Thursday, September 30, 2010

Local hero elevates neglected fish

The history of Native Americans and native American fish are intertwined. Now a professor with native American roots is charging up efforts to save the endangered Pacific lamprey and empower Native Americans.

Why mingle the issues? Indian Country Today explains:

For Close, the findings also indicate the importance of indigenous knowledge to science. He considers traditional knowledge to be just as important as Western science to the management of tribal resources.

Close directs the University of British Columbia’s Aboriginal Fisheries Research Unit, dedicated to training indigenous students to conduct cutting edge research of importance to indigenous communities in North America. The unit currently has two aboriginal students from Canada, and is seeking to recruit more First Nations and Native American students from Canada and the U.S.

“By getting more Native peoples into the sciences with master’s degrees and doctorates we can work through the political tool of self-determination to protect our tribal resources,” Close said. “Most of the time we have been hiring people to come in and do this science for us. They can miss important insights into natural processes that are known to our cultures, because of their cultural biases.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The unseen sea

The Unseen Sea from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

Beautiful sea video that is not quite what it appears to be. From Simon Christen, a Swiss guy transplanted to the US West Coast. Wait a minute, did we swap places or what?

Hat tip: Julia at Deep Blue Home

Is organic (or sustainable) food best?

Organic food won't save the world, or so says scientist Eoin Lettice:
"...I have no problem with buying organic as it has significant positive impacts on the agricultural environments; improving soil health and biodiversity, etc., one has to admit that it is a niche market which is a luxury of well-off, developed nations and does little to support those 925 million people on the UN list..." (more in the original, you should check it out)

It's a familiar topic for sustainability advocates. Is sustainable seafood to be a niche market for the affluent, or a real movement that transforms the way the world catches and farms seafood?

The answer lies in our standards. If we hold out for the highest possible standards, we condemn sustainability to be a niche movement instead of the mainstream of seafood. I prefer to use interest in sustainability to transform the entire seafood industry, specifically because I don't want it to be a niche market.

...and then there's GMO food...

Eoin also brings up GMO (Genetically modified organisms), as did Carl Safina recently. Safina correctly points out that we've been tinkering with animal genetics as long as there have been domesticated animals, and shuffling genes isn't really that new. Now we just do it in the lab instead of in the barn.

Take a look at teosinte compared to modern corn (right). Who would say that maize isn't a GMO? If you know anything about maize genetics, you will be smart enough to avoid saying "but wait, corn breeding doesn't involve moving genes around" because it does move genes around, and this process can also transfer genes between species.

Blogfish thinks the world has changed because of rising CO2, and while I used to think we couldn't afford the risks of GMO food, now I think we can't afford to just push GMO salmon off the table like a toddler saying "NO!"

If GMO salmon can really be grown in closed-containment tanks, with lower feed requirements and less time to market, then we need to think about the risks. Lower carbon footprint and seafood footprint for farming salmon, along with getting salmon farms out of the ocean is a very good package of benefits. A decision on what to do comes down to which risk seems worse. Frankenfish scares me less than rising CO2.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seattle area dead zone

It's back, dead fish floating on the ocean's surface near Seattle. It's the Hood Canal dead zone, in a place that was once an ocean wonderland.

My father used to scuba dive in Hood Canal when he was young, and he raved about the fantastic ocean scenes. Giant octopus, plentiful fish, etc.

But now, Hood Canal has a dead zone every year, and this year could be worse than ever. It's partly natural, but humans have made it worse. This deep fjord tends to collect water like a bathtub, and algae blooms suck up oxygen when the algae die and decay. Nitrogen fertilizer from people's lawns and septic tanks make it worse.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Orange roughy & hoki madness

More orange roughy will be caught by fishermen this year. Hoki catch limits are going up. Is this a sign of disaster or success?

Forest and Bird, an environmental group from New Zealand says we still shouldn't eat orange roughy.

Not surprisingly, the Ministry of Fisheries see it differently, increased fishing for hoki and orange roughy is a result of good management.

At least one supermarket recently decided not to sell hoki and orange roughy because they're not fished sustainably.

It's sustainable seafood madness, as claims and counter-claims cloud the waters and threaten to make everyone say "WTF?" All because we can't agree on what exactly is "sustainable." How embarrassing for sustainability advocates.

If the sustainable seafood movement works, we should expect to see increased fishing for troubled species someday. Are enviros willing and able to back off on claims that people should avoid eating a species? Or will we keep species on the "do not eat" list forever, because we're stuck in a rut? I don't know enough about these fishing increases to know whether or not they're appropriate. But I worry that some people will never say "yes" to eating orange roughy or hoki once they've started saying "no."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Swiss Alps, snow in September

What a magic day, a quick day hike in the Alps turned into a winter wonderland adventure on 26 September.

A train ride to Villars and then Bretaye, a short hike up the Grand Chamossaire, and voila, we were in snow at 1800 meters elevation (about 6000 feet).

Just a couple of days ago, we were hot in shorts and t-shirts down in the valley (Lac Leman-Lake Geneva).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Criminalizing oil spill observation

I'm ashamed to be an American when my government makes it a felony to do what Carl Safina did (take pictures of oil booms in the Gulf of Mexico).

There can be reasons to keep people away from booms, but this is ridiculous. Here's the story, in his own words:

You’d think that, with an ongoing environmental disaster caused by a foreign corporation, the U.S. government would be OK with letting the public see what’s going on. Land of the free, right?
Well, not necessarily.

Among the latest and most enraging developments in the ongoing Gulf oil blowout catastrophe is that on June 30, the Coast Guard suddenly decided that something we’ve been doing for weeks—getting near booms deployed ostensibly to deter oil (because you really can’t avoid them)—is a felony.

A felony.

This, after weeks of people screaming for transparency and complaining about interference, the Administration promising transparency, and journalists (and myself) complaining of petty bullying on public roads and beaches by people now getting paid by BP. [For plenty of other reporting on the news strangle, do a Google search with the words: media access gulf oil]
A felony.

Here it is:


So, in the spirit of Independence Day, honoring the Revolution and all, I decided to be willful, thus commit a felony, and record it photographically. I report it here, patriotically and unrepentantly. Shame on BP, and shame on the Coast Guard. Shame, indeed, on us all, for letting our own government drift so deep into corporate territory, so far from allegiance to We, the people.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Moby Carbon

Wanna stop climate change? We need to start a whale nursery and fill our oceans with whales. Not just a few, I'm talking 36 billion whales. I call it the "Moby Carbon" project.

Here's what it's about...

Whale removal from the world's oceans is a little-known CO2 problem, akin to deforestation. The body of a whale contains up to 9 tons of carbon, more than any living thing except for the biggest trees. Our human whale extermination program of the last couple of centuries has reduced carbon removal from the atmosphere.

Time to re-whale the oceans so they can die and sink and store our waste carbon! And I don't mean just get back to pre-human levels of whales, I think we need to fill the oceans with whales. According to my calculations, with 36,000,000,000 whales (36 billion whales) on earth, they could live comfortably 100 meters apart and effectively remove all excess carbon from our atmosphere so we could live combustibely ever after, burning fossil fuels to our wallet's content.

I'm going to look for financing to launch Moby Carbon, I'm sure I can find a friendly country that will let me do a whale nursery for a share of the carbon credits.

Blogfish on Swiss TV

Tonight on TSR (Télévision Suisse Romande), you can watch me on A bon entendeur, their consumer show.

TSR is the main french language tv network in Switzerland, and A bon entendeur is popular and long-running show that aims to inform consumers. This show is on sushi, and the producers placed a priority on ecological information about the fish used in sushi.

If you don't happen to live in Switzerland, then you can swing by their website and see the show online (in french, of course).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tuna, tuna, and more (or less) tuna

Where's blogfish? Just back from this interesting city (top left). I attended a tuna meeting that was postponed from May to September, because the venue was burning thanks to riots. Part of the complex was pictured on fire the day the event was supposed to start, on the front page of If you still don't know, here's a hint (right).

It's tuna 2010 in Bangkok, where I represented WWF International and gave a presentation on "The role of ecolabels in the sustainability of tuna. Note the beautiful and ephemeral ice sculpture, I hope real tuna have a better future than these beautiful sculpted tuna.

My main point from the talk: contrary to what many people think, for me the most important role of ecolabels is showing the path to sustainability for currently unsustainable tuna fisheries. Without a clear path to green, today's unsustainable tuna fisheries can waste time and money making unhelpful changes. This can drain away commitment and make sustainable seem unreachable.

Here's the venue (right), note the giant screens that magnify the speaker's faces. Yikes, good idea to check before going onstage, don't want any unsightly bits of food in your teeth or other debris broadcast to the audience at 50 times life size.

More later on my trip and the conference, for now back to work in Europe.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Video captures feeling of being in the ocean

It's hard to find video that can put you in the ocean. I don't mean an underwater trip with breathing gear, or a surf safari, I mean on or just under the surface with nothing more than a wetsuit and fins, or sometimes a board. This video gave me chills, watching as the sun came up over the Alps in landlocked Switzerland. It put me right back in the ocean.

I'm back from a week's travels, and soon I'll have a few bits to share with you after I can get things pulled together. For now, wait until you can spend 6 quality minutes with this video, fasten your seat belt, and click the "play" triangle.

DARK SIDE OF THE LENS from Astray Films on Vimeo.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flipper is a fraud!

Who's old enough to remember that cute and helpful dolphin Flipper from the TV series? Certainly not me. Anyway, I've seen the show somehow, like maybe before I was born, and Flipper always killed the bad shark that was menacing the good kids of the show. Here's a video to prove it.

News from Ya Like Da says that Flipper was a fraud, and dolphins don't really do this when sharks are chasing little boys. Damn, another cherished myth busted.

Now please pardon me while I go worship a sports hero like say...Tiger Woods or Roger Clemens.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Oily doom for tiny seahorse?

The world's smallest seahorse, the cute little 1 inch dwarf seahorse, is at risk of extinction thanks to BP's Gulf of Mexico oily disaster and subsequent cleanup.

So says Project Seahorse, the Zoological Society of London's conservation branch.

According to Project Seahorse, the dwarf sea horse is particularly vulnerable due to its small size, limited habitat, inability to migrate great distances, and low birth rate. The fish also mate for life, so the loss of even one breeding parent is doubly dangerous to the species' long-term reproductive health. The Deepwater oil spill occurred during the sea horses' primary breeding time.

Another problem is that the dwarf sea horse, unlike its cousin sea horse species, often lives close to the ocean surface in floating mats of sea grass. Not only did spilled oil accumulate in these mats, BP burned many of them to prevent them from carrying oil onto the shore. According to Project Seahorse's press release, "The burning of the mats has killed many marine animals while depriving others of their habitat and exposing them to further toxicity. Sea grass is vital to the long-term health of coastal ecosystems, sheltering marine animals, acting as fish nurseries, improving water quality and preventing erosion."

Meanwhile, Project Seahorse experts also express fear that the dispersants used to treat the oil spill will add further toxicity to the dwarf sea horse's habitat.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Why green business is the new conservation

An ongoing fight over sustainable seafood is really a fight between old vs. new conservation. That's why the latest brouhaha over the Marine Stewardship Council is interesting. One side is building the green economy, while the other side calls foul over greenwashing.

On the left, scientists and advocates attack the Marine Stewardship Council certification of sustainable seafood products as "failing on its promises as rapidly as it gains prominence." That's a revealing bit of critique. If the MSC were small and insignificant, certifying as sustainable only near-perfect boutique fisheries, the same critics would likely be singing the praises of the Marine Stewardship Council. In fact, Jacquet, et al., say as much in their opinion piece in Nature.

Memanwhile, on the right, support from sustainability advocates and the seafood businesses that are rapidly transforming to improve the environmental performance of fisheries. Oh, and the MSC has their own answer, although a bit wordy and technical.

Think about it, what would you rather have? A shining stamp of approval for the very best fisheries on earth, relying on (for example) hand-thrown harpoons to catch a few tons of big swordfish each year? Or a broad march towards lower-impact fishing by a large fleet of big fishing businesses that catch a few million tons of all kinds of fish each year?

The right answer is we want both examples. And that's a silly part of this fight. Both examples are needed, and the fight is mostly about which word to apply to which example. Since "sustainable" is the only handy label, both sides want to claim it. Even the most hard-core purist who thinks all fishing is bad ought to agree that improving fisheries is a good long as they don't try to appropriate the "S-word" until their fishery is perfect.

No matter how you define it, sustainable fishing is what the green economy is all about. Transforming business to include improved environmental performance. It's happening in fisheries and seafood, and we need to see the movement spread.

What should we make of the greenwashing claims? Attacks over supposed greenwashing are getting louder and more strident as the green economy grows. Let a company mention a change to reduce packaging or make a more concentrated product, and critics jump all over them for allegedly claiming to be green. Where is it written that improving a business is bad if the improvement doesn't go all the way to deep green? Here's an example of a greenwashing expose that finds 99% of corporate green ads to be guilty of greenwashing, and by-the-way was done by a group of people that offers to help you avoid such criticisms for a fee.

Green guru Joel Makower finds greenwashing attacks are often overblown, and I tend to agree. Green advertising is often overstated, but a religion of green that finds 99% the flock to be sinners is using damned harsh judgment. I don't think this is the way to build a new movement of green business. Fear of greenwashing attacks may force companies to be careful, but such attacks may backfire and actually hinder progress towards real business sustainability. We should expect step-by-step improvement and offer some encouragement instead of attacking 99% of companies claiming some green values for products.

This greenwashing and sustainability argument is not unique to fish, note the picture (top left) and delve, if you will, into the deeply intellectual green vs. greenwashing debate over the "Swiffer," a replacement for the good ol' mop. And maybe you'll find, as I do, that the whole greenwashing argument gets a bit tiresome, and move on to the real work of changing the world instead of arguing about who are the real greens.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Frankenfish coming soon to...your table

Genetically modified organisms; GMOs. They strike fear into the hearts of Europeans and US dark greens. But they have promise in helping to feed the world. Where do you stand?

Regardless, it looks like we're going to do the experiment of growing and serving GMO salmon in the US. Do you think labels on the GMO fish will have the scary "Frankenfish" name? Do you think menus will disclose GMO salmon with butter sauce? Labeling is required, but there's labeling and then there's real disclosure--which is harder to achieve.

I think the risks of GMO food have been overstated, but that doesn't mean I think GMO salmon are completely safe either. All new technologies have risks, and we need to evaluate risks and trade-offs. We shouldn't give up forever on GMO fish, but we also shouldn't rush into production without knowing the risks. And the trade-off question gets more and more important these days...perhaps important enought to be a deciding factor in what to do.

What kind of tradeoff? In our modern world where CO2 threatens to overwhelm all other environmental problems, reducing the carbon footprint of food production, as GMO salmon promise to do, is a good result. The fish require less food and less time to reach marketable size. But at what cost? We need to look into the possibility, and we need transparency, clarity, and good safeguards so that we can make responsible decisions.

photo, top left: does she or doesn't she (have foreign genes)? only her hairdresser knows for sure. one fish is GMO the other isn't, guess which one.

Gulf oil: the stink that keeps on stinking

Just when you're starting to feel better about the Gulf of Mexico, new reasons to worry. First, claims that the FDA is using weaker standards for oil-tainted seafood compared to past oil spills.

More bad news, the chemical goo used to disperse (hide) oil in the Gulf seems likely to make the oil last longer.

"Some experts have also said that the use of Corexit (dispersant) has prolonged by decades the presence of toxic crude oil, because the dispersant sinks the oil beneath the ocean surface, where it cannot be quickly broken down by sun, waves and microbes."

Delightful, I feel better already.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Slippery science in the Gulf of Mexico

Researchers locked out of Gulf of Mexico research sites? Seriously? I can't believe this is happening when when we need all the information we can get about oil and dispersant impacts on the Gulf of Mexico.

What else is going on? How about seafood that is being approved for sale, even though some studies suggest that harmful contamination is present in some Gulf animals. Are people being adequately protected from contaminated seafood?

First, on the authorities stopping researchers from doing their work...I don't have the whole picture, but it's hard to imagine why researchers are being locked out of Gulf research sites. It seems unbelievable, crazy, and foolish:

Since the gulf oil spill first began gushing on April 20, Linda Hooper-Bui’s research group has repeatedly run up against the authorities. In May, a Fish and Wildlife Service officer confiscated insect samples that one of Hooper-Bui’s students had been collecting on a publicly accessible beach in southern Alabama. On research trips in Louisiana, her students have been stopped by sheriff’s deputies—one time after driving 150 miles—simply for attempting to study the ecological impact of oil and dispersants. Time and again, they were told that they couldn’t access their normal research sites unless they were working for BP or the government.

On the seafood contamination concern, here's a description of part of the FDA's seafood contamination test:

In order for an area to be considered acceptable for re-opening from a sensory standpoint a minimum of seventy percent (70%) of the expert assessors must find NO detectable petroleum or dispersant odor or flavor from each sample.

Is this real, 70%? I don't think I want to eat seafood that 30% of assessors think is oily. Yuck.

I'm not yet persuaded that everything's fine. It may be fine, but this stuff isn't reassuring.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Plastic in 40% of turtle stomachs

A study of leatherback turtles shows plastic in the guts of around 40% in the last couple of decades. That's way too much plastic. Must we really live in such a way that sea turtles have to live with plastic in their bellies?

Hat tip: J

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Millions of endangered sockeye crowd into Fraser River

Huh? Wait a minute, this doesn't make sense.

Just when we were ready to close the book on Fraser River sockeye salmon. Just when the judicial inquiry into their disappearance is getting underway. The darn fish won't stop coming home to spawn. It's as if they want to monkey-wrench people's minds just to be contrary.

First we expected 10 million to come home this year...then 14 million...then 20 million...then 25 million...then 30 million. Now it's up to 34 million sockeye salmon and rising. Could it go higher? Check here for more news, and see if the numbers can go even higher!

The world of sockeye salmon and the Fraser River looks very different today than it did just two months ago.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Wood-eating armored catfish

From the Amazon, of course, comes a strange new species of fish. An armored catfish that eats wood. That's it's mouth in the photo at right.

A protozoan that lives in the gut of the catfish breaks down cellulose and makes wood into sugar for catfish food.