Archive for April, 2013

Apr 25 2013

Lower fishing limits rejected by judge

A federal judge has rejected an environmental group’s attempt to require the government to lower its catch limits on sardines, mackerel and other forage fish off the California coast.

The organization, Oceana, claimed that the plan approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2010 was based on flawed data and allowed fishing at levels that would deplete offshore populations of several species. Those fish are part of the food chain for other fish, seabirds and whales.

But U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of San Francisco said Friday that the federal agency had simply reaffirmed, or in some cases tightened, the harvesting limits it had set for the same forage species in 2000.

Chen ordered the fisheries service to reconsider its catch levels for one species, the northern anchovy, saying the agency had reopened that subject in 2010 but failed to determine the limits needed to protect the fish. That decision is required, he said, by a 1976 conservation law designed to prevent overfishing.

But Chen said it was too late to challenge the rules the agency had established in 2000 – and reaffirmed in 2010 – for the Pacific sardine, the Pacific mackerel, the jack mackerel and the market squid. Oceana also challenged the fisheries service’s conclusion that its 2010 plan would cause no ecological harm and that a full environmental study was therefore not required. But the judge said the 2010 plan “by its very terms has no negative impact.”

Read the full San Francisco Chronicle article here.

Apr 24 2013

For want of fish


Starving sea lions are maxing out the state’s rescue centers, and fishermen’s nets are coming up empty–but not everyone is worried


When large numbers of marine mammals suddenly and unexpectedly begin stranding on beaches and dying, the incident is described as an unusual mortality event. While that term may be scientifically efficient and accurate, it does little to convey—at least in the recent case of starving California sea lions—the startling sight of limp forms dotting the coastline like lost, wet coats; the cacophony of dozens of corralled animals barking like hoarse dogs; and the smell of gallon after gallon of pureed herring and salmon oil flowing into desperately hungry mouths at rehabilitation centers.

And while such a declaration—made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division—triggers access to better funding and research opportunities in the effort to find out exactly what’s weakening and killing animals, it’s really just the first step in a months- or even years-long endeavor. Sometimes the ultimate culprit is pinpointed as a biotoxin. Sometimes it’s an infection. Sometimes mass deaths come about as a direct result of human interaction.

In the current case, everyone already pretty much knows the problem: emaciation and dehydration.

A call to the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center in early April yielded this message: “All of the centers are having unusually large numbers of young California sea lions. They’re very small, skinny. They’re not getting enough to eat.

“These are not babies. They’re 9 months old. They’re already weaned by their mothers; their mothers are not coming back for them.

Read the full story here.


Apr 11 2013

Eating Fish Lowers Risk Of Dying Prematurely, Study Says

Eating fish could slash an older person’s risk of dying prematurely by more than a quarter, and their risk of dying from heart disease by more than a third, a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Washington has found.

Indeed researchers discovered that older adults with the highest blood levels of the fatty acids found in fish lived, on average, 2.2 years longer than those with lower levels.

“Although eating fish has long been considered part of a healthy diet, few studies have assessed blood omega-3 levels and total deaths in older adults,” said lead author Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard, in a press release. “Our findings support the importance of adequate blood omega-3 levels for cardiovascular health, and suggest that later in life these benefits could actually extend the years of remaining life.”

Researchers have long linked the consumption of unsaturated fats in fish with a reduced risk of dying from heart disease. And the American Heart Associationrecommends eating fish — especially fatty fish — at least twice a week.

But this is the first time researchers have linked levels of fish consumption with death rates.

In their study, researchers examined 16 years of data pertaining to 2,700 healthy U.S. adults aged 65 or older who participated in the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS).The researchers also analyzed the total proportion of blood omega-3 fatty acids — including three specific ones — in participants’ blood samples at baseline. After adjusting for dietary, lifestyle and other factors, they found that the fatty acids were linked with a significantly lower risk of mortality.

One type in particular — docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — was most strongly related to a 40 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease death. Of the other blood fatty acids measured — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) — DPA was most strongly associated with lower risk of stroke death, and EPA most strongly linked with lower risk of nonfatal heart attack, according to a press release. None of these fatty acids were dramatically related to other, noncardiovascular causes of death.

Read the full article here.


Apr 10 2013


Sometimes referred to as All Fools’ Day, April 1st is widely known as a day for practical jokes. But did you know that in Italy, France, and Belgium, this day was traditionally celebrated as “April Fish Day?” Children and adults alike tacked paper fishes on one another’s backs and shouted “April Fish!”—in their respective languages, of course.

'April Fish' Day--on April 1 in Italy, France, & Belgium, people try to hang paper fish on each other's backs as a trick. Here's a picture of our favorite 'paper pollock' Wally. Read this comic strip featuring Wally, written and created by NOAA Teacher at Sea Catherine Fox.

So, with April Fish Day in mind, let’s take a closer look at how seafood fraud pulls some tricks of its own. But what is seafood fraud, you ask? To put it simply, anytime consumers or buyers purchase a seafood product that is not what they are paying for—is fraud.

The most common form of seafood fraud is short-weighting, which happens when processors overglaze, soak, and/or over bread seafood to manipulate or misrepresent its weight. Products might also be mislabeled to avoid higher import tariffs. However, the practice of “seafood substitution” is what has made recent news. Seafood substitution occurs when a species is mislabeled and substituted in whole or in part for a different species—disguising a low valued species as a more expensive one. The good news is that the seafood industry, academia, and federal and state governments are proactively developing solutions to protect consumers from fraud.  The Better Seafood Board Exit disclaimer, formed by members of the National Fisheries Institute in 2007, helps restaurants, retail operations, and manufacturers report suppliers who commit economic fraud. The board encourages seafood buyers who have unresolved issues with suppliers for selling short weight or otherwise mislabeled products to contact their hotline at 1-866-956-4272 to document these issues.

Sorting the survey catch

In our digital age, technology is helping fight fraud in more ways than one. Many companies are using QR codes—digital codes that redirect consumers to a website—where they can learn specific details about their seafood. One California sushi joint is even serving their fish labeled with a QR code printed on edible rice paper, which directs diners to sustainability information from yours truly—

Read the full article here.

Apr 9 2013


This video introduces consumers to, which provides easy-to-understand, science-based facts to help users make smart, sustainable seafood choices.

Through this video, you’ll learn more about “sustainability” and what NOAA is doing to ensure that our seafood is caught and farmed responsibly with consideration for the health of a species, the environment, and the livelihoods of the people that depend on them.

And you can help too!

Have you ever thought about where that piece of salmon on your plate came from? It could have been caught in a wild fishery or harvested from an aquaculture operation. Maybe it’s from the United States, or maybe it was imported from another country, like Canada or Chile.

It’s important to know the source of your seafood because not all of them measure up the same. Some seafood is wild-caught or farm-raised under regulations that protect the health of the marine ecosystem, the animals that live within it, and the consumers that eat it—however, some seafood is not. By buying seafood from reputable sources, you can help to conserve our ocean resources and support the economies and communities that ensure our seafood supply is safe and sustainable.

The next time you buy or eat seafood, get informed and make sustainable choices by using

Apr 8 2013

Eating oily fish ‘adds at least two years to your life’

PEOPLE aged 65 and older who eat fish may live an average of two years longer than people who do not consume the omega-3 fatty acids found mainly in seafood, a US study suggested on Monday.

People with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids also had an overall risk of dying that was 27 percent lower, and a risk of dying from heart disease that was 35 percent lower than counterparts who had lower blood levels, said the study.

The research was led by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health and was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

While other studies have demonstrated a link between omega-3 fatty acids and lower risk of heart disease, this research examined records of older people to determine any link between fish-eating and death risk.

Researchers scanned 16 years of data on about 2,700 US adults aged 65 or older. Those considered for the study were not taking fish oil supplements, to eliminate any confusion over the use of supplements or dietary differences.

Those with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids found mainly in fish like salmon, tuna, halibut, sardines, herring and mackerel, had the lowest risk of dying from any cause, and lived an average of 2.2 years longer than those with low levels.

Researchers identified docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as most strongly related to lower risk of coronary heart disease death.

Read the full article here.


Apr 6 2013

Pacific coast forage fish protection strongest in the world

D.B. Pleschner

Recent stories may have left some people with the wrong impression regarding the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s upcoming decision on April 9 to adopt the Pacific Coast Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP).

These stories have implied rampant overfishing of forage species like sardines that the FEP supposedly will address by reducing catch limits on these fish in order to maintain a food source for bigger species like salmon and albacore.

However, this simply isn’t true.

The council authorized development of the FEP to “enhance the Council’s species-specific management programs with more ecosystem science, broader ecosystem considerations and management policies that coordinate Council management across its Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) and the California Current Ecosystem (CCE).”

The FEP’s first initiative proposes to protect unmanaged lower trophic level forage species such as Pacific sandlance and saury, which are currently not fished, by “prohibiting the development of new directed fisheries on forage species that are not currently managed by the Council, or the States, until the Council has had an adequate opportunity to assess the science relating to any proposed fishery and any potential impacts to our existing fisheries and communities.”

In contrast, anchovy, sardines and market squid, officially known as coastal pelagic species (CPS),

are already well managed under both federal and state fishery management plans, which prescribe precautionary harvest limits.

Consider the visionary management of Pacific sardines, the poster fish for ecosystem-based management. A risk-averse formula is in place that ensures when population numbers go down, the harvest also goes down. Conversely, when more sardines are available, more harvest is allowed, but the maximum cap is set far below the maximum sustainable harvest level.

In 2011, the U.S. West Coast sardine fisheries harvested only 5.11 percent of a very conservative stock estimate, leaving nearly 95 percent of the species for predators and ecosystem needs.

Does that sound like overfishing to you? Of course not, and scientists agree.

A 2012 study by a panel of 13 scientists from around the world known as the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force concluded that while overfishing of forage species is problematic on a global scale, the West Coast is not being overfished.

Indeed they noted that the Pacific Coast is, “ahead of other parts of the world in how it manages some forage fish.” The region has “stricter monitoring and more conservative limits that could serve as a buffer against future crashes.”

Knowledgeable people know that this is no accident. Fishing families have historically worked with regulators to protect our wetfish fisheries.

In fact, more than a decade ago, the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a management strategy for CPS harvested in California and on the West Coast, maintaining at least 75 percent of the fish in the ocean to ensure a resilient core biomass. The sardine protection rate is even higher.

California also implemented a network of no-take marine reserves throughout our state’s waters. Reserves established at specific bird rookery and marine mammal haul-out sites — for example near the Farallon Islands, Año Nuevo, and Southern California’s Channel Islands — were enacted to protect forage fish. More than 30 percent of traditional squid harvest grounds are now closed in reserve.

Hopefully these facts will prevail and dispel the hype. California has been recognized by internationally respected scientists as having one of the lowest fishery harvest rates in the world. It’s one of only a few areas deemed “sustainable.” (Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Science 2009).