If interested citizens want to get involved in conservation and management policy, it’s absolutely vital to use proper terminology. The policy world can be full of confusing jargon, but there are few ways to discredit yourself in the eyes of decision makers as quickly as using a critical term incorrectly. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for a decision maker’s response to a petition or public comment to consist entirely of correcting inaccurate terminology, if a response is issued at all. There are well over 100 acronyms and terms that I’ve seen regularly used, but in the interest of brevity, I’ve selected what I believe to be the 15 most important terms that I’ve seen people repeatedly use incorrectly.
For each term, I’ve provided a definition from a scientific paper or technical report whenever possible. I have also provided some additional explanation in my own words, and some assistance from familiar memes. Whenever possible, I’ve linked to blog posts, articles, or websites that provide even more information. Most of these terms are broadly applicable to fisheries management policy, but some are specific to shark fisheries. It is not my intention with this post to strongly advocate for or against any specific policy (I do plenty of that with other posts), but to make sure everyone is speaking the same language.
As you may have noticed from the previous post, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is proposing draft addendum to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for coastal sharks to bring it in line with the current Federal regulations. These regulations are based on the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which required all sharks fished in US waters to be landed with fins still attached… with the exception of a familiar yet under-studied species known as Mustelus canis, the smooth dogfish. These sharks can still be finned in Federal waters as long as the weight of fins does not exceed 12% of the weight of the finless carcasses. This exception was glaring not just because it singled out one species with a relatively limited range compared to other species in the fishery, but also brought out that seemingly absurd 12% fin-body weight ratio. The addendum is open for public comment until March 28th at 5 pm. With any luck, this post will help clarify some of the issues involved.
Endangered species seem to be coming up around here more often than usual, mostly due to the potential state-level listing of great white sharks in California. This move has been resisted from some surprising corners, including researchers who are generally pro-shark conservation. The reasons why scientists might want to oppose an Endangered Species listing are laid out by Dr. Chris Lowe in an earlier post on this very blog, so I won’t reiterate all of them here. Surprisingly, I have yet to see any comments accusing Dr. Lowe of being a shill for the drift gillnet fishery.
There seems to a be a real sense among some conservation-minded folks that Endangered Species listing is something of a “holy grail” for species protection and recovery, and some petitioners would have you believe that anything less is unacceptable (and probably the result of corruption). However, the Endangered Species Act has a very specific process by which species receive protection, and a defined set of limitations. A lot of well-meaning people seem to have limited knowledge of this process and limitations. To do my little part to help fix this, this post will be a short primer on the Act and will show how a marine species has recently navigated the entire process for listing. With any luck, maybe this will result in one or two fewer misguided online petitions.
Hi everyone. I’m Chuck and I used to blog primarily over at Ya Like Dags?, where my main focus was on interactions between apex predators (sharks mostly, but I also occasionally dabbled in other large fish and sea mammals) and those other top marine predators, humans. This was not in the “shark attack” sense, but in the context of fisheries management. Writing about this subject and living it as part of my research have given me valuable perspective on marine science and conservation that I really didn’t have as a freshly-minted Bachelor of Science.
Unfortunately I see more extreme versions of my old perspective show up in countless blog comments, posts, and tweets by perfectly well-meaning people whose only issue is that they’ve fallen for a simplistic, “us vs. them” attitude towards conservation. Consumptive uses of the ocean, such as fishing, are inherently evil and must be opposed. This no-compromise approach sounds cool and may bring in the TV ratings, but is it truly helpful?
Today marks the first Tsukiji fish market tuna auction of 2013, and, as in the previous two years, the first fish sold broke all previous records. In 2011, the record breaking tuna sold for $396,000. Last year, we tipped the scales at $736,000. Early this morning, the record breaking bluefin tuna blew the previous records out of the water, fetching a whopping $1,800,000 at the auction block, making this 488-lb tuna the most expensive fish ever purchased.
Over the next few weeks, I’m certain that we’ll see this number presented as an argument against bluefin tuna fishing, as an example of an industry out-of-control, and as a symbol of how ruthlessly we’ll hunt the last few members of a species to put on our dinner plates. These issues are reflected in the tuna market, but I want to urge caution in drawing too many conclusions from this record breaking number.
I am, among other things, a conservation geneticist. What that means is that I use the tools of molecular ecology and population genetics to make observations about species and populations in at-risk ecosystems, assess the status of anthropogenically disturbed populations, and generate data that has direct applications to conservation and management issues. Essentially, the only difference between what I do and what a population geneticist or molecular ecologist does is the motivation—I select systems to work in that have a high conservation priority.
This motivation leads to a constant intellectual conflict at the bench. The tools of molecular ecology—PCR, gene sequencing, and, more frequently, high-throughput sequencing—are waste intensive. In order to avoid cross-contamination and practice precise, clean, technique, we use thousands of tiny plastic consumables every day. These come in the form of pipette tips, sterile packaging material, micro-centrifuge tubes, and numerous other plastic widgets. Often, because of the biohazard potential, these consumable cannot be recycled.
So we have a problem. As a conservation geneticist, we need these tools to produce the data necessary to make wise conservation and management decisions. As a sustainability minded individual, I find the massive daily accumulation of plastic waste inexcusable. Do we just accept this waste as the cost of conservation genetics? I believe that the answer is no. I think we can and should develop best practices to minimize the amount of plastic waste produced by a molecular lab while maintaining good, sterile technique. I would like to propose four guidelines, based off the principles of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, for minimizing waste in a conservation genetics lab.
Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, 1925
Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve taken to twitter to “live-tweet” the Scopes Monkey Trial, as it happens, 87 years after the event. Through the news reports of H.L. Mencken and several historical documents, I attempted to capture the atmosphere of 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, the tension of the trial, the exciting, and sometimes irreverent, nature of the proceedings.
To accomplish this, I drew from several publications, most notably Mencken: The American Iconoclast by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers and A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter’s Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial a collection of Mencken’s Scopes Trial reports assembled by Art Winslow. The website The Evolution-Creationism Controversy: A Chronology was very helpful in establishing the dates for various events during the trial State v. Scopes: Trial Excerpts provided access to the public testimony for several key trial events.
Below the fold is the entire archive of my Scopes Trial tweets, with added resources and additional content. Enjoy!
Flowers of a venus flytrap. Photo by Andrew David Thaler.
Late last week, inspired by our newly flowering Venus Flytraps, I posted pictures of Amy and my carnivorous plant collection on twitter and on the Southern Fried Science Facebook page. After David’s recent post on a nurse shark that underwent major dietary changes following traumatic surgery and captivity, our wonderful readers must have been on high alert for trophic shifts following anthropogenic disturbance-type articles (or, more casually, “stuff that eats stuff now eats different stuff”), because this morning my inbox was filled with links to variations on the following article: Pollution makes carnivorous plants go vegetarian. Whenever human activity alters trophic interactions, there is potential for major ecological changes in an ecosystem. While ecosystems are dynamic, shape by continuous variation in community structure and resource and habitat variability, rapid changes can result in total collapse or permanent shifts to functional states.
Unfortunately, these “eating different stuff” articles rarely reflect the deep and nuance ecologic reality of trophic interactions and instead capitalize on the narrative of “even animals are going veggie to save the planet!” Allow me to revel in my cultural roots with a hearty “Oy vey!”
A significant source of food for me. Of course not everyone can raise their own chickens.
Food is a tricky. For some people, food choice is an essential component of cultural heritage and national identity. For others, food choice is a statement of philosophical or moral principles. For many, being able to reject food is an unobtainable luxury. One thing is certain: food is so central to the human experience that when we question our food choices, when we are forced (or force others) to change them, when we discover that the choices we make are not what we think they are, it is impossible to separate our food ethics from our social structure. Which is why seemingly trivial revelations–bugs in your coffee, meat made slime, or a fish by any other name–often result in major outrage and structural changes. Eating is simultaneously a deeply personal experience and one in which, for much of the developed world, we are completely detached from the source.
This ray-finned fish was my dinner last night. Photo by Andrew David Thaler
When Carl Sagan described our planet as a “pale blue dot” he was invoking the fact that, despite being called Earth, our world is mostly Ocean. The surface of the Earth is a little more than 70% water and the ocean accounts for 98-99% of our total biosphere–the volume of the planet that can support life. Most contemporary theories point to ocean ecosystems–like deep-sea hydrothermal vents–as the launching point for the emergence and evolution of life. Ocean processes dominate biological interactions, even among unwitting terrestrial actors. A new paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, revisits an old debate about the ocean biodiversity and challenges the notion the ray-finned fishes have a marine origin.
In Why are there so few fish in the sea? the authors begin with the seemingly innocuous question–why are there so many more species in terrestrial environments than in marine environments? From there, they look at species counts, phylogenetic relationships, and diversification rates to determine the ancestral state of the most recent common ancestor of one fish class, Actinopterygii, the ray-finned fish. What they found was that, despite the vastly smaller habitat available for freshwater fish, the number of actinopterygian species found those ecosystems was roughly equivalent to the number of species found in marine systems. In both systems, the dominant groups are relative newcomers on the evolutionary stage, with superorder-level radiations happening between 111 – 150 million years ago. Most surprising, the authors discovered that the most recent common ancestor of actinopterygians may have been a freshwater, not marine, fish. Ray-finned fishes may have invaded the ocean from lakes and rivers.