you've barely heard of pink salmon, there's reason to feel bad about the recently reported decline of pink salmon off British Columbia. In particular, pinks are in big trouble near salmon farms.

The scientist responsible for uncovering this problem was recently profiled in the New York Times, and featured on the Island of Doubt blog for her achievement in science without benefit of the typical pedigree, gasp she doesn't have a Ph.D.! How dare she wade in these waters without a license???!!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish

Do you look to scientists for advice on how to live your life? I didn't think so.

Conservation biologists often wonder why their work fails to change the world. Here's an editorial that displays some of the reasons for failure. It's a plea from Giovanni Bearzi, in Conservation Biology: When Swordfish Conservation Biologists Eat Swordfish.

Bearzi wants conservation biologists to "walk their talk" and do things like stop eating swordfish. Why? Not to change the world, but to lead by example. But what is the example? He offers no reason to believe that not eating swordfish will change the way people catch swordfish. It comes across as self-denial with no clear benefit, and that's a hard thing to get people to do.

Bearzi's views on how to persuade people seem to be vague hopes. He dreams of a time when
"our conservation elites have abandoned our unsustainable habits"
and expects that
"only then will there be convincing evidence that responsible individual behavior can spring from science-based understanding of cause-effect relationships and only then will there be any hope that, beyond theory and preaching, the inspired and knowledgeable choices of a few visionaries may affect a larger community in a growing spiral of understanding."
Is he serious? Does he really believe this?

Scientific understanding is NOT the basis for behavior, at least for most people. There is plenty of evidence that people are often irrational in their behavior and choices.

And who is going to look to conservation elites for models of how to live their lives? Most scientists do not look like role models, we tend to look dorky and unappealing to most people.

To be fair, Bearzi says his plea for conservation elites to "just say no" to swordfish and SUVs is not meant to be a recipe to change the world. But he does hope it helps inspire others to do the same.

A better inspirational example would be to do something more effective, and hope that action spreads. Here's a better idea...

Conservation biologists should dedicate their time to attending meetings of fishery managers where decisions are made about fishing regulations. I've been at many such meetings, and independent conservation biologists are extremely rare. For people who care so much about conservation, why not show up where conservation decisions are made?

Friday, November 07, 2008

A codless country

Hold on to your Mark Kurlansky books, they might become historical artifacts. The cod of the Gulf of St. Lawrence have 40 years left, at best, and only 20 years if fishing stays at current levels. Douglas P. Swain and Ghislain A. Chouinard report on this imminent extinction in the latest Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, only, being scientists, they call it extirpation. Technically, extinction requires you to prove all the fish are gone, while an extirpated population is barely hanging on -- too small to sustain itself, much less feed people or wildlife.

This is the second Atlantic cod stock to crash in the region, and even severe restrictions haven't brought the fish back. Fish mortality is high and getting higher, with no clear answer or remedy. Once upon a time, cod were money; today they're just emulating the financial markets, with no bailout in sight.

It's open access so you can enjoy the whole paper.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

It's time to regulate bad behavior again

Is the era of deregulation over?

Both sides of the aisle see more regulations ahead, says the New York Times.

From an article in the LA Times, here's a fascinating quote from an anti-government guy who wants to see more regulation:

Ian Bagley thinks he pays too many taxes, says welfare rolls need to be reduced and believes the private sector usually does a better job than the public sector. But after watching the housing market collapse and the stock market tank, the civil engineer from Kenosha, Wis., now believes there is not enough government regulation of the economy. A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg national poll shows Bagley is far from alone.
So is it unanimous? What is the future of deregulation?

Well, there is still the Bush administration's push to deregulate some things before the door hits them on their way out of town.

According to the White House, they're just doing the job they were elected to do.

Carnival of the blue 18

Is now live at Deep Sea News. Stop by for the best in ocean blogging.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

YES WE CAN restore coho salmon

Here's a very nice success story in restoring coho salmon in Northern California.

Watershed restoration is succeeding in the Garcia River, a formerly-degraded forest river in heavily-logged Mendocino County. How do we know it's working? Coho salmon seem to be expanding their range and moving into new areas where they haven't been seen in decades.

Conservation groups are leading the way, buying land and managing it for ecosystem health. The Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Fund are working together, logging carefully, with an eye towards proving that logging can be done in a way that is compatible with healthy rivers and fish.

This reinforces an important, even critical point. There is logging done wrong and logging done right. Just like there is fishing done wrong and fishing done right. There is nothing wrong with logging and fishing done right. Some people make the mistake of thinking we need to ban all logging and fishing because too much logging and fishing is done wrong. Banning logging and fishing would be conservation done wrong, because of a lack of vision. Thanks to the Conservation Fund and Nature Conservancy for proving this point.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Oyster restoration project

Loss of oysters is bad, and Massachusetts Audubon is trying to fix that at an Audubon sanctuary in Massachusetts (see photo).

Wellfleet Bay might have a few (thousand) more oysters soon, thanks to efforts to build habitat for baby oysters. This is a good project, relying on natural oyster reproduction and using human intervention to replace and restore a missing ecological element--massive mounds of oyster shells that provide a suitable home for baby oysters. Human intervention to replace something that's missing because of us. Makes sense, and it just might work.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A border fence for ocean invaders

There's a foreign scourge that's wreaking havoc with our economy. And it needs to be stopped. We need a border fence to stop invasive species from ruining our ocean ecosystems.

Thanks to an environmental group called scrappy by the Portland Oregonian, we just might get some better rules that help build something like a border fence for invasive ocean species.

The problem comes from ballast water pumped into the cargo areas of ships when they're in one port, and then pumped out in another port. Along for the ride come a whole host of undocumented workers looking to find jobs in their new homes.

Things like zebra mussels, which are expected to cost the U.S. $3.1 billion over the next ten years. Yes, that's billion with a B. Ouch.

Thanks to my Reed College classmate Nina Bell, Executive Director of the scrappy Northwest Environmental Advocates, we just might get some relief. According to Nina,
"The handwriting is on the wall that it's time for the shipping industry to get serious," said Nina Bell, executive director of the group. "If EPA had spent its resources regulating this problem instead of fighting, we'd all be better off."
Hmmm...that sounds familiar. Sort of like the overfishing problem. Oh well, let's hope a new administration finds a better path forward.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Turning a corner on dam removal

I never thought I'd see the day that a rural Oregon county called for removal of a dam. Jackson County in resource-using southern Oregon wants a dam removed from the Rogue River, nice.

Why am I surprised? Jackson County is famous for, among other things, the longest public library closure in the United States,
thanks to residents voting not to fund the libraries cuz who needs those damn books anyway?

For years, rural Oregonians have fought against dam removal on the Rogue River, on the Umpqua River, and almost everywhere else (I know, I was part of these struggles).

We've really turned a corner away from the days when removing a damn was considered un-American.

And to make the whole thing seem like an epidemic, the McKenzie River is also being freed of some salmon-killing dams.

Maybe we weren't wasting our time when we tried to start this trend!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Green porno reaches out and touches you

In a way that dry facts can't touch you. I especially like the big, wet slimy foot images in snail sex (below). Isabella Rossellini delivers bug sex performance art like you've never seen it before.

Fight over dams fueled by new study

It's a shocker, a new study that claims dams make no difference to salmon survival. But don't start planning new dams just yet...the study has serious flaws and the conclusions are overstated.

Think about it...if one new study came out saying smoking doesn't cause cancer, would you be ready to change your mind after years of studies to the contrary?

The journal that publised the study heralded the findings with a stupid press release that claimed: "Dams make no damn difference to salmon survival." Now that's adding gasoline to a fire, with a ridiculously overstatement of the study's results. Thankfully, this title was quickly removed from the press release.

How did we get into this mess? What's up with PLoS Biology, the online journal that published the study and pushed the findings with a sensational press release? I'll pose the question to PLoS's online community manager and get back to you with the answer.

Here's what happened. Researchers compared survival of young salmon moving downstream to the ocean in two different rivers, one with dams (Columbia River) and one without (Fraser River). They survived equally well, or I should say equally poorly.

From this, a conclusion that dams don't matter? A better conclusion is to report that salmon survived poorly in both rivers, so they both have problems. One (Columbia) has a dam problem, and the other (Fraser) has a non-dam problem.

This study is more reasonable than the press release, but it still invites foolish interpretations with some of the language in uses to describe the results.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Killers killing killer whales

The killers killing salmon are now killers killing killer whales now that we have attribution of a killer whale decline to declining salmon.

We love orcas and salmon out here on the damp coast, and we're very sad to see both of our friends going missing. It's especially bad that they're in the crapper together. With outsiders blogging about this, I was reluctant to dive in. I wanted to mourn in private But this awesome picture in the PI was just too good to not steal and now I'm diving in. Here goes.

The only real question here is whether we will get serious about saving our friends. Or will we continue to write lots of plans expatiating our guilt and doing too little. We can save them if we really want to. And it doesn't necessarily have to hurt our economy or otherwise carry a high price. We just need people to live their lives as though killer whales and salmon matter to them.

We see the killers killing killer whales when we look in our mirrors. They're the same killers that are killing salmon. What shall we do about the killers that are running free in our midst?

Global warming wake up call

No, not the kind you want...where people wake up and start to do something. This is a wake up call for those who think what's needed is more information in front of the public, or in front of our leaders.

In a fascinating experiment, highly educated and informed people were asked to respond to credible information about climate change. They failed. According to Communications Professor Matt Nisbet:

When presented with highly technical and science-laden depictions of a problem such as climate change, even our brightest minds with advanced specialized training often lack the required mental frameworks and models to accurately interpret, make sense of, and arrive at correct judgments.
What does this mean? Throwing more information at people is unlikely to result in smart responses to problems such as climate change.

Sorry for you scientists out there, the facts DO NOT speak for themselves. In fact, few things do speak for themselves in the public arena. Maybe nothing does, except free money and big, bad, scary threats that are perceived as personal, real, and immediate.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Seafood is the scariest food.

According to this poll, seafood is the scariest food. Seafood is even a little worse than beef, and a lot worse than lettuce.

This is a problem for the seafood industry, and I hope it gets taken seriously in the future. Will we see moves to secure the future of seafood by improving regulations, including labeling, monitoring and enforcement?

Or will we let dead fish continue to be even scarier than live fish?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wave energy technology advances

Want cheap, green energy that doesn't produce CO2? Scientists have developed a new device that captures wave energy using more efficient technology.

Now it's time to ask whether we want to build wave energy parks on our coasts. The developers of the new technology think we could meet 10% of the energy needs of the state of Oregon with wave energy, using only a small portion of Oregon's coastline.

What do you think? Should we build wave energy parks? What if we take this further, and what if we could eliminate CO2 production and eliminate threats to coral reefs, would it be worth developing our coast?

There's no easy answer, but I think we can't afford to "just say no" to coastal development that can help us fight climate change.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Swimming Around Bainbridge Island

I'm doing a new thing, and you might find it interesting. I'm going to swim around Bainbridge Island, Washington.

We have a bit of everything here on Bainbridge Island, pristine and beautiful ocean habitats, an industrial port, and a Superfund site. And I'm going to swim around the 53-mile shoreline and take a look at all of it.

Along the way, I'm going to write about what I see and what comes to mind on a new blog, Swim Around Bainbridge. It's already a deeply personal story from an ocean guy. I was planning to keep it private for a while, but why not open it up from the very beginning? Stop by if it sounds interesting.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Damning the West with dams

What do you think about building big new dams? Scary threats to rivers? Or sweet renewable energy? The answer is both, and we have to figure out how to do the balance sheet.

Green energy is everyone's big new thing. Let's build a green economy, using renewable energy, save the planet, and create jobs. Cool, I'm on board.

What is renewable energy anyway? The closer we look at supposedly renewable energy like hydropower dams, the more we see resources being consumed. Hydropower dams are not completely renewable energy, they consume river ecosystems. But is it more important to protect river ecosystems or to avoid CO2 production?

These big, scary questions need answers.

Because the pressure for new dams is very current and very real. Lacking a smart plan, we'll just go ahead and do it piecemeal. And that's a move we'll regret. Just like we're reconsidering the dam-building frenzy of the early to mid-1900s.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lost fishing gear keeps on killing

What happens to old fishing gear? Lost nets, known as "ghost nets" can keep on fishing for decades, killing ocean animals indiscriminately.

Here in Puget Sound, people are trying to clean up the mess of lost fishing gear. It's an amazingly huge problem. The Seattle Times reports on a pilot project that aims to remove 12 tons of gear. That's just the beginning of solving this problem. Yikes.

According to the Times:

Officials believe that 4,000 nets and 14,000 crab pots still rest abandoned in Puget Sound, and the gear has already trapped and killed more than 30,000 animals.
How does old fishing gear kill?

Lost and abandoned fishing nets, crab pots and monofilament line lurking in the depths can mean catastrophe for marine life. Fish, crustaceans, sea birds and marine mammals die after becoming entangled in lost or abandoned commercial and recreational gear.

The dead animals attract predators and scavengers who then perish. In this manner, "a derelict fishing net can fish for decades," Williams said.

"These things are killing fields," said Gary Wood, executive director of Island County's marine-resource committee. "If they were terrestrial, that's what we'd call them. The reason there isn't a big hubbub is because they're underwater, so we don't see them."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spinning a fishery decline

Is it a good thing or a bad thing for managers to cut back a sustainable fishery. Is it a problem that the fish decline? Or is it a good thing that managers respond to that decline? It seems to depend on how you look at the situation.

The MSC-certified sustainable Alaska pollock fishery must reduce fishing next year. Everyone seems to agree on that. But opinions diverge widely on how much to reduce fishing and what it all means.

According to Greenpeace, we're looking at a historic fishery collapse, signs that the entire Alaskan ocean has been devastated by a so-called "sustainable" fishery, because common sense has been thrown out the window due to the amount of money involved. Strong words.

But the fishery scientists who count the fish think that would be an overstatement.

The fishery stock assessment that will be the final word on the status of Alaska's pollock isn't done yet, and when it is done, that will be the best answer. Greenpeace is responding to some preliminary and incomplete scientific results, and may not find support from fishery scientists for their stark claims.

Meanwhile, here are the views of some of the people who catch pollock, although there's nothing on the current situation yet.

Blogfish is keenly intersted in how this turns out, and how the players respond. Stay tuned for more as the situation develops.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

US losing catfish war

American fish farmers seemed to be on a winning streak with catfish, but things have turned. Now catfish farms are going under, and the name "catfish" is being replaced by the more upscale invented name "delacata."

Ironic, considering the battle over who could use the name "catfish." American fish farmers won, but they don't want their prize anymore.

Catfish farms were on a winning streak just a few years ago. They turned out a good fish at a good price, with a positive sustainability ranking, and people were buying it. Then foreign competition shuffled the deck.

Vietnamese catfish farms (photo above right) grow good fish at a good price, and the fish are cheaper. They're coming back under their own names, tra, basa, and pangasius, and winning again at the fish counter. The only hope for American catfish farmers is to win the race to the top, by selling for a high price to discerning fish lovers. You'll soon see a new American catfish product that will compete by featuring the higher environmental and sustainability standards used in US fish farms. Only it won't be called catfish, a name that's not suitable for a premium fish.

Enter "delacata," a new name for a fillet that's better than catfish. You'll see it soon if you haven't already, and it'll be free of the risk of contamination that hovers around imported farmed fish.

Who's winning the catfish wars? You decide, after you try delacata.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Crotch lobster

Oh my. While some folks are hard at work designing new marine protected areas for southern California, others are shoving lobsters down their pants. Stealing lobsters isn't particularly difficult -- wardens say it's one of the most common poaching targets, after abalone. Either the La Jolla Conservation Area is working well, producing swarms of lobsters, or pickings are slim on the outside. NBC points out that California lobsters don't have claws -- true -- but they aren't called spiny lobsters for nothing.

Some may consider his theft its own kind of punishment, but I hope the judge throws the book at him for not having his required report card and taking from a protected area. Too often judges see poaching as a lesser crime, not worthy of the time it takes to hear a case. But those are our lobsters in his pants, and fines support the hard work of wardens catching those wildlife thieves.

photo of lobster checking out your jeans by Barbara Lloyd

Mysterious fish said to eat people in India

It's called a goonch, and it's a catfish that can get really big and is said to be eating people in India and Nepal.

The story is strange. The goonch probably started down the path of eating people by scavenging bodies disposed in rivers in the area, a common practice apparently. Now, some mysterious cases of disappearing people are attributed to a goonch pulling them underwater and eating them.

This is no run-of-the-mill catfish, they're BIG. They can get to be 200 pounds and they are certainly capable of pulling a person underwater. In one case of a disappearing Nepali boy, he was said to be pulled underwater by "an elongated pig." I suppose a goonch could be described as an elongated pig (see photo above).

The goonch that ate people, sounds like a Dr. Seuss book.

Hat tip: zooillogix

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

Blogfish would be failing you if we didn't bring you the very best in fish and ocean literature.

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall is an awesome novel and a national bestseller. It has a fascinating shark story as a key part of the plot. Yes, the shark is threatening, but not in the way you think. This is a Ludovician shark, after all, something you have not yet heard about.

"Rousingly inventive" says the Washington Post, "Sharp and clear...writing on the edge of the form" says the Los Angeles Times, and "pretty good stuff" says blogfish. Way to go Steven hall.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Carnival of the blue 17

It's a cephalopod-fest this month over at, where carnival of the blue (the best in ocean blogging) meets International Cephalopod Awareness Day.

I'm all for cephalopod education, but I'm not sure we need a special day when we all focus on making cehpalopods aware.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Small steps matter in saving the earth

U.S. consumers have direct or indirect control over 65% of the country's greenhouse-gas emissions says a new report from the famed consultants of McKinsey & Co. This means that the small steps YOU take can be an important part of saving the earth.

This is a bit of a controversial subject, and the nice Treehugger blog offers both the pros and the cons in one place. How tidy.

Now, what's your next step?

I'll probably reduce the number of trips I take on my private jet each week, and stop flying across the country just to watch sporting events (especially if I think my team will lose). After all, I'm now exposed by the bad press in Green, Inc.