Thursday, December 23, 2010

Help build sustainable aquaculture

Tilapia produced in Indonesia and Honduras is to join the new WWF seafood guide category of “moving towards certification”.

Typical tilapia is currently rated as unsustainable in WWF seafood guides due to issues with harmful environmental effects including chemical use, waste spilling into waterways, risks of disease and escapes and weak regulation of aquaculture in many producing areas.

“The moving towards certification classification was set up to give consumers the ability to identify and support fisheries and fish farms that have signed up to achieve the highest standards of sustainable production,” said Dr Mark Powell, WWF International Global Seafood Leader.

“In some cases, these standards and the mechanisms to administer them are still being established, so we are rewarding producer commitment to sustainability.”

“We advise customers to buy tilapia from Indonesia and Honduras to support leadership in sustainable aquaculture.”

Tilapia is the world’s second most important farmed fish, and Indonesia and Honduras are important suppliers to the demanding US and European markets. Tilapia producers in these two countries have achieved or soon will achieve compliance with the tilapia standards that will be used by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

"The benefits we expect from certification are international recognition of all the efforts we have made in developing a socially and environmentally sound aquaculture model,” said Anne-Laurence Huillery, Sustainability Manager for Regal Springs, the leading tilapia producer in Indonesia and Honduras.

“We would also anticipate improved market access thanks to the use of the ASC logo and continuous improvement of the industry, with more producers seeking certification and raising consumer awareness."

The recent reclassification of Vietnamese pangasius (also known as tra or Vietnamese catfish) to the new category will see 50 percent of pangasius exports certified to Aquaculture Stewardship Council standards by 2015.

“We expect that the timeline for certification of tilapia from Honduras and Indoneisa will be very short and it will quite possibly be the first aquaculture product certified to the new standards” said Dr Powell

The long running Aquaculture Dialogues convened by WWF released sustainability standards for tilapia in 2009 and pangasius in 2010.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council, modeled on the Marine Stewardship Council for wild caught fisheries, was established in 2010 and is expected to certify the first sustainable farmed products in 2011.

Certification to ASC standards will cover not just environmental impacts but also social issues such as protection against the use of child labor, forced labor, protection of worker health and safety, and collective bargaining.

WWF publishes consumer seafood guides in 19 countries.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Disinsection--I'm doused with toxic chemicals

I didn't know I needed it, but I got it. Sprayed with toxic chemicals on my way home to Switzerland from Vietnam last month.

You may ask...why? Did they inspect me and find evil cooties? No. Did I have products that made me suspect? No. Air France just sprayed me and all the passengers and crew flying Vietnam to Paris.

The first sign of what was coming came just after the cabin doors closed. A quick announcement that was hard to understand about pest spray that was harmless--and then pssssssssst came the two flight attendants hustling up and down the aisles with 2 cans each of insect sprays. No time to think, no time to react, and we were all sprayed with pesticides. Babies and everyone else. And with little air exchange, we got to breathe that mess for hours. Ugh.

With some digging, I learned a bit more. It's called "disinsection" and you don't have to give consent. The process is poorly controlled, not monitored or evaluated, and there are safer alternatives. Typically used chemicals include permethrin, a likely human carcinogen, and phenothrin, a suspected endocrine disruptor. Are the effects terrible? Probably not, but I still don't like the idea that I have no choice, I just get sprayed. I want to protect public health, but I also believe that informed consent is a good idea.

Vietnam, WWF sign pangsius sustainability agreement

Even the Vietnamese news media are now reporting fairly accurately on the outcome of my last week of intensive work.

Reproduced here in its entirety since it reflects the Vietnamese view of the situation. More from me later, I'm a bit tired right now...

Tra fish off the red list

HA NOI — Viet Nam and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) yest-erday signed a Memor-andum of Understanding recognising both sides' commitment to ensuring that tra (pangasius) fish is globally recognised as a sustainable aquaculture product.

The signing came two days after the WWF's Global Seafood Programme director Mark Powell agreed to remove Viet Nam's tra fish from the red list in its consumer guidance manual.

Under the MoU, both sides are committed to an initial five years of co-operation.

The two groups will help enterprises and tra farmers understand the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) labels which certify that seafood farms meet global standards for responsible aquaculture.

The global standards for pangasius aquaculture were finalised in August 2010. The ASC, a non-profit organisation founded in 2009 by the WWF and the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative, is expected to start labelling products that qualify from mid 2011.

As part of the MoU, the WWF will be responsible for developing a global market for Viet Nam's ASC-certified tra fish, which can be sold at higher prices.

The organisation will also help Vietnamese pangasius products obtain ASC labelling.

The co-operation with the WWF would help Viet Nam remove barriers preventing its tra fish from entering the world market, said vice chairman of the Viet Nam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers Nguyen Huu Dung.

"The country's tra industry will have to adopt sustainable production processes and meet the higher requirements from the international market," he said.

In the next two years, Viet Nam was set to have 20 per cent of its exported tra fish meet an international standard on sustainable pangasius aqua-culture, including 10 per cent with ASC labels, said Dung.

By 2015, three quarters of the country's exported pangasius would meet international standards, and half would carry ASC labels, he added.

In five years' time, Viet Nam would export 8,000 tonnes of tra fish and sell half of it with ASC labels at much higher prices, said Dung. — VNS

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Are Vietnamese catfish sustainable?

Just as I catch a plane to Vietnam, I leave you with an article from the Mekong River Commission.

Global catfish standards imminent as Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue winds up

By Peter Starr *

Nguyen Van Sang, deputy director of the Research
Institute for Aquaculture No 2, at the final meeting in
Can Tho
Photo: Lem Chamnap

Issues related to feed and genetics emerge as last-minute hurdles to a global industry agreement

After two and a half years of discussion, the Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue held its fifth and final round of talks in Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta in March, leaving technical working groups to finalise global standards for two species of shark catfish by June. The standards are aimed at the top 20 percent of producers of Sutchi river catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) and Bocourt’s catfish (Pangasius bocourti), two indigenous Mekong species that are now exported to more than 100 countries, primarily in Europe. According to WWF estimates, global production of these two species grew from about 200,000 tonnes in 2004 to about 1.8 million tonnes in 2009. Viet Nam alone accounted for 1.1 million tonnes in 2009 followed by Bangladesh with about 0.3 million tonnes and India with about 0.2 million tonnes.

Launched in Ho Chi Minh City in September, 2007, the pangasius dialogue has overlapped with seven other WWF-coordinated aquaculture dialogues. Tilapia standards were finalised in December last year (see box on page 29) and standards for the two catfish species and bivalves (clams, scallops, mussels and oysters) are expected to be completed during the second quarter of this year. Other standards for abalone, salmon, seriola/cobia, shrimp and trout are scheduled to be finalised by the end of this year. Like the tilapia standards, the catfish standards will be overseen by a new Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) which is expected to be set up by WWF and the Dutch Sustainable Trading Initiative in 2011 to complement the existing Marine Stewardship Council which focuses on capture fisheries (see Catch and Culture, Vol 15, No 1.). According to Flavio Corsin, the WWF’s senior aquaculture advisor in Hanoi, “the ASC will work with independent and accredited certification bodies who will contract auditors to certify farms Certification standards that adopt the dialogue standards.” The standards being developed for catfish are applicable to all three production systems used in the Mekong Delta—ponds, pens and cages—and may later be extended to other species from the shark catfish family, known as Pangasiidae.

Feed management
While social and health issues were the main hurdles to overcome at the fourth Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue meeting in Ho Chi Minh City in August last year, feed management emerged as a major stumbling block at the two-day meeting in Can Tho in March. To ensure that feed ingredients are sustainable, participants agreed that uncooked or unprocessed fish and fish products should not be used for the two species of catfish. They also agreed to prohibit feed made from pangasius by-products as well as species that are either designated as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) or protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

But the Can Tho meeting failed to resolve the key question of whether or not to include standards of the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation (IFFO) as an indicator of sustainable fish sourcing. Based in Britain, the IFFO has recently developed a Global Standard for Responsible Supply with certification requirements for sourcing, traceability and manufacturing practices. In February, a Peruvian anchovy fishmeal plant operated by Tecnologica de Alimentos SA (TASA), the word’s largest fishmeal producer, became the first feed company to be certified under the new IFFO standard. While the dialogue meeting in Ho Chi Minh City in August last year agreed to incorporate the IFFO standard with two other feed standards, public comments received since then had questioned the new standard.

Even though it complies with FAO guidelines, critics argued that the IFFO standard was not sufficiently rigourous. Catfish producers, they said, should instead focus on ensuring that fish feed is sourced from fisheries that comply with the standards of certified members of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling (ISEAL) Alliance. Set up in 2002, the ISEAL Alliance is based in Britain and includes the Marine Stewardship Council among its founding members. Some argued that ISEAL compliance was a long-term goal that could only be achieved within five years.

In the interim, one option is for catfish producers to focus on feed from fisheries meeting minimum standards under the FishSource scheme operated by Sustainable Fisheries Partnership based in Jakarta and San Francisco. But minimum scores would have to be accompanied by a stock assessment. Others noted that the FishSource option was impractical for catfish producers as it would limit their sources of fishmeal and fish oil to Norwegian, Icelandic and North Sea herring fisheries and by-products from processing non-catfish species which are not widely available, at least in Viet Nam. As a compromise, it was suggested that the requirement for stock assessments for fisheries source for feed could be dropped in exchange for a higher FishSource score. After failing to reach a consensus, the Can Tho meeting agreed to let the technical working group on feed management resolve the issue, described by some participants as a potential deal breaker.


Genetics emerged as the second contentious issue in Can Tho. Participants agreed that catfish farms should be located in areas where the farmed species is indigenous or has a self-recruiting stock established. But the meeting failed to agree on how to define the establishment of self-recruiting stocks, a key issue for producers in Bangladesh and India where the two species have been introduced. Under the International Standards for Responsible Tilapia Aquaculture completed in December, producers must show that the tilapia species is naturally reproducing in the receiving waters of the operation on or before January 1, 2008. In Africa, producers have to do likewise for both the species and the strain of tilapia farmed.

Pham Quoc Lam, chief representative of Danish catfish
importer Butler’s Choice in Viet Nam
Photo: Lem Chamnap

The tilapia standards consider alien species to be established if they have a reproducing population inferred from “multiple discoveries of adult and juvenile life stages over at least two consecutive years.” Given that successful establishment may require multiple introductions, species are excluded if records of their discoveries are based on “one or only a few nonreproducing individuals whose occurrence may merely reflect transient species or unsuccessful invasions.” For producers in Bangladesh and India, the definition of established self-recruiting stocks will determine whether they can meet the standards. According to Dr Corsin, who has been coordinating the dialogue since 2007, outreach activities in Bangladesh had not found any scientific documentation of local introductions of either species.

Among other genetic issues, the Can Tho meeting agreed that the standards would prohibit the use of wild-caught seed as well as genetically-engineered and hybrid seed. It also agreed on a series of indicators to prevent farmed catfish from escaping into the wild. In addition, producers will have to show that catfish seed is sourced from populations already established and naturally reproducing in the receiving waters. But if either catfish species is established, in Bangladesh and India, for example, should seed be sourced from that population only? Or should this be the case only where the species is indigenous? The meeting failed to resolve this question, as well as an additional question of whether seed from one indigenous population could be sourced by producers in an area with a separate indigenous population (see box below). The technical working group on genetics is supposed to resolve the issue before the standards are finalised.

How many populations in the Mekong?

According to MRC Technical Paper No 10, the natural distribution of Sutchi river catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) and Bocourt’s catfish (Pangasius bocourti) is limited to the Mekong and Chao Phraya Basins. The Mekong has at least two populations of Sutchi river catfish. The larger one is a lower population that extends from the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam to the Tonle Sap Lake and as far upstream as the Khone Falls on the Cambodia-Lao border. An upper population extends upstream from central Lao PDR and northeast Thailand to Myanmar and possibly China as well. There may, however, also be a middle population extending upstream from the Khone Falls to northeast Thailand and central Lao PDR which may overlap genetically with the lower population. And there may also be a fourth population in the Sesan tributary system that extends from northeast Cambodia to the central highlands of Viet Nam, in the case of the Sesan and Srepok rivers, and to southern Lao PDR and central Vietnam in the case of the Sekong. As for Bocourt’s catfish, the Mekong probably has two distinct populations. One, extending from the delta in Viet Nam to central Lao PDR and northeast Thailand, may comprise two sub-populations with a degree of genetic overlap. The other extends from the area around Vientiane and Nongkhai to northern parts of Lao PDR and Thailand.

According to WWF, more than 600 people have been involved in the dialogue including hundreds of small-scale farmers in Viet Nam and Bangladesh.

Farmers and academics have been the key players. Other stakeholders have included processors, input suppliers, foreign buyers, government agencies and non-governmental organisations. During two public comment periods between April last year and January this year, the dialogue received feedback from more than 300 people. According to a revised timetable adopted at the end of the Can Tho meeting, the standards were scheduled to be finalised by May 25 and released publicly on June 1. The effort to establish global catfish standards coincides with a separate Vietnamese project to develop better management practices for farms in the Mekong Delta (see Catch and Culture, Vol 15, No 3). The better management practices are expected to be finalised in August and are seen as a first step for producers seeking certification for complying with global standards.

Further reading dialogues-pangasius.html

* Mr Starr is editor of Catch and Culture

Friday, December 10, 2010

More pangasius controversy

WWF representative to arrive in Vietnam
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) global seafood coordinator, Mark Powell, will visit Vietnam next week, according to the WWF Vietnam.

During his stay in Vietnam, Mr Powell will answer technical questions related to methods and procedures to assess tra fish production. He will also hold meetings with the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), reporters and other related parties.

In addition, WWF Vietnam has received a list of questions and the results of assessing tra and basa fish. This information has been transferred to the Directorate of Fisheries and the VASEP.

WWF Vietnam agreed on the Directorate of Fisheries’ recommendation that the WWF should remove Vietnam’s tra and basa fish from the Red List in their 2010-2011 consumer guidance manual while waiting for the results of the WWF assessment. Future assessments should also be carried out with the participation of all related parties.

Although WWF Vietnam is not involved in assessing Vietnam’s tra and basa fish, it said it should be responsible for participating in resolving the issue.

Earlier, in the 2010-2011 guidance manual on Vietnam’s tra fish for European consumers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway and Demark, several WWF member organizations have moved Vietnam’s tra fish products from the Orange List (products that can be considered for use) to the Red List (products should not be used).

This information has been opposed by tra fish breeders and related seafood agencies in Vietnam as it lacks scientific foundation.

Pangasius controversy

I'll be busy for the next week, see below:
From Saigon GP Daily, "The Organ of the Party Committee, The Communist Party of Vietnam"

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Vietnam said in a statement issued on December 9, Vietnamese tra and basa catfish should be retracted from a red list has now stirred a ‘barrage of criticism’.

Farmers in the Mekong delta harvest tra fish. WWF Vietnam said Vietnamese tra and basa catfish should be moved out of the red list in six European countries

WWF in Vietnam announced it had not participated in the assessment, which was undertaken by WWF offices in six European countries, as it has just received standards from the parent organization in Europe.

WWF’s 19 criteria points, provided to the General Department of Fisheries (DOF), part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Development, are actually questions centering on 4 main aspects including two assessment documents of production system, impacts on local ecosystems, quality of fish feed and fish farm management processes, said Pham Anh Tuan, DOF’s deputy director on December 9 in response to reporters’ questions related to WWF’s recommendation of Vietnamese tra fish in the Consumer Guide 2010-2011.

“Right after receiving the assessment document from WWF Vietnam, we felt so disappointed because most of the 19 questions were carelessly compiled and WWF based two sources of poor data collection. That is, an article published in World Aquaculture Magazine and the other assessment on the impact on local ecosystems by Holland’s Wageningen University.”

WWF Vietnam asserted that it would help the relevant Vietnamese authorities and industry associations, including DOF, to resolve the issue.

WWF global seafood leader Mark Powell is expected to fly to the Southeast Asian nation next week to answer any questions surrounding the 19 criteria, which WWF used to assess the quality of Vietnamese catfish.

It is regrettable that a number of the European WWF offices have released non-objective and scientifically groundless and impractical assessment on the tra fish, said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Nga.

Nga said this would seriously hurt the livelihood of Vietnamese aquaculture farmers as well as European consumers and would not benefit the growing economic and commercial relations between Vietnam and European countries.

Ms. Nga said; “Over the past years, Vietnam has strictly controlled its aquaculture sector from planning, production and processing. Moreover, the country farmers have applied highest international standards on aqua-production while satisfying food hygiene and safety requirements and protecting the environment in accordance with international criteria”.

She also went on to say, “Many of Vietnamese high quality aqua-products have been exported to world markets and are enjoyed by many international consumers”. Ms Nga said, “ We have ask WWF offices in European countries to remove Vietnamese tra fish from the red list, to release the assessment criteria and make judgements that accurately reflect the production and export. Vietnam would welcome WWF experts and facilitate their fact-finding activities in the hope that they would be able to assess the industry accurately.”

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Free diving

Watch this deeply moving video (below) of free diving record holder William Trubrudge as he dives without aid to 88 meters (288 feet).

This is a constant weight dive, so he swims down at first until he reaches negative buoyancy and glides down. But, then the hard part, he swims up through endless black water to reach the surface and breathe again.

Here's what he says about his diving, quoted from Deep Blue Home:
I have a relationship with the depths
they beckon me beyond my means
cold dark vacant pressure
forever night, endless dreams
BTW, Julia Whitty of Deep Blue Home is my newly-discovered favorite ocean writer. Her words take me to faraway places and it's a bit of a shock to put down one of her books and realize I'm in land-locked and wintry Switzerland.

About this free dive video, I've never done anything like this enormous feat, although I have toyed around a bit with maximum breath-hold diving so I feel like I can comprehend what he's doing. I've stayed underwater for as long as 3 and a half minutes, but that was barely moving so I conserved my oxygen. I've never wanted to go deep like this, what I like is sitting on the ocean bottom holding a rock in 10 meters of water and trying to imagine being an ocean creature.

Freediving World Record - 88m without fins from william trubridge on Vimeo.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Awkward teen white sharks

You know them, you knew them, maybe you were them.  Awkward teens that can't seem to get anything right.

It's true for white sharks too...those scary monsters of the deep have trouble biting prey when they're teens. So when they're little, say 9 feet long, great white sharks aren't really so great.  Teen white sharks have weak jaws that are prone to damage if they bite big prey.

Take heart, human teens, you're not alone.  Even scary predators have awkward teen years.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Global footprint of fishing

WWF is examining humanity's footprint on the earth.  It's not a pretty picture--we're consuming 1.5 planet's worth of renewable resources each year.  Since we only have one planet, this means we're consuming the earth's ecosystems to support people.

To borrow a financial analogy, we're spending our savings account (natural capital) rather than living off the interest (renewable resources produced each year).

However you understand it, we can't keep doing that forever.

For us ocean people, a big question is how are we doing in the ocean?  The best answer seems to be that we're using too much seafood

How can this be?  Isn't everything fine if we certify fisheries as being sustainable?  No.  Sustainable fishing techniques are good, but using too much is another issue.  Fisheries footprint deals with the sheer volume of fishing on a big geographic scale.  We can use sustainable fishing techniques and still be using those techniques to take too many fish out of the ocean.

In other words, the fishery-by-fishery analysis has to be supplemented by an analysis of the sum total of ocean production that we're hauling out of the ocean.  It is possible to certify every fishery on earth and still have too MUCH fishing.  There's really no way to consider our global fishery footprint in the certification of a single fishery.

To help clarify this difficult issue, there's a new analysis that shows how fishing, considered on a global scale, has expanded and intensified in the last few decades.  This supports the view that we're taking too much in most of the oceans.  And, of course, the most productive areas have been fished first and hardest.  

There is criticism of the fisheries footprint analyses that have been done.  While it's true that details may not be correct, it's an issue that we need to evaluate.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fish spawning earlier in California's ocean

Warmer water thanks to climate change is coaxing fish to spawn earlier in the ocean off California.  Changes like this can sound like no big deal, but timing is everything when you make microscopic babies that will die if they don't eat in a few days.  What if their preferred food supply isn't growing earlier?  OOops.

Evolve or die, and do so quickly.

hat tip:  oystersgarter

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The great annual bluefin tuna bust-up

The Economist sees through the fog on bluefin tuna.  Who are these guys anyway?  They're fairly perceptive despite not being experts on fish.  Their bottom line: 
 "In the end, the quota was indeed cut, but by a token amount: to 12,900 tonnes, a difference amounting to about two thousand big, old bluefins. So another opportunity to redirect the fishery confidently towards sustainability has been lost. The decision highlights Europe's focus on short-term rewards for its Mediterranean fishermen. It also reveals the empty promises of Japan, which had promised it would show leadership at the ICCAT meeting after it derailed the trade ban, but didn't."
Reproduced in it's entirety, since it's a great analysis:  

Green view: Singing the blues
Nov 30th 2010, 22:43 by The Economist online 

(Note how they cut the name of the group doing the protest?  I won't say who it was, but their intials are GP)
NOVEMBER has become the season for the great annual bluefin-tuna bust up. Scientists, politicians, industry groups and activists spend a lot of time arguing over how much bluefin tuna should be caught in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas. At the end of November everything comes to a head when the politicians give their final verdict at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). This year it was held in Paris, and ended on Saturday.

For many decades the story has been the same. Prior to the meeting, the politicians are lobbied heavily by the fishing industry—which wants to catch lots of fish, and argues that there are plenty to catch. They will warn of dire consequences if the quota (13,500 tonnes in 2010) is reduced by even a kilo: the industry will be left in ruins; traditional ways of life of life will be tragically destroyed; there will be gnashing of teeth (but no whaling, unless things get really bad…).

The scientists that monitor the fish will for their part advise restraint. Every year their recommendations would lead most sensible people to suggest that the quotas should be smaller than the fishermen want. Green activists will argue they should be much much smaller. And at the end of all this the politicians will give the fishermen pretty much what they asked for, setting quotas far larger than scientifically advisable while knowing full well that the fishermen will go out and catch far more than they were supposed to.

Stocks of bluefin tuna have duly plummeted. In the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean declared catches were 50,000 tonnes in 1996. In 2009 they were down 20,000 tonnes. In recent years, as the stock of the bluefin has shrunk perilously, green groups such as Greenpeace, Oceana and the Pew Environment Group have ratcheted up the invective. Public concern over the bluefin reached such a pitch that in February this year a complete ban on international trade in the species was proposed.

That attempt to control things failed, not because of any intellectual discussions about the merits of a ban and the science of the stock, but because of bluefin-savouring Japan's way with the chequebook. Fisheries ministers were flown in from around the world to stay in the five-star-conference hotel, and were charmed at many boozy receptions serving bluefin tuna. Unsurprisingly they voted against a ban.

Despite this failure, the campaign for bluefin has achieved one important thing: it has raised public awareness of the problems of the fishery. This means the debate is no longer just about jobs and livelihoods, but is now about science and sustainability. The public is at long last aware that it is being short-changed by the greedy short-termism of setting quotas too high.

Underscoring the growing public awareness of bluefin, the administrator of America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has turned up to the ICCAT meeting for the first time. The administrator, Jane Lubchenco, said that the decision “is not just in the hands of the folks who have a vested interest in the short term,” and that this was a pivotal year for ICCAT.

The fish belong to everyone, not just to those who have the capacity to catch them right now. If the stock recovers and the future of the bluefin is secured, the annual quota will increase many times over. More fish will be caught and more money made. That is good for everyone. The only losers in such a strategy are a small number of bluefin fishermen who are concerned about how they will pay the mortgages on their boats over the next few years.

So what should the quota be this year? Greens insisted that it either be tiny, or that a complete moratorium be imposed. The industry argued the stock assessment was better than it had been a year before, so the quota shouldn't be reduced. The ICCAT scientists said that if the quota was kept to 13,500 tonnes a year between 2011 and 2013, this would likely allow the stock to increase; they estimated a 60% chance of getting back up to a sustainable level by 2022. Greens stressed the corresponding 40% chance of failure.

Dr Lubchenco, who is a marine ecologist as well as a politician, said that given the uncertainty in the assessments one ought to “err on the side of caution”. This meant a quota lower than 13,500 tonnes, a level that she feels is not sustainable.

In the end, the quota was indeed cut, but by a token amount: to 12,900 tonnes, a difference amounting to about two thousand big, old bluefins. So another opportunity to redirect the fishery confidently towards sustainability has been lost. The decision highlights Europe's focus on short-term rewards for its Mediterranean fishermen. It also reveals the empty promises of Japan, which had promised it would show leadership at the ICCAT meeting after it derailed the trade ban, but didn't.

All is not lost. The public debate about the quota is a sign of progress, and so is the fact that it has not been increased. But ICCAT remains an undemocratic institution, holding its negotiations behind closed doors. Thus, it escapes scrutiny for a time; but stocks that fail to grow will represent a judgement on its deliberations from which it cannot hide.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Bluefin tuna listed as threatened species

If you breathe ocean water like I do, you know about the plight of bluefin tuna.  So who needs another damn bluefin tuna story?

Too bad, you're going to get one anyway. 

Australia will list Southern bluefin tuna as a threatened species.  Interestingly, that's not the bluefin tuna species that's been in the news.  Yes, there are actually three species of bluefin tuna, Southern BT, Atlantic BT, and Pacific BT.

Here's the sorry situation for Southern bluefin (right). I couldn't find a more recent graph to post but things aren't getting better.  And if the graph went further back in time, the decline would look even worse.  Argh.  This is about 5% of unfished levels.  19 out of 20 bluefin are now gone.  How many different ways can we say this stinks? 

But back to the news.  Before you cheer about the listing, wait a minute.  ABC News (that's Australia BC News) reports that:
"Portland's tuna industry is not expected to be hurt by changes to the protection of southern bluefin tuna in Australia."
And the Environment Minister from Oz agrees, insisting the move won't hurt fishing

Say what?  Fishing goes on?  Since fishing is the biggest prpoblem for bluefin, why is this OK?  A voice from Australia's fishing sector says, that's OK because fishing in Oz isn't to blame since most fishing is done by others. Well, not quite.  Here's who catches the fish, mostly Australia. 

2010 tuna allocation:
Australia  4,270 tons

Japan  2,261 tons 
Korea 859 tons
Taiwan 859 tons
New Zealand 754 tons
 Indonesia 651 tons

More symbolic action, more denial by fishers, more blah blah blah from bloggers.  How do we change this?  Hmmm...

Maybe we can all stop buying bluefin tuna?  But this effort mostly leaves out Japan, where 80% of the world's bluefin tuna go to get eaten.    

I think there's more to come on this issue before we get it solved. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Overfishing impacts on ocean food webs

It's a risky move to elevate scientific thinking into dogma.  Because sooner or later, it's likely to come crashing down.

This time the crashing dogma is "fishing down food webs," the now-classic finding by Daniel Pauly and colleagues.  It turns out to be a productive and important idea that got taken too far when it was imagined as a single, universal indicator of overfishing and fisheries sustainability.

The original finding remains important.  But a new study shows that it's not always true, and that it's a mistake to use the trophic level index too widely.  There are just too many problems and exceptions.

Hmmm...the original finding is important, subsequent work turned it into a universal tool, and that elevation took the finding too far..?  This isn't surprising, and it's barely interesting.

Except, perhaps, as a story about the folly of turning science into dogma.  According to the Vancouver Sun, his emminence objects to the new study, and it seems like he's taking it personally:
"This paper is a hatchet job, and it's a bad hatchet job," says Pauly, who has a collection of international awards, leads the Sea Around Us Project, and is former director the UBC's fisheries centre.
A hatchet job?  A "crude or rutheless effort ending in destruction?" That's a bit ridiculous as an indictment of a valid scientific study.

For a nice discussion of the issues, check out jebyrnes' blog post on the subject

Monday, November 29, 2010

How to sell a cause

This controversial video has people talking.  It might even remind people to vote.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Politically correct fish and Powell's Law

"...good thing there's no fish..."

Did I hear that right? I'm with a group of seafood experts having dinner, and someone's glad there are no fish on the menu? Asking around the table, the feeling is mostly shared, I'm the only oddball who wants seafood.

This is sustainable seafood gone too far. Something's wrong when some of the world's experts on seafood sustainability don't want seafood on the menu in front of them.

So I'm ready to offer Powell's law:

Enthusiasm for (sea)food should increase with knowledge.

Isn't it obvious? Learning more about your dinner should make dinner better. And for seafood in particular, a bit of knowledge about seafood should make you eager to order fish for dinner.

Otherwise, why bother? Will you listen to a story about sustainable seafood if the message is to eat chicken instead? If learning about bad fishing methods makes you turn past seafood in the menu, will you really make the effort to learn about the impacts of bottom trawling?

Of course it does make sense to smother seafood in guilt if the real reason for explaining catch methods is to scare people away from seafood.

But most sustainable seafood advocates say they want you to choose the best seafood, right after a sermon about how our oceans are in trouble and your appetite is to blame.

Knowledge about fish and how they're caught ought to make you a happier, more enthusiastic seafood consumer. This doesn't mean you have to like every item. Learning the facts about grouper fishing in Southeast Asia may turn you away from grouper caught by dynamiting coral reefs. But enthusiasm should go up when you learn more about seafood or there's no reason to make the effort.

Regarding food correctness used as a weapon Peter Meehan offered these thoughts after getting lectured about buying grain-fed beef:
And I’m left to wonder: Is all this righteousness going in the right direction? Or will the snake eventually eat its own tail? What originally drew me to so many of these better-practice/better-flavor foodstuffs was the joy, the passion behind them. What I’m worried about is that as the food thing gets trendier and trendier, at some point the know-it-alls will scare off the casually interested. Maybe even their fellow foot soldiers. Is that sustainable?
And as Navneet Alang blogs at Scrawled in Wax, food correctness can become a kind of achievement badge:
At times, this is about the the personal political: the small choices we make in consumption and behaviour that mark out a kind of political choice in how we engage with the world. At others, however, it turns into a game of one-upmanship, peer-pressure and self-righteousness, those bugbears that have always been the dark, rotting underbelly of the left. Food becomes another kind of marker of an activist consciousness, in part perhaps, because it is one that can be performed through consumption. There is no better anti-capitalism than the one you can display through purchasing.
The "dark, rotting underbelly of the left?" Food-ism as a way to feel superior? Are things really this bad?

Sarah Palin has an answer, a celebration of salmon slaughter that is unabashedly put forward as a challenge to the left. From SarahPalinUSA (her twitter account): "Tomorrow-"Sarah Palin's Alaska" we slay salmon. A bunch of 'em. (Watch the Left's reaction to that, if harvesting halibut freaked them out!)"

If we're going after Sarah Palin for catching Alaska halibut and salmon in Bristol Bay, then we may have a problem. Since when is it a problem to catch a lot of fish from sustainable fisheries?

So while Sarah Palin is celebrating sustainable fish, compare this blog post from a Greenpeace sustainable tuna campaigner who asks where to find a good vegan dinner in Paris. And ask yourself who's capturing the hearts and minds of the seafood-loving public?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bluefin kill

How many bluefin can a bluefin killer kill
when a bluefin killer decides to kill bluefin?


Friday, November 26, 2010

Europe's bycatch mess--throwing away dead fish

Catch a fish and keep it--catch the next one and throw it away dead.


It's called bycatch and it's a waste. Worse, it's a sin. Click here for a video to see it an example of a fishing boat dumping tons of dead fish overboard.

What do you think? Is this a good way to fish? No, of course not. So why do we allow it?

Some fishermen (and fish lovers) would say the goverment makes them do it. They're WRONG. It's happening because fishermen can't be bothered to fish selectively. It's caused by sloppy fishing.

These days the big fight about throwing away fish is happening in Europe. The Common Fisheries Policy is Europe's main fishing law and it sets limits on how many fish can be caught. Limits on fishing lead to waste because fishermen can't control what they catch, and they run afoul of the limits. Does this mean that it's bad to have limits?

Sloppy fishing that catches unwanted fish is called "by-catch" in the fishy world. Bycatch means catching something you don't want while you're busy catching what you do want. Fish or other ocean animals can be caught as bycatch.

Europe's fishing rules set limits for some types of valuable fish. Fishermen are allowed to go out and try to catch fish. If they exceed the limits for any one of several fish, they're in trouble. So what happens then? Fishermen throw away the fish they catch which are over the limits. Throw it away, and they can't be punished for catching the fish over the limits. The real solution is that they should be prevented from ever catching the fish. The rules only limit what fish they're allowed to bring home and sell.

How does this play out on a fishing trip?Fishermen go out fishing with unselective gear, catch their limit of one fish (say cod) but then instead of stopping, they keep fishing for other fish (maybe haddock). Who's surprised when they catch excess cod and and then throw it away? Nobody should be surprised.

Who's responsible for the waste? The rules that set limits on fish? or the sloppy fishing that can't control what is caught?

Some politicians and fishermen say the rules are at fault. I say the sloppy fishing is responsible for the waste, and sloppy fishermen shouldn't whine about the rules. Instead, they should learn how to fish selectively and catch only what they are allowed to keep.

The rules are designed to protect fish. Science-based limits on cod can't be increased just because they're inconvenient, otherwise cod will disappear totally.

The problem can be solved. One easy solution is for fishermen to stop fishing when they hit their first limit. This is similar to how the problem is handled in the US (the land of enlightenment compared to this European mess).

Tuna canners answer Greenpeace tuna study

Hey, it's not illegal!

That's the response of tuna canners to the news in yestereday's blogfish post on the tuna mixup in canned tuna.

In other words, the law doesn't require tuna canners to tell European consumers the truth about what's in a can of tuna.

Note to tuna canners: so you think it's ok to tell consumers they're getting one kind of tuna, and then put something else in the can?

It may be legal, my friends, but it's not a good idea to mislabel tuna and you might want to fix that problem. Otherwise, the public will start losing confidence in canned tuna, and you'll have to do a lot of work to rebuild that confidence. Don't shoot the messenger.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What's in that can of tuna?

Canned tuna is full of fishy secrets, according to Greenpeace.

A new study says that the cans have tuna, but not always the tuna that you're promised on the label.

Sometimes the cans have the wrong tuna, and sometimes a single can may have two different types of tuna, which Greenpeace says is illegal in the EU (I don't know if that's true).

Not a good thing if tuna companies want to build public confidence.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eating seafood responsibly

Here's a nice editorial on eating seafood responsibly. I don't agree with everything it says, but that's OK. It has some overstated gloom and doom in my opinion, but I like the overall message. It's from Tim Winton, patron of the Australian Conservation Society.

AUSTRALIANS are passionate about food. It's impossible to ignore the fact our culture is in the grip of a food revolution. Eating well is no longer the preserve of an elite. Cooking creatively is a mainstream aspiration and diners enjoy a cuisine that's an eclectic regional fusion of old and new worlds.

For many of us, the centrepiece of Australian cuisine is fish. Whether we're at home or at a restaurant, seafood is the culinary currency of celebration.

In previous generations we served roasted meats on special days, but in many homes prawns, rock lobsters, fish and oysters are now more commonly served.

Seafood is lighter; it seems more suited to our climate. And of course, in an era when Australians seem to want to eat more and weigh less, fish is sold to us as a panacea to our health problems. We want to give our children the healthiest start in life that we can.

And tastes have broadened enormously. We eat species our grandparents considered bait. Restaurants and cafes now offer everything from mussels to marlin. But as our palates are educated and our curiosity constantly piqued, our expectations grow. And so does demand.

With so much good seafood on offer, and with such an abundance of energy and ideas in the business of cooking and promoting it, you could easily get the idea that this incredible plenty extends to the fisheries and oceans themselves. The seas that supply the stuff we hanker for seem to be limitless in their bounty. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

The world's oceans are in trouble. Yes, pollution and irresponsible coastal development are taking their toll, but overfishing is the single biggest threat to the marine environment.

Eighty per cent of the world's fish stocks are overfished or fished to their limit. Global catches peaked in the late 1980s and have been in precipitous decline since, and now 90 per cent of big predatory species such as bluefin tuna, swordfish and sharks are gone.

Unless fisheries management is radically improved, we face a catastrophic collapse.

Of the 53 top fishing nations, Australia ranks a startling 31st in sustainability. We continue to exploit vulnerable or overfished species such as southern bluefin tuna, orange roughy, gemfish and many species of shark.

For the past 50 years we've fished the oceans with the same industrial intensity with which we once clear-cut our forests, as if there were no tomorrow. On land we pulled back at the very brink, but on the high seas we're still kidding ourselves.

How do we reconcile this tough news with our appetite for fresh, healthy seafood?

Well, perhaps by acknowledging that this is not someone else's problem; this is about us and our habits and tastes. The oceans are at the mercy of our expectations.

But nothing modifies expectations like fresh knowledge.

To make informed judgments about the seafood they buy, consumers need coherent, well-researched, impartial information, material that's easy to access and free from commercial influence. Until recently, this has been hard to find. Non-government organisations such as the Australian Marine Conservation Society have begun filling the gap.

Discriminating diners want to make intelligent and responsible choices. Why should they accept low standards about the provenance of what's on the plate when only excellence will suffice at every other point of the dining experience? In a culture of excellence, why should a dodgy product from an unsustainable fishery be any more acceptable than something poorly cooked?

It's important to know where a fish comes from, how it's caught and how it fares as a species.

A sustainable choice favours quality over quantity, and this needn't come from any dour or ascetic impulse because, any foodie knows, elegance is born from restraint. Care, at every level, adds value. Chances are, if you buy fish carefully, you'll prepare it with similar deliberation.

Most sustainable fish tend to be smaller, faster-growing species, and they're often the most local produce, the kinds of things we overlook and undervalue.

A tasty fish doesn't need to be exotic; it needn't be as long as your arm. The chances are your best choice is one of the species you caught as a kid: squid, herring, whiting, mudcrab, mussels.

It's often startling to learn a fish's story: what's wild, what's caged, what's pointlessly wasted and which species are in trouble. It's an even bigger surprise to know how little independent information is readily available.

What's not so shocking is how quickly the mood has begun to change in favour of making informed choices. After all, nobody wants to be dudded.

Our buying habits at the market or restaurant will help shape the business of seafood. The explosion of food culture shows just how fast things change.

Suppliers will respond because they must. The choices we make as individuals and groups have tangible and multiplying effects on the market.

As people begin to favour sustainable fisheries, voicing their concerns to suppliers and retailers, voting with their wallets as well as their feet in restaurants, they will transform the seafood industry and perhaps even rescue it from itself. There are too many good reasons not to try. When we buy food we think first of our families, our children. For their sakes we need to know food is safe and secure. Unless we properly value what's left of our seafood it may, quite soon, be neither.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Flamingos use pink makeup

Not content with being pink, flamingos use pink makeup to get pinker.

For flamingos, oil glands near their tail produce an especially pink oil, which they daub on their feathers during mating season to get pinker and attract mates.

I guess preening and using color are perfectly natural, so there's no reason to be surprised at what people do.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More about "collapsing" Alaska pollock fishery

Are Alaska pollock in trouble in the Bering Sea? Are they "collapsing" as some suggest? The best evidence says "NO."

Here at blogfish we looked at recent good news for pollock, and a 20 year history and concluded that pollock are low but improving. But guess what? An astute blogfish reader suggested a look back to the 1960's might be informative. OK, let's go a back 45 years.

The situation looks a bit different based on a draft analysis provided to blogfish, which should be publicly released soon. In the 1960's, before substantial fishing began, pollock in the Bering Sea were less abundant than today. In fact, there were less pollock in the mid-1960's than during recent lows that led some to say the fishery was "collapsing."

Wow, that was a helpful look back. It looks like the fish go up and down, and there is no obvious decrease in the amount of pollock in the Bering Sea since big fisheries began to catch a lot of pollock.

What does the future hold? I hear that climate change may cause pollock to shift northwards, and fishing may have to move to keep catching the fish. And that might cause some to say "collapse" if only looking at certain areas.

It's easy to find fault or success in fishing with selective use of data. But not so helpful.

Of course fishing for pollock takes a lot of fish out of the sea. But so far, I'm not worried that the fishery is collapsing. Do some animals suffer from fishing that takes a lot of pollock out of the ocean? Probably, since some animals eat pollock and have to compete with fishing.

Pollock fishing has become such a political football that it's hard to know what to think these days. Things were looking a bit troubling recently for the pollock fishery, but that trend is now reversing and things are looking pretty good. The pollock fishery in Alaska is certainly one of the better managed big fisheries in the world. But I would still like to see just a bit more concern for the animals that compete with humans for pollock.

Friday, November 19, 2010

EU flip-flops, supports overfishing of bluefin tuna

After pretending to be the saviors of bluefin tuna, the EU is now the leading voice pushing for overfishing of bluefin tuna. This embarassing change of position happened thanks to a push by Europe's fishing nations.

It's ironic that the EU proposed a ban on trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna through CITES as a way to protect the species, but now the EU refuses to stop overfishing of bluefin tuna. Maybe the real reason is that the trade ban would mostly hurt Japan which trades for the fish, but the fishing controls would hurt the EU because they CATCH a lot of bluefin tuna.

The EU's flip-flop was led by France, Spain, Italy and Malta, according to news reports.

Disappointed by the EU's failure to fish bluefin tuna sustainably, Masanori Miyahara, Chief Counselor of Japan's Fisheries Agency says "Japan will take leadership in the meeting to ensure the recovery of the stock."

So Europe is now taking a back seat to Japan in conserving bluefin tuna in Europe's backyard?! How embarassing for Europe to be rebuked by the great bluefin tuna conservationists from Japan. How will the EU talk their way out of this one?