Thursday, January 27, 2011

Salmon doing better in coastal Oregon

Parked in Switzerland, watching some interesting trout spawn in nearby streams is nice (more later), but here's some news that warms my heart.

Coho salmon--my fish-- are doing better in coastal Oregon where I grew up. It's been a long time coming, but things are looking better.

For you data fans, here's a information-dense status review that says basically the same thing as the news piece linked above. Things are looking better.

Interestingly, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program rated Oregon coho as fish to avoid in their seafood buyer's advice. I think they're wrong for most Oregon fish, and it seems that they know better but can't fit the details on a simple seafood wallet card.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sad remnant lake emptied of fish in 15 minutes

This looks like a simple overfishing story, a lake in Mali emptied of fish in 15 minutes. But it goes deeper.

This is a remnant of a once-fertile lake that was bigger and capable of feeding people, but desertification and climate change have turned this formerly green land into a barren place. Now, the ritual fishing is just a pitiful remnant of better days.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Few tuna, small tuna

Some tuna fishermen in the Philippines are unhappy they can't find enough big tuna.

According to Business World online, one fisherman explained the problem:

"We’re able to catch only one tuna, from three or four pieces we normally caught in the last few years," lamented the 42-year old father of four who has been catching tuna using the handline method in the last 15 years.

"Moreover, the sizes of the tuna have noticeably shrunk now than before," he added, speaking in Cebuano.

He seemed lost for explanations why the fishes have become smaller, but noted the stiff competition that abound near Balut Island, which is rich in tuna stocks, with so many fishing boats staking out there.

"Compared to a fruit, they are picked but not yet ripe," said American John Heitz, export manager of Aqua Gensan Traders talking about the small tuna hauled in by fishermen in the Philippines.

To protect tuna from being caught too small, the Philippines government has banned the sale of small tuna. Nice idea, but the limit is no catching tuna less than 500 grams. Say what? That minimum size limit is more appropriate for freshwater trout.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whales eating whales

Aptly-named killer whales in Alaska seem to be quite fond of eating baby grey whales.

The babies are separated from their mothers and held underwater until they drown. Then, after a good feed, the killer whales store the carcases in shallow water and come back days later to eat again.

These hunting methods are unique and carried out by a group of perhaps 150 killer whales, with the result of nearly 1/3 of eastern Pacific grey whale calves being eaten each year, from a total grey whale population of around 20,000.

Sharks and brown bears benefit by eating the scraps underwater or the carcases that wash up on the shore. One baby whale carcas quickly attracted a group of 19 brown bears. In this way, healthy grey whale populations provide an important food resource for ocean and land animals.

All of this happens around Unimak Island in Alaska, a group of killer whales specialize in grey whale calves, even though their prey is close to their own size and their protective mothers are much larger than the killer whales.

Here's an unrelated video of a killer whale attack on a baby grey whale. Yikes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whale threesomes

Here's a photo that can probably make even a biologist blush (right).

A female right whale is shown here copulating with two males at the same time. The female is between the two males and you can see two penises, one coming from each side, and both entering her vagina.

This is real, that you can be sure, because the event was seen, photographed, and described by whale scientists.
On 11 August 2000 in the Bay of Fundy in Canada, a mature female right whale was observed copulating simultaneously with two mature males. The female made no attempt to resist copulation. For anatomical reasons, double copulation would be difficult or impossible in most mammals; however, it is quite feasible in right whales, and the fact that it actually occurs provides strong support for the belief that females of this species promote sperm competition as a mating strategy.
Male right whales have a penis that is 8 feet long and capable of searching out a female's vagina. Females often roll onto their backs during mating, so approach by males can require heroic lengths. Apparently, heroic lengths are not a problem.

Another interesting thing about right whales that goes along with this threesome or more-some behavior is sperm competition. Females often mate with more than one male, and males compete to see who can get the most sperm inside the female. Their efforts are made possible by massive 1000 kg testes that likely produce one whale of an insemination.

Sounds to me like a much more fun way to compete than fighting over who gets to mate. Let's all mate and let the sperm battle it out.

Of course, this is great blog fodder including a discussion of this event and what it means.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Humpback blackdevil, a real sea monster in miniature

The name sounds bad and a picture of this fish looks even worse (right). Yikes. This is a sea monster I hope to never see underwater.'s only a couple of inches long, whew.

But imagine having to meet this thing on it's own terms as a prey species. Look at those teeth.

The ‘humpback blackdevil’ anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsoni), dangles a bioluminescent light from its forehead in order to lure prey within gulping range. Because this method of feeding is so effective, this fish has little need of swimming muscles and hence the tiny body in relation to its ferocious-looking head.
Of course, don't forget the most interesting thing about anglerfish, the "parasitic male" mating strategy.

The scary fish above is a female, and if you look carefully you might find the parasitic male looking like a small bump or appendange on the body of the female.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Frozen fish help cool the planet

When it comes to fish, frozen is better. At least if you're concerned about climate change impacts, you should buy frozen. According to expert Peter Tyedmers: "In many cases, your better choice overall, from an environment or energy–related perspective, might be frozen product from afar, regardless of the distance."

I know this goes against the common belief that fresh seafood is better. It's time to stretch your mind a bit.

Fresh seafood is wonderful, especially when you're privileged to eat something that just came out of the water. But "fresh" fish shipped by air and delivered to you days later is not the same thing. The rot sets in as soon as the animal dies, and good chilling only slows down (doesn't prevent) the decline. Good handling and fast transport helps forestall the rot, but at what cost? AT THE COST OF WARMING THE PLANET.

Take one example. Copper River salmon shipped by air all over the US is an environmental abomination. Other salmon is just as good, and shipped frozen by barge it's better for the planet.

Smart seafood people know that properly handled and quick-frozen fish is actually better than so-called "fresh" fish that has sat on ice for several days.

Will we re-investigate frozen fish now that there's a new reason to be pro-frozen? I don't know, the "fresh" dogma is fairly entrenched. But we should.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

TV show spurs sustainable seafood sales

I was in London last week, and I got to watch "Hugh's Fish Fight" on TV.

It's a series of 3 shows that critique bad fishing, attack the root causes in bad management, and suggest that consumers join the campaign against bad fishing by eating more sustainbly. Good stuff, and engaging TV.

Well...who knew that Fish Fight would spur sales of more sustainable fish in Britain? This is good, effective advocacy TV. Go Hugh!

The issues he raises are important, the presentation was good, and it wasn't dumbed-down for TV. I'm impressed. Of course, it is British TV and not American TV. BTW, Swiss TV is good too, take note of A Bon Entendeur in french on TSR, and in particular their recent show on sustainable sushi with a fantastic special guest.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daddy, what was the Aral Sea?

Powerful film from Romain A, great visuals, great music. Sit down for a spell and experience the "Aral Sea."

ARAL SEA from Romain A on Vimeo.

Hat tip: Deep Blue Home

Don't band your penguin

It's not a nice thing to put bands on the flippers of penguins. It looks bad and totally clashes with the whole "black and white" thing most penguins have going.

Oh, and besides, it makes it harder to swim and have babies and all that. At least according to some scientists. But the controversy rages on since not everyone agrees.

Since alternatives exist, why not switch to subcutaneous electronic tags. They're probably safer and much less of an eyesore.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

5 mile long surf ride

In the aptly-named Turnagain Arm in Cook Inlet, Alaska.

This ride is on a tidal bore, when conditions drive an incoming tide to collide with outgoing current and create actual surfable waves.

Scott Dickerson of captured the image and shot video (both shown in this post) from a motorized paraglider. For more go to this post on his website.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sharks patrolling flooded city streets?

Is it bull, or is it real? Could there really be sharks circling a butcher shop 30 km inland from the ocean following the Brisbane (Australia) floods?

Evidence of bull sharks swimming up flooded city streets seems real, but the stories of feeding behavior are probably over-hyped.

It's common to find fish in strange places during a flood, including in normally dry fields. Fish can invade fields to escape the fast flow in flooded and roaring river channels.

But I wouldn't waste my time worrying about being attacked by a nutter shark. They're probably just lost and confused and looking for a way back to the familiar ocean.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

japanese view on eating tuna to extinction

Are Japanese consumers responsible for eating bluefin tuna towards extinction? What should be done? Here's a view from Japan that includes the most comprehensive and reliable examination of the issues that I've ever seen in a newspaper.

Overall, Japan's sushi habit is a problem for tuna, but the Japan Times article says that increasing popularity of sushi elsewhere, including China, is letting Japan "off the hook."

Suggestions for what to do center on shifting consumer preferences in Japan to yellowfin tuna, the best substitute and a fish that has some problems but is in better shape overall than bluefin.

Take a look at this story from "the World's Window on Japan."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Low oxygen cramps tuna and billfish

Have you ever grasped for oxygen, like during a high-altitude hike? Now you know what swordfish and tuna feel like in our Brave New Ocean.

According to a new report, expanding zones of low oxygen are occurring in the preferred habitat of tuna and billfish (swordfish, marlin, etc.), forcing them out of preferred habitat and into other areas.

Besides leaving fish nirvana for lesser places, hypoxia makes tuna and billfish more likely to get caught because they get forced into shallower waters that are more heavily fished. Ouch. Likely due to climate change, of course.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Overfishing ends in the US

That's right, overfishing is no longer a problem in the US. This good news comes from fisheries scientist Steve Murawski. I know Dr. Murawski and if he says it, I believe it.

I worked on the 2006-7 reform of US fishing laws and this was an important goal, it's amazing to see the reforms working. Thanks need to go to many people, but especially US Senate staff member Margaret Spring for leading the reform, and the late US Senator Ted Stevens (Republican) for being a conservative champion of responsible fishing.

This is a monumental success, overfishing has been a problem in the US for at least a century.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Baddest fish you've ever seen

Watch this through to the end, and see one B-A-A-A-A-D goldfish!

Friday, January 07, 2011

The fish worth more than your house

A bluefin tuna sold for $396,000 this week, a record price. Caught off the north coast of Hokkaido with a longline, the fish was sold at auction in Tokyo to high-end sushi restaurants.

Is this a valuable fish or just costly advertising? Does it prove that bluefin are going extinct? Note that this is not the Atlantic bluefin that has been much in the news over the last year. Northern Pacific bluefin are doing better and do not appear to be in immediate danger.

Like Copper River salmon, the hype about this high-priced tuna is all about hype and not about fish and seafood. But it's working since lots of seafood people are talking about this fish.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Naughty restaurant owner speaks out

But has nothing to say.

His seafood dinner trying to challenge ideas of what's sustainable may have merit, but his stated reasons for doing it sure don't.

So I have a message for Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz. You're in way over your head dude. Send me a note next time you want to try this.

I was of mixed mind after reading the first few articles written about this affair. But after reading more and more about his ideas on what's sustainable and why he thinks so, it's clear that he should stick to serving up tasty seafood and leave sustainability to someone else.

It's too bad, because the idea he raises has merit. It's useful to consider carefully whether "don't eat" lists make sense. Too often, seafood is categorized as sustainable or not by species--regardless of catch method, catch location, and management reliability. Some groups "just say no" to Atlantic cod, and idea that seems wrong to me. Some cod fisheries are sustainable and we should reward those doing a good job.

But Berkowitz's witless ideas are perhaps the worst sustainable seafood "reasoning" I've ever seen. He cites overblown critiques of scientific methods as if he were capable of judging them himself, and offers platitudes as his supposed "answers." I think this issue got away from him and he starting talking silly with too many reporters.

The back and forth debates over this issue are also getting silly. The Gloucester Times hopes that Berkowitz will be a champion for New England fishermen, even though the lead item on the menu is black tiger shrimp farmed in Vietnam. Not exactly an All American menu.

I like Roger Berkowitz's fire on this one, and I'd be happy to help him next time. We could cook up a real fine feast together, one that would truly test the mettle of sustainable seafood advocates like me. But he should let me choose the seafood and I'll agree to let him and his staff cook it. Then we'd both be doing something we know how to do.

Whattya say Roger, can you hear me?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Where are conservation success stories?

Is there a bias against telling conservation success stories?

Maybe. Ask yourself if you know about these good news stories:
  • South Korea, almost denuded after the Korean War, now boasts forest cover across more than 63 percent of the country.
  • In Namibia, wildlife populations are increasing.
  • South Africa has completed a major expansion of Kruger National Park.
  • Iraqi engineers have reflooded the Tigris–Euphrates marshes.
  • Pioneering legislation has slowed species loss around the world, including the Bird Directive of the EU, the Habitats Directive of the EU and the US Endangered Species Act of 1973.
  • In Australia, large-scale land clearing has been halted and most of the rainforest in the country is now contained within World Heritage sites.
  • The largest marine protected area in the world was recently enacted by one of the poorest nations on Earth, Kiribati.
  • The Antarctic Treaty has conserved more than 14 percent of our global land area—18 million square kilometers/6.5 million square miles—for longer than 50 years.
This from a new study by Stephen Garnett and David Lindenmeyer . The authors believe that a bias may exist against conservation success stories, as follows:
Delivering bad conservation news seems to earn status among conservationists, not unlike an underclass seeking status within its own subculture, driving away many who might otherwise support its tenets. But conservation cannot afford to be a separate subculture. A surfeit of despair and fear engenders disempowerment, denial and a failure to act. Conversely, change and political support are achieved through carefully targeted messages that empower people. Such a plea is not to engender misplaced optimism in the face of perilous odds, but rather to promote hope, demonstrate what can be achieved and how to achieve it. Researchers need to provide the science not only for the campaigns lamenting environmental loss, but also, most importantly, for those celebrating the effectiveness of conservation.
I think they have a good point. Thanks to Julia Whitty and this article in Mother Jones for highlighting this paper.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Naughty seafood dinner

Legal Seafoods is brewing up a storm with their "eat blacklisted seafood" dinner. Are they profiteering off endangered species, or smartly challenging the status quo?

Sustainable seafood advocates are concerned, including some fairly reactionary words as well as some more thoughtful concerns.

I agree that there are some suspect arguments in the promotional materials. But I also agree with the dinner's co-hosts that there can be a lot of important detail that gets lost in simple eat/don't eat arguments.

Overall, I give the dinner a thumbs down for stupid language trying to attract the wrong kind of attention. Even though there is a good point hiding somewhere in this botched dinner.

The announcement from Legal Sea Foods:

Legal Sea Foods’ Roger Berkowitz Speaks on Sustainable Seafood

President/CEO Hosts Dinner of Supposed “Blacklisted” Fish

To Educate the Public on the Truth about Sustainable Fishing Practices

WHAT: The Culinary Guild of New England and Legal Seafoods co-sponsor an educational dining event to shed light on sustainable seafood. Legal Sea Foods’ President and CEO Roger Berkowitz presents a four-course dinner, followed by a discussion on the most current information concerning sustainable seafood fishing practices.

Over the last few years, news reports on the sustainability of seafood have become more frequent, causing widespread discussion on what fish is sustainable, and therefore safe to eat. Unfortunately, this discussion is flawed by outdated scientific findings that unfairly turn the public against certain species of fish. In a direct effort to counter existing misinformation about sustainability, the menu for this event is deliberately designed to serve what is commonly believed to be outlawed or blacklisted fish. The menu includes:

Black tiger shrimp, duck cracklings, smoked tomato, and avocado sauce
Hermann J. Wiemer Reisling, Finger Lakes, 2008

Cod Cheeks
Spaghetti squash, toasted pecans, melting marrow gremolata
Schiopetto Sauvignon, Collio, 2008

Prosciutto Wrapped Hake
Braised escarole, Rancho Gordo beans, blood orange marmalade
Domaine du Viking Vouvray, "Cuvée Tendre," Loire Valley, 2009

Citrus Almond Cake
Yuzu semi freddo, candied kumquats
Jorge Ordoñez Moscatel Selección Especial No.1, Málaga DO, 2007

There will be an opportunity for CGNE guests to ask questions about what’s safe to eat, which species are indeed plentiful, and how to read between the lines of media reports. In addition, Sandy Block, Master of Wine, and Legal's Vice President of Beverage Operations, has chosen wines specifically to complement the menu devised by Rich Vellante, Legal's Executive Chef. Alexander Murray, Assistant Director of Beverage Strategy, will be there to present the pairings.

A more sensible take on this dinner, from co-host Culinary Guild of New England:
Learn about sustainable seafood practices and the misinformation regarding fish from Roger Berkowitz, the President and CEO of Legal Sea Foods and Bill Holler, Legal's Vice President of Seafood Purchasing. The menu for this CGNE meal will be deliberately designed to serve what others consider outlawed or blacklisted fish, but that Berkowitz and Holler believe to be sustainable! There will be an opportunity for CGNE guests to ask questions about what's safe to eat, which species are plentiful, and how to read between the lines of media reports. In addition, Sandy Block, Master of Wine and Legal's Vice President of Beverage Operations, has chosen wines to complement the 4 course menu devised by Rich Vellante, Legal's Executive Chef.