Climate Change is Moving Fish Around

Back in the day, I worked as an intern at Rhode Island Marine Fisheries, where my job was basically to provide general field work help with whatever survey needed an extra pair of hands (yes, it was an awesome job).  One of these was a beach seining survey looking at juvenile fishes using Rhode Island’s coastal salt ponds as nursery habitat.  Among the usual silversides, mummichogs, and juvenile flounder, two of the ponds were also home to entire schools of something that I was only familiar with due to having relatives in Virginia: spot.  These little Scianids, a member of the same family as Atlantic croaker and red drum, are caught in droves in the waters of Virginia and the Carolinas but traditionally have been rare north of the Chesapeake Bay.  They were one of the more common species we caught in these two Rhode Island salt ponds, and occurred so consistently that we could actually observe them growing over the course of the summer.  It isn’t unheard of for stray tropical fishes to get swept into Narragansett Bay on Gulf Stream eddies, where they’re either collected by aquarists or die during their first winter.  However, these were populations of spot that we were seeing.  I don’t know if these fish survived their first winter or have come back since I moved down to North Carolina, but even at the very beginning of my interest in fisheries ecology I knew this was odd.

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Farming Salmon in Hiddenfjord, Faroe Islands

amysquareIf you treat yourself to a salmon dinner in Manhattan, that delicious fish most likely came from the Faroe Islands. Should you be scratching your head and trying to remember your geography, you’re not alone. Yet, this tiny country in the North Atlantic is one of the world leaders in salmon aquaculture. While in the Faroes, I had the good fortune  of a tour of a site run by the company Hiddenfjord in the town of Vestmanna by Jogvan Egholm. Since aquaculture is still a new and developing field, it’s always nice to see how things are done. Once I learned of the market connections to the US, however, I began to consider the tour the story of our food as well.

Salmon happily jumping for food in their pen. Soon to be on a plate near you. Credit: Andrew Thaler

Salmon happily jumping for food in their pen. Soon to be on a plate near you. Credit: Andrew Thaler

The salmon we visited  were destined for the US and China, countries with the best market price. Recently, we’ve had salmon on the brain after a controversial taste-test by the Washington Post revealed testers preferred frozen, farmed salmon. Bottom line of the controversy: understand where your fish come from and the environmental and health implications of certain production styles. Not all farming is created equal – Europe does a much better job using salmon from their native range than us westerners. So here’s a story of a fish. After fully grown in the Faroes, they’ll be shipped to the UK by boat and flown the rest of the way by plane. Smaller fish stay in the European market. But it starts with an egg…

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Good Conservation Policies Can Push Markets Towards Conservation

A lot of debate among conservationists centers on the conflict between the desire to see a species totally protected from human exploitation and the reality that market forces will continue to exist (see the latest on shark fin bans for a very good example).  Ideally, a conservation plan should strike a balance, ensuring the continued existence of the species while still allowing people to profit from it in some way.  This also requires a clear idea of the limitations of conservation policies.  For example, US policies (even the mighty Endangered Species Act) only directly affect populations within the territorial waters of the United States, while international agreements like CITES restrict trade of the species without telling any particular country what to do domestically.  However, there are ways to track the interaction between conservation policies and the market, making it possible to make some predictions on how things like fishery management plans and CITES listings might affect trade.  Then it gets interesting.  Armed with this knowledge, can the market be pushed towards species conservation?

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15 important shark conservation and management terms explained with memes


inigo-montoya-you-keep-using-that-word-i-dont-think-it-means-what-you-th-3b4b2920-sz625x625-animateIf 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.

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The Endangered Species Act and Marine Animals: To List or Not To List?

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.

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Shark DNA Used to Buff Up Aquacultured Fish

It’s not every day that catching up on scientific literature causes you to almost do a spit-take on your laptop screen.  This happened to me recently due to the weird and wild world of aquaculture.  Aquaculture is the practice of growing aquatic animals such as fish and shellfish for the purpose of food, and has been held up as both a savior and destroyer of the marine ecosystem.  To get an idea of what this generally looks like (at least here in the U.S.), Amy has a whole series of posts on aquaculture operations in North Carolina.

As with land-based farming, aquaculturists are motivated to find ways to increase the food value of their stock.  The methods used are varied, from high-protein feed mixes to genetic manipulation.  Recently, farmed salmon genetically-modified to grow larger and faster than their wild conspecifics have been approved for human consumption by the FDA, though not without debate.  This man-made subspecies was created by modifying the already-existing DNA of the fish, but what if it turned out that simply injecting DNA from a different species could improve the growth and protein output of farmed fish?  And what if that foreign DNA came from sharks?

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The Birth of Sustainability Science

Every once in a while, with predictable regularity, I will encounter a call to be more interdisciplinary in order to fully understand the many aspects of a given issue. The world forgot to compartmentalize its problems for ease of solution. Solutions require scientists to think big and basic at the same time – recent estimates that 7 billion people will roam the planet by the end of this year – and that creates a big demand for resources such as food, water, fuel, and fiber. Ecologists clearly have something to say on the matter and designated 2011’s meeting theme  “Earth Stewardship”, meant as a way to kick off new thinking on research process and connecting research to problem solving.

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It’s Not All About Carbon

Why is it that every time someone proposes a wind turbine there is immediate opposition because of consequent bird mortality? And at the same time, when we build or expand a coal operation, the reaction isn’t to remember all the miners that have sacrificed their lives so that you and I can turn on the lights? Why is the reaction to dirty coal to promote clean coal? It might help keep the carbon emissions down, but it doesn’t cut down on the human toll of coal.

Recently there have been highly publicized stories of miners trapped in deep mines in Chile, West Virginia, Kentucky, New Zealand, and China – and those are just the ones I heard about through traditional news outlets. However, the hype over such accidents quickly fades and the families and communities touched by the tragedy are left with the cleanup. These miners represent the human face and sacrifice of coal-fired electricity. They should join the ranks of the polar bear in symbolizing the need for better energy choices. Read More

Environmental History Lessons

The sustainability movement has gained some ground in recent years, evidenced by recycling education in elementary schools, green marketing efforts, and green jobs to support new economies. Sometimes this might seem like we’re in a brave new world, but at the same time we are fighting the exact same battles citizens have been pushing along for decades – for better or worse. A recent reading of First Along the River: A Brief History of the US Environmental Movement I had a much better appreciation of where the modern environmental movement has come from and perhaps where we are going.

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A Path for Sustainable Development

After our sustainability month, it becomes easy to ask for a plan to become more sustainable. On a national scale, this becomes demand for a blueprint or recipe for how to organize society successfully in the future along sustainability principles. The idea of a given trajectory of development goes back to Walt Rostow, who described development around the world up to 1960, ending with the emergence of a first, second, and third world. More modern theorists realize that the world is not linear, however.

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