Monday, June 30, 2008

Catching crabs from your living room

Living La Vida Deadly just got easier, thanks to The Deadliest Catch for Xbox 360. Now you can face life as a crab boat captain, with real world challenges like:

"Captain, you've got help me. I've got a girl in my bunk and my girlfriend just showed up. Can you keep her busy?"
Who knew that king crab chic would reach such heights?

Your lionfish don't want to be free

Lionfish get a primetime spotlight tonight on NBC News for their ability to deliver powerful stings and eat their way through Florida's reefs.
According to the article, OSU's Dr. Mark Hixon will be releasing a new paper showing that "one lionfish can deplete 79% of a reef in five weeks."

Let this be a reminder that, like puppies and babies, lionfish are a long-term commitment and you can't just abandon them when you get bored. Florida's grouper thank you.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ocean half full or half empty?

Do you like your status reports deep fried? US fishery managers released their status report for 2007, and the news is either good or bad, depending on your point of view.

Things are getting better, but there's still a ways to go. Is that reason to celebrate or cry? You decide. Here at fair and balanced blogfish, we won't try to decide for you.

Now for the editorial. I do think progress is too slow. We're not talking about enviros crazy dreams of a pristine ocean here, we're asking about basic principles of good management like not catching fish faster than they can reproduce. Managers are making modest progress on the "duh" aspects of management. Hooray.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Is sportfishing on the rise?

The estimable Matt Weiser wrote a piece in the Sacramento Bee earlier this month on the recent increase in sportfishing & hunting licenses in California. Matt knows the inner workings of California's Fish & Game Programs well, so I was surprised that he didn't dig deeper into the numbers and offered only general theories, like a possible rise in women's participation or the growing locavore movement. As Matt notes, California does not collect demographic information on license buyers, but especially compared to those states that don't even require sport licenses CA has some lessons to offer.

First, the SacBee uses the total number of licenses sold as a proxy for the number of fishermen, which isn't exactly correct. California, like many other states, sells both annual licenses and limited day licenses. If you're going out on a six-pack for a day of fishing, you may just buy a one day license rather than an annual license; three daily licenses is still cheaper than a full year license for the occasional fisherman. So, annual licenses sales offer a better base estimate for the number of fishermen. Those sales are indeed up, although only back up to the 2004 numbers of 1.3 million.

That is certainly an underestimate because it doesn't include anyone under 16, who doesn't need a license, and those occasional fishermen. While we may not be able to accurately count fishermen from daily license sales, it's their increase driving California's trends. One, two, and ten-day licenses are more popular now than they were eight years ago, making up 37% of sales. It seems that more fishermen are choosing to see what the season is like before they wet their line, rather than committing up front for a full year.

Combine this with the trends Matt Weiser explored, and you have a sense that the face of fishing is changing. Right now, the best info we have on where and when people fish comes from the five year federal surveys of outdoor recreation. Perhaps by the time the next survey comes around, in 2011, we'll have a better picture.

If you want to see the original numbers visit DFG's license statistics branch. The graph series labelled "other" includes a series of special permits DFG phased out in 2004.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Alaska salmon troubles

OK, it's officially get-worried time as Alaska salmon runs go down the toilet. First the Copper River, then the Yukon, and now the Deshka.

Will the Alaska salmon decline spread, or are the declines an anomaly? Are space aliens really responsible for the Deshka king salmon decline? It it really Tuesday in Puerto Morelos? It could be nothing, or it could be the start of something serious. Just like the lobster decline in Maine that nobody wants to talk about very much.

This is not a new problem, and there's always a culprit. In 1957, it was Japanese fishing, and this year it could be American fishing. Is it really possible that the sustainable pollock fishery is having a major problem with killing too many salmon? Inquiring minds want to know.

Meanwhile, you sustainable seafood lovers, what will happen if this reliable and no-guilt fish goes into serious decline? Will everyone drop it like a hot potato? Or invest in bringing it back to health?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Doubt and uncertainty in writing the future

I woke up this morning and didn’t know where I was. A strange place, but where? DC? No. Far from home…Europe? No. Scan the mental list, a slug of confusion and some seconds that seem like minutes, then oh yeah, Boston. Some stinking hotel in a random town on a freeway that could be anywhere. Ugh.

I’m in the middle of a haze, cross-country travel for 35 hours in Boston. A redeye flight and two days of work on one night’s sleep before flying home. Can this possibly be worthwhile?

The task is good. How shall we save the world’s oceans? Are there some evildoers we need to fight? Or is it a matter of gentle persuasion and seeking shared goals? And what’s to be our relations with the grand beasts of the sea who do nothing more than get in the way?

OK, awake and oriented, so now what. It’s 730 by the clock, but what good is that since it’s always 730 somewhere.

What shall we do? Who knows at this rotten 730. Maybe it’ll make sense after a coffee and bagel…oh what’s that?…some nice lox. Here’s a dilemma waiting to happen. Can I possibly scoop up this seductive slice onto the breakfast buffet toasted bagel? It looks good with capers. It has the right color, even if it comes from pigment-laced pellets. It’s salmon alright and a quicktaste says it’s good. Now it’s most assuredly not of the prime variety, sustainable wild Alaskan salmon caught by an enlightened Proust-reading calloused crew of cavaliers. No, more likely it’s the wrong kind, farmed Salmo salar grown in a netpen. But it’s the closest thing to an anchor that I can see and as I sink my teeth into the savory flesh I feel good about the choice. It’s food of the ocean and the fog begins to clear and I can see a way forward.

Thank you salmon, for salmon you are. Farm-raised or not.

Is it glamorous and fun to fly allover with my frequent flyer card and spout opinions on this and that? Absolutely. Is it a pain in the ass too when it comes with a 10:30 pm flight east and trying to sleep on a plane with one of those stupid eye masks, earplugs and a sleeping pill? Yes. Is it frustrating when my Great Wisdom fails to save the ocean overnight. Of course. Am I optimistic that we’ll bumble through and find a way to make tomorrow’s ocean better than today's? Believe it or not, I am. Now that I’m flying home over one Dakota or another, with a milelong list of what to do tomorrow, would I do it again? I suppose so.

What is this nutty addiction? Is it really Doing Good? I sure hope so.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Killer boobies!

If that headline doesn't drive traffic to blogfish, I don't know what will. Young Nazca booby chicks get very aggressive; the firstborn kills the younger chick to increase its own chances of survival. Researchers at Wake Forest University* found that firstborn chicks -- both male and female -- get spikes of androgens that increase their aggression not only when they're babies but also throughout their lives. This is not the case for the Nazca's cousins, the blue-footed boobies, who spend their time peacefully comparing their feet.

* Cheers to Muller et al for publishing in PLoS so we can all read the original paper.

The quest for sustainable fish

It can be hard to find sustainable fish. A story in the Miami Herald says the search "leaves this convert to sustainabsle seafood high and dry" (and needing new approaches).

Enrique Fernandez found too few certified fish and rejected the $30 per pound price for certified salmon. He tried Fish Phone, texting in his triggerfish dinner but they had no information. If you want to eat sustainably-caught fish, you have to do a lot of work on your own.

We've failed if the search for sustainable seafood is this challenging and unrewarding. We need a new approach.

image: Miami Herald

Monday, June 23, 2008

Make people like you more

Or at least, make them listen to you. At blogfish, we know our readers have many important things to say, and yet you struggle to stand out among all the other ichthyologists at your AFS panel. Besides a sexy title, what will keep your audience riveted?

Try some of the tips Wired Magazine got from Nancy Duarte, whose firm Duarte Designs did Al Gore's global warming presentation. Trust me, Duarte Designs isn't cheap so these tips are a great value and it is shocking how many presenters still don't follow basic rules like "use a readable font size" and "face the audience." And if you think that's not you, have a trusted colleague watch your next run-through and give you the skinny.

Andy Goodman's "Why bad presentations happen to good causes" is another useful reference, and the many essays of Edward Tufte. Go talk about fish. Better.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The goal of environmental awareness

We started something here, questioning environmental doom and gloom, and Rick has an interesting answer over at Malaria, Bed Bugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets. Along with a provocative picture (left), seeming to accuse me of dodging problems and spouting happy talk. In the comments on Rick's post, Max makes claims about my unconscious(?) motivations?? Oh really?

What is the gist of this dispute? I think this is a debate over the purpose of raising environmental awareness. Let's explore this with two unrealistic and extreme straw people.

1. The goal of talking about ocean environmental problems is to motivate people to fix them.


2. The goal of talking about ocean environmental problems is to get people to understand them.

These two are not mutually exclusive, but they are different goals. I don't give a @#*&@^#*&^ whether or not people can pass a quiz on the real facts on ocean decline. I want them to get motivated to fix the problems. And I don't think redundant doom and gloom will build motivation, witness the Seattle Times opinion editorial that raised this.

Now I don't think Rick or anyone else actually wants people to pass a quiz, but sometimes enviros seem to act like that. We dump too much information on people trying to get them to understand too much about the issues. The view seems to be that people have to understand the threats pretty well in order to get motivated to solve them. And it's interesting to see complaints if people get motivated by celebrities or some other so-called fluffy approach that is emotion-heavy and fact-light.

This is what I'm after when I rail against too much enviro doom and gloom. We need to focus on building motivation, and scaring people with impending floods and storms is just not a good way to motivate environmental conservation. Our crises are slow and just not that scary. Extinction in 100 years for a whale? Yawn. Storms will get worse and they might flood your house. Click (the sound of the channel being changed). Scare tactics work better for things that are imminent. It worked (for awhile) regarding terrorism after 9/11, because we saw the threat was all too real.

Building environmental solutions over the long term will not happen through fear and scaring people. Sorry, not gonna happen. We need something better.

It's ironic that people can talk about how it's wrong to "soften" the message or otherwise focus on building motivation rather than delivering doom and gloom. What's the goal anyway?

This is not to pick on Rick. He has the right idea, and we're really pretty close in what we'd prescribe. But he does let the "don't soften the blow" criticism infect his message, and that's one place where I think he's a bit off track.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tourists sample the Deadliest Catch

Tourists go out on commercial crab boats in Alaska, paying big bucks to get a personal taste of "Deadliest Catch." It's catch and release commercial fishing, where the ticket price pays the costs and the catch is for the tourists to look and and dump back into the ocean. Is this the future of fishing? Maybe ocean animals are worth more alive than dead.

Unbelievable. I guess it just goes to show the power of tv.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Return to the outdoors

As part of our ongoing effort to search the world and bring you the best of what we choose to bring you, here's another one.

This video is part of an effort called "Return to the Outdoors." If you can't tell what it's about, read it again. One of the message in this campaign is: Have you given back to the places that move you? Nice.

About this's amusing to see that this crusty character talking about one of his places has a bit of a Walter Cronkite look going on now.

This is an example of an environmental message without the doom and gloom. There's not a strong call to action, but I think the inspirational tone is a benefit to the cause of conservation. It's not a complete solution, but it is a part of good conservation advocacy.'s a part that is often neglected.

International surfing day, give back to the beach

Here's a great story, today (June 20) is International Surfing Day. Check out this plug on Patagonia's nice blog for employees, friends, and customers.

What is International Surfing Day? Here's the word from the source:

The goal is simple: take the day, or at least a part of the day, to go out, catch a wave or three and -- while you're at it -- help clean up your favorite beach. In conjunction with the Surfrider Foundation, we'll be organizing a handful of official beach cleanups, but that doesn't stop you from beautifying your own stretch of sand.
So that's it. Now get outta here and celebrate the day of the Universal Stoke--at the BEACH! Here's a fine video to get you in the mood.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Too much environmental doom and gloom

Susan Nielsen thinks enviros have won, but we didn't notice. She thinks every day is Earth Day, and it's time to back off from the Daily Dose of Doom that we enviros deliver to the world. She has a point.

"Now that every day is Earth Day, we need a new kind of holiday. We need an annual break from bad environmental news.

The year-round glumfest about drowning polar bears, dying honeybees and the general futility of it all is raising consciousness but crushing spirits (or at least mine). We need a day of rest — a time to pretend, as we did in the 1990s, that the party could last forever.

The other 364 days we can stick to the new normal, flogging ourselves about carbon and fretting about an uncertain future."
Now I can hear the chorus of objections rising...

"...but wait, the problems aren't solved yet..."
"...people don't know how bad things really are..."
"...we need to get serious and implement stronger actions..."

All of them true, but all unfortunately delivered as dire doses of doom. What drives this gloomy approach? Is it a desire to infect everyone with the sad pessimism that pervades the environmental movement? (I know about that pessimism, I'm part of the movement and I hear it every day.)

She says we've won and we don't realize it. Everyone now knows that we're right, and it's time for a new strategy to get people moving towards solutions.

I can see the merit in Nielsen's point, and I like her idea. For just one day, it would be a good idea to try to deliver all environmental news with optimism and a sense of hope.

There's nothing wrong with optimism. Try it, you just might like it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yukon River salmon hurt by climate change

Climate change is the villain in a tragic story of declining wild salmon runs in the Yukon River. Ken Weiss of the LA Times reports that an emerging disease is killing fish because of climate change, and about the state of Alaska fiddling while the Yukon salmon burn.

Blogfish's northern link, my older brother Dale Powell who lives in AK and flies to villages all over the state, broke this story before Ken Weiss, reporting on troubles for native fishermen who are losing their traditional livelihood as the salmon decline (in the comments on the post). Oh, and the Fairbanks paper had a story too. And there was a story in 2001 on Arctic Science Journeys produced by Alaska Sea Grant.

All because of that ich-y parasite that you've probably seen on aquarium fish at one time or another, ich. Maybe we won't have sustainable wild salmon from Alaska in our fish markets much longer?!

We can't drill through China

Today the Bush Administration announced it wants to lift the offshore drilling moratorium. Governor Charlie Crist's response is telling; he says "go ahead and lift it but not in my state." Which is pretty much what you can expect to hear from other coastal states where the value of tourism is high and oil rigs, with their commensurate risks and unsightliness, bite into that revenue. On the other side you have Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, where oil refineries are big money, just upriver from the rigs of the Gulf of Mexico. By her calculations, new drilling was needed long ago so those deep water wells could be in production today.

The economic smoke here is thick, with groups like the Institute for Energy Research chiding Bush for not doing enough for "free markets." Yet those same international free markets for crude are the reason for high prices. China & India want more oil and they've got the money to pay for it. The potential production in the U.S.--even if it could be accessed immediately, all at once--would barely be a blip in global supply, meaning that its impact on demand would also be small. By the time that trickles down to the pump, consumers are likely to see little or no relief. Short of a requirement that companies donate new oil to the U.S., increased domestic production is unlikely to lead to lower prices for us.

This is also true because the new "drilling methods" being bandied about, like deeper water techniques and slant drilling, are only economical because the price of crude is so high. Oil rigs have been moving out of the Gulf of Mexico to places where the oil is cheaper and easier to reach. That's not a regulatory response, its an economic one. Similarly, existing oil rigs off California were going cheaply in the early 2000s, sold off by Chevron and others because the operating costs were too high. With oil prices now over 100$ a barrel it's worth it for companies to chase that last drop. It's disingenuous to paint oil drilling as a solution for gas consumers when it's plain and simple capitalism.

Oil drilling arguments play right into our economic irrationality; today's pain feels real, the potential costs down the road are abstract, diffuse. Maybe we'll never have to pay at all. Of course, this kind of thinking can get you into trouble like, say, mounting credit card debt, a foreclosure crisis based on NINA loans, or breaking into your brother's piggy bank for a dimebag. It's when we're in trouble that we're most vulnerable to the lure of the magic bullet, the quick fix, the miracle cure and yet that's what we have to resist.

Nature as art

I stumbled across Natural Curiosities' website looking for a gift and got lost in their extensive collection of seaweeds, corals, fish, and "floating eggs/magic mushrooms." If you're late with your father's day gift, and your father is, say, Dr. Steve Murray, you may want to check these out. After all:
It is important to note that seaweeds are a very strong trend as a decorative piece of art due to the ability of it to suit both traditional and contemporary settings.
Algae: a strong decorative trend you can make face cream from. What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Taras Grescoe's Bottomfeeder and the cult of no

Taras Grescoe is my hero…almost. In Bottomfeeder he brings a food and travel writer’s deft touch to my favorite subject, oceans. He explores the perplexing world of seafood, and arrives at a unique and compact conclusion about how to eat ethically in a complex world of options.

I have few quibbles with his seafood choices, but his ethical eating won’t do what he hopes. And here’s where I have to add the “almost” to his hero status. He has a clear view of what’s wrong today and an inspiring vision for a better tomorrow, but no good steps forward. Refusing to eat bad seafood is about as powerful as holding your breath until you turn blue.

I don’t blame Grescoe for not knowing the way forward. It’s my fault. We ocean people have failed to give him an appealing menu of options for changing the way we get seafood to our tables. As a result, he’s left with his ethical eating, avoiding seafood when it comes from bad fishing or bad farms, and hoping to change the world by saying “no.”

What is ethical eating supposed to accomplish? It’s supposed to fix big problems, the kind that can only be solved by government action. By avoiding red snapper, tuna, and farmed salmon (among other rejected seafoods), he hopes to:

Ban bottom-trawling on seamounts
Require cargo ships to exchange ballast water at sea
Limit overfishing caused by throwing away some fish (bycatch)
Stop developed countries from plundering Africa’s fish
Protect big fish with international agreements
(from p. 274 of Bottomfeeder)

That’s one helluva to-do list, and I hate to burst Grescoe’s bubble but ethical eating will do nothing to achieve this fish conservation agenda. He’s right in saying “Policy makers could enact most of these changes overnight; all that is standing in the way is a lack of political will.” But how exactly is ethical eating supposed to create this political will? Grescoe supposes that if a billion people become ethical eaters, changes in demand for particular seafoods will bring political change.

“Can changing the kind of seafood we eat really help the oceans? The answer is, emphatically, yes.…what you choose to have for dinner matters…when you multiply that decision by a couple of billion mouths, then it really, really matters.”

That’s true, but it’s so far from realistic politics that it comes across as empty hope.

There is another way, and it’s a simple recipe. It’s plain vanilla politics, and it’s where seafood eaters need to go if they truly want to achieve Grescoe’s admirable political agenda. I have ideas on how to get us organized and onto this political wagon, does anyone want to join? Calling Taras Grescoe, wherever you are, do you want to lend a hand to forging a new political movement of seafood eaters for ocean conservation? I tried to find you, Mr. Grescoe, but I couldn’t get any contact info even by the magic of Google. I suppose that’s by design.

So Taras Grescoe is my hero…almost. He has one more step to make hero—finding a way to make progress on his political agenda.

Lacking a real way forward, he has succumbed to the feeling of power that comes from self-denial—the “cult of no.” It feels powerful because it’s hard to force oneself to give up desire, and it does say refuse to participate in a wrong. But it doesn’t do anything else. If real progress on his political agenda is the goal, then saying “no” to unsustainable seafood is not even a small step forward.

How did Grescoe get to this place of ethical seafood eating? He found a scene of devastation when he followed the line connecting the fish on his plate to the hook or net that caught it—or the aquaculture pond where it was grown. He wants to do something. And, surprisingly for the author of “Devil’s Picnic,” he succumbs to the cult of no.

In Devil’s Picnic, Grescoe travels the world sampling forbidden fruit. It’s a tour de force of sampling food and drink that someone doesn’t want you to eat, for one reason or another. For most of them, he finds the reasons wanting. So Grescoe is an unlikely candidate for “just say no” to unsustainable seafood. Is it something about seafood that has him and almost everyone else succumbing to the cult of no? Or, perhaps, is it perhaps just expiation for accumulated guilt?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Salmon and halibut dinner

I enjoyed a fantastic father's day dinner of salmon and halibut last Sunday. Wild-caught fish from the Pacific Ocean, cooked very plain on a grill. I didn't feel the least bit guilty, in fact it was my non-religious version of communion. Right after a family day at the beach (see photos). It doesn't get any better than this.

Those of you who want to stop eating fish can go ahead and stop. That'll leave more for me.

I'm not going to defend my choices with chapter and verse about catch methods and population size. I could probably find fault with the sustainability of just about every fish in any fish market if I wanted to. That's the joy and the curse of being a marine biologist and ocean conservationist and spending all of my time every day thinking and learning about such issues.

I just finished reading Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. Good book, and he derives a reasonable approach to deciding how to eat ethically from the ocean. Until...near the end when he makes some blunders in his choices. But I'm not going to pick on him for that, rather I'm going to pick on his approach to "eating ethically." Bottomfeeder offers a list of things that need fixing in order to restore and maintain healthy oceans. And then he offers some suggestions on what to do that have absolutely zero connection to the stuff that needs fixing. Doesn't he see it? If that's eating ethically, it feels good but nothing changes, and that doesn't seem very satisfying.

Is your exfoliant harming ocean animals?

There is some beautiful ocean imagery in this commercial, but there's something missing. When you wash your face with this product, you may be harming ocean animals.

Tiny plastic beads used in many exfoliating products are the same size as sand and plankton, and they can harm ocean animals. When plastic beads are eaten, which is common when animals encounter them, the exfoliating beads can clog the gut or carry toxic chemicals that stick to the plastic and poison ocean animals.

An article in Slate reports on problems with the plastic beads, and the answer from a company that makes Olay's exfoliant that contains plastic beads.

Exfoliating products don't need to be made out of plastic. Some products use natural materials like the finely ground peach stones in Burt's Bees Deep Pore Scrub or the apricot kernels in St. Ives Apricot Scrub. Changing to natural products seems like a good idea since the problem of microplastics in the ocean is increasing. One study found microplastics in the ocean have tripled in the last 30-40 years.

So what'll it be: clogged pores, clogged oceans, or a switch to natural skin cleansers?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saltwater fishing license, it's about time

There's one basic problem that undermines good fishing management of many fish...we can't even count the number of recreational fishermen. For fish that are mostly caught by recreational fishermen, this is a huge problem.

Finally, federal fishery managers have proposed a solution, a recreational fishing license for saltwater fishing. It's about time.

There are a lot of arguments out there about why the licenses are a bad idea, but they're basically crap. The smart recreational fishing voices support the license and explain why.

Counting fishermen and the fish that they catch is step one in good fishery management. It's about time we have a recreational fishing license requirement for the ocean, so we can bring recreational fishing management into the modern era.

Friday, June 13, 2008

How aquariums get their fish

Have you ever wondered how aquariums get those fantastic fish you see on display? Now you can "join" a New England Aquarium collecting trip to the Bahamas as Aquarium President Bud Ris shares his experiences and thoughts on the New England Aquarium's fun and informative blog(s).

Some highlights:

The catch
So, how did we do? 377 fishes, 58 different species; 153 invertebrates, 44 species. We feel pretty darn good about this collection. In fact, everyone is extremely pleased! Among the wonderful animals we'll be loading on to airplanes for shipment back to Boston tomorrow are:

4 indigo hamlets.

Two moray eels: a goldentail and a purplemouth.

Three trumpetfish which will complement the one trumpet now on exhibit in the GOT.

One cowfish, a juvenile, that we can't yet identify definitively.

One yellow stingray headed for the new temporary "shark and ray touch tank" we'll be installing on the east side of the Aquarium this summer.

Two basket stars (Astrophyton muricatum), fascinating invertebrates with intricate branching arms that fold up during the day and open at night, when they are used to filter plankton.

Five red snapping shrimp (Alpheus armatus), each about an inch long.
And catch and slow release (how animals are readied for display). See indigo hamlet at right, getting ready for its new gig in the aquarium.

A few nuggets of fish news

In case you missed these stories:
  • Yesterday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to move the west coast groundfish fishery one step closer to a tradeable quota system. The new IFQ system for flounder, sole, and Pacific rockfish* would be the largest in the U.S. in terms of geographic scope and impact. They're now moving ahead with the regulatory analysis and hope for a final vote in November, those these things have been known to take longer than expected. Check out former Senator Slade Gorton's OpEd on the topic.
  • Researchers at the Marine Mammal Center and NOAA found that domoic acid poisoning not only affects adult sea lions, but can also damage sea lions in the womb, causing behavioral problems and seizures later in life.
  • In other pre-natal news, cuttlefish decide what they want to eat based on what they observed around them as larvae (read Zooillogix's summary if you can't get the whole article). We've known about the transmission of learned behaviors in marine mammals for some time (for example, sea otters use rocks to open their food only if they had rock-using mamas) but it's news to see it in other orders.
* On the west coast of the U.S., "rockfish" refers to 70+ species of Sebastes. Not to be confused with the rockfish of the east coast, aka striped bass.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Arctic melting means...opportunity?

Presented as only Stephen Colbert could...

It's Smokin' Pole...the fight for Arctic riches

hat tip: Oceana Network

Market crash for Copper River salmon

Is anyone buying Copper River salmon?" asks Rebekah Denn, over at devouring Seattle. Umm...not so much. High prices are hurting sales of Copper River salmon and fatigue over salmon-hype may also be undermining the rush to buy.

Here in Seattle, it's becomming popular to question the special status of Copper River salmon. Retailers are stocking the fish, but questioning whether it's more about hype or actual quality.

Now that writer Taras Grescoe has sworn off salmon, both farmed AND WILD, it's time to ask: Is the shine is coming off of salmon?

We're seeing more and more people take a stand and say no to salmon, even when it means saying no to a demanding child who wants salmon (not a fun time to say "no"). Wild or farmed, there are legitimate concerns that have raised questions and motivated some people to say no to salmon. Contamination to disease risks, and overfishing to salmon declines to higher prices, it's common to hear cautions about enjoying your salmon dinner. Add in the carbon footprint of shipping salmon by air, and we just may be seeing the beginning of a backlash against salmon.

It's too bad, because salmon is good food and I won't be saying no. Even considering all the issues of concern, there are better ways to support sustainability than "just say no" to salmon. More on this later, as blogfish butchers a sacred cow of environmentalism, the cult of no.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Only in Canada?

I have to wonder if the monitoring system behind Canada's new "area to be avoided" could possibly work in the U.S. This 1,000 square nautical mile closure is meant to protect the northern right whale from ships travelling near Nova Scotia. It's a voluntary closure, so ships might participate only out of goodwill towards whales and fear of bad PR. But, in this case Aliant has partnered with Dalhousie University, allowing university researchers to place data receivers on nearby cell phone towers which then allow them to track vessel movements. Researchers say that since the closure took effect on June 1, there's some evidence that ships are avoiding the area but it's early days.

I don't know for certain, but I'm assuming from the researcher's description that they're relying on public AIS data. Automatic Identification Systems are required internationally on both passenger vessels and cargo ships over a certain size. You can read the Coast Guard's excitedly wordy description of it or see an example in San Francisco Bay; it's long range eyes and ears for ships. Large ship strikes are a major source of mortality for right whales, so tracking vessels with AIS may be enough, however, AIS is not required on fishing boats or small passenger boats in the due, in large parts, to confidentiality concerns.

If you're a big container ship you're traveling major shipping lanes, trying to avoid other ships, and perhaps the worst that might happen from advertising your position is that your boss knows if you're on time or not. If you're a fishing boat, you see your fishing spots and fishing style as proprietary business info, which is why fishing Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) have been so controversial. They're becoming more common but the sensitivity about the information remains and can lead to odd situations like the Coast Guard observing a violation at sea but being unable to call in local enforcement partners because there's no legal agreement to share confidential data. It's like a thief running into another county, while the cops hit the breaks at the border and curse.

In the days of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security, it may seem sweetly old-fashioned that the U.S. has any rules that make it difficult to track someone's whereabouts. But the ocean is a big place, a wide-open sea, and keeping track of all its boats is about keeping track of the public's resources. Fishermen have formed private cooperatives, pooling their data to help keep it private. Perhaps we could find some other models for data management from the IT world. Or maybe we'll have to rely on the fish themselves, which increasingly carry their very own radio tags, broadcasting their movements to the world.

Is this how bluefin tuna go extinct?

Celebrated with a glittering party, the world gathered to say goodbye to the bluefin tuna. At least, that's what happened in Barry Foy's satirical piece on feasting the beast to extinction.

It is possible for us to eat ocean creatures into oblivion. We just said goodbye to the Caribbean monk seal, declared extinct this week after we ate them into near-oblivion over a century ago.

Or will we actually reverse the trend and see bluefin tuna recover in our lifetimes? The choice is up to us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Is fishing news fair to fishermen?

Do fishermen get favored treatment in the news, compared to fish conservationists? I'm sure passions run high on both sides of this question.

Pepijn Koster has some interesting comments on this subject over at MyFavoritePlaces, after noting softball coverage of violent protests in Europe over fishing policies. Guess who gets relatively favorable coverage despite violent protests, then go check it out.

Also, please answer the latest blogfish poll (top right):

Who gets more favorable news coverage, fishermen or ocean conservation NGOs?

-ocean conservation NGOs
-coverage is fair
-who reads the news?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Carnival of the green #131

Here at blogfish, we think blue when we think green. That's especially true during this first week of June, since World Oceans Day is June 8. I hope you don't mind if there's a slightly blue tinge to this Carnival of the Green.

What does that mean, a blue tinge to Carnival of the Green? It's simple really, as we're exploring ways to live right on the earth, let's make sure to live right for the blue as well as the green parts of our wonderful living planet.

For example, Samir Bharadwaj presents The Yellow Rubber Ducks Now Live Down On the Farm, a story of how a rubber duck may fare in the next oh, million years or so if they end up on land.

That's green thinking, what if we go blue-green? Well, there's the possible ocean fate to consider when thinking about plastic garbage. What if the expired rubber duckies end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Jamie McIntosh of Suite101: Organic Gardens blog presents Increase Your Food Security. Growing your own keeps your footprint more local, for at least a part of your food supply, and that's a nice green (and blue) success.

But wait, local isn't everything in keeping food impacts down. What you eat may be more important than the distance your food travels. Sally Kneidel of Veggie Revolution found a study that says miles don't matter if you're eating meat and dairy, they're climate-nasty foods no matter how local, at least when produced with typical methods. And that's a blue and green problem.

What about the dark side of gardening? Michelle Verges of Conserve Plastic Bags wonders if gardening really connects people to nature. For example, how do you feel about killing pests? Pests seem to make some gardeners go to extremes.

From growing your own to bringing your own (bags), it's hard to reduce your footprint when you're swimming against the tide of indifference. Leslie at A Slowcavore's Ramblings tells the funny and maddening story of trying to use one's own bags at Wal-mart, including the crowning silliness over buying the Wal-mart reusables (hint: no I don't need a plastic bag to carry my reusable bags).

Thomas Robey of Medscape worries about medical waste, that is the waste of resources that typifies modern medicine. Yes, saving lives is the priority, but can't we remember that saving the planet is important too?

Who doesn't want to be healthy, rich, and green? Martinique of Queer Cents has a simple answer, use your car less and your bike more. Yes, and don't forget that once you start riding a lot, you'll soon be too sexy for your car.

Ever feel guilty about eating well when others are going hungry? Check out the Food Snob challenge at Expatriate's Kitchen, and see if you too can find ways to share.

How do you feel about missing chances to go green when priorities conflict? Do you give up sending your child to a good school if the drive is too far? MC Miller at The Not Quite Crunchy Parent feels your pain and has some thoughts to offer.

And how about the "greener than thou" people who are quick to criticize others for not going far enough in being green? Lynn from OrganicMania worries that the greener than thou may be more bane than boon to the movement.

Heading for the bathroom, what'll it be...paper or water? Chris Baskind at Potty Tech considers whether a bidet is greener than toilet paper, and finds out there's a lot of variables to consider.

Need a new backpack? Check out Daily Mitzvah's find, a snappy little daypack made almost entirely out of recycled materials.

Tired of allergies? Stephanie S. of Focus Organic suggests a natural allergy remedy, local honey, it tastes great and is good for you besides.

How do you feel about global warming? Phil for Humanity doesn't feel so good, since Global Warming is Ruining the Earth. Maybe people will notice this list of harms, before we get to the point where our oceans begin to boil.

How can a small green business stand out? Try some Home Grown Hospitality, like GP from Innstyle Montana.

Wanna green car? How about an extreme hybrid SUV that gets 150 mpg? Hillary Green brings you the surprising news at The Green Motorist.

If you're like me, you have a rocky relationship with your programmable thermostat. Well, thank goodnes, Joel Biddle at Green Building Elements offers some counseling to improve the relationship.

Joe at Ecojoe's offers a free bumper sticker to remind people to slow down for wildlife. Wonder how that looks on a boat?

Need to learn more about the benefits of compact fluorescent light bulbs? If you haven't heard enough already, check out Your Finish Rich Plan and hear from Will about this classic green subject.

Lots of green, and a little bit of blue. Hope this helps you think green (and blue) on the day after World Oceans Day.

Next week's carnival: Victoria E

Last week's carnival: Green Ladywell

Carnival of the green mothership: TreeHugger

Sunday, June 08, 2008

World oceans day

Whatever it takes to get you thinking blue, do it. Think oceans, celebrate oceans, be oceans. Live Blue on this World Oceans Day, and every day.

image: Wilderness Society Australia

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Heading Upstream, Jumping Ever Higher

Well hello, blogfish readers! After Mark's kind introduction, I had hoped to jump in with my first post right away but the world intervened a little. I left NRDC only a week ago, after eight lovely years, and that week has been filled more with learning Quickbooks and California tax law than thinking about fish. Starting your own consulting firm does increase your empathy for the paperwork burden of small business owners like fishermen, who get their very own box on the 1099-MISC.

I needed a break from configuring software, so I picked up the latest Saveur magazine with its promise of great fried chicken only to find a stealth pair of articles on salmon. These two pieces are so undercover they don't even appear in the online table of contents for some reason, which is a shame because they're both quite good.

Molly O'Neill writes about the Yup'ik eskimo fishing cooperative in Alaska and their work to market Yukon river king salmon. The article is accompanied by a photo guide to "know your salmon" and map of the West Coast's major salmon rivers (pointing out that some are bereft of salmon these days). According to the article, the cooperative grew from a disastrous 1999 summer when no fish came back to the Yukon and the local fishing industry collapsed. Some of the Yup'ik decided that if and when the fish came back the solution lay in making Yukon fish a high end product, garnering more money per fish as fishermen on the Copper River had done. I wish the author had mentioned the current status of the Yukon fish populations, since we know that when fish get valuable there's pressure to take more, but overall I think it's a fantastic piece, especially for a food audience.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins takes on a much more controversial topic: salmon aquaculture. She notes that "many environmentalists insist that salmon aquaculture is downright dangerous," as do many salmon fishermen, as demonstrated by the booths at last weekend's SalmonAid. Still, she concludes there is a "growing, if inchoate, movement toward farming salmon responsibly" and goes on to profile Loch Duart and Cooke Aquaculture. I like that she lays out many of the concerns with aquaculture and how each of the farms is or is not addressing them. She also reminds readers that "organic" is a meaningless term when it comes to fish because there are no standards for the term, and this is a question I get asked alot. So, I'm glad this information is getting out there alongside nice photos and, of course, more recipes.

I hope your summer barbecues are going well. Time to turn of the computer for a while and go see that shiny sun thing in person.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Human-caused extinction of Caribbean monk seal

It's official, the Caribbean monk seal is extinct. Overhunted during 1700-1900, the small remnant population declined gradually into oblivion.

It's a sad day, and this extinction provides a grim reminder of how serious declines can lead to extinction years later.

Hawaiian and Mediterranean monk seals are in bad shape and could go extinct in the next few decades. Do we care enough about monk seals to do what's necessary to save the remaining two species? I hope so.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ocean bloggers summit

Which ocean bloggers met in DC today? After torrential rains and tornado warnings were imposed, in a futile attemp to hinder our nefarious plots at world domination, we had a fun meeting.

The cell phone picture is rotten, making the intrigue even more intriguing. First correct guess wins a free subscription to blogfish, and some really good advice on which fish to eat.

Hooray for Capitol Hill Oceans Week.

Did I mention that I got to shake hands yesterday with Jim Fowler? Jim was at the CHOW awards dinner, and we recognized him when he entered the reception. If you don't know who that is, you've missed something. Do the words "Wild Kingdom" ring a bell? It was a TV show where Marlin Perkins talked while co-host Jim Fowler cuddled, cajoled, and coerced a thousand different wild animals to have their pictures taken for the TV show. Later, Jim was the host.

Thanks Jim, for a lifetime of memories!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Tunicate vs. coral ultimate fighting

It's the big pow from Curacao...ultimate fighting reaches a new level with corals vs. tunicates taking center stage. Miriam Goldstein brings you the story with characteristic New York wit on Oyster's Garter.

Just why are the tunicates able to overgrow corals (uggh, right) and win the battle for space? Is it more food for tunicates, fewer things eating tunicates, or weaker corals?

Now just what does she mean about those elbows and the New York subway??

Capitol Hill Oceans Week, oceans in DC

Who cares about that little nomination thing, the real news in DC tonight is oceans on stage in DC.

For one night, we all get to believe that oceans matter on the national stage. Whattya know, that guy on all the TV screens even mentioned oceans in his victory speech. Maybe it's not a dream.

The annual dinner was a gala event, with people who'd rather be underwater pretending to be civilized. All in a good cause, shmoozing with the crowd and honoring the awardees. I got a few new things on my to-do list, from people it's hard to say "no" to. Also, it was loads of fun bumping into a goodly number of friends and colleagues.

A shout out to Mike Sutton for encouraging the incorrigible blogfish, thanks Mike! One thumbs up every 6 months or so is all it takes to make the whole thing seem worthwhile. Mike is clearly the most discerning ocean conservationist in DC this week.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Carnival of the blue 13

Who knew there was this much blue to blog?

Carnival of the blue is 1 year old. Learning to walk, prone to throw food, and otherwise out of control. That's seems appropriate for our wild, wet, and wonderful world of oceans, and it's nice that the birthday comes on (almost) World Oceans Day. Go here for the carnival archive.

Does World Oceans Day matter? Does ocean blogging matter? Rick MacPherson over at Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets ponders these questions and more. Will blue blogging emerge out of it's toddler stage and find a way to matter? We'll see.

Something new is happening with the launching of Junk, a raft made entirely of plastic bottles. As J. Nichols explains at his self-named blog, it's a new issue that's helping connect people with oceans, and see how their actions do matter. Junk is cruising from California to Hawaii to raise awareness of the problem of junk outta the trunk and in the ocean. Go here to follow their exploits and learn more about plastic junk in the ocean.

Since World Ocean Day is this week I hope everyone will do something oceany, like go for a swim, look at a fish, or at least eat one. That advice ought to get Jennifer and a few others riled up, but I must say my wild Gulf shrimp dinner this week was a great way for me to live Blue. Swing by and give it a try.

Craig McLean of Deep Sea News offers thoughful insights on deciding what seafood to eat, and the best part is that his answer isn't designed to guilt you. The Deep-Sea News troika of Craig, Peter and Kevin is sooooo good, this wasn't even their submission, but I like it so it's in.

What they really want you to read is this post that makes it look pretty clear that orcas don't thrive where crude oil has been spilled, whattya know? Also a story about giant squid and colossal squid and their truly massive body parts, like eyes.

My personal favorite from this month is Justin Van Kleeck's series on sensory flashbacks, sacred places, and what makes people into environmentalists. Here's an important reminder to notice nature in the here and now, and remember that it's not just the great pristine far away that deserves our respect.

Here's my blogfishy answer asking is wilderness a place or a feeling, wherein I muddy the waters in an attempt to explore how people get connected and begin to care about wild places like our oceans.

To make matters clear, a fine example of finding the wild is this Long Island shorebirding adventure reported by Mike Bergin of 10,000 birds that involved dodging airplanes and barricades to find a fine time with some worthy birds.

If you live in New York city and want to catch a fish, you may be surprised to learn that the fishin' is pretty good in the shadows of the skyscrapers, according to Clare Leschin-Hoar the new co-blogger on Chews Wise. Her fearless leader and author of Organic, Inc., Sam Fromartz is forging a broad view of seafood sustainability from his unique perspective, and he got some nice new food for thought at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Cooking for Solutions event.

The Cooking for Solutions event always has a lot to offer, and Ken Peterson of Sea Notes summarizes the action and links to a veritable who's-who of food and ocean writers and their thoughts on the event.

Speaking of seafood, if you like lobster, you'll love this story of making the Maine lobster fishery more sustainable by reducing the risk of catching whales in lobster gear, from Hugh Powell at surf.bird.scribble. Hugh's been off on some intersting adventures lately, and has some great stories to tell.

Now for those of you who like a sharper edge on your knife, hear the words of Greenpeace's John Hocevar about their plans to rock the US seafood world as only Greenpeace can, since he has more hope for Tibet than our ocean fish, brought to you by the happy pessimest Jennifer Jacquet of Shifting Baselines. She also offers a story about feeding bugmeal to farmed fish so they don't need to eat all those lovely little fish and krill.

Miriam Goldstein, the sharp-elbowed blogger from Oyster's Garter, reports on ultimate fighting between corals and colonial tunicates in the "thrilla from Curacao" and the similarity to a short person's battle for space on a New York subway.

Making doubt a lifestyle, or at least a blog title, James Hrynyshyn worries about a decline in minke whales and what it means for our oceans, and also helps explain away some of the fake doubt about climate change in clarifying the great blip of 1945 when the earth seemed to get (briefly) cooler.

As if warming wasn't enough, Eric Heupel scares us with stories of brittle stars on acid that we can expect in our acidified ocean future, thanks to excess CO2. But he settles us down with a nice story of progress in farming the critically endangered and truly tasty queen conch, so we can all feel a little less guitly when we eat them in secret.

Giving new meaning to the term "happy as a clam," Chris Patil of ouroboros reports on the "imperceptible senescence" and extreme longevity of the ocean quahog, and possible lessons on the biology of (not) aging.

Quahogs aren't the only nifty bivalves, Mark Hall regales with tales of the Steve McQueen-like blue-eyed scallop, which "has succeeded by breaking or bending the rules of bivalvery at almost every turn."

Natural Patriot Emmet Duffy reports on a new report on The Disappearing Chesapeake, let us hope that we change course before it's too late.

I really like this next one where Megan Smith of Blue Ocean Institute politely reams a new orifice in Land Rover for daring to mess with that venerable ocean beast, the loggerhead turtle. You mess with our oceans and you're messing with Megan Smith, and after seeing her put Land Rover in it's place, I won't make that mistake.

And for more on ocean people making things happen, Eric Eckl of Water Words that Work tells us about The Shark Group, a Google Group that gave Discovery Channel a very hard time about using inflammatory language like "mindless killing machines" to talk about sharks.

Ever wonder which cruise lines are "overweight?" Anthony Townsend of Blue Economy has some investing smarts to share about those love 'em or leave 'em ocean users with the really beeeeeg ships.

Marine mammals are in the news, and Buck Denton reports on the first-ever observation of the birth of a right whale calf, improved species IDs, and more over at The Conservation Report.

Loss of really big fish is sad, but Walruses are really cool, as Caspar Henderson reports on the beautifully named blog The Book of Barely Imagined Beings (shifting baselines from a poet's perspective?).

And speaking of barely imagined beings, how about President Bush, environmental hero? Sheril Kirshembaum tells you the surprising story at Intersection.

For the wooly-er side of blue blogging, you've got to swing by Stichin' Fish from the Ecology Action Center, where Sadie Beaton has "hooked up" a fantastic wolf fish with her crochet hook, as part of their effort to connect people to oceans and tell the amazing stories of ocean life off Halifax.

If you're looking for answers in how to save our oceans, look no further than Pepijn Koster and his querulous cat over at He's now started a whole new wave of ocean fun, launching the LOL oceans virus (at least this is the first time I've gotten infected).

Finally, let's all send a cheer out to our blue friend Jarrett Byrnes who is busy turning in his dissertation instead of doing blue blogging at I'm a chordata, urochordata. Here's an undated link and a classic (salty poetry) since he's been a bit busy lately.

Next month, drop by The Blue Economy for Carnival of the Blue 14

I's in yer oceans...lookin like poo

I's in yer oceans...lookin like poo, but cukes need savin' too! From Jeff Ives, drawn from an expedition to Madagascar by New England Aquarium scientist Tim Werner.