Sunday, November 30, 2008

Salmon spawn in a sewage stream

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

So says an article in the

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2008

Walmart and Alaska salmon

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

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

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

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

photo credit: U Washington, Thomas Quinn

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Retailer group tackles seafood problems

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

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

Sounds promising.

Quoting from the FMI's press release:

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Klamath River dams to come down

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

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

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

Greenpeace fish head protest

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

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

Dead tuna heads for deadbeat tuna managers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ocean observatory now live off California

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

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

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

*just kidding about the lottery.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Underwater death star

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

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

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

Quoting from Echinoblog:

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

From here, it gets interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

Swim Around Bainbridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

today's notables:
basket star
California sea lion

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

View Larger Map

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ecuador gives rights to nature

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

According to Earthjustice:

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Amazing ocean discoveries

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

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

There's the great white shark cafe

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

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

...and more...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A solution for excess CO2?

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

The decline of pink (salmon)

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 09, 2008

When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 07, 2008

A codless country

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

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

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

Thursday, November 06, 2008

It's time to regulate bad behavior again

Is the era of deregulation over?

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

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

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

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

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

Carnival of the blue 18

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

YES WE CAN restore coho salmon

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 03, 2008

Oyster restoration project

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

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

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A border fence for ocean invaders

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

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

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

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

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