Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Odd chill kills florida corals

Cold water burbling up from the depths has stunned and killed some of Florida's endangered coral.

...as if the ocean acid monster, global warming, and eutrophication weren't enough of a problem already...

Nobody knows why, but a spate of cold water squirted up from the deep ocean--where it's always cold--and gave corals and fish an icy bath that was too much for some. Dead tropical fish on the ocean bottom was one of the first signs of trouble, according to a dive instructor.

The cold water was especially harmful since it came during the warmest time of year, in summer. Alternately heating and chilling corals and fish is even more stressful than either warm or cold water alone.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ocean conservation battle in Australia

Australia is going backwards, just when they seemed like smart protectors of the Great Barrier Reef.

Scared of losing too many votes for protecting oceans, politicians in Australia are being reeled in by recreational fishing interests. This is eerily similar to a movement in the US called "Freedom to Fish.

Called a recreational fishing movement, the US Freedom to Fish was more astroturf than grassroots, largely driven by big fishing equipment manufacturers.

There are some signs that the anti-ocean conservation campaign is working in Australia. Will fishing votes defeat ocean conservation? Check out the Shame on Shimano website to see how some people are trying to fight back against the anti-ocean protection effort.

Enjoy the nice "freedom to fish" picture from the US (right). And let's wait and see if similar things make an appearance in Australia.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bowhunting for jumping fish

This is one of the strangest "sports" I've ever seen. Driving fast in a boat, stirring carp to jump, then shooting them in the air with a bow & arrow. Is this real? Watch the videos.

Flying fish video, incredible

Close-up and slow motion video showing how flying fish fly. Fascinating, incredible. Watching flying fish has to be on my top ten list of fun ocean things to do. Here's the best video I've ever seen showing how they do it.

Flying fish can fly several hundred meters, and for up to a minute, with only their tail touching now and then to regenerate the speed necessary to stay in the air.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saving trout in Switzerland

I was invited by a local fishing club to help save trout Swiss-style. It was an interesting and fun exercise in stocking trout, with kids invited along for the fun and education.

We went first to the St. Prex fish farm where the St. Prex fishing club raises lake trout and brown trout for planting in local streams. The trout are raised and planted by volunteers, with the supervision of the gardes-peche (fish guards). The operation was not totally streamlined, there was the typical Swiss concern for doing things "properly."

Our group collected 4000 fingerling (7-10 cm) trout and off we went with the trout in the back of the car, bubbling with oxygen and chilled. We were headed for the best stream in Gland, the Promenthouse, home of the Societe de pĂȘche la Promenthouse, near the site of the medieval village of the same name that once had 500 people but was wiped out by the plague and never repopulated. It's a pretty little stream, but a western US eye says the watershed could use a bit of restoration and fencing to keep the cows out of the streams.

We divided the fish into buckets, carried them down to the stream, and placed them in small groups in fishy-looking places. The kids were absolutely overjoyed, and we definitely saw some kids upping their interest in fish, streams, etc.

The Lake Geneva brown trout was mentioned by Izaak Walton in The Compleat Angler, and human involvement with this stock of fish goes w-a-a-a-y back. Switzerland is an intensively used landscape, with people and farms just about everywhere they can be. And the trout are still here, so let's not ask too many questions about how and why.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Too many boats chasing too few fish

Why are fishermen complaining about conserving fish? Don't we need fish to have good fishing?

Even though it seems stupid, fishermen are complaining about ending overfishing in the US and in Europe.

What's going on? Fishermen are shooting the messenger, the scientists and managers who are saying we have to stop catching fish faster than they can reproduce.

It's not a new story, witness the children's story about overfishing. Ok, it's not exactly about overfishing, but it might as well be about overfishing.

Why does overfishing happen?

The biggest problem in modern fishing is too many fishing boats chasing too few fish--overcapacity. This simple statement applies nearly everywhere. Most people know it's bad for the fish to have too many boats, and it's also true that it's bad for fishermen. Richard Allen is a former fisherman turned consultant, and he says it's bad for fishermen to have too many boats chasing fish.

With too many boats, no fisherman makes a good living. Everyone spends lots of time and money chasing the ever-declining fish, and never catching enough to make ends meet.

But if managers propose cutting back on fishing fleets, fishermen complain about losing their jobs. Wait a minute, these are McJobs that people are losing--lousy part-time jobs that are lousy even with widespread and often counter-productive government subsidies.

The driving forces are similar everywhere. A free and open resource is there for the taking, and everybody and their brother rounds up a boat and goes out fishing. Until there are so many boats that nobody is making much money.

It's an interesting conundrum to see fishermen defending McJobs, when the same jobs in a big-box store would be reviled. Low wages, part-time work, etc. It seems obvious that they're not defending reality, they're defending the myth of fishing, the dream, the reason they got into fishing. A chance to do your own thing, make a living, and maybe get rich. It can work for one, but not for all. It's time to do a better job of reducing bloated and over-subsidized fishing fleets. It's better for fish and fishermen.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Endangered salmon boom best in 97 years

It's salmon season, which means it's time for people to quit talking and start listening to the fish.

Endangered Fraser River sockeye salmon are coming back home to spawn in numbers that haven't been seen since 1913. This is one year of knock-your-socks off good news for fish lovers and conservationists, in the midst of a bunch of bad news.

Does 25 million fish this year mean that all is well in salmon land? No. Just like last year's 1.4 million Fraser River sockeye--the worst in 50 years--doesn't mean that we should kiss them good-bye.

Salmon farmers point out that salmon farms were blamed during the bad years for driving salmon to the brink of extinction by spreading parasites to wild fish. Is anyone saying why salmon farms aren't a problem this year?

The criticism that sea lice from salmon farms are driving salmon to extinction was first applied to the pink salmon decline until Fraser River pink salmon had a boom last year at 17.5 million fish.

Then the decline in Fraser River sockeye was attributed to sea lice from salmon farms, but this year's boom has muted that criticism.

The real story that salmon are telling us right now is that all is not lost. Salmon are amazing creatures that will survive if we give them a chance. Problems can hurt fish one year, and they can bounce back the next year. One year up or one year down does not spell success or doom.

During this lucky year, the biggest worry of fishermen is a drop in price for the sockeye they catch, thanks to the overwhelming number of fish on the market.

What a difference a year makes!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bacteria eating oil in the Gulf of Mexico

A new study says we caught a break in the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, an unknown bacteria was surprisingly good at breaking down the oil by eating it.

Researchers believe the light, sweet, nature of this particular crude, plus the Gulf's hardy adaptation to "frequent episodic leaks from natural seeps" may have contributed to its improved microbial ability to break the oil down.

Not that everything is fine, but at least we have some help from Mother Nature in dealing with the oil mess.


An amazing video, shot in Monterey Bay. Wow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is Gulf of Mexico seafood safe to eat?

Many people are asking this question, and seafood sales are down in the region. Some 15% to 25% of people surveyed are negative about seafood and worried about safety, the numbers vary depending on how the question is asked.

In response, the Florida Department of Agriculture
is now rolling out Florida Gulf Safe stickered logos to restaurants, retailers and seafood wholesalers. Some restaurants have already put the logo on menu inserts, and wholesalers can place the logo on their packages.

“This is not a certification program,” said May. “It means that, from everything we know, it is safe.”

But some fishermen have doubts about the safety of Gulf of Mexico seafood. Fishermen from 4 Gulf of Mexico states held a press conference recently to question what they believe is the premature re-opening of fishing grounds. They issued a press release that said:

"Gulf Coast fishermen do not want to sell tainted seafood but are being forced, by the premature opening of inland and gulf waters to commercial fishing, to choose between a clean gulf or their livelihood," according to a press release announcing the event. "Fishermen would rather work cleaning the severely damaged gulf than selling tainted seafood.
Concerns over the safety of Gulf seafood deepened last week after crabbers in coastal Mississippi pulled up dozens of crabs with black-tainted gills—something they'd never seen before. Crabs are bottom feeders, so the presence of oil in their tissues suggests the pollution is now covering the sea floor."

There is a lot being done to ensure Gulf seafood is safe, but that's a difficult task. Testing and tracking everything that's caught is impossible, and the technology available sometimes come down to the good 'ol "sniff test" (does it smell like oil?)

Industry promoters believe that Gulf seafood is safe and the only threat is people being overly alarmed. They are mounting a photo-op type campaign in response, and planning to meet with Obama in Washington DC, bringing a 30 foot po' boy with a "bipartisan mix of shrimp and oysters.

There is more to come on this issue, I think it'll be around for years to come. Among other things, it's a confidence in government issue, and for those who attack the government as being "the enemy," we're all now living with the consequences of such attacks.

Big swim across Monterey Bay (California)

In the home of "the man in the grey suit" (great white shark), Bruckner Chase is swimming 25 miles of open ocean, crossing the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. Follow his live twitter updates, he's swimming RIGHT NOW!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scary crayfish threatens Madagascar

Listen to the frightening description of a new alien species invading Madagascar, and you'll picture something like this (right).
"...voracious self-cloning crayfish, which are gobbling their way through rice paddies and threatening endemic crayfish species."

But what is it really? Just a small "freshwater lobster" (left) that has existed peacably in the Southeastern US until it was apparently accidentally transplanted into Madagascar as a lost or abandoned pet.

That's the dilemma of invasive species--plunking something down in new place can transform it into something harmful. Listen to news reports from Madagascar on this beastie:

Local daily Midi Madagasikara quoted a farmer from a small village on the outskirts of Antananarivo as saying his catch of tilapia had fallen by about 75 per cent since the crayfish appeared.

The crayfish "will eat any plant matter, including rice. In fact, they'll eat any biological matter," the biologists warned.

They also reproduce at an explosive rate, producing up to 400 eggs in 40 days during the warm rainy season.

In 2003, German scientists proved that the marmorkrebs could clone itself. Although the crayfish also reproduced sexually, females were able to lay eggs which hatched without being fertilized.

Known as parthenogenisis, this type of unisex reproduction is effectively a form of natural cloning.

Bad juju. And I grew up thinking crayfish were nothing more than cute and yummy. Maybe a good market will help keep them under control?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bizarre fish take over Puget Sound

I'm a ratfish lover, ever since I saw them on my Swim Around Bainbridge. But not everybody loves a nice cartilaginous chimera that is almost identical to a fish that was swimming before there were dinosaurs, over 200 million years ago.

This has to change, now that Seattle is more the home of the spotted ratfish than the home of salmon. Spotted ratfish are taking over Puget Sound, much to the chagrin of people who like to fish for the more charismatic salmon or even a not-so-sexy rockfish. Ratfish probably make up nearly 70% of the mass of fish under the Caffeinated Inland Sea.

They're actually quite cool, they're captivating with big green luminous eyes that seem to shine in low light, and it's time we all got used to them. Even though they inspire the prosaic Seattle Times to opine "Surely these are the wages of our ecological sins." Oh my. It may not even be true that ratfish are the trash fish taking over Puget Sound thanks to us humans messing it up. They may have been with us all along, and just innocently booming when other fish are crashing.

Fishy artist Ray Troll has a painting showing ratfish "patiently waiting for Seattle to go away," but I couldn't find a copy to post for you.

Here's a nice discussion of the spotted ratfish, aka ghost shark, including it's rather interesting sex habits.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Yukon chum (one of the other salmon) in trouble

Just when you were ready to cry over the disappearance of Yukon River kings, comes the news that Yukon chum salmon are also in the toilet.

Chum salmon (aka dog or keta salmon) are the poor cousins of the more popular chinook (king), coho (silver), and sockeye (red) salmon. Chum are less popular than their "rock star" salmon relatives and their reputation mostly doesn't get outside of the salmon land around the edges of the northern Pacific ocean. But they're abundant in some areas and important for subsistence fishing.

Or at least chums used to be important. Subsistence users are having a bad year catching chum salmon on the brawling Yukon River as few fish and high water are making it hard to catch enough to last the winter. This doesn't mean a few more trips to the store, in some places where they rely on chum salmon there ain't no store (at least not the kind of store you and I are used to) and not a lot of cash to buy caviar instead. This is real subsistence fishing, not leisure time hobby fishing where people eat the fish because they like it.

Why are chum salmon missing from the Yukon River? Nobody seems to know for sure, and sadly there are hints of decline elsewhere for chums. Is this the next salmon problem? Is this a hint that Alaska's overconfidence in their fishery management is mostly due to Alaska getting a lucky break thanks to good natural conditions over the last couple of decades (hint)? We'll see. Maybe the people who've been trumpeting Alaska's successes over the last few years will end up eating some crow.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Climate change creates a war over fish

Pay attention to the new mackerel war, you'll be seeing more of this type of dispute in the coming years as climate change warms ocean waters.

This dispute threatens to put the stink on foreign relations between the EU and Iceland, with some big consequences such as hindering Iceland's entry into the European Union. All of that over an oily little fish?

The mackerel war is happening because it seems that climate change is warming ocean waters northwest of Europe, driving mackerel towards Iceland. Traditional mackerel fishing countries don't want to share the fish with Iceland. Caught in the middle is the Faroe Islands, with a small share of the traditional catch but a growing share of the fish around their small island home. They want more mackerel too.

Mackerel seem to be replacing some traditional staples of Icelandic ocean bounty, so Icelanders feel justified in catching mackerel. It does seem reasonable, since mackerel are now swarming around Iceland and the word on fishing for mackerel is that it's so good it's crazy.

Fish and fisheries will move as the ocean warms in coming years. Nations that traditionally caught certain fish will want to follow those fish north. But the nations that become new hosts of the fish will certainly want at least a piece of the action. And why not, since their traditional fish will likely have moved north into someone else's waters.

This is a mackerel war in name only, no actual shots are being fired, at least not yet. But the next one might not be so civilized. Real wars have been fought over less.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Endangered Fraser sockeye booming

Just when it seemed that Fraser River sockeye salmon were about to go down the toilet into extinction, those darn fish had the temerity to stage a comeback. Sockeye salmon numbers are up in the Fraser River this year, W-A-Y up.

If you're a science geek and you'd like to go to the source for the real numbers, go here.

What does this all mean for the sustainability of Fraser River sockeye salmon? One good year does not equal healthy salmon, but it's certainly a much better result than another bad year. In fact, one good year doesn't really change anything, these fish are still in trouble. The only big change with this year's sockeye boom is that it's hard to get people interested in the plight of Fraser River sockeye this year.

If only they had the grace to fade away uniformly...

Oily bottom syndrome

Are you curious where all that oil went? You know, the oil that is "gone" according to experts from BP and their supporters in government. Now we know where to find some of it...look down and you'll see Oily Bottom Syndrome.

Always embarassing and probably toxic, having your bottom splotched with oil is not a good thing. News from the Gulf of Mexico says that the Gulf has Oily Bottom Syndrome "further east than previously expected and at levels toxic to marine life."

Initial findings from a new survey of the Gulf conclude that dispersants may have sent the oil to the ocean floor, where it has turned up at the bottom of an undersea canyon within 40 miles of the Florida Panhandle. Plankton and other organisms showed a "strong toxic response" to the crude, according to researchers from the University of South Florida.

We knew those dispersants were risky, but oil companies and the government like dispersants because they put some of the oil out of sight.

Now it's coming back into the public eye, thanks to good work by scientists. But public attention has shifted, and the news is much smaller today than in the early days. No doubt BP thinks shifting some of the oil spill disaster news to August is a success.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shrimp, Prozac, and bad behavior

Antidepressants make shrimp more likely to get eaten, according to new research. The antidepressant Prozac, at realistic levels, made shrimp swim towards light where they are more likely to get eaten by birds or fish.

How does this work? By making shrimp less anxious, the little lovelies quit worrying so much about predators. Or to be more scientific, serotonin levels are altered by the drug, affecting behavior.

The study was stimulated by the amazing parasite mind control story--worms infect fish, alter serotonin levels in the fish's brain, and make fish swim to the surface to get eaten by birds, thus completing the parasites life cycle. Creepy.

You know, don't you, that we have drugs in our water. Think about that next time you wonder why you have a strange urge to swim towards a light and flash your shiny surfaces.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Coral bleaching closes dive sites

Hope for corals...popular dive sites in Malaysia were recently closed to protect fragile corals after a bleaching event. Bleaching is when corals lose their zooxanthellae (the colorful algae that live symbiotically with corals and provide food). After bleaching, corals are very, very sick and likely to die. Protection from diver-caused damage is one way to help stressed-out bleached corals have a chance of recover.

There are other things that help, like protecting herbivorous fish that keep plants from over-growing and smothering corals.

Then there's that whole CO2 problem that makes water warmer and causes coral bleaching.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lobster death linked to toxic chemicals

Lobster die-offs have been a problem in Long Island Sound (NY/Connecticut) for decades. See gruesome photo at right. Now a new study says that chemicals like Bisphenol A may be the cause of dead lobsters.

According to UConn today:

Lobster shell disease has been a contentious issue in Connecticut since the beginning of a massive lobster die-off in Long Island Sound in the late 1990s. In the past decade, the state’s commercial lobster catch has plummeted, with catches falling to about one-sixth of their 1998 levels. Factors such as mosquito insecticides and warming temperatures have been implicated as potential risk factors for the disease, which creates dark lesions on the outside of the lobsters’ shells that, over time, bore through the shell to the membranes underneath.

The new research Laufer is presenting at the conference showed that chemicals found in plastic bottles and detergents may make lobsters more susceptible to the disease. He and his colleagues identified “hotspots” in the Sound where lobsters have high levels of alkylphenols – a group of chemicals derived from detergents, paints, and plastics – circulating in their bodies. The lobsters take in these chemicals from their food, mostly mollusks such as clams and mussels that filter the chemicals from the water. In the western Long Island Sound, the southern shore of Massachusetts, and Cape Cod Bay, as many as half of the lobsters surveyed were contaminated with the chemicals.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oyster project killed

New York Harbor, as most harbors, could use more oysters. But alas, it's not to be since a Baykeeper oyster restoration project had to be killed out of fear that poachers might steal the oysters, eat them, and become sick.

There are so many layers of irony here I don't even know where to start.

If they steal the oysters and get sick, we're supposed to worry about them? Sorry, eating stolen oysters should make people sick, this would be divine justice. The reason for killing the oyster project was to protect the legitimate shellfish industry, since oysters making people sick might hurt legal shellfish business. This seems crazy. Save the NY oysters, they deserve a chance and we need them to thrive.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Penis competition in ducks

Hang around with other guys if you want your penis to get bigger. At least that's how it works in ducks.

A new study shows that male ducks that live with other guys grow a bigger penis than male ducks that only live with females. Apparently, the competition of having other guys around stimulates ducks to produce a bigger penis, in hopes of winning the mating game.

This is just one of the crazy aspects of duck mating. Duck phalluses are not only big, they have a corkscrew shape. And female ducks have strange, multi-pocketed vaginas that allow female ducks to control which aggressive male gets to fertilize her eggs. Evolving a labyrinthine vagina seems like a useful strategy for a species where forced copulation is common. Since female ducks don't get to control who mates with them, they have evolved anatomy that allows them to control who fathers their ducklings.

All of which makes great fodder for feminists and masculinists to argue forever about what all of this mating strangeness means.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Yukon River salmon shortage-again

Remember those Yukon River king salmon that blogfish told you about in 2006. The yummy ones with the high fat content that rival Copper River kings? Don't go looking for them in your local store, Yukon kings are going missing again this year.

What's wrong with the Yukon River king salmon? Is it climate change, parasites, or phases of the moon? Or maybe just the boom and bust cycle going the wrong way, and we humans get all fussed because we're used to the good days of lots of fish.

When the world's biggest fish poops

Biologists are strange, and that really shows up when they start thinking and talking about poop. Witness biologist Alistair Dove talking about the lure of dipping a net to sample the poop of a whale shark, the world's biggest fish:

“Nobody has done this analysis yet,” said Dove, who referenced a scene from Jurassic Park, when Laura Dern’s character is ecstatic at the chance to poke through a pile of dinosaur droppings. “It could be a literal gold mine.”

Why is he so excited about a very large poop? Because it's a chance to learn a lot about a very interesting fish. It's hard to know what goes on inside a wild animal, and poop is one of the best ways to find out (without harming the animal, of course). According to Wired Science:

With a fresh sample, researchers could perform high-powered chemical and genetic analyses of its contents, learning in precise detail what these threatened giants consume in the wild. Dove is especially curious about their digestion. In aquariums they thrive on a relatively spartan diet, suggesting high efficiency in converting food. But a colleague on the research trip had observed whale shark defecation first-hand, and said their food was barely digested.

“He says it comes out looking much the same as when it goes in,” said Dove. “Maybe they’re efficient when food is scarce, but when they find a good patch, their efficiency drops in favor of gluttony. They’re eating so much, they just push it through.”

That colleague happened to find a group of whale sharks feeding — a spectacular affair, in which scores swim in a synchronized frenzy, sucking up water and food, and discharging wastes on the spot.

“Pooping events may play important oceanographic roles,” concentrating surface nutrients and delivering them to the water column and seafloor, said Dove. Scientists now think that baleen whales perform just such a task, and may be vital to nutrient circulation in the ocean.

Dove estimated the main plume in the photograph to be 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, and the smaller about 8 feet by 10 feet. If it’s three feet thick, the nutrient slurry would have a volume of 2,000 cubic feet. “Imagine you’ve got a big aggregation, dozens or hundreds of whale sharks, doing this all at the same time. That’s a lot of nutrients,” he said. Dove hopes to collect samples from just such a group.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Is blogfish going too soft?

Commenter Jeff Jolley gave me a wake-up call today. Integrity demands that I elevate his comment to the front page. I wonder if anyone cares to comment on this comment? Am I going too soft?

Jeff's comment:
This is frustrating. I feel that you have softened. Are you still TNC..or ONC? Since you have been in Switzerland the blog has definitely changed. You're not pushing the issues in our face or being politically incorrect. You did that before. The tuna posts are a prime example. Japan doesn't get a break just because they are the last country to still exploit something in a detrimental way. Stay "in our face" about how we are damaging our resources.

Lost in translation

This ice cream wrapper illustrates how I feel sometimes while I'm learning french with an American brain. This happens to me nearly every day, a label or newspaper article that has me scratching my head and thinking WTF?

Is it big or is it small? You'd never know from the label. It's Big, but it's the mini-size Big. Pass the advil...er I mean pass the Dolo-Spedifen

Friday, August 06, 2010

Poop for the planet

What's the latest in eco-friendly habits. This just in from Japan, an airline suggests that you deposit your poop in an airport toilet before boarding your flight.

All Nippon Airways, the airliine I flew from Tokyo back to Paris, suggests
"This flight is a so-called 'eFlight.' The idea behind the operation is to think about the Earth in the sky above. Fuel reduction by lightening the weight of the aircraft will lead to restrain the carbon dioxide emission, which is one of the causes of global warming. Thank you for your understanding."

"Asking passengers to go to the toilet (before boarding) is just a small part of the program," said spokeswoman Megumi Tezuka, which includes using recycled paper cups and plastic bottles instead of glass. "We are making these items lighter -- and making the passengers lighter, a little bit," Tezuka said.

Does it help? The airline estimates that if 50 percent of passengers relieved themselves before boarding, it would reduce carbon dioxide by 4.2 tons a month.

Japan seems to have a much better grasp on poop and pooping than I'm used to seeing. Take a look at this high-tech toilet, a common sight in Japan. It has a bum wash option. Pushing the little bum shower button sends a stream of water to wash your bum after pooping, just in case things got messy. If you prefer, you can press the warm water button and voila, the bum wash is nicely heated to body temperature, to eliminate the cool shock you might otherwise feel. Yes, of course I tried it...not bad.

Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo

Tsukiji fish market was amazing. It's a small city, estimated to have around 60,000 people who work there. It's interesting that they're not quite sure, since most people who are there work in independent businesses.

Here's a short video clip of tuna being auctioned at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the world's larget. There are two auctioneers working at once, the singing sounds are the voices of the auctioneers. Note the differences in their voices, to work near each other they have distinct styles, one more uniform and the other with a repeating rhythmic sound.

There are some amazing fish being sold, I wonder how much for this fish that looks to be a 300 kg (660 pound) bluefin tuna? There are hundreds of tuna in this room on this day, you can see them spread out on racks that go perhaps 100 meters into the distance. There's another room in the other direction that has nearly this many tuna in it also. I'm not sure how many tuna overall, but well into the hundreds and perhaps over a thousand. Just one day's business in Tsukiji.

Walking around the fringes of the market, you can find retail stalls selling anything. Here are some whole dried sardines, at 2000 yen per kilogram (about 10 US dollars per pound). Whatever you like, I'm sure you can find it here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Who's to blame for bluefin tuna problems?

Japan's Fisheries Agency says that it's unfair to blame Japan for the disappearance of Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna. Masanori Miyahara, the charming (yes, I can attest to that) leader of Japan's Fisheries Agency said the west and ENGOs unfairly blamed "Japan's huge stomach" while ignoring the failure of western fishery managers to control fishing.

Is it unfair to focus blame on those who ate the vanishing bluefin? Is Miyahara correct in saying that blame also belongs on those who caught the fish and the asleep-at-the-wheel western managers who looked the other way while the fish were caught?

I have to admit that I think it's unfair to blame only Japan for the plight of bluefin, and I said so at WWF's tuna symposium in Tokyo yesterday. European managers and fishing fleets were quite happy to make piles of money catching the fish and selling them to Japan. Can they then turn around and blame Japan for making them catch the fish? I think managers and tuna consumers have to share the blame for disappearing bluefin.

But the real question is what comes next. At the next management meeting, in Paris in November, we'll see who are the friends of bluefin, and who are the false friends who talk nice but slaughter the fish.

Perhaps we should follow here on blogfish the lead-up to the next decisive meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, cutely known as the International Commission for Catching All the Tuna.

And now it's time to get on a plane back to Europe, and time to sort through those Tsukiji photos. Did you know that sushi restaurants near Tsukiji are packed and hopping at 7:00 am? And that the staff are relentlessly cheerful?

That's a much better showing than the American college baseball players staying in my hotel. A group of 4 of them in an elevator told some departing Japanese players "hey, we're going to Outback and our food will taste better than whatever you're going to eat." Maybe...but the Japanese players probably have more brain cells and much higher quality synapses. Can you spell "ugly American?" Probably not if you're going to Outback in Tokyo tonight, with the other options available.

Good thing I'm from Switzerland.

Who knew you can eat instant noodles with a toothbrush?

No, the other end, the handle...

From the "working late in Tokyo" file

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tuna conservation in Japan

Saving bluefin tuna in Japan. An unlikely goal? Never mind, WWF Japan is tackling the challenge. This week's events began with a press conference in Tokyo's Foreign Press Center (photo of venue, right). It was well-attended, one and a half hours long, and it featured many good questions from media based all over the world. I was present speaking for WWF International.

Next, a day-long symposium devoted to the tough issues of the biological and political status of Atlantic bluefin tuna (photo at left). Attendees included Masanori Miyahara, the Chief Counselor of the Fisheries Agency of Japan and Japan's head delegate to ICCAT and other international management bodies. He had some tough words for WWF and other critics of Japan. WWF representatives responded in a lively dialogue.

Press and consumers in attendance asked many probing questions, and the consumer outreach effort by WWF Japan has begun in earnest. Again, I was present on behalf of WWF International, and I had the opportunity to answer criticism that WWF is merely the voice of European views, unfairly blaming Japan. More later on the remarks of Miyahara-san and the discussion. Here's one news article from the Japan Times.

Then, a highlight of the visit, Tsukiji Fish Market. I have many photos to sort through and share, hopefully soon. Right in front of us was a 300 kg bluefin tuna ready for auction, and many other big tuna. Finally, breakfast in a Tsukiji sushi restaurant, lively already at 7am, featuring salmon eggs and more. What a great trip so far. Tokyo is interesting, our hosts from WWF Japan were indefatigable and gracious, and it's rewarding to tackle the big challenges of winning some support in Japan for bluefin tuna conservation.