Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Seafood Summit: Wal-mart rocks

Wal-mart is giving a huge boost to the sustainable seafood movement. They haven't switched over to selling only sustainable seafood, they're going one better.

Wal-mart is improving the sustainability of their current seafood supplies. It's now two years after Wal-mart committed to selling wild-caught seafood only if it's certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. They made a similar committment for farmed seafood, but there's no comparable eco-label yet so that's a murkier subject.

To implement their sustainability commitment, Wal-mart didn't take the easy road of switching suppliers. Instead, they're working to improve fisheries to make them sustainable. This is real leadership, and it deserves praise. It is improving the condition of our oceans.

Their approach will even help bring sustainable seafood to everyone, which was a plea from chef Barton Seaver who can only bring it to people who can afford his $65 ticket price at Hook.

Other seafood buyers are also working to improve fisheries, of course, but none matches the unexpected hero status of Wal-mart.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Seafood Summit-rebranding sustainable seafood

What shall we call the ocean product formerly known as sustainable seafood? Chef Barton Seaver has a tongue-in-cheek answer and it's a mouthful.

And then we can get back to the food odyssey in Barcelona...

Seaver (top left) has Hook in Washington DC, a marvelous sustainable seafood restaurant. He spoke on a panel with chef Gerard Viverito and the two of them made a pitch for making sustainable seafood work better, for more people, and with a sense of celebration.

Seaver noted that the organic food movement has lost some of its original ethos, and made a suggestion for keeping sustainable seafood in touch with the real issues. It was a delightful suggestion for rebranding sustainable seafood that did a great job capturing the difficulty of the task. His solution, reprinted in it's entirety:

Autochthonous environmentally or ecologically friendly (define friendly) seafood or other such pleasures derived from comestible experiences formerly relating to the ocean, whose social value extends beyond the law of commons to ensure an enduring experience for all involved...

...not compromising the habitat or seafarer’s ability to adequately provide for his/her family, while providing a tax base for globalization within & without of communities (define communities) as it relates to global well-being of the commodity heretofore to be called “FISH” as presented in Exhibit A through... a product meant to capture desires, both primal & ideological, of a consumer base (define consumer base) in a market setting (define market setting) so the end result sustains human life with a sense of enjoyment.

OK, so the product formerly known as sustainable seafood now has a much more encompassing definition a la Seaver. Then, getting a bit more serious, he offered this comment on reality:

The range of possible interpretations is infinite. How a word is defined falls short of how we define our actions. At the heart of the matter is that sustainability is not an environmental concern, but a social one.

Well said, Barton.

This is not to slight Gerard Viverito, he offerd a very engaging presentation on the need for people to become educated and informed, and he called upon well-funded advocacy groups to quit trying to use people (e.g. chefs) as tools in achieving political goals. Instead, he asks all of us to keep it real for people like chefs, quit offering simple answers, and recognize the many viewpoints and issues involved in the highly complex sustainability-sphere. In summary, he wants more optimism and participation in advancing sustainability.

Gerard's presentation is available on Ocean Commotion, the blog from Passionfish, which is one of his many passionate activities. I suggest that everyone read his presentation, at least twice, it speaks volumes and says it very well.

To complement these great presentations, I offer my own synthesis of several different presentations, including the final panel member Stephen "Mr. Fish" Potter of the Hastings Borough Council, who explained the efforts of a small fishing port to rebrand their products as sustainable and thus build value for the fish and the fishing community.

At risk of offending Gerard Viverito, I'll blithely speak in a soundbite in the hope of finding a big picture value-laden goal to remember. That means here's my take-home message so far:

"Sustainability is a journey, the path taken is important, and there is no single destination."

Thus spake blogfish, from an inspiring conference in a beautiful city.

Now on to more "autochthonous environmentally or ecologically friendly (define friendly) seafood or other such pleasures derived from comestible experiences formerly relating to the ocean..."

It seems that the quest for molecular gastronomy will prove ultimately futile, so abandoning single goals, and appreciating the journey, I plan to ramble La Rambla and thus seek autochthonous pleasures.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Seafood summit Monday

What does it mean when agreement is reached among an ENGO and two European seafood giants, (Young's and Espersen), on promoting sustainability? That's what happened today when I spoke on a panel with Simon Rilatt of Young's and Alex Olsen of Espersen, regarding how to improve unsustainable fisheries.

All this and more from Barcelona, the "city of Modernism," including an odyssey in search of the finest cuisine Barcelona has to offer.

But first, back to the Seafood Summit panel on improving unsustainable fisheries. Simon from Young's, Alex from Esperson, and I all agreed on the need for seafood businesses to engage in fixing unsustainable fisheries instead of routinely just walking away. And, we agreed quite a bit on how to do that. It's simple to state but hard to do. Seafood business can use their influence to fix problems like overfishing and habitat damage from fishing. This means ask managers to tighten regulations, encourage fishermen to change and provide some incentives, etc.

And it's not just a task for the big guys. If you're an individual, you can join conservation groups like the Ocean Conservancy, become an online activist or a superactivist and lend your voice to public debates on fishery management, in writing or in person. It's fun and rewarding, and you'll never look at fish the same again once you've done your part for conservation.

Also I found other good conclusions from more panels and the ubiquitous hallway chats (Seafood Summit's reputation is more action in the hallways than the panel sessions). Much talk about "what is sustainability," how do we measure it, and most importantly how do we deliver it to customers. That and the sharp laughter, strained or mirthful, about Stinky Fish, now rumored to be coming back after some rather stiff editing.

After all that and more, I wandered on a trek with OC colleagues Koyel and Kathryn looking for a particularly hard to find restaurant in old Barcelona. After circling the expected location for 20 minutes or so, we settled on another convenient seafood restaurant for some very nice seafood paella and Spanish wine, with a vow to get better directions and return again tomorrow. I've just got to sample some molecular gastronomy, and that's not a snail biology quiz.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Seafood Summit-prologue

Sitting in Seattle airport, waiting for the Air France nonstop to Paris, then on to Barcelona for Seafood Summit 2008. I'm to explain my views on how to fix unsustainable fisheries. You know, the ones you feel guilty about eating.

I've got an idea for you...don't "just say no" to unsustainable fisheries. Instead, get involved in fixing them.

It's more powerful than walking away, it's the right thing to do if we helped eat the fish into trouble, and it keeps people connected to the fish they love. OK, how's that for sustainable seafood heresy?

The prevailing model is to convince large seafood buyers and consumers to "just say no" to unsustainable seafood, with the idea that the invisible hand of the market will force fishermen to fish more sustainably. That kind of legerdemain would be nice, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting.

If it's yummy, then too many people want to buy it. Reducing demand is hard, and reducing demand enough to matter is really, really hard.

"Just say no" has been valuable in getting seafood sustainability on the table, and it's helped fix some fisheries. But we need to get more fisheries on the road to improvement and we especially need sustainability for more of our favorite fish.

Some unsustainable fisheries are being worked on by consrevationists, and all they lack is political clout to achieve the necessary reforms. Buyers engage! Support sustainable fishing with your influence. It's easier and more productive than avoiding your favorite (likely unsustainable) fish. All you have to lose is that guilty feeling you get when you eat unsustainable fish.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Controversy over finding of high mercury in NY tuna sushi

High mercury levels are found in tuna sushi, says the NY Times. It's so bad that the FDA could take legal action to stop the sale of the fish. It's a story that strikes fear into the hearts of some seafood lovers and probably everyone who sells seafood.

The mercury in tuna story was the number one most emailed story that day, so people are taking notice. This follows on a recent report of high mercury levels in swordfish.

But wait. There's a controversy brewing. The New York Times, that bastion of high standards, now stands accused of egregious misconduct by the National Fisheries Institute, the people who bring you fish. NFI is a trade association that helps seafood venders sell more seafood. Who do we expect to be more objective and less biased here, the NY Times or the NFI?

The NFI is coming out firing both barrels at the Times. According ot their press release, "NFI will be demanding an explanation from Times editors for how these basic breaches in the newspaper’s own standards could have occurred and will also be requesting a formal correction on specific errors."

Judge for's what was wrong with the story, according to the NFI (excerpts only)

- There is little if any acknowledgment or explanation of the widely accepted benefits associated with eating seafood...

- The sourcing found throughout the report is almost completely one-sided...sources consulted are (mostly) experts with clear self-interests and or (biased) activist groups

-...Burros chose to have her Sushi samples tested by Dr. Michael Gochfeld. As part of his own work Gochfeld treats patients for issues related to mercury.

-Kate Mahaffey from the EPA tells readers that a rise in blood mercury levels in this country “appears” to be related to Americans eating fish that are higher in mercury. This is pure speculation...

----Environmental Defense is a political activist group with scant expertise in the medical science of food consumption. Burros...describ(es) them disingenuously as “work[ing]…to improve human health.”

-Throughout the article there is a sensational mischaracterization of the RfD (reference dose)...

-In mentioning the levels of mercury found in the samples tested Burros fails to explain that the FDA’s “Action Level” is a calculated estimate that also includes a ten-fold safety factor.

Do the warnings matter to real people buying tuna? A follow-up story in the NY Times found customers buying the tuna sushi anyway, including at stores identified by name in the mercury article. Reactions from customers included:

“If I become iridescent from it, I become iridescent from it,” said one. “I’ll glow in the dark.” Another customer noted “You could worry about salmonella in the chicken, E. coli in the beef and pesticides in the fruit.”

Some customers were talking about reducing their tuna intake, but it didn't seem to like a big deal to many people.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Harpooned--Japanese research whaling game

Ever want to harpoon a whale? I didn't think so, but now there's a game that lets you see what it feels like.

Harpooned is designed to send a conservation message by letting people shoot up moving whales from a boat, while trying to avoid hitting protesters. It's supposed to mimic Japanese research whaling around Antarctica, complete with icebergs. When struck, whales leave a big cloud of red blood in the water. You can watch a YouTube video of the game, or download the game at

The outcome: at the end of the game you get a count of the number of cans of pet food and whale hamburgers that came out of your "research" whale hunting.

Hmmm...more and more edgy new media with a conservation message. I don't think I'll be playing this one, and I wonder if the conservation message comes through the carnage.

hat tip:

Ocean commuting by bike

One of my neighbors rides his bike to work...across Puget Sound's ocean waters. He teaches at a college within sight of Bainbridge Island, but an 80 mile round trip drive by car.

What to do? Commute across the water, in his case with a HydroBike.

Bob Barrett and Nat Hong are both happy with their ocean bike commutes, for reasons of health, fun, and resource savings. I'm jealous that they get out on the water every day, but then I do my commute in bunny slippers so I can't really complain.

Stinky Fish lives

Blogfish has a dilemma, I have a copy of the original Stinky Fish YouTube video. I rescued it from my browser cache and I was planning to post it, but now the strong negative reaction to Stinky Fish has me waffling. What should I do? Any help out there?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stinky Fish apology from the Marine Stewardship Council

Remarkable. Stinky Fish is here yesterday, gone today. Thus the short life of an edgy conservation campaign. If you ever wonder why environmental groups are conservative and cautious, this Stinky mess shows you why.

The Stinky Fish video is now a "private" video on YouTube, and I can't find a live copy anywhere. I'll repost if I can find it. WWF has the following mea culpa posted on their Stinky Fish page, along with a link to some boring outakes.

Fish do have ears. Seems I've kicked up quite a stink during the last few days. Some folks out there have shared some good points. And since we all want the same thing at the end of the day - sustainable seafood for generations to come - hell, I'd be a single cell amoeba if I didn't listen. With my movie debut offline while I talk to my Agent about the sequel, why not enjoy some outakes from the original film

Meanwhile, the Marine Stewardship Council has issued the following apology and promise of action.

On Thursday January 17th WWF released a short online video titled Stinky Fish to try to raise awareness amongst younger, web-savvy audiences about the problems of overfishing and build support for responsibly-caught sustainable seafood.

The premise of this WWF campaign was that while the seafood industry and retailers have already made great strides towards embracing sustainability, consumers – particularly young consumers – do not know much about the solutions the industry is backing. The campaign sought to use humour, irreverence, and satire to appeal to the online audience and get across a very important message in an engaging way. This approach is typical of successful “viral marketing” campaigns that are fun and quirky enough to cut through the plethora of messages out there and get passed around amongst target audience e-communities.

The reaction to the video and the main character has been mixed but parts of the seafood industry have reacted quite negatively in opposition to the campaign and have specifically asked for MSC’s position on the video and the campaign. Our position is as follows:

· This is a WWF campaign, conceived, developed and owned by WWF
· MSC has not provided any financial support to the campaign
· MSC staff were consulted during production and did believe the video could be useful in raising awareness and support for sustainable fisheries amongst audiences not usually reached through traditional communications

· We did not, however, foresee the negative reaction that the video and the main character would engender with our partners and colleagues in the seafood industry
· We regret and apologize for any offence given by the campaign to all those partners and colleagues in the seafood industry who work extremely hard to ensure sustainable and legal fishing that results in high quality seafood products in the market

Today, and over the preceding 48 hours, the MSC has taken the following actions:

· We have withdrawn the use of the MSC logo and we have disassociated the MSC from the Stinky Fish campaign
· We have communicated these concerns to WWF and requested that they take immediate action to address them
· We have removed any reference to it from our website and communications
· We have alerted all MSC stakeholders to this position.

Stinky fish campaign backfires?

There's a new "Stinky Fish" video making the rounds, it's an edgy attempt to use new media for conservation. See it while you can, I wouldn't be too surprised if its makers pulled it off the air soon.

Stinky Fish is an interesting attempt to capture some buzz for the very boring topic of overfishing (YouTube clip below). But...could Stinky Fish be a bit too edgy?

Stinky fish is a creation of the World Wildlife Fund, known more for their patient and collaborative style, along with viral movie makers Free Range Studios. The spot is fronted by a fish puppet called "Stinky" who harangues fish eaters over sustainability issues. It's reminiscent of your least-favorite ocean environmentalist who strikes fear into the heart of dinner companions who dare order fish. At one point, Stinky confides the truth that he doesn't even eat fish.

With Stinky Fish, WWF seems to have stumbled in going for the jugular and making a South Park-style pitch telling seafood customers:
It's time to slap your appetites into line with your ethics.”
It's rarely a good idea to try to convert people with punishment. Unless you can promise something really good like eternal bliss.

Some in the seafood industry are complaining, saying Stinky Fish is inaccurate and misleading. It's true that Stinky Fish is not exactly promoting seafood. Stinky is supposedly trying to push SUSTAINABLE seafood, but Stinky isn't exactly pro-seafood and even his name says fish is bad. I don't think Stinky Fish will get anyone to eat more of anything.

For me, Stinky raises another point. Are we environmentalists afraid to say we love seafood? Even worse, are we afraid to love seafood? Well, let me be clear: I'm an environmentalist and I love seafood, and I don't see that one side of me should slap the other side around. My job is to find a way to elevate both sides, environmentalism and seafood.

Watch Stinky Fish in the video box below (double click the button) and let me know what you think. Good conservation campaign or lame attempt at humor?

Monday, January 21, 2008

National penguin awareness day

Just what we need to take the winter blues away, Penguin Awareness Day. I want some of what this penguins has...

Hat tip:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mercury in 80% of swordfish exceeds FDA limits

Want mercury? A new study shows mercury in 80% of swordfish is above FDA action levels.

Results from the FDA are a little better, just under 50% of swordfish are over FDA action levels.

What does this mean for people who eat swordfish? If you're a pregnant or nursing woman, it would be very bad indeed to eat fish over FDA action levels, your baby's brain may not work like it should. Is this a real world problem? The CDC found that 6% of women of child-bearing age had elevated mercury levels that would put babies at risk.

If you're an adult, things aren't so bad, but Dr. Jane Hightower has studied real world patients with elevated mercury and found they weren't exactly happy about the mercury symptoms. However, once they cleaned up their diet, the symptoms disappeared. What symptoms? Nothing serious, just hair loss and problems with vision, coordination, hearing and speech.

So what's going to happen? Is the FDA going to remove swordfish from our grocery shelves? After all, isn't that what an "action level" means? FDA says this about "action level:"
Action levels and tolerances represent limits at or above which FDA will take legal action to remove products from the market.
Don't hold your breath waiting for the FDA to remove mercury-rich fish from our food supply. I guess by the time we find out there's a mercury problem, the swordfish has already been eaten so it can't come off the market. Bon Appetit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Diverse interests agree on removing Klamath River dams for salmon

Almost everyone concerned with the Klamath River mess now agrees that removing the four fish-killing dams is in everyone's best interests.

The only holdout is PacifiCorp, the dams owner. And the only thing they're want is money. Strange position, since the company has to build fish ladders if they keep the dams, and the fish ladders and related costs are more than tearing out the dams.

This sounds like a negotiating tactic to get a big fat check from the federal governments, and maybe that's what's needed since the federal government helped get everyone into this mess. Even in the last few years, federal meddling and muddling has created and worsened the problems.

It's going to be hard to fix the Klamath River, and costly, but it's time to get moving. Bring down the dams!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Any port in a storm--salmon in urban streams

Nasty urban streams can be vital salmon habitat, at least during stormy weather.

Overturning conventional wisdom, baby salmon were found living in streams once thought to be too ruined by development in Ashland, Oregon. The trick for salmon is to use these streams selectively, as shelter from the rushing water of winter storms.

When the water is raging, juvenile salmon look for shelter wherever they can find it, and that can include tiny garbage-strewn streams that you could step across, flowing next to a big highway. A few days of shelter during winter floods can make a life-or-death difference for a salmon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Climate change: scary news and hope for solutions

Remember when New York froze in the movie "The Day After Tomorrow?" That unlikely drama is a tiny bit closer to reality according to some new studies of ocean currents.

The scary news today from oceanography is that the Gulf Stream is slowing down. New research published today in Nature says the Gulf Stream has slowed by 30% in the last 12 years. Disruption of ocean currents could cause rapid climate changes, such as a new ice age in Northern Europe. Rachel Carson was one of the first to talk about this in her OTHER great book "The Sea Around Us."

And this is not just some Chicken Little scare story. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute website has an extensive report on the possible dramatic effecgts of slowing ocean currents, and the Gulf Stream is expected to be an indicator of whether this is happening.

Meanwhile, Antarctic ice is melting according to new studies from the southern hemisphere. This undermines the argument of some climate change deniers who insist that ice isn't really melting. Loss of ice from Antarctica is a big deal, and this is the most comprehensive study yet done.

Finally some hope, global gardening is proposed as a solution, with CO2 trapped in biomass. It's controversial, but there is some strong science behind the idea so it deserves further study. It's not just the old "plant a few trees" argument.

It's time to get moving and test this and any other credible proposal, before we find out if The Day After Tomorrow has a grain of truth in it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Future ocean may shuffle plankton and downsize fish

If you like fish, watch out for CO2. A Bering Sea experiment showed future oceans may have fewer fish, because future oceans may not support the productive, diatom-rich food webs that we have today.

The Bering Sea has some of the world's richest ocean food webs and most productive fisheries. Scientists are worried that this productivity may not persist in a future ocean that's warmer and has more CO2. Who cares? You should, since the Bering Sea currently provides about half of the US fish catch each year, and about 1/3 of the world's catch.

In oceanographer-speak, the future ocean experiment found diatoms (photo: above right) were replaced by nanophytoplankton, and that means low grade food for zooplankton. For the rest of us, imagine switching from Big Macs to eating alfalfa sprouts one at a time.

To make things worse, the shift may even accelerate CO2 buildup by reducing the amount of carbon that sinks into the deep ocean, slowing the "biological pump" that has kept much of our human-produced CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Will we be smart enough to mitigate and adapt in time? Or are we going to blithely run this experiment in a real ocean hope for the best?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fishing for a pot of gold

Fishing and fishermen can be strange, and bluefin tuna fishing is the strangest. Dedicated bluefin anglers will fish day after day, sometimes a whole season, with no success. They'll even curse other fish that get in the way, inlcuding fish that would make others cheer.

How did bluefin tuna fishing get so strange? Landing a bluefin tuna is like catching a pot of gold--an average bluefin will net $2,500 or more for the lucky angler who catches it and sells it into the Asian seafood market. Recently a bluefin tuna sold for more than %50,000 at the fish auction in Tokyo.

Bluefin fishing is getting tougher as the fish disappear. Not only that, but bluefin seem to be getting skinnier, weakened by unknown causes. Managers have been slow to respond to decades of overfishing of bluefin.

It's a shame to see bluefin tuna, this magnificent "cruise missle of the sea," in such a state.

Fake grouper in Florida

If you want grouper in Florida, good luck. A recent test found 75% of fish sold as grouper was really something else.

The great seafood masquerade goes on...and on...and on. Today it's fake grouper, last year it was fake red snapper. This is not the way to build consumer confidence in seafood.

If you want to know how to tell if someones selling you a fake grouper, here's some advice from the Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and Commissioner Charles Bronson.

The Dept. will work hard to tell you that Florida seafood is best, even though they know it might not be what the label says. It's an interesting dual mission, promote seafood but also stop fraud. But with a name like Charles Bronson, the Commissioner ought to be up to the task.

Wanna learn more about seafood fraud? The FDA has some advice. It's a bit intimidating, all the ways can someone take your money and give you less than you paid for? There's illegal substitution, legal market names that can be misleading, water added to increase weight, breaded fish that has more bread than fish, etc. etc.

The best way to get what you're paying for is to be a smart consumer, and who has time for that. Perhaps even better, get to know your seafood sellers and find one that you trust.

Do sea turtles prefer organic tequila?

Can sexy ads help conserve sea turtles?

These and other questions will be answered at the 2008 Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation in LORETO, Baja California Sur, Mexico starting January 19.

Unique features of the conference will include some sustainability milestones, based on the LIVBLUE philosophy

“Live like you love the ocean…” It’s a simple philosophy, but challenging to execute at an international conference with 1,000 participants. Symposium attendees are taking on the LIVBLUE Challenge, an initiative to minimize the ecological impact of the event. Tactics include camping and home stays, using public transportation or walking, reducing waste, and sustainable organic/local eating choices. Even energy will be sustainably produced with a solar trailer for recharging attendees’ laptops, cell phones and flashlights! LIVBLUE Awards will be given to travelers with the lowest carbon footprint, greatest distance traveled in an eco-friendly manner and most novel methods of footprint reduction. Expect some wild stories from conservation scientists who can “walk the talk”!

Go here for more on LIVBLUE. can sample the special limited edition Sea Turtle organic tequila, from 4 Copas Tequila. I'm sure it'll be the first choice of discerning sea turtles everywhere, once word gets out.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hope for ending the plastic bag plague

Guess what environmental hero is taking a giant step towards eliminating the plastic bag trash that is choking our oceans?

Germany? Greenpeace? No, it's much-maligned China that's banning plastic bags!

If they can do it, why can't we?

China is banning the flimsy disposable one-use plastic bag, just in time for the summer Olympics. Go China.

Now if only the foot-dragging US would follow China's leadership, then we'd really be making progress.

The biggest brains that ever surfed

Q: What do you get when you mix big brains and salt water?

A: The Center for Ocean Solutions--a new place where smart people work to save our oceans.

A joint project of Stanford University, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the Center for Ocean Solutions will boldly tackle the world's pressing ocean problems and provide solutions.

And not just wonky ideas, they intend to go all the way into making the world a better place. What a fun and useful thing for a bunch of professors and other scientists and lawyers to do. Thanks folks!

Oh yeah, let's not forget that they're starting with $25 million from the Packard Foundation, so we can expect great things quickly.

Biggest waves ever surfed?

Some experienced big wave surfers had the session of their lives last week off Southern California.

The venue is intense. Cortez Banks is an undersea mountain 100 miles offshore and it rises to within 4 feet of the surface of the wide-open Pacific Ocean. Huge swells produced maximum recorded wave size at weather buoys, so 4 surfers headed out for a session.

The results? Amazing, super-fast and intense rides on the biggest and fastest waves these big wave surfers have ever seen, a few scary wipeouts. They had a photographer and videographer with them, and I suspect we'll see the results sometime soon.

I can see again, blind cavefish grow eyes

In a first, blind cavefish grow eyes. How did this magic occcur after perhaps one million years in darkness? Sight was restored in hybrids of two different but closely related blind cavefish.

Scientists hybridized separate lineages of cavefish with different genetic losses that cause blindness. What this means is that most of the genes for sight were retained in the blind fish, and hybrids contained a complete set of genes for vision.

Amazing, what looks like miraculous evolution (eyes for eyeless fish) turns out to be fairly simply and scientifically understandable. No miracles or divine intervention required.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sustainable shrimp from Oregon

Do you love shrimp but worry about the harm caused by shrimp fishing or shrimp farming? Well, good news, some Oregon shrimp have just been certified as sustainable.

Shrimp is America's favorite seafood, but most shrimp are farmed or caught with destructive methods. Shrimp trawling usually kills turtles and other fish, in large amounts (up to 4 times more "other" things than shrimp) and tears up the ocean bottom. Shrimp farming usually destroys coastal habitats to make shrimp ponds.

The Oregon pink shrimp are caught with much lower environmental impacts and are one type of shirmp that you can enjoy without feeling guilty. I'm happy to see this progress, the Oregon pink shrimp fishery had some problems in 2001 when I served on a management advisory panel. But diligent work has produced progress and now recognition.

The Marine Stewardship Council is the leading sustainability certifier for fisheries. Ask your favorite seafood seller for Oregon pink shrimp with the sustainability certification.

Fish car

Ever want to drive a fish? Andy Hazell of Wales did, so he made this 18 foot long sea bass car that can swish its fins and tail and open its mouth. I want one.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Carnival of the blue 8

Jump on over to Carnival of the Blue 8 for the best in ocean blogging including food, sex, death, and more, now live at I'm a chordata, urochordata (and maybe learn what that blog name means).

Think that red tuna is fresh? Maybe not.

Did you know that spoiled tuna (or beef) can still be bright red?

Meat sellers have learned that gassing meat with carbon monoxide can preserve a nice red color even after meat has spoiled. Compare spoiled meat with and without carbon monoxide after 8 days at room temperature, (see photo at left); the yucky brown meat didn't have CO and the pretty red spoiled meat had CO treatment.

Even your sushi is not safe. Some sushi restaurants sell carbon monoxide treated tuna, making it harder to judge freshness.

"People love the color of this stuff," (carbon monoxide treated tuna) said Jerry Bocchino, an owner of Pescatore in New York. "With fresh tuna, you're always racing the clock to keep the color and keep it from spoiling. And once it turns brown, no one wants to buy it."

Some people are upset and would like meat to turn brown when it spoils. This would make it easier for consumers to know when meat is still safe, since people rely on color to tell what's fresh.

The US Congress has gotten into this debate, and held a hearing in late 2007. At this hearing, it was revealed that meat company scientists questioned the validity of their own safety tests, but the Agriculture Dept. was remarkable sanguine. Meat company representatives suggested perhaps a warning label that says "color is not an accurate indicator of freshness."

Caveat emptor and all that. But check out this emptor in a video, saying he's a meat lover and he got fooled by carbon monoxide treated meat left at room temperature overnight. Yuck.

image: Washington Post

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Killer whales playing with seals

Here's an unbelievable video of some killer whales smacking some seals around, with a surprise ending. Wow, you know when you've been Tango'd.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean?

There are few pristine places left on earth, but the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean may be one of them...until we start drilling for oil.

The Minerals Management Service has decided to lease large areas in the Chukchi Sea area of the Arctic Ocean for oil and gas exploration. Is this a problem?

"MMS, by its own admission, has stated that oil spills are likely from its proposal to open up the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas development," said Mike Daulton, Audubon's Director of Conservation Policy. "That, combined with findings from the Army Corps of Engineers citing there are no effective methods for cleaning up oil spills in Arctic waters, seems enough reason to halt oil and gas activities until more is known about the migratory birds, marine life and unique conditions in this very harsh environment."

The MMS defends the oil leasing, while many critics contend that it's far too risky and that the government is understating and ingoring likely problems.

This is not what I would choose to do with the Arctic Ocean.

Toilet surrounded by an aquarium-goin' with the fishes

An toilet that's completely surrounded by an aquarium in a restaurant in Akashi, Japan. Doubleclick the icon to watch the video.

Then there's the aquarium toilet tank, with real fish, and the toilet in Helsinki with glass walls, where you're in the fish tank.

When fish move into the bathroom, or the bathroom moves into the fish.

Friday, January 04, 2008

YOU are probably contaminated with toxic pesticides

Bad news from Spain, every person in a new pesticide study was contaminated with toxic pesticides. That's 387 people, every one of them with toxic chemicals in their bodies.

Who cares? You should, because if it's happening to them it's probably happening to us. A quick search for information from where I live was not very reassuring, people in Washington are likely to be contaminated too. Here's more if you want to look at information relevant for you.

And if you think you don't mind a little spicy pesticide cocktail, consider this study showing pesticides increased the risk of getting Parkinson's disease. And this report by epidemiologists that concludes:

"current exposures are associated with risks to human health"
Wanna do something about it? Go visit with the good people from PAN, the Pesticide Action Network.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Gravity is just a theory

Forget evolution, the real scientific theory that needs to go is the theory of gravity. And...if we can just get rid of the cockamamie notion that things slide down hill...our lives will be better. Why? Because then we can clearcut the trees off steep hillsides with people living at the bottom.

Sadly, even in the little towns that depend on logging, gravity does work and people suffer when clearcut hillsides tumble downhill in a rainstorm.

We've been through this debate a few times in the northwest, we're doing it again this winter, and we're going to keep at it until we get it right.

We argued about gravity in southern Oregon in the 1990s, when I was living outside of Roseburg and a nearby landslide off of a clearcut slope killed 4 people. Tragically, one of those killed had actually pleaded with the state of Oregon not to allow Champion International to clearcut the steep slope above his house. It got logged, and then a few years later the clearcut hillside slid downhill and killed the Moons and two friends in their house. Their children escaped.

Now we're arguing again over landslides and floods in Oregon and Washington. The Washington mess devastated the lowlands and closed Interstate 5 for days. I know, because I detoured around the mess just after the flood. Floodplain development was partly to blame, along with ugly landslides off of clearcut hillsides.

The Oregon mess was not as big, but this time the blame lies with Oregon State University, affectionately known as Timber State University by some locals. And a revealing paperwork trail has ignited debate over the public role of the Universisty and it's close links to the timber industry. OSU owned the land, planned the logging, and is now taking the heat. And some OSU Forestry professors would probably like to repeal the law of gravity to get out of this pickle.

When will we learn about logging, landslides and floods? How long will we persist in denying gravity? Probably about as long as some people will argue against evolution and climate change.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What is sustainable seafood?

Here's a debate I can't quite wrap my head around. Or maybe can't quite wrap around my head.

Waitrose Supermarkets in the UK is selling tilapia from Zimbabwe, and critics say:
"People are starving in Zimbabwe. There is no food in the shops, there is no fish to be had there for the ordinary people. It's incredibly cruel taking food out of the mouths of starving people. It is very ill-advised of Waitrose. It is morally wrong."

But wait, a Waitrose spokesperson says it's not so simple..."This is a question of trying to encourage our customers to try species that aren't threatened but are just as tasty as cod," she said.

"...we source the tilapia from a fair trade supplier called Lake Harvest, which is majority-owned by native Zimbabweans. The company and its tilapia product contribute directly to the support of 450 workers and their dependants."

She said Lake Harvest pays workers substantially more than the minimum basic wage and offers performance pay, pension schemes and medical insurance.

"In Zimbabwe in the current political climate it's not unrealistic that each wage earner will be supporting up to 20 people," she said.

With these issues in mind, what is sustainability? Does it include the political situation of the country of origin for seafood? How about the foreign exchange needs of a country?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Electricity from ocean waves is coming

A new wave in electricity is coming, and it doesn't produce CO2. That makes ocean wave power compelling. Now the first ever commercial permit has been issued for a wave power-to electricity facility in nearby ocean waters off Washington.

Is it a good idea to generate electricity from ocean waves, or does it create scary new impacts? Where should wave power be harnessed for electricity?

Washington is a great place for ocean wave electricity. We have a rough ocean and lots of wave energy, nearly all the time. Another wave power proposal off Westport, Washington is on the table, and attracting some opposition. Tres Arboles doubts that Westport is the right place, no maybe he's a little stronger than just doubting. Here's the view from the company with the permit.

Westport has a great surfing beach, and that may be a higher use of the ocean than making electricity. How should we decide?

Is it time for ocean zoning? Should Washington and other states figure out where to fish, generate electricity, have undersea cables, and surf? Yes. Otherwise these decisions will happen one at a time and we'll find ourselves sorry in 30 years when we have the ocean equivalent of unplanned development (think Houston).