Sunday, February 28, 2010

Facts Aren't Always Enough: social research shows people persuaded by values over truth

Interesting article by Bryan nelson in Mother Nature Network on how research in social/cultural science can help anticipate people's reactions, positive or negative, to factual science. In other words, rather than presenting facts and expecting the obvious rationale of those facts (obvious to the person presenting the information, that is) to convince all, one must consider more deeply the cultural attitudes the listener brings to his/her thought process.

'"People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their world view,' [says] social scientist Don Braman told National Public Radio. Braman is a scholar at George Washington University and part of The Cultural Cognition Project, which has been conducting experiments about how individuals interpret facts differently."

The article says this cultural effect has played into how some people have accepted or rejected information amount climate change, that it is all filtered through their own perspective no matter how incontrovertible the facts are.

"For instance, people labeled in the 'individualistic' group [a study group that embraced technology, authority, and free enterprise] tended to favor nuclear power as a viable solution to the energy crisis. When they were given a report which offered nuclear power as a solution to the climate crisis, they were more likely to consider global warming a serious problem. On the other hand, since 'communitarians' [the study group that was suspicious of technology, authority, and free enterprise] distrusted nuclear power, they were less likely to see global warming as a concern when nuclear power was the only proposed solution. In other words, both groups evaluated the issue of global warming differently depending on previously held beliefs."

While the article's focus was on applying cultural science to the issue of climate change, it can easily be applied to other ecological issues. I, for one, advocate the potential for aquaculture because I have positive attitudes about technology (that it can help address the environmental challenges that aquaculture faces) and because I choose to eat as little wild-caught fish as possible (therefore I am more receptive to the idea of open-water fisheries being eliminated in favor of aquaculture). Someone more skeptical of technology or more dependent on fisheries might have a different reaction to facts regarding the potential of aquaculture.

In some respects, it's not that hard to figure out. As someone who has spent years in the marketing communications field, I know how important it is to know your audience and to be aware that perception, not necessarily facts, can be reality. This is something that many scientists, who follow a more black and white approach where facts are facts, often have difficulty with if they are faced with seeking buy-in by the general public or decision makers. This is one of the areas that I address when providing media communications consulting and related services to research groups and NGOs.

Read entire Mother Nature Network article.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Get The Lead Out: from birds to bears, residual lead ammo poisons wildlife

Lead poisoning is being shown to have an effect on wildlife from California condors to bald eagles to grizzly bears and even whole environments like wetland preserves. The source of the poisoning comes from lead bullets either lodged in an animal who survived the wound, consumed by a predator or scavenger feasting on a bullet-wounded animal, or as ammunition that missed its target and contaminates the soil or surrounding ecology.

The Center for Biological Diversity reports that three endangered condors died of lead poisoning, suspected of having foraged in Utah before reaching and dying in northern Arizona.
Four bald eagles died this winter of lead poisoning in Alberta, Canada; one of the eagles having as much as 9 times the fatal level of lead. And in Yellowstone, a recent study showed grizzly bears had elevated lead levels during hunting season, due to feeding on wounded elk. And loose lead shot has been shown to contaminate soil and even work its way down into protected wetlands

While lead-free ammunition is required in some select areas in some states, it is not nationwide for all environments. And while a total ban on all sport hunting is probably not realistic, there is some movement to extend the range of non-lead regulations. Earlier this week, California Assemblymember Pedro Nava introduced legislation to outlaw toxic lead shot from all of California's 627,000 acres of designated state wildlife areas. That's a step forward.

"We need to get lead out of wildlife areas," said Nava. "It makes no sense to allow people to leave poisonous material in our state parks."

The Center for Biological Diversity is conducting a "Get the Lead Out" U.S. campaign. Click here to learn more.

Read Los Angeles Times article on poisoned condors.
Read Calgary Herald article on poisoned bald eagles.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Orcas In Capitivity: a tragedy brings up the need for a new rationale

I would have to have blinders on to not notice the news reporting and online commentary surrounding the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau , the Sea World orca trainer, due to the actions of one of the Florida sea park's resident whales. There are 25 articles alone on and the social media sites have been buzzing with opinions, mostly recognizing the double tragedy in both the human loss and the life and future fate of the whale involved.

There will be much to be sorted out: what precisely happened, was there something that triggered the whale's actions, what were the whales recent behavior patterns? And on and on. After all is said and done regarding the details of the incident, the fundamental question of whether such animals should be kept on display, I'm sure, will be debated for months to come.

On the one hand, the marine animal acts are a founding cornerstone of the organization. Regardless of how the Sea World parks have expanded over the decades, the killer whale show is their lasting iconic image - and that represents a considerable financial investment and commitment. I know that can sound a bit crass, but it's a reminder that Sea World will likely defend the practice.

And if we look at it historically, from its earliest beginnings, dolphin and whale shows served a
purpose in enlightening the public to the intelligence ("intelligence" in human terms) of these animals at a time when interest in their survival was growing - right at the outset of the anti-whaling movement. Even today, the basic rationale for zoo/aquarium captivity is still offered with a degree of merit, as long as the animals are provided with a relatively comfortable and natural-like environment.

But on the other hand, as it has been pointed out in the news by several experts including members of the Cousteau family, it has only been in captivity that orcas have harmed humans. We are being reminded that these marine mammals normally roam the wide open seas and exhibit highly social behavior patterns within their pods. What happens to their mental health when they are confined in concrete tanks and separated from normal animal interpersonal relationships has been continually debated from day one.

It is tragically ironic that what we may have ultimately learned in initially keeping these large marine mammals in captivity is that it may be best not to do it at all. We have warmed and enlightened people to the beauty of seals, dolphins, and whales with balancing balls and hoops of fire - now, perhaps it is time to better enlighten people as to how these animals live in the wild and what we should do to insure their survival in the surroundings that nature intended.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bobcats At Risk: U.S. plans to propose removal of CITES protection

According to the Humane Society International, the bobcat of North America, currently protected by its Appendix II listing under CITES (the international organization that regulates trade in endangered species), is at risk of losing that protected status. And the reason is not rooted in a controversy over its role as a predator, like that being experienced by the gray wolf. Instead, it has to due with a potential demand for fur and how fulfilling that demand can severely impact similar but more critically endangered species of wild cats.

At the behest of fur traders, the United States has requested in the past, albeit unsuccessfully, that the bobcat be removed from CITES protection. Doing so would then enable fur traders to trap and kill more than the 50,000 bobcats that are currently taken under the Appendix II listing. The bobcat's fur is apparently identical to the fur of other cats in the lynx family, like the Iberian lynx - of which there are reported to be only 150 left in the wild.

At first blush, flooding the market with bobcat fur would conceivably protect the more endangered species by satisfying international demand. But according to the Humane Society International, it would have an opposite effect; emboldening illegal trappers and smugglers to go after dwindling stocks of endangered cats since it would now be easier to pass them off in a more robust fur market.

Apparently, the U.S. intends to make the same request at the upcoming March CITES meeting that it has unsuccessfully made in the past. The Human Society International has a form that you can fill out to send a message to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asking that the proposal be withdrawn. Click here to add your voice.

Here is a sensible case of restricting trade in one species so as to protect more critically endangered species - an issue not rooted in any controversial imbalance in the predator-prey relationship, or loss of cattle or other livestock destined for human use. Just a need to control those wanting to make more profit on bobcat fur simply because the resource is there for the taking. At least for now.

Corporations and Conservation: Dr. Carl Safina looks at corporate responsibility

Dr. Carl Safina, founder of the Blue Ocean Institute, has a way with words when it comes to the moral obligations we, as inhabitants on this planet, have to the environment. He recently posted an excerpt on his blog of an upcoming book he has completed, The View From Lazy Point; A Natural Year in an Unnatural World, available this fall. It's very much worth a read; click here to read the entire excerpt.

In the excerpt, Carl looks at the big picture of corporate development, responsibility, and the "profit-maximization imperative" that has grown over centuries within the U.S. and worldwide. In a sense, the corporate culture has become the new aristocracy - an aristocracy that was challenged by the founders of this country.

"Modern corporations were essentially illegal at the founding of the United States. (The colonists had had enough of British corporations.) In the new country, corporations could form, raise public capital, and share profits with stockholders only for specified activities that benefited the public, such as constructing roads or canals. Corporate licenses were temporary. Corporations were forbidden from attempting to influence elections, law-making, public policy, and civic life. Imagine.

But from the beginning, corporate-minded men chafed for power, prompting Thomas Jefferson to write in 1816, 'I hope we shall… crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.'”

Environmentalists and conservationists are faced with a myriad of issues within which to invest their energy and passion. Often these are small skirmishes - regional challenges to a particular species or ecosystem - and we take these on because it is hoped that, collectively, it represents a larger battle that can be won. But the "big picture" must also be addressed, and that can be challenging because it requires societal change, often taking generations to be realized, and long-term strategies that can be subject to revision down the road, weakening the original intent.

Having spent some years in the corporate arena, I have seen the dichotomy in which it exists. In marketing, the customer is king and so products and services are devised to best meet the needs of the end user. But that ethical responsibility is in a perpetual tug-of-war with the profit-maximization imperative Carl refers to - and in that battle it would seem that the profit motive wins out more and more. Al Pacino's line from the Godfather, "It's nothing personal; it's strictly business" has always resonated with me as it succinctly defines the amoral philosophy that has guided economic development over the decades. This is something that I have come to grudgingly accept as it explains the corporate will to survive and to profit.

And on the face of it, that's not a bad thing until one examines the influence and power that appears to be an inevitable by-product of that philosophy. One would think that the role of federal or state governments, as a democratic representation of the people, would be to guard watch over industry in the best interest of society (and the environment in which that society resides).

"Corporations have swept real economic and political power away from most governments. Of the hundred wealthiest countries and corporations listed together, more than half are corporations. Exxon Mobil is richer than 180 countries—and there are only about 195 countries. Without the responsibilities or costs of nationhood, corporations can innovate and produce at unprecedented speed and scale. Yet they can also undertake acts of enormous social and environmental destruction and report a profit."

I have often said that corporations will be brought kicking and screaming into a more environmentally-friendly age until they can realize a profit. They will cleverly skirt the issue ("greenwashing") or cling to current business models (fossil fuels vs. zero-emissions) because of the, admittedly, enormous investment required. (One possible exception would be Nissan CEO, Carlos Ghosn's commitment to an all-electric vehicle. Read about it in the latest issue of Fortune.)

But society does have power, however underutilized. It does not lie in some moral, logical argument that will magically put corporate responsibility on a new path. It rests with devices that affect both corporations and governments: the pocketbook and the vote.

Years ago, I remember listening to an interview with a senior automotive executive where the development of the SUV was being discussed. The executive freely admitted that the SUV was over-sized and fuel-inefficient; a vehicle that just didn't make much sense from a practical standpoint. "But that's what the customer wants," he concluded.

Yes, we are pressured, persuaded, and bamboozled to think one way or another, to buy this or that. But if we as conservationists continue to reach out to others at the grass roots level, to get the word to the people, corporations and governments can change. It's a struggle, but it's one worth doing.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Filmmaker's Journal: the sea reminds you who is the boss

For the past few days I was offline, as Scott Cassell, founder of the Undersea Voyager Project, and I were in Bodega Bay, California trying to film Humboldt squid.

Notice I said "trying."

It was one of those experiences where you get reminded as to who is the real boss on the water. On Day One, we left Bodega Bay and traveled 35 miles offshore to an area known as Cordell Bank. Sportfishermen having been pulling up large numbers of squid from this area. The sky was overcast but the seas were fairly calm. Northern California waters are not always gin clear and after days of prior rain, the water, combined with the threatening sky, was making filming impossible (Humboldt squid run from video lights, so there had to be sufficient ambient light for us to film).

Day Two and we're hit with another ocean gremlin: an engine malfunction with the boat. Remember, boats are holes in the water, lined with wood, into which you pour vast amounts of money.

So, a lot was riding on Day Three, the last day of shooting. The sky was cooperating with cottony patches of clouds patterned across vast expanses of bright blue. And a gentle breeze was slowly picking up as the morning temperatures increased.

Oh, oh. The morning breeze. It can be a bad indicator of what's taking place offshore.

And so we set out - a crew of six including Scott and myself. As we cleared the jetty that keeps Bodega Bay's inner waters nice and calm, we see an ocean horizon that looks like broken glass - meaning large swells and wind chop. The worse roller coaster you can think of is about to seem tame.

For several hours we plowed forward. Tom Loomis at the wheel did a terrific job handling the boat. But when we reached our destination, it was easy to see that diving was out of the question. With the boat riding in 10+ foot swells and white caps peaking from two different directions, getting in the water would have been challenging but not impossible. Getting out would have been flat-out dangerous. And there was the planned potential of a decompression dive; but with heaving seas, trying to hang on to a line at the proper decompression depth was out of the question. Scott scrubbed the dive and we headed back, both a bit disappointed and relieved.

The ocean is one of the earth's most powerful forces and must never be underestimated. Whether it's explorers looking to peer into it's depths with cameras at hand, fishermen plundering its bounty of sealife, or factories spewing pollutants into its delicate ecosystem - the ocean has its ways to remind us who is the boss; who will do what it takes to protect itself, adjusting itself to survive; and who will be around in some form or another long after we have managed to eliminate ourselves from the game.

Great White Sharks: local fishermen catch juveniles in Baja, Mexico

Having spent a considerable amount of time filming the great white sharks of Isla Guadalupe, I am always dismayed with reports like this one from

Great white sharks 'more endangered than tigers?' - Very likely

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Researchers in California and around the world are raising concerns about the population statistics of white sharks in our oceans.

Some are suggesting the population numbers are less than even tiger shark populations worldwide...and we would agree with that assessment.

For the past 5 years Shark Diver has been monitoring one small fish market in Ensenada, Mexico. What we have found is a thriving white shark fishery sold as "swordfish" for 60-100 peso per kilo on most days.

This image came from a recent trip down to the market with Captain Greg Grivetto from Horizon Charters in late 2009.

We were there to document the take of white sharks and did not have to wait long. Within 10 minutes of our arrival this 6-foot animal showed up. It was a female "young of the year."

Up and down the coast of Mexico and Baja these animals are regularly taken by small co-operatives who drop long lines overnight seeking more profitable species like swordfish and tuna.

From our conversation with local fishermen in Ensenada these white shark pups are not being targeted, they are an unfortunate by-product of a local fishery, and most animals arrive dead at their boats to be sold later in the day.

Direct evidence of a younger generation of sharks that never get to add to the population cycle. If the numbers of animals at this one small fishing port are evidence of a larger fishery, we might suggest the entire population is at risk, if not declining.

Tracking data, showing these same animals moving into the Sea of Cortez for extended periods of time, do not bode well for their survivability in this well-known, and notorious, hook-filled environment.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

CITES Meeting Coming: shark species to be proposed for protection

On several occasions over the past months, I have mentioned the upcoming convening of CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) set for next March. These meetings are always important because CITES is one of the leading international bodies that can generate worldwide policy decisions regarding a wide range of flora and fauna species.

Several species of sharks are expected to be introduced for consideration under CITES system of Appendix classifications (Appendix I requires a complete ban in harvest & trade, while Appendix II does not ban but requires restrictions to "acceptable & sustainable" levels).

The Humane Society International circulated an email today as a reminder of the upcoming CITES meeting and the need to make sure that as much friendly pressure as possible must be exerted on those nations that are undecided on the issue of shark species.

One of the sharks up for consideration is the Spiny Dogfish - a smaller shark, one of the less remarkable or noteworthy sharks but critically important all the same. Populations of these sharks in the Northern Atlantic are in rapid decline with over 75% of mature breeding females having been lost. Surprisingly, the sharks are caught for fish and chips, not shark fins (although some are caught for that market), and are a substitute for declining stocks of cod or haddock. However, unlike cod or haddock, spiny dogfish are slow to reproduce - as is the case with all sharks - and so the impact of commercial fishing has been profound and rapid.

The European Union and Palau will be proposing Appendix II protections for the spiny dogfish. The Humane Society is providing an online form so that people may contact key U.S. officials as the U.S. has not made a firm commitment to the proposal and there are plenty of commercial fishing industry organizations and lobbies hard at work to prevent passage.

Whether it's the "celebrity" sharks like great whites, hammerheads or whale sharks or more obscure sharks like the spiny dogfish, all need protection. Click here and add your voice to insure that CITES will do its part to help save these important ocean animals.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Local Asian Fishermen At Risk: EPA awards So Cal groups' efforts to educate about polluted catch

Fishing and the consumption of seafood is a dietary foundation in many Asian cultures - either due to a lack of suitable, large scale food resources like cattle or poultry, or because of isolated geography, or because of religious or cultural preferences. Even as immigrants, they often bring their preferences for seafood with them.

Along the west coast of the United States, you can often find local Asian fishermen casting a line over piers or into the surf. Unfortunately, much of what they catch consists of small bottom feeders and these fish can often carry a lot more than a savory taste. They also can carry an unhealthy level of pollutants, including pesticides that have been banned for decades.

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a collective of Southern California environmental, cultural and educational groups the agency's Environmental Justice Achievement Award for the group's efforts in educating local fishermen as to the dangers in consuming fish from the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Part of the Palos Verde Shelf, an EPA declared Superfund site, the peninsula contains one of the nation's largest deposits of DDT and PCBs, dumped into the waters by factories over 25 years ago.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the organizations receiving the award include Boat People SOS, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Asian Youth Center, Heal the Bay, and St. Anselm's Cross-Cultural Community Center. Collectively they distribute brochures and conduct outreach campaigns to reach the, primarily, Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen who catch local fish like white croaker and other bottom feeders.
"For years now, this group has gone out of its way to tell people 'Don't fish here, and if you're going to, don't eat the head or the tail and the skin, because the toxins accumulate in the fatty parts of the fish'," said EPA spokesperson Francisco Arcaute.

Congratulations to all members of the group. Although it has been many years, let's hope that someday the waters are once again clear and a dwindling number of fishermen can safely pull up a fish or two while the majority of us are relying on aquaculture for our seafood requirements.

Coral Under Review: U.S. to determine status of 82 species

Some good news for coral reefs within U.S. territorial waters: the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) will spend the next year conducting an evaluation on the status of 82 different coral species in light of data presented by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The review will determine the current health of the various corals in Florida, Hawaii, and other island territories. By doing so, the NMFS can ascertain whether any coral species warrant threatened or endangered status under the Endangered Species Act, similar to elkhorn and staghorn coral which are currently listed as threatened.

Corals are the building blocks of tropical reefs but exist within a narrow band of environmental factors. Changes in water temperature, ocean acidification, pollution from commercial development - any one of these can lead to a degradation of the reef, often through a process called "coral bleaching." Unhealthy or dead reefs can be torn down by wave action, and this can have a serious effect on coastline or island erosion - not to mention the disruption to tropical reef ecosystems when corals that provide shelter and food for a variety of aquatic species disappears.

"The status review is an important step forward in protecting coral reefs, which scientists have warned may be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to global warming," said Miyoko Sakashita, lawyer for CBD.

Read Washington Post article.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This Winter's Extreme Weather: climate change defined by macro-weather patterns

With some extreme winter weather taking place in some parts of the world, discussions about global warming would seem to fall on deaf ears. It can be challenging to gain the attention of a U.S. senator regarding warming ocean temperatures when he or she is shoveling several feet of snow to get to the U.S. capitol!

In United States alone, we have had some flip-flopping of "normal" weather patterns: heavy rains in southern California, record snow levels in the northeast, and a cold snap in Florida that
has caused the deaths of over 100 manatees and triggered an extensive coral bleaching event. Even with an unusual warm spell in Vancouver, British Columbia as the Winter Olympics are about to begin, it doesn't sound much like global warming, does it?

However, one must look beyond micro-weather patterns and look at the big picture, at annual or decadal trends, and even longer, to determine what is a natural cycle or an anomaly or a man-made trend.

As an example, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies recently declared 2009 to be the second warmest year on record, next to 2005. This first decade of the 21st century has been the warmest on record, warmer than the previous decade which was the former record holder. With changes in macro-weather patterns over a long period of time, there are disruptions to the typical wind, temperature, and ocean current patterns. In the Pacific Northwest, changing climate conditions are being considered responsible for steadily increasing wave height over the past several decades, posing greater flooding and erosion potential. Ironically, these major weather disruptions can manifest themselves regionally in ways that would seem to run counter to the idea of global warming.

One seasonal weather event that occurs in the Pacific is the El Nino - a change in the usual sea temperature patterns that warms the Pacific and disrupts weather patterns across much of North and South America. Research that has studied the El Nino over several centuries have shown that it has been occurring more frequently, with over 40% of the extreme events taking place in the 20th century, with 30% of those occurring after 1940. There is an El Nino in place right now and is considered the source of much of the current abnormal weather patterns in the North America.

There are some scientists who propose that all of this represents a normal macro-weather pattern, that this is all nature's doing and not man-made. But as research continues, we are beginning to see that the rate of change seems to be much greater than from any other previously recorded or extrapolated natural cycle - another accelerant would appear to be at work here. Hence, the issue of man's impact through CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions and the use of fossil fuels.

Opponents of global warming have characterized it in various ways, from a natural-occurring event to a massive global conspiracy by maniacal scientists. While I don't buy into the Machiavellian plots, I would propose that if all the research were to ultimately point to a natural shift, I for one would choose not to simply sit back and enjoy the ride, proclaiming there's nothing we can do and watch ecosystems shift and species (including homo sapiens) disappear in many parts of the world. I just can't sit on my hands.

However, having reviewed the continuing stream of research studies, my inclination is that man-made activities have been the primary cause behind climate change. We did it and we can do something about it.

Read SeaWeb article on recent cold temperatures, El Nino, and northeast Pacific wave height.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hawaiian Monk Seal: stronger legislation proposed to protect island state's biodiversity

While some controversy brews over Hawaii's position regarding shark ecotourism and the legislation it generated, the state has taken a strong and positive position with respect to protecting endangered species. The state senate has proposed legislation (SB2441) that would increase the fines and potential incarceration for the intentional or knowing taking of an endangered species, moving it from a misdemeanor to a felony.

In strengthening its concern for the state's biodiversity, the bill specifically mentions the Hawaiian green sea turtle, nene goose, and Hawaiian monk seal as they are currently considered endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The bill cited a man who was convicted of shooting a Hawaiian monk seal and, under current state law, was fined only $25.00. The new legislation expands the punishment up to $5,000 (as much as $50,000 for multiple violations) and potential one-year imprisonment.

Threats to sea turtles have been mentioned often in this blog. The Hawaiian monk seal has seen a declining population for decades and its numbers could drop below 1,000 in a few years. Last year, the population - which is declining by 4% annually - saw the lowest number of recorded births during breeding season. But in 2009, the National Marine Fisheries Service, at the behest of several conservation groups, announced it would designate critical habitat on the main islands for the seal.

“The [proposed] law shows that monk seals are an important part of Hawaii’s natural heritage that must be respected,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is one among many conservation measures needed to prevent the extinction of Hawaiian monk seals.”

So, some good news for a change. Hopefully, the state legislation (which is currently moving through committees), along with the federal efforts, will help turn the tide in favor of Hawaii's unique and wide-ranging biodiversity.

Read press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tilapia Aquafarming: new standards to protect the environment

Tilapia is one of the more common seafoods being aquafarmed nowadays. In fact, 75% of this fish that is consumed comes from ocean- or inland-based farms. But, as with much of the aquafarming taking place today, it is beset with challenges that impact the environment - from feed and waste pollution to the threat of invasive species (escaping tilapia).

While there have been several standards of practice instituted in the past, a new set of standards recently put in place by the Tilapia Aquaculture Dialogue (TAD), is purported to be more comprehensive and up-to-date in addressing the many issues faced by this growing industry. TAD is a collective of commercial, scientific, and conservation experts and the new standards cover a wide range of issues that would benefit the environment and the people involved in tilapia farming (some of the farming takes place in developing countries and so employee concerns were also included).

Tilapia aqua farmers who meet and maintain the standards can become certified through a process that will be established and monitored by GLOBALGAP and, ultimately, by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) which is currently being created. These new standards are a major step forward because they apply measurable metrics as opposed to more vague environmental "goals."

“We support the tilapia standards because they will help us tell our customers the story they want and deserve to hear – that they are eating tilapia which was raised in an environmentally friendly way,” said Craig Watson, Vice President of Agricultural Sustainability of Sysco Corporation, the largest foodservice distributor in the United States. “And with the ASC in place, we will have the assurance that the standards will be adhered to properly, which will bring credibility and longevity to the standards.”

Regular readers of this blog know that I am an advocate of aquaculture as it potentially can offset or possibly replace the damage caused by open ocean commercial fishing. These standards are an important step towards addressing the challenges aquaculture faces as it grows to meet demand.

Read World Wildlife Fund press release. The press release provides a link to download the complete standards.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Humboldt Squid: continues to appear outside its traditional range

Where I live in Southern California, it's been making the news that Humboldt squid, also known as jumbo squid, have been showing up in greater numbers and local sportfishermen having been having a field day, catching the squid in the early evening hours. In just the past few days, over 400 squid have been reeled in. While edible (if you like calamari rings the size of small tires!), the squid are more known for putting up quite a fight. These are very large and aggressive squid, reaching a body length of as much as 6 feet and weighing 100 pounds.

There's a very important developing story behind these occasional encounters with Humboldt squid along the eastern Pacific coast. Their traditional range was along the Mexican coast at a depth of about 500 to 600 feet. What determined their range was temperature and natural predators - two factors that dictate territories for many ocean species. But those factors have been changing.

Humboldt squid have been reported now as far south as Chile and as far north as Alaska. And they have been reported more and more in shallower waters, disrupting the populations of several commercially fished species like Salmon in the Pacific Northwest. These squid are particularly ravenous, with a very high metabolism, and they have been a major disruption to fishermen - not to mention what these predators are doing to their newly targeted prey populations.

It has been theorized that changes in ocean temperatures and loss of natural predators, like sharks and whales, are the root causes behind the squids' appearance in areas never before seen. And it poses a risk to fish populations and even divers - these squid are very fast, hit hard, and are very aggressive - even cannibalistic when a squid is injured in a feeding frenzy.

Scott Cassell, head of the Undersea Voyager Project, has become a sort of unofficial "squid guy," having spent considerable time observing and filming these animals. He has appeared in several documentaries talking about these animals and has a healthy respect for them and a measure of concern as to how they can disrupt local ecosystems along the eastern Pacific coast.

I have been working with Scott on several projects and we plan on diving with the squid shortly in Northern California. It's not something to be taken lightly. If he knows he will be having some close encounters, Scott typically wears a set of protective armor and chain mail and he has had broken bones thanks to these powerful cephlapods.

Ocean climate change through global warming and a disrupted predator-prey relationship through overfishing - two man-made changes that could have unintended ecological consequences with the expansion of the Humbodlt squid's hunting territory.

Read Los Angeles Times news article.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hawaii Shark News: prohibitions, good and bad

There are some interesting shark conservation and ecotourism developments coming out of Hawaii. I received emails from Stefanie Brendl, who operates Hawaii Shark Encounters, noting some good news and not so good news. Okay, bad news first. . .

Legislation To Ban Shark Encounters
For nearly a year now, Hawaii has been wrestling with the on-again, off-again issue of curtailing all shark ecotourism operations. It has become a political football between island council members and state legislators with arguments including appeals to fear-based public misconceptions, rebutting scientific studies, and projections of small business and tourism economic losses. (More background info from prior posts in April and July.)

The issue has resurfaced with legislation again designed to curtail all shark ecotourism operations. The shark ecotoruism opponents have complicated matters with a series of similarly worded pieces of legislation, blitzing the political landscape with as many as five separate legislative proposals.
However, two amendments have been proposed that would "grandfather" in the two existing operations on Oahu's North Shore.

The text of all the proposed bills (HB2459, HB2664, HB2705, HB2483, SB2330, and the amendments HB2900 and SB2655) can be read at the Hawaii state web site (click here).

If you would like to express support to the Hawaii legislators that are championing for the continuation of the current shark ecotourism operators, you can email:
Senator Robert Bunda,
Representative Michael Magaoay,

Legislation To Prohibit Shark Fins
Here's the good news. Stefanie has relayed the announcement of proposed legislation to prohibit the sale and distribution of shark fins in the state. Specifically designed to address a loophole that has allowed containers of shark fins to be sold and shipped through Hawaiian ports, the legislation, SB2169, will address a long-standing issue in international shark conservation as Hawaii is a recognized distribution center for shark products. As an example, for my shark conservation speaking engagements, I use a can of shark fin soup as a prop - a product of Thailand, distributed in Hawaii and which I purchased from an online Hawaiian distributor/merchant. (The only such purchase I have ever made, by the way.)

Supporters of the legislation are also hoping to refine the wording so that it can expand the definition of shark fin products to include shark fin soup itself.

As often is the case with new legislation, there will be several public hearings. If you would like to provide public testimony (no rants, just solid reasonable commentary), there is an online process (click here).

Or you can email your support to the two senators who introduced the bill:
Senator Robert Bunda,
Senator Clayton Hee,