Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Coral recovery in the Pacific

Bleached corals are staging a surprising recovery in Kiribati's Phoenix Islands.

Great news for a world where climate change may challenge corals with more bleaching in the future. Scientists are studying the recovery to learn more about what we can expect when our oceans boil in 100 years.

OK, it's not really that bad, just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Coral bleaching is when corals decide that they don't like their color, and go for something "jazzier" like a nice off-white instead of the more typical greens, reds, and yellows. They bleach themselves by convincing humans to burn lots of CO2 so our atmospheric blanket thickens and warms the ocean.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Do you have a retractable sexual appendage on your forehead?

If not, then you're outshined by a male chimaera, such as the newly discovered black ghostshark.

The strange shark-like fish has lots of strangeness about it, but nothing matches it's ...ahem... tentaculum. According to ichthyologist Douglas Long:

“They have this club on the top of their head with spikes. People think it’s used for mating,” Long said. “It’s like a little mace with little spikes and hooks and it fits into their forehead. It’s jointed and it comes out. We’re not sure if it is used to stimulate the female or hold the female closer.”

Sadly, you can't see it very well in the pictures at right. I'll keep searching for a usable image, because you're not the only one who wants to see it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What is success in sustainable fishing?

New Zealand hoki is a shining example of success or failure in fishery management, depending on who you ask. Mostly because of a decline in catch in the last decade.

There are other issues that matter, like bycatch of sharks and seabirds, and habitat impacts from trawling. But the most interesting part of the success/failure argument is the significance of the decline in hoki catch that happened in the last decade.

What does it mean when we see a decrease in the amount of a fish caught? Is this a sign of a collapsing fishery? Or is it a sign that managers are doing the right thing? People will claim both, and it's important to look at the details.

When a fishery is virtually unregulated, then declining catches are likely a sign of problems, such as a collapsing fish population. But when less fish are caught because managers reduce fishing limits, in response to scientific advice, then the shrinking catch may be a signal that sustainable management is responding to changing conditions.

A story in the New York Times presents a case for failure, but the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership presents a case for success. All based on the same set of facts about hoki.

Rather than speculate, I'll wait another year to see if hoki numbers increase or decrease. If the fishery is failing, then we should see further declines in the amount of fish. If management is sustainable, then the fishing decline should allow the fish to rebuild.

The latest sign is that managers claim hoki have already recovered to healthy levels. If that's true, then I lean more towards success as the correct story for hoki.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Baghdad's river revival

As the rivers go, so goes the nation...

Or is it the reverse? Regardless of which comes first, you can read the health of a country by looking at rivers. And in Iraq, Baghdad's rivers are in revival.

According to Hamza Hendawi:
Men in shorts splash in its murky brown waters or hop onto pleasure boats that blare sexy Iraqi pop songs. Lovers meet by its banks or take a short nighttime cruise, some even defying the rules of conservative Baghdad to steal a quick kiss in the dark.

During the sectarian violence of 2006-2007, the Tigris River that cuts through the capital was a virtual front line between Sunnis on the west bank and Shiites on the east. It was here, in a river whose name has traditionally evoked poetry and love, that death squads dumped their victims.

Nowadays, as the violence has eased, increasing numbers of Baghdadis are casting aside bad memories and embracing the river like a long-lost friend.

What a treat to hear some good news for rivers from the cradle of civilization. Next up for the Tigris River? How about a little imagination, like Salmon in the Yemen?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ethically correct fish and fishing

Can a fishery be sustainable if customers waste the fish? That's the provocative question raised by scientists Daniel Pauly and Jennifer Jaquet in their critique of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery. Pauly and Jacquet say it's wasteful and wrong to use anchovies for fishmeal instead of feeding people, so it would be wrong to certify the fishery as sustainable.

For me, this stretches too far the definition of sustainable fishing. It's already difficult to find consensus around the definition of sustainable fisheries when it's just about fishing. But this messy debate gets far worse if we include issues like what happens to the fish.

Sustainability should be about not catching too many fish, limiting bycatch, and protecting habitat. We can, and do, debate the proper benchmarks for overfishing and bycatch limits. But if we get into debates about ethical uses of fish, there is no limit to the issues that someone may want to include.

Today, Pauly and Jacquet criticize feeding fish to animals not people. What's the next complaint about how fish get used? Are high-priced fish unsustainable because they're just for the privileged wealthy? Is it a problem to waste fish in processing or preparation? Is a fishery unsustainable if mercury levels in the fish are too high? Can you lose your sustainability certificate if you run a good fishery but the people who buy your fish do bad things?

Certification of fishery sustainability by the Marine Stewardship Council addresses some ethical issues. But it's a mistake to attempt to use the MSC process to address every perceived ethical problem in the seafood supply chain.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Monster trout a record or an abomination?

Performance-enhanced trout, can they be counted as world record fish? Rainbow trout genetically engineered for faster-than-normal growth escaped from a fish farm in Saskatchewan's Lake Diefenbaker 9 years ago. Now the world sportfishing record for rainbow trout are these genetically "juiced" fish. It's strange at best to see a world record set by these cultivated fish with an unnatural advantage.

Should this be a record fish or not? Debate rages online over whether these fish should count as records since they were spawned and fed in captivity before escaping into the lake.

The questions get stranger and stranger as human manipulation of fish (and human) performance develops. Not like the good ol' days when people got busted for pouring lead inside a fish to make it heavier.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Squid that eat salmon?

Everyone knows that salmon can eat squid, but how about the reverse? Would you believe that squid are eating salmon as far north as Washington state? At least that's the report from fishermen who say squid are taking salmon off their fishing lines.

These are not just any squd, they're giant Humboldt squid that can grow to be 6 feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds. Salmon fishermen are catching squid instead of salmon this year, and some are getting concerned.

A state biologist thinks the squid are moving north with the warm El Nino ocean waters, and they're likely to head south again. Global warming may lead to more problems of this type, but it's worth noting that there was a previous attack of the killer squid in the 1930's, so it's not unprecedented.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sea otters vs. fishing in SE Alaska

How do we divide fish and shellfish between people and sea otters? In Alaska, sea otters are reclaiming their historic food supply, and people are unhappy.

In the absence of sea otters, fishermen got used to catching lots of fish and shellfish. Now that the otters are coming back and eating more seafood, what do we do? Do fishermen have rights to the fish, or do otters have prior rights? And how do we decide?

The first step is a scientific study. We need to figure out whether otters are really undoing human fisheries. It's not good enough to just say that otters are back and fishing is worse. If the study says otters are hurting human fisheries, then we get to the hard question. Especially since sea otters are a threatened species that can't be harassed.

We do have some examples of US government action to protect fish from natural predators by removing protected species like sea lions. But such action is rare, and typically restricted to extreme cases like sea lions that swim up the Columbia River and eat salmon out of the Bonneville Dam fish ladders, 145 miles upriver from the ocean.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Of salmon and sea lice

What's this? Pink salmon are thriving in British Columbia despite salmon farms? I don't know all the facts yet, but I'm curious. And it's worthy of note to see that some salmon are thriving these days, amidst the bad news for salmon elsewhere.

Recently, scientific studies projected extinction for pink salmon due to sea lice (parasite) infestations caused by salmon farms. But now we hear of an historic boom for pink salmon in the Campbell River, an area in British Columbia that is rich with salmon farms. What's going on here? Is there some reason why this pink salmon run is doing so well despite salmon farms nearby?

Meanwhile, sockeye salmon are having trouble elsewhere and that's now being blamed on salmon farms. Here's a response from salmon farmers on this sockeye problem.

What's the truth? It's hard to say, but the best guess is that salmon farming (and sea lice) are not the only cause where salmon are in trouble.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Where's Mark?

And what happens next?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bright green, what is it?

It's no longer adequate to talk about green consumers or green products when talking about sustainability. The green movement is too complex to use just a single term; now we need to talk about what shade of green.

Are your customers or supporters bright green? Dark green? Light green? Or perhaps gray? How would you know, and what can the shade tell you about what they want.

Here's a key to the new shades of green that people are talking about, thanks to WorldChanging.com.

...bright green environmentalism is a belief that sustainable innovation is the best path to lasting prosperity, and that any vision of sustainability which does not offer prosperity and well-being will not succeed. In short, it's the belief that for the future to be green, it must also be bright. Bright green environmentalism is a call to use innovation, design, urban revitalization and entrepreneurial zeal to transform the systems that support our lives.

Light green environmentalists tend to emphasize lifestyle/behavioral/consumer change as key to sustainability, or at least as the best mechanism for triggering broader changes. Light greens strongly advocate change at the individual level. The thinking is that if you can get people to take small, pleasant steps (by shopping differently, or making changes around the home), they will not only make changes that can begin to make a difference in aggregate, but also begin to clamor for larger transformations. Light green environmentalism, as a call for individuals to change, has helped spread the idea that concern for sustainability is cool.

Dark greens, in contrast, tend to emphasize the need to pull back from consumerism (sometimes even from industrialization itself) and emphasize local solutions, short supply chains and direct connection to the land. They strongly advocate change at the community level. In its best incarnations, dark green thinking offers a lot of insight about bioregionalism, reinhabitation, and taking direct control over one's life and surroundings.

Grays, of course, are those who deny there's a need to do anything at all, whether as individuals or as a society.

Now that you know the language, spend some time thinking about which shade of green you are, and also your customers or supporters. Do the terms help you figure out how to focus your efforts?