Small Fish, Big Apple is dead. Long live Small Fish, Big Red!
The holiday is over for me, I have accepted a job in Perth, Western Australia and left the Big Apple.
Perth is one of the most geographically isolated cities in the world. It is more than 2000 km from the next city of >1 million people. It is geographically closer to East Timor, Singapore and Jakarta, Indonesia, than it is to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. According to Wikipedia, it is the antipode of Hamilton, Bermuda. Living here is going to be an interesting experience, I'm sure.
I'm working as an environmental scientist at a consultancy in Perth now. Some the clients of my new employer are in the oil and gas industry. Client sensitivity may affect what I can blog here from time to time. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Apart from the name change and geographical relocation though, the only thing that will change around here is the frequency of posting. Posts can take quite a while to compose, so it remains to be seen how that will fit in with a full-time job. I hope it won't slow me down too much.
Anyway, thanks for reading. Here is a photo of my new city, taken on a beautiful spring afternoon.
Small Fish, Big Apple is dead. Long live Small Fish, Big Red!
Japan has been roundly criticized by many commentators over the past two decades for it's “scientific” whaling program, with many saying the program is no more than commercial whale hunting in disguise. Japanese scientists have finally published data from this program in Popular Biology, and their findings aren’t good: whales are getting skinnier, and global warming might be at fault:
Japan's scientists claim their controversial whaling programme has produced a key finding. Measurements taken from more than 4,500 minke whales slaughtered since the late 1980s reveal the animals have lost significant amounts of blubber, and are getting thinner at a worrying speed. The team says its study offers the first evidence that global warming could be harming whales, because it restricts their food supplies.It seems equally likely that chronic overfishing has also played some part in the decrease in food available to whales as well, but this is not mentioned in the article.
These aren't the first published results from the "scientific whaling" program, but these are the most high-profile findings so far. In 2005 Australian scientist Nicholas Gale analyzed 43 scientific papers produced by the program and concluded that only a handful were relevant and required the whales to have been killed. The others included descriptions of bizarre experiments to cross-fertilize whales with sheep and cows.
We all make mistakes. And even the most humble among us can be a little self-righteous when it comes to our pet projects. But when was the last time you came across a self-righteous pseudo-skeptic who had the decency to admit to getting it completely wrong? Meet Steven Goddard of The Register, a peculiar little news outlet published in London. Sort of. Goddard wrote a piece that appeared on Aug. 15 under the bold headline "Arctic ice refuses to melt as ordered." As anyone who has been following the plunging arctic sea-ice extent graphs at the National Sea Ice Data Center can attest, this is a rather peculiar interpretation of the data.Goddard's article was riddled with errors of science and made clear his lack of familiarity with the subject. This prompted actual experts at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) to offer a rebuttal:
The author asserts that NSIDC's estimate of a 10% increase in sea ice compared to the same time as last year is wrong. Mr. Goddard does his own analysis, based on images from the University of Illinois' Cryosphere Today web site, and comes up with a number of ~30%, three times larger than NSIDC's estimate. He appears to derive his estimate by simply counting pixels in an image. He recognizes that this results in an error due to the distortion by the map projection, but does so anyway. Such an approach is simply not valid.Thankfully Steven Goddard had the intellectual honesty to admit his error in an addendum to the original article:
The proper way to calculate a comparison of ice coverage is by actually weighting the pixels by their based on the map projection, which is exactly what NSIDC does.
"Dr. Walt Meier at NSIDC has convinced me this week that their ice extent numbers are solid. So why the large discrepancy between their graphs and the UIUC maps? I went back and compared UIUC maps vs. NASA satellite photos from the same dates last summer. It turns out that the older UIUC maps had underrepresented the amount of low concentration ice in several regions of the Arctic. This summer, their maps do not have that same error. As a result, UIUC maps show a much greater increase in the amount of ice this year than does NSIDC. And thus the explanation of the discrepancy.Unfortunately the original error-riddled article was immediately seized as evidence that the science of global climate change is built on shaky ground and the myth rapidly metastasized around the internet. A quick Google search reveals 55,300 hits for the phrase "Arctic ice refuses to melt as ordered".
"it is clear that the NSIDC graph is correct, and that 2008 Arctic ice is barely 10% above last year - just as NSIDC had stated."
I wonder how many of those denialists who trumpeted the original article will have Steven Goddard's intellectual honesty and will print a retraction...
From Science Magazine:
Biodiversity is a composite term used to embrace the variety of types, forms, spatial arrangements, processes, and interactions of biological systems at all scales and levels of organization, from genes to species and ecosystems, along with the evolutionary history that led to their existence. In part because of this complexity, universally applicable measures of biodiversity have proven elusive. Commonly used measures, such as the number of species present, are strongly scale-dependent and only reveal a change after species have been lost. Indices incorporating several proxy signals are potentially sensitive, but their arbitrariness obscures underlying trends and mechanisms. Integrated measures are both sensitive and achievable, but more research is needed to construct the globally robust relations between population data, genetic variation, and ecosystem condition that they require.The paper goes on to reiterate the need for national to global-scale biodiversity measurements. This need was highlighted by the adoption of a target to "reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010" by the 190 countries that are parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
There is no widely accepted and globally available set of measures to assess biodiversity. Consequently, the community has fallen back on a range of existing data sets gathered for other purposes. Currently, in the CBD process alone, there are ~40 measures reflecting 22 headline indicators in seven focal areas... There is no general shortage of biodiversity data, although it is uneven in its spatial, temporal, and topical coverage. The problem lies in the diversity of the data and the fact that it is physically dispersed and unorganized.The paper states that the solution to this problem is to organise the information currently available and to create systems whereby data of different kinds, from many sources, can be combined. The authors then go on to propose a new network, the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEOBON) designed to help collect, manage, analyse, and report data relating to the status of the world's biodiversity. The new network would be based on the Global Earth Observation (GEO) platform.
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) was launched in 2002 in response to the widely identified need for adequate information to support environmental decision-making. GEO is a voluntary partnership of 73 national governments and 46 participating organizations. It provides a framework within which these partners can coordinate their strategies and investments for Earth observation. The GEO members are establishing a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) that provides access to data, services, analytical tools, and modeling capabilities through a Web-based GEO Portal.GEOBON aims to create a global network from multilateral collaborative efforts in the realm of biodiversity by linking and supporting individual efforts within an overarching scientific framework. It is proposed that GEOBON will allow the combination of top-down measures of ecosystem integrity from satellite observations (for example) with bottom-up measures of ecosystem processes, population trends of key organisms and genetic measures of biodiversity from field-based and molecular survey methods. The proposed role of GEOBON will be to guide data collection, standardisation, and information exchange. All participating organizations will retain their mandates and data ownership, but agree to collaborate in making part of their information accessible to others.
Scholes RJ, Mace GM, Turner W, Geller GN, Jürgens N, Larigauderie A, Muchoney D, Walther BA, Mooney HA (2008) Toward a Global Biodiversity Observing System. Science 321(5892) 1044-1045.
New Scientist magazine is carrying the story of two classmates from New York's Trinity School who collected 60 fish samples from fish stores and restaurants around New York. They then sent their samples off to the University of Guelph in Canada for DNA testing. Of 56 samples that could be identified by the DNA barcoding identification technique, 14 were mislabeled as an entirely different species.
"We never expected these results. People should get what they pay for," said Kate Stoeckle, 18, of the project with Louisa Strauss, 17.In all cases, the fish was labelled as a more costly type, ruling out simple chance. In the worst cases, two samples of filleted fish sold as red snapper, caught mostly off the southeast United States and in the Caribbean, were instead the endangered Acadian redfish from the North Atlantic. The DNA of fish from a sushi restaurant called "white tuna" revealed the fish to actually to be Mozambique tilapia, a type of cichlid often raised on fish farms. One restaurant offered "Mediterranean red mullet" but the DNA matched spotted goatfish from the Caribbean.
I have highlighted this issue in previous posts here and here, but this is the first time I have seen such an excellent study showing what a widespread problem this is.
The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been at the center of some of the fiercest environmental battles in the history of the United States. It has been the law which has held up big dams, helped bring iconic species such as the bald eagle back from the brink, and been used by environmentalists battling loggers over old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. For these reasons the ESA is often demonised by those who prefer business as usual to biodiversity preservation.
The Bush Administration, with only a few months left in government, has just proposed a series of controversial rule changes to the ESA that would prevent the review of many new projects by biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
The departments of the Interior and Commerce have given two main justifications for the proposed rule changes. The first is to prevent the ESA from being used to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. That became a possibility after FWS listed the polar bear as a threatened species. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is reported as saying that:
...the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a "back door" to regulate the gases blamed for global warming...The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.
The second justification given by the departments of the Interior and Commerce for the proposed rule changes is to reduce the number of "informal consultations" around the ESA. The consultations have caused considerable delays on projects in the past according to a 2004 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, called the proposed changes illegal.
This proposed regulation is another in a continuing stream of proposals to repeal our landmark environmental laws through the back door," she said. "If this proposed regulation had been in place, it would have undermined our ability to protect the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the gray whale.As the rules currently stand, when an action requiring a permit is proposed the permitting agency responsible must consider whether a listed species or its critical habitat might be affected by the proposed action. If the agency decides that a listed species or its critical habitat may be affected, then the agency must informally consult with staff at the relevant service (FWS or NMFS depending on whether it is a terrestrial or marine matter). If the agency or FWS/NMFS biologists decide that the action is likely to cause harm then a formal consultation is required. If the project is thought to be unlikely to cause harm to a listed species or its critical habitat however, then the agency may proceed with issuing whatever permits are required.
Under the proposed new rules, agencies have to consult the services only if indirect or direct effects of their actions are an "essential cause" of and "significant contributor" to the likely harm. Under the new rule, if the agencies determine that their projects are not likely to harm a species, they would not need to seek an expert opinion from the services at all. If the agencies suspect harm to a species, however, they still must formally consult. Officials at the departments of Interior and Commerce argue that agencies are "fully qualified" to decide on their own whether their projects will harm a species or its habitat.
This isn't the first action by the Bush administration to weaken the ESA. An analysis by FWS and NMFS of newly introduced regulations under the National Fire Plan (similar to those proposed under the ESA) was released in January. These regulations allow the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to decide whether to consult about prescribed burning and other fire-related actions. NMFS found that in 10 out of 10 cases:
- The agencies failed to describe spatial and temporal patterns of the action’s direct and indirect environmental effects, including direct and indirect effects of interrelated and interdependent actions;
- The agencies failed to identify Action Areas clearly;
- The agencies failed to identify all threatened and endangered species and any designated critical habitat that may be exposed to the proposed action;
- The agencies failed to compare the distribution of potential effects with the threatened and endangered species and designated critical habitat;
- The agencies failed to identify to establish, using the best scientific and commercial data available, that (a) exposure is improbable or (b) if exposure is likely, responses are insignificant, discountable, or wholly beneficial; and
- The agencies failed to base the determination on best available scientific and commercial information
The proposed rule is open for public comment until 15 September. From the FWS:
Submit your comments or materials concerning this proposed rule in one of the following ways:
(1) Through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions on the website for submitting comments.
(2) By U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comment Processing, Attention: 1018-AT50, Division of Policy and Directives Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203. We will not accept e-mail or faxes.
We will post all comments on www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us."
Amazing underwater shots of sailfish feeding on a school of sardines, from National Geographic:
More photos here.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and with safeguarding the natural environment: air, water, and land. The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970.
Over the first 30 years of its existence the EPA played an important role and acted decisively to live up to its mandate of protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment. Today however the EPA is an embattled organization facing criticism from environmental groups that it is powerless to safeguard the environment and is neglecting its responsibilities to protect human health. Among the recent issues that have reflected negatively on the EPA:
- Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson declined to explain before Congress how a conclusion he made last year that global warming put the public in danger could lead to a decision not to regulate greenhouse gases.
- A Federal judge found that the EPA and the state of Florida had dismally failed in their duty to protect the Everglades from harmful phosphorus washing off sugar farms, vegetable fields and suburban streets. In his ruling the judge took EPA to task for repeatedly violating the very Clean Water Act that it is supposed to administer.
- A Federal Court in the Northern District of California (Northwest Environmental Advocates v. EPA) found that EPA’s regulation exempting ballast water discharges from the Clean Water Act was “plainly contrary to the congressional intent,” and ordered the Agency to develop new regulations.
- Voluntary pollution-reduction programs touted by the Bush administration and supported by EPA as part of the solution to global warming had "limited potential" to reduce greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General's Office.
- Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer and committee members Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, and Frank Lautenberg called for the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, charging that Johnson had given misleading testimony before Congress; refused to cooperate with Congressional oversight; and based agency decision making on political considerations rather than scientific evidence or the rule of law.
- Five states threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency if it did not act soon to reduce pollution from ships, aircraft and off-road vehicles.
- Hundreds of Environmental Protection Agency scientists complained they had been victims of political interference and pressure from superiors to skew their findings. In a survey, the EPA scientists described an agency suffering from low morale as senior managers and the White House Office of Management and Budget frequently second-guess scientific findings and change work conducted by EPA's scientists.
Even for those who have read Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science the number of accusations of malpractice and/or incompetence against the EPA in the last few months is staggering. The EPA is clearly a dysfunctional agency no longer able to live up to its mandate. It's time for that to change. Hopefully the political will for that to happen will return after the United States presidential election in November.
Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater gives a tour of the Falkland Islands. As part of a survey team from Falklands Conservation and the Edinburgh Zoo, he searches for Striated Caracaras or, "Johnny Rook".There are some lovely shots of all kinds of non-birdy wildlife of the Falklands in these videos.
The Australian Federal Water Minister, Penny Wong, has announced that due to the extended drought, the Murray River's lower lakes appear to now be beyond salvation. Lying near the mouth of the Murray in SA, the lakes have been listed as internationally protected wetlands under the Ramsar Convention. They host a large number of plants, animals and migratory birds.
Back in July I wrote that:
Australia’s worst drought in 100 years, which has already cost the nation $20 billion dollars since 2002, is likely to become even more severe and cause permanent ecological changes in the country’s breadbasket, the Murray-Darling river basin, government officials said.
Alexandrina Council which manages the environment at the Murray mouth and lower lakes region says emergency water flows are needed or the river system will soon be beyond repair. Neil Schillabeer, from the Lower Lakes and Coorong Infrastructure Committee, says:
"There is a need for probably 200-250 gigalitres of water in the very immediate future to solve the problems we've got there right now. That doesn't seem to have eventuated. Our state Premier hasn't been able to negotiate those sort of volumes of water for the lakes."Signalling that the Federal Government has given up on saving the drought-stricken lakes, Senator Wong said yesterday that a final decision on whether to flood the lakes with seawater would be made within the next few months.
"Unfortunately, there's just not enough water to do everything we want, so the priority has to be critical human needs," Senator Wong told ABC radio.The South Australia Government's adviser on drought, Dean Brown, said the fate of the lakes depended on rainfall over the next two months.
"There's a 50% chance that there might be enough flow in the river and enough flow into the lakes to maintain the level where it is," Mr Brown said.
Here at Small Fish, Big Apple we love Shearwater. We really, really love them. Their new record "Rook" is on high rotate right now at the Small Fish, Big Apple Headquarters. If you don't know Shearwater then you can go here to check out a few songs.
Jonathan Meiburg from Shearwater (formerly of Okkervil River) is the subject of a fascinating interview in Scientific American this week, where he talks about field work he did studying the Striated Caracara in the Falkland Islands for his Masters degree at the University of Texas.
After graduating from Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee in 1997, Meiburg spent part of a life-changing year in Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands off the coast of Chile and Argentina getting to know a species of bird related to the falcon called the striated caracara—or Johnny Rook, as British sailors dubbed it, thinking it resembled the crowlike rook. The experience did not just inform his music; it landed him in a graduate program at the University of Texas.
Meiburg speaks reverentially about striated caracaras, which he characterizes as social, curious scavengers. It's a subject that he seems to be more comfortable talking about than his music—partly because he's like a traveler who has seen remote habitats so unbelievable to us town folk that he feels personally charged with the task of sharing the sights he's seen.
Jonathan is a real Bird Nerd, and talks about how he gets to keep his inner nerd fed while also being a super cool touring rock star:
I take my binoculars with me and I enjoy sort of birding for the sake of it. Going to these types of places takes an extreme effort. It's not one that you can really make lightly or certainly not in the context of touring around with a rock band.
On this last tour though, we had a day off in Washington, D.C., and I went to the Smithsonian. I thought I'd just go the natural history museum and walk around. But when I walked in, I suddenly remembered that this guy, Storrs Olson, if he wasn't retired would still be there. He's like "Mr. Subfossil Bird Bones" (and a lot of other subfossil animals, but especially birds—and especially island birds). He had published a paper that I'd used in my thesis describing an extinct species of caracara from a tar seep in Cuba. He mentioned, in this one little sentence in the paper, bones from this very large, possibly flightless caracara from Jamaica, but doesn't provide any more description than that. I thought, "That's really interesting. He's talking about a flightless caracara, like a bird of prey that can't fly, but lived in Jamaica."
So, I went to the security desk and got [them] call to his office. He answered—and you have your 10 seconds—and I said something or the other about caracaras. And he said, "Okay, I'll be right down." So, he came down and he took me back to his office and we talked for about an hour and a half about island birds and extinct giant raptors. And he showed me the bones of this bird. His full description is in press right now. It's going to come out in the Journal of Raptor Research. So, I got to see the bones of this extinct, probably flightless caracara from Jamaica. It's just an unbelievable thrill to see things like that. I could have walked right by his office and never known that experience was potentially waiting for me.
From David McKnight in The Age this morning:
In May this year, the multibillion-dollar oil giant Exxon-Mobil ... announced that it would cease funding nine groups that had fuelled a global campaign to deny climate change.The article mentions several climate change denialist groups that have been funded by Exxon-Mobil in recent times, including the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute made headlines recently with its release of a paper challenging global warming theory, citing 500 climate scientists as "co-authors". Many of these so-called "co-authors were horrified to find their names attached to this work and claimed that it grossly misrepresented their findings. Some of the scientists proved to be dead or imaginary.
Exxon's decision comes after a shareholder revolt by members of the Rockefeller family and big superannuation funds to get the oil giant to take climate change more seriously. Exxon (once Standard Oil) was founded by the legendary John D. Rockefeller. Last year, the chairman of the US House of Representatives oversight committee on science and technology, Brad Miller, said Exxon's support for sceptics "appears to be an effort to distort public discussion".
Five New Zealander scientists released a statement saying that they "strongly object to the implication that they support Heartland’s position." One of these scientists was Dr Jim Salinger of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research (NIWA):
"Global warming is real," he said, and demanded reference to his work be removed. The institute refused. The Heartland Institute received almost $800,000 from Exxon, according to Greenpeace's research based on Exxon's corporate giving disclosures.David McKnight - associate professor at the University of New South Wales - also says in his article:
In Australia, the main group that tries to undermine the science of global warming is the Lavoisier Group. It maintains a website with links to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (over $2 million from Exxon), Science and Environmental Policy Project ($20,000) and the Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide (at least $100,000).The Lavoisier Group webpage contains (amongst other gems) a link to a paper which recycles many of the same old denialist talking points. All of those raised are refuted here on the New Scientist website. If I were Exxon-Mobil I would have wanted to get slightly more for my $2 million than that recycled nonsense.
Perhaps they did. There has certainly been a marked increase in denialist letters to the editor and editorials in Australian newspapers in the last few weeks. This follows a poll indicating that 60% of Australian voters support the introduction of a cabon emissions trading scheme "regardless of what other countries do", while 23% support a scheme "if other countries act".
When asked if climate change was caused by human activity, 96 per cent said it was entirely or partly caused by human activity; 84 per cent believed climate change was currently occurring.UPDATE: Exxon-Mobil yesterday reported the largest quarterly operating profit in US corporate history.
Part 4 in a series of posts about sustainable seafood.
Part 1 - This is the post that started me thinking about the problem.
Part 2 - Sustainable Seafood: Part 2 - What is sustainability?
Part 3 - Sustainable Seafood: Part 3 - How does sustainability relate to seafood?
I described in previous posts what sustainability is, and how it relates to seafood. In this post I want to talk about guides to buying sustainably produced seafood.
When we buy a product we become a party to the production of that product. When we choose one product over another, we are indicating that we think that the product we have chosen is better (in some way - appearance, quality, cost, environmental footprint etc) than the products that we didn't choose to buy. We can influence the behavior of the companies that make the products that we buy by making it more profitable for them to produce products in a way that we agree with.
Because I am concerned about the negative effect that humans can have on the natural environment, I like to choose products that are produced to minimize their environmental impact. One way I try to do this is by buying food that is produced as sustainably as possible - food that "...meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
As I mentioned in my first post on this topic, when shopping for seafood in Australia I would rely on the Australian Marine Conservation Society's Sustainable Seafood Guide to help me make seafood choices that weren't encouraging unsustainable fishing practices. When I moved to New York I found the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch site easily enough, and started using their Sustainable Seafood Guide to make sustainable choices when shopping.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium isn't the only organization which produces a sustainable seafood guide though - the following website all have guides to help consumers select seafood in a way that isn't contributing to damaging the natural environment:
Blue Ocean Institute
Environmental Defense Fund
Seafood Choices Alliance
and I'm sure there are many more that I haven't listed too.
The problem is, even with a sustainable seafood guide in your pocket, it still isn't all that easy to make the right choices when you get to the supermarket. Not ony do you need to know which species you are seeing at the fish counter, but you also need to know how it was caught (long line, pole, purse-seine or trap?). Jennifer Jacquet (of Shifting Baselines) recently wrote an article describing how many illegally caught (or unsustainably raised) species are renamed as completely different species for resale in order to fool consumers who are trying to make sustainable seafood choices. The examples she gives include Hake (labeled Tilapia), Red Snapper (75% of fish sold with this label are entirely different species), Shrimp (farmed shrimp labeled as wild-caught), Cod (labeled as Ling) and several others. Several of the guides listed above also contain contradictory advice - species listed as an okay choice on some lists and a bad choice on others.
I experienced a case of deceptive labelling recently when I ordered scallops off the menu at a local restaurant. Ordinarily I only eat scallops if they were collected while diving by someone I know, because dredging for scallops disturbs large areas of the seafloor - especially when the scallops are collected by commercial fishermen in their large boats with enormous heavy dredges. The scallop dish on the menu at my local restaurant was advertised as "Fresh Diver Scallops" though, and when I asked the waiter he confirmed that, yes, they were collected by divers on scuba and were less than a day old.
When the scallops arrived they were large and sweet and delicious. So large in fact, that I asked another waiter where they had come from. This second waiter told me that they were actually from the Gulf of Mexico, and when I expressed surprise he said that they were dredged down there and then collected from the dredge by divers so that they could be sold as "Diver Scallops". This makes me really angry, for two reasons:
1: Because the fishermen were cynically continuing to destroy large tracts of seafloor while fishing, but were then acting in a sneaky fashion to avoid being punished by consumers for this bad behaivour; and
2: Because the restaurant was not only going along with this charade, but was cynically perpetuating the sneakiness on their menu.
What can consumers do when producers and retailers are cynically gaming the system like this? One organisation is attempting to solve this problem through detailed auditing of seafood products, from the ocean to your table. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent, global, non-profit organisation which was set up to find a solution to the problem of overfishing. They have developed an environmental standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. This standard was put together following worldwide consultation with scientists, fisheries experts, environmental organisations and other people with a strong interest in preserving fish stocks for the future. The MSC rewards environmentally responsible fisheries management and practices with a distinctive blue product label. If you see a product with the blue MSC oval on it, you can be fairly sure that that product is definitely produced sustainably. A list of all of the products certified so far, and where to buy them can be found on the MSC website.
Why should we have to rely on a charity organisation to tell us which products are sustainable though? Why aren't all of the products sold in modern first world countries produced in a sustainable manner? Whay aren't we all "...meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"?
As a marine ecologist I have a serious fascination for terrestrial ecology blogs, and I've stumbled across another stunner - Notes From Kenya. It's a blog written by Michigan State University students in the Holekamp Lab, about their experiences in Kenya as they research spotted hyenas in the field.
Part 3 in a series of posts about sustainable seafood.
Part 1 - This is the post that started me thinking about the problem.
Part 2 - Sustainable Seafood: Part 2 - What is sustainability?
Sustainable Seafood: Part 3 - How does sustainability relate to seafood?
"Fish currently supply the greatest percentage of the world's protein consumed by humans. This fact may soon change, however, given that most of the world's major fisheries are being fished at levels above their maximum sustainable yield and many regions are severely overfished. More than 70% of the world's fisheries are overexploited, which threatens the health, economy, and livelihoods of communities all over the world."
The MarineBio website lists a number of issues that need to be addressed quickly in order to preserve fish stocks as a natural resource. Each of these issues is an example of unsustainable practices in the seafood industry. The issues include:
- Inadequate conservation and management practices;
- Habitat loss as a result of harmful fishing practices; and
- Government subsidies.
Each of these issues describes a different insult to the idea of sustainable fishing. Any one of these issues in isolation would be a cause for concern and a good reason to act to protect fish stocks. In many cases it is not just one of these issues that is affecting fish stocks however, but some combination of two or three or all of these issues working in parallel to meet the needs of the present while compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Overfishing can be defined in a number of ways. However, everything comes down to one simple point: Taking more fish than the system can afford to give up leads to an overall degradation of the system.
From a biological perspective overfishing occurs when fishing mortality has reached a level where the stock biomass has negative growth. Fish are being taken out of the water so quickly that the replenishment of stock by breeding slows down. If replenishment and immigration are insufficient to cover losses due to mortality and emigration then the population must decrease. As the population decreases, fishing has an increasingly significant effect on the remaining population. If fishing pressure does not decrease to allow replenishment to outstrip (or at least equal) mortality, then a fish population can crash to a point where replenishment is no longer possible. The ability of populations to recover also depends on whether the conditions of the ecosystems are suitable for population growth. Dramatic changes in species composition may establish equilibrium energy flows that involve other species compositions than had been present before (ecosystem shift).
Inadequate conservation and management practices
For generations we have believed the ocean to be pretty robust - probably because it is vast and under-explored; however, it is becoming increasingly obvious that ocean resources are finite, and depletion of these resources beyond sustainable levels is often irreversible. Overfishing not only causes depletion in individual fish stocks, but also disruption to entire ecosystems and food webs in the ocean. It is necessary to manage fisheries at the ecosystem level if we want to ensure the sustainability of fish stocks. This can be done by:
- Maintaining populations of target species at levels that allow them to fulfill their natural role in ecosystems and enable positive (greater than mortality) rates of reproduction;
- Eliminating the use of fishing gear that creates a high level of bycatch, or the incidental catch of nontarget species; and
- Closing feeding, breeding and spawning grounds to fishing to protect marine ecosystems from exploitation at these sensitive times in their lifecycles.
Habitat loss as a result of harmful fishing practices
Eliminating destructive fishing practices is an essential step to bring sustainability to the seafood industry. Bottom trawling destroys habitats, indiscriminate fishing practices such as drift netting and long-lining are destructive to habitats and non-targeted species and lost or discarded fishing gear is also destructive to underwater habitats and ecosystems.
Deep-sea trawling is particularly harmful to ecosystems because it indiscriminately bulldozes or entangles many benthic species. Continued destruction of deep-sea areas is causing species to become extinct before they are even observed, let alone identified, by science. From SeaWeb:
"In a few hours, the massive nets that drag the bottom and weigh up to 15 tons, can destroy deep-sea corals and sponge beds that have taken centuries or millennia to grow. The trawlers target fish such orange roughy and grenadiers for food, and sharks for the cosmetic industry. These fish are generally long-lived, slow growing and late maturing so their populations take decades, even centuries to recover."
To catch around $70 billion worth of fish per year, the commercial seafood industry spends approximately $90 billion per year and incurs total costs of over $120 billion per year. A multitude of government subsidies make up the difference between their income and expenditure. The practice of providing governmental support to the fishery sector is widespread among major fishing nations. While precise data are difficult to obtain, the basic facts are not considered controversial. Governments around the world are providing tens of billions of dollars in subsidies annually to the fishery sector, for a wide variety of purposes, and in many different forms. While smaller in absolute amount terms than, for example, subsidies to the agricultural sector, these payments are conservatively estimated to be roughly 20-25 per cent of the annual revenues of the commercial fishing industry.
Subsidized incentives make it easy for the seafood industry to build more fishing power than fish populations can support. There is now a mismatch between what the ocean can make and what the seafood industry can take, meaning that the seafood industry is currently meeting the needs of the present while compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
I wrote a post about sustainably caught seafood a few weeks back (available here), but this issue is still causing me considerable grief, so I thought that I would revisit the topic in a series of short posts summarizing the problem as I see it. Sustainable Seafood: Part 2 - What is sustainability? The concept of sustainability has been around for a long time. Now it is a buzzword which is often heard when people are talking about the environment and environmental degredation. It was a word which began seeping into the public conciousness in the late 1980's following the release of a groundbreaking report by the United Nations (UN). In 1983, the Secretary-General of the UN established the World Commission on the Environment and Development - also frequently referred to as the Brundtland Commission after Gro Harlem Brundtland, the head of the commission and former Prime Minister of Norway. The commission was tasked with examining the world's environmental problems and proposing a global agenda for addressing them. The Report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, was published in 1987. The Report is available in HTML format with links to cited documents, and an easy-to-read full version is available at the Center for a World in Balance. The report deals with sustainable development and the change of politics needed for achieving that. The Brundtland Report defined sustainable development in the following way:
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
New Zealand's national science academy, the Royal Society (RSNZ), has challenged climate change "deniers", issuing a statement declaring unequivocally that the globe is warming and that humans are to blame.
"The globe is warming because of increasing greenhouse gas emissions," the society said, reporting the findings of an expert committee on climate.
In summary, the statement says:
The globe is warming because of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Measurements show that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are well above levels seen for many thousands of years. Further global climate changes are predicted, with impacts expected to become more costly as time progresses. Reducing future impacts of climate change will require substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Royal Society is charged by its Act with informing the public about science, and fostering evidence-based scientific debate. We hope this statement makes a useful contribution to public understanding of climate change.
Australia’s worst drought in 100 years, which has already cost the nation $20 billion dollars since 2002, is likely to become even more severe and cause permanent ecological changes in the country’s breadbasket, the Murray-Darling river basin, government officials said.Alexandrina Council which manages the environment at the Murray mouth and lower lakes region says emergency water flows are needed or the river system will soon be beyond repair. Neil Schillabeer, from the Lower Lakes and Coorong Infrastructure Committee, says:
"There is a need for probably 200-250 gigalitres of water in the very immediate future to solve the problems we've got there right now. That doesn't seem to have eventuated. Our state Premier hasn't been able to negotiate those sort of volumes of water for the lakes."John Brumby, the Premiere of Victoria said last week:
...some commentators [have] called for water to be flushed down the Murray River to save the Lower Lakes in South Australia. But from where? It is estimated that about 1200billion litres of water would be needed: 370 billion litres initially to fill Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert to a minimum level, then another 800billion litres to maintain water levels throughout summer when evaporation losses are extreme.But farmers in Victoria have a zero per cent allocation in the Goulburn and Murray irrigation districts. And there is no additional water available in the upper Murray without taking water for essential human needs away from rural communities.The zero percent allocation that John Brumby refers to is related to Australia's system of water management. Farmers have allocated rights to draw water from the Murray-Darling river system. These rights may be bought and sold. So a farmer who requires 100 000 litres of water per year for irrigation would need to acquire permits to draw 100 000 litres of water from the system. In a drought year, all users are allocated a percentage of the water to which they hold rights, so that there is at least some water available to all users. Due to the extended drought, this year farmers in Goulburn and Murray districts will recieve 0% of their allocations.
In the marine environment, any mechanism that can rapidly transport organisms from shallow coastal waters across natural oceanic barriers has the potential to help exotic marine organisms invade new environments. International shipping provides such a mechanism . Modern international shipping practices transport marine and estuarine organisms faster and over longer distances than ever before. Marine pests are regularly transported via ballast water, or the hulls or anchor ropes of these vessels. Now, University of Michigan naval architect Michael Parsons has designed a ballast-free cargo ship that would stop most aquatic species from hitching rides around the world.
Ships take on ballast water for stability when they're not carrying cargo. When a vessel loads ballast water, it also takes up all minute the organisms contained in that water which may include planktonic species, the larvae of bottom dwelling invertebrates and fish, and pathogens. These organisms are released with the ballast water at another port when the vessel loads more cargo. It has been estimated that world-wide, over 3,000 species are transported in ballast water every day.
Instead of hauling contaminated water across the ocean, then dumping it in a foreign port, a ballast-free ship would create a constant flow of seawater through a network of large pipes running from the bow to the stern, below the waterline.
"In some ways, it's more like a submarine than a surface ship," Parsons said. "We're opening part of the hull to the sea, creating a very slow flow through the trunks from bow to stern. You're continuously sweeping water through the ship and out," he said. "So you're always filled with local sea water, not hauling water from one part of the world to the other."
An international fishing company caught supporting Southern Ocean illegal fishing can now be named and shamed, after a failed attempt to gag the government in the High Court, Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said today.
"Illegal fishing is a serious threat to global fisheries and this case shines a light on the problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Southern Ocean," Mr Anderton said.
"The Namibian-flagged fishing vessel Paloma V wanted to unload toothfish in Auckland in May. Its owner, Omunkete Fishing (Pty) Limited took the government to court because it wanted to stop us reporting it to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)," said Mr Peters.
Peacemakers should look to the cleaner fish as a role model. In the coral reef world at least, all it takes to keep an aggressive predator in check and bystanders safe is good service and a gentle rub.
Cleaner fish remove and eat the parasites off other fish, exchanging a grooming service for a tasty meal.
Researchers have previously shown that cleaners who enhance their service by touching the fish they are cleaning with their fins benefit from more cooperative clients. This is especially helpful if the customer is a predator that could attack the cleaner.
But now it seems that the calming effect of the cleaner fish's touch has wider repercussions. It makes hunters so mellow that it transforms the cleaning station into a safe haven for other fish, says Redouan Bshary at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland.
Over at Dark Roasted Blend they have curated an amazing selection of Scanning Election Micrographs (SEM) and macro photographs of insect heads. There are some amazingly beautiful pictures of some spectacularly ugly creatures.
A ranger in Kenya's acclaimed Mara Triangle wildlife park Kimojino is a member of the Masai tribe. He first learned how to click a computer mouse in November. Now he blogs about the Mara Triangle and posts wild animal photos on Flickr nearly every day. Kimojino's online outreach is an effort to raise awareness and money for the park, and it's urgent: Without the funds he raises online, his employer, the Mara Conservancy, would go broke. Admission fees from park visitors are the conservancy's primary source of revenue, but tourism dropped to almost zero during Kenya's post-election violence, and hasn't snapped back.The thing is though, it's a really great read. Updates are frequent, and Kimojino posts some amazing wildlife shots almost every day. At the moment the Wildebeest are massing on the banks of the river as part of their famous migration (see photo). Earlier in the week they arrested poachers armed with AK47's in the park, and blogged it. Last month the Zebra were migrating and the Crocodiles were feasting.
Working on a reduced budget for two months is starting to have an impact on the effectiveness of the Conservancy, and there are warning signs which indicate that the situation may deteriorate further. Our work is now threatened as a direct result of the collapse of tourism in Kenya. Due to lack of funds, all non-essential activities have been stopped since January, as well as the halting of the cattle compensation scheme and regular night patrols by rangers.
Tourist projection for the month of July and August is 50% occupancy. For the rest of the year it is expected to fall back to 20% like it has been up until now. This means that our situation will remain dire until 2009, however this is not an appeal for money (although if you have some it will help a lot) but instead we need ideas on how to fundraise for the long term. We thought that things would improve, which they have slightly, but unfortunately not as much as we had hoped.
Governments and fishing companies aren't doing enough to prevent the decline of tuna stocks as they put the demands of the fishing industry and consumers above the sustainability of marine life.
Tuna stocks around the world are dwindling because of fishing pressure, which is increasing due to the high value of the catch. The Pacific Islands fishery is the world's biggest, taking more than 1.2 million tonnes of tuna annually, with the eastern Pacific second, with a yearly catch of more than half a million tonnes. But the latter's regulatory body is failing in its job. Bigeye and yellowfin tuna populations are falling and the average size of captured fish is shrinking, a clear sign that those tuna are in dire need of conservation measures.
Following much needed measures introduced in the Pacific Islands Fishery last month, urgent measures to save falling stocks of tuna in the world's second-biggest tuna fishery, the eastern Pacific, must be initiated at a key international meeting this week. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) must follow the advice of its own scientists and adopt forceful conservation measures at its annual meeting in Panama City.
Environmental groups are warning that closures of the fishery, both by area and by time, must be brought in to protect tumbling Pacific populations of skipjack and bigeye tuna.
For centuries, the Atlantic waters of the Gulf of Maine have been used for fishing, recreation and navigation. In recent years, proposals for other uses, from gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilities to desalinization projects and wind and wave energy projects have dramatically increased. These new proposals raise concerns about how to manage marine resources amidst diverse proposals and intensified development pressures. Historically, decisions about how to manage ocean resources have been handled on a resource by resource, case by case, reactive basis. However, this approach is inadequate to face the complexity of the proposals and challenges facing Atlantic waters in the 21st century. The Massachusetts Oceans Act, a comprehensive and holistic approach to ocean management and resource protection, will coordinate and monitor all ocean-related activity. The Oceans Act of 2008, signed into law by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on May 28, 2008, is the first of its kind in the United States.
The culmination of the Oceans Act will be the Ocean Management Plan. The Plan will regulate many uses of the Massachusetts coastal waters—everything from wind farms to whale watching to cruise ships to the cod fishery. Specifically, it will:
- Give the Secretary of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs the oversight, coordination and planning authority over ocean resources.
- Decisions would be based on an ocean management plan created by a broad-based, 19-member ocean management advisory board comprised of state agency representative, state legislators, a municipal official and environmental, fishing and marine industry stakeholders.
- The ocean resources management plan will be required to be based on the best available scientific understanding of marine and ocean resources. A 9-member ocean science advisory council will assist the Secretary in gathering and analyzing the best available science.
- All programs and permits for activities in ocean waters will be required to conform to the ocean management plan.
- Notably, commercial fishing will still be regulated by the Division of Marine Fisheries and will not be under the direct control of the Ocean Management Plan.
A Case Study In MPA Planning and Implementation Difficulties
A key part of the Australian Government's marine conservation strategy, is developing a representative system of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Commonwealth waters by 2012. This will contribute to the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA), which is described in more detail in the Guidelines for Establishing the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.
The stated goal of the NRSMPA is to:
establish and manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of MPAs that will contribute to the long-term ecological viability of marine and estuarine systems, maintain ecological processes and systems and protect Australia's biological diversity at all levels.
Bioregions have been defined as 'assemblages of flora, fauna and the supporting geophysical environment contained within distinct but dynamic spatial boundaries'. The identification of these boundaries and comprehension of the functioning of bioregions is essential for enlightened ecological management. Distributional boundaries are the result of responses of organisms to boundaries between changing environmental factors and studies of species distributions can therefore help us better understand the dynamics of marine regions.
On 6 June 2005, the Tasmanian Minister for Environment and Planning issued a directive to the Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) to conduct an inquiry and make recommendations on the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Bruny Bioregion, in south-eastern Tasmania.
Of the nine Tasmanian bioregions the Bruny Bioregion stands out as being the most complex and diverse in terms of ecosystems and human activities and uses. It is notable amongst the Australian bioregions for its very high number of species with very limited distributions. Alongside this ecological significance is the economic significance of the Bruny Bioregion to Tasmania, particularly for commercial fishing, marine farming, tourism and recreation, urban and industrial development and shipping.
At the beginning of the Bruny MPA inquiry the RPDC stated that:
A number of key characteristics will define MPAs established in Tasmania, including:The scope of the inquiry outlined in the terms of reference was for the Commission to:
- being established for the conservation of biodiversity;
- able to be classified into one or more of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) protected area management categories;
- having secure status that can only be revoked by a Parliamentary process; and
- contributes to the representativeness, comprehensiveness or adequacy (CAR) of the Tasmanian MPA system.
- use the identification and selection criteria contained in the Tasmanian Marine Protected Areas Strategy to assess and select those areas of public land in the Bruny Bioregion that are suitable for declaration as Marine Protected Areas; and
- identify potential boundaries and management arrangements for those areas suitable for declaration as Marine Protected Areas.
The RPDC produced an Background Report in June 2006. This Background Report was placed on exhibition and public comment invited. The Commission received 42 submissions on the Background Report. Key issues raised in submissions were:
- threats and pressures to coastal ecosystems, including overfishing and climate change;
- existing status of the marine environment;
- nature and location of important and unique aspects of marine habitats and communities;
- the need for MPAs;
- inadequacies of existing Marine Nature Reserves;
- potential for economic impacts on commercial fisheries;
- areas of high recreational interest and usage;
- management and resourcing arrangements for MPAs; and
- nominations of potential areas and natural features that would benefit from protection within an MPA.
As a result of the response to the Background Report the Commission considered that further public input was required before a Draft Recommendations Report could be prepared. Accordingly, an Interim Report was published in March 2007 and placed on public exhibition. The Interim Report focused on the identification stage of the process, i.e. the presentation of areas that may be suitable for inclusion within MPAs based on their meeting identification criteria in the Strategy. The Interim Report also identified threats to the marine environment in the Bruny Bioregion, and assessed the comprehensiveness and representativeness of habitats in existing MPAs. Interested persons and groups were invited to make written submissions on this phase of the process.
The Commission received 24 submissions on the Interim Report. Submissions broadly canvassed issues similar to those raised on the Background Report. Additionally, submissions at this stage:
- provided further information on values of identified areas;
- commented on the Commission’s analysis of the identification criteria; and
- flagged areas they viewed as best candidates for MPAs.
The Commission then prepared a Draft Recommendations Report. The Draft Recommendations Report presented the priorities applied by the Commission to reduce in number the 45 identified areas in the Interim Report to 21 priority identified areas, from which the draft MPAs were selected. The main content of the Draft Recommendations Report was the presentation of areas that were considered suitable for declaration as marine protected areas, following application of the identification and selection criteria of the Strategy. These areas were identified using information from the Background Report and Interim Report, written submissions and submissions made at the Hearing held in September and November 2006. In August 2007, the Draft Recommendations Report was placed on public exhibition and public comment invited. The Commission received 191 submissions on the Draft Recommendations Report.
Key issues raised in submissions included:
- Many MPA-specific issues, concerns and additional information: largely addressing social and economic impacts, and including safety and compensation issues;
- Views on a broad range of considerations for management of MPAs (e.g. levels of protection, boundaries, enforcement, resourcing), and allowable activities within MPAs;
- Views on threatening processes to the marine environment, with fishing getting considerable attention;
- Uncertainty as to why MPAs are needed and what benefits they can provide;
- Expressions of endorsement or non-endorsement across the recommendations broadly and also MPA-specific;
- Concerns about the process of the inquiry and the level of consultation; and
- Concerns about whether the Commission had adequately addressed the selection criteria in the Strategy.