Posts Tagged fish

May 31 2019

Keep eating fish; it’s the best way to feed the world

The famous ocean explorer, Sylvia Earle, has long advocated that people stop eating fish. Recently, George Monbiot made a similar plea in The Guardian – there’s only one way to save the life in our oceans, stop eating fish – which, incidentally, would condemn several million people to starvation.

In both cases, it’s facile reasoning. The oceans may suffer from many things, but fishing isn’t the biggest. Earle and Monbiot’s sweeping pronouncements lack any thought for the consequences of rejecting fish and substituting fish protein for what? Steak? That delicious sizzler on your plate carries the most appallingly large environmental costs regarding fresh water, grain production, land use, erosion, loss of topsoil, transportation, you name it.

Luckily for our planet, not everyone eats steak. You’re vegan, you say, and your conscience is clean. An admirable choice – so long as there aren’t too many of you. For the sake of argument and numbers, let us assume that we can substitute plant protein in the form of tofu, made from soybeans, for fish protein. Soybeans need decent land; in fact it would take 2.58 times the land area of England to produce enough tofu to substitute for no longer available fish. That extra amount of decent arable land just isn’t available – unless we can persuade Brazil, Ecuador and Columbia to cut down more of the Amazon rainforest. We would also add 1.71 times the amount of greenhouse gases that it takes to catch the fish.

And, again for the sake of argument, were we to substitute beef for fish, we would need 192.43 Englands to raise all that cattle and greenhouse gases would rocket to 42.4 times what they are from fishing.

But aren’t there alternatives that we can eat with a clean conscience? It depends. First, we must accept the inescapable truth that everyone has to eat. You and I and another few billion humans right down to the single cell organisms. The second inescapable truth arises from the first but is often ignored, is that there is no free lunch. The big variable in this business of eating is deciding the appropriate price to the environment.

There are costs to each mouthful. By the time you swallow it, that mouthful has racked up a huge amount of unseen costs: production of greenhouse gases, pollution of air and waterways, soil erosion, use of freshwater, use of antibiotics, and impacts on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity.

After extensive studies, it turns out that some fish have the lowest green house gas footprint per unit of protein.

However, it doesn’t have to be that costly. Ocean fisheries don’t cause soil erosion, don’t blow away the topsoil, don’t use any significant freshwater, don’t use antibiotics and don’t have anything to do with nutrient releases, that devastating form of pollution that causes algal blooms in freshwater and dead zones in the ocean. After extensive studies, it turns out that some fish have the lowest green house gas footprint per unit of protein. Better even than plants. Sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies and farmed shellfish all have a lower GHG footprint than plants, and many other fisheries come close.

A ringing endorsement of fish over meat came in 2013, when Andy Sharpless, the CEO of the conservation group Oceana, pointed out that you can sustainably produce food from the sea at low environmental cost. In his book, The Perfect Protein: The Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans, Sharpless says, “What if there was a healthy, animal sourced protein, that both the fats and the thins could enjoy without draining the life from the soil, without drying up our rivers, without polluting the air and the water, without causing our planet to warm even more, without plaguing our communities with diabetes, heart disease and cancer?” His answer was to eat fish.

There has been plenty of criticism of commercial fisheries, mostly focused on the impacts on marine ecosystems – fishing certainly reduces the abundance of fish in the ocean, and also non-target species like marine birds, mammals and turtles. But consider the alternative.

Suspend, for a minute, your image of food from the land as it appears to most of us in grocery stores or farmers’ markets – beautifully arranged vegetables, tasty bread, pretty cuts of meat as well as pre-cooked, pre-packaged, eternally preserved fast food. Then cast your minds to how and from where it comes, the raw material from a field. The land as it once was has been totally transformed by farming, replacing original habitat by clearcutting every type of existing flora and replacing it with exotic species, that would be grains, vegetables and fruit trees. Farming, be it agrobusiness or subsistence, essentially eliminates the habitat for indigenous species, and thousands of them have gone extinct because of food production, whereas no marine fish is known to have gone extinct from fishing. The ocean will remain the ocean, though of course we have to manage fish stocks well. We should press our governments to manage fisheries sustainably and minimize the environmental impacts of fishing.

Let’s give a final thought to the reality of boycotting fish and commercial fishing. The need for protein in this world is huge, and we certainly must not waste it. Fishing fleets are guided by quotas set by management and what Earle and Monbiot might boycott, will be shipped and gratefully eaten elsewhere.

Featured image: “Pile of Fish” by Oziel Gómez. Free for use via Pexels.

Ray Hilborn is a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, specializing in natural resource management and conservation. He has co-authored several books and has published over 300 peer reviewed articles. His latest book, co-authored with Ulrike Hilborn, is Ocean Recovery: A sustainable future for global fisheries?

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Jun 19 2015

West Coast Fish Species Recovers Decades Ahead Of Schedule

fishFishery managers say canary rockfish have recovered from being overfished decades ahead of schedule.

Fishery managers say two valuable West Coast groundfish have recovered ahead of schedule: canary rockfish and petrale sole.

That’s good news for the fishing industry. The fleet has been restricted from catching healthy stocks of fish that swim alongside these protected species at the bottom of the ocean.

For more than a decade, canary rockfish have been what’s considered a “choke” species. That is, protecting them choked off fishing access to other valuable species like Dover sole and black cod.

There were so few canaries left, no one was allowed to catch very many, according to John DeVore, a groundfish manager with the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Assessments in 2000 found the canary rockfish population was down to 6.6 percent of the “unfished biomass” or what it was estimated to be before people started fishing it. It was hard to catch other fish at the bottom of the ocean without the risk of also catching a canary.

“It really affected our fisheries as dramatically as any species ever has,” he said. “These fish tend to be found in lots of different places. A lot of our conservation management measures were affected by canary rockfish.”

Efforts to rebuild canary rockfish led managers to close entire sections of the ocean to fishing. They also contributed to a total redesign of the commercial trawl fishery. The new fishery gives fishing boats ownership shares of the available catch. It’s designed to give fishers a financial incentive to avoid protected species like canary rockfish. The latest assessment shows canary rockfish have increased by roughly sixfold since 2000.

Managers didn’t expect the canaries to rebound until 2057. So, they’re way ahead of schedule. Another valuable ground fish, petrale sole, was declared overfished five years ago. And stock assessments show it’s already rebuilt as well.

Other species, including yelloweye rockfish, are still considered overfished. But fishermen say they’re looking forward to having fewer restrictions and higher catch limits now that two key species have been restored.

Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, said at one point the canary rockfish catch limit for the entire West Coast was just 40 tons while the limits for other species were 10,000-20,000 tons. If the fleet caught too many canaries while targeting other fish, the entire fishery would be shut down.

“We used to catch 400,000 tons of canary rockfish back in the heyday,” he said. “It’s not like we want to go out and catch that many as soon as it’s rebuilt, but this should open up a lot of opportunity to catch other fish. It is good news, and we’re darn thankful.”

The process of protecting and rebuilding overfished stocks has taken a big toll on the number of groundfish boats in operation on the West Coast. Before 1994, Pettinger said, there were 500 trawl vessels catching groundfish. Now, he said, the fleet is down to about 70 boats coastwide.

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May 5 2015

Study of Central Coast marine reserves finds signs of fish recovery

Researchers say more time is needed for fish populations to flourish

MorroBayFishermensWharfTourists stop to watch fish being unloaded at the Morro Bay Fishermen’s Wharf.


Fish populations have shown signs of rebounding in state marine protected areas off California’s Central Coast, but more time is needed for them to flourish, according to a recent study conducted by Cal Poly and the California Sea Grant.

The study was published in March in Plos One, a peer-reviewed journal by the Public Library of Science.

The study examined the first seven years of monitoring of fish within four marine protected areas (MPAs) between San Francisco and Morro Bay.

Fishing within MPAs is generally prohibited or severely limited to allow refuges for fish species that are harvested commercially.

MPAs make up about 18 percent of the state water territory.

“These marine reserves are going to work, but they’re not a short-term solution for commercial fisheries,” said the study’s lead author, Rick Starr, director of the California Sea Grant’s Extension Program.

Starr said that fish populations go up and down based on environmental conditions, and they’ve not detected much difference in populations inside and outside the protected areas.

“In the seven years of data examined, we didn’t see much change that could be attributed to the MPA status,” Starr said.

That could be partly due to reduced fishing pressure through regulations in non-protected areas, the scientists said.

However, Starr believes more time is needed to assess the newer MPAs.

In comparison, the much older Point Lobos State Marine Reserve, protected since 1973, is thriving with an abundance of fish.

Cal Poly biological resources researcher Dean Wendt, a co-author of the study, said about 20 fish per hour can be caught recreationally in Point Lobos near Monterey — compared to about seven fish per hour in the MPAs Año Nuevo (north of Santa Cruz), Piedras Blancas (between Morro Bay and Monterey) and Point Buchon (near Morro Bay). That’s an indicator that the Point Lobos zone is far more populated.


A director with the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, Jeremiah O’Brien, said that he has appreciated the collaboration between fishermen and scientists in the research.But O’Brien said he’s skeptical about the type of ocean management that blocks off large areas off the coast from fishing.

“These MPAs were mandated by many who know nothing about fishing and less about ocean issues,” O’Brien said. “There are many management tools available, and this is a poor choice. Seven years and there is no difference — one would think that there would be some noticeable change no matter how small.”

O’Brien, however, added that “we have a lot of respect for Dean Wendt, and he always tries to include commercial fisherman in his work.”

More research details

Starr and Wendt, who is dean of research in Cal Poly’s biological sciences department, coordinated with a team of marine researchers and more than 700 volunteer fishermen to sample fish within and outside of the protected areas.The scientists attribute the study results to several factors, including the longer life and reproductive cycles of cold-water California fish, including some that live to be more than 50 years old and can take several years to reproduce.

However, lingcod, which take 3 to 5 years to mature, have seen increases in population within the MPAs, Wendt said.

Fish recruitment — meaning how well local juvenile fish are surviving — is another factor.

In some years, conditions can be right for juvenile fish to significantly add to the population, while in other years ocean currents channel them farther out to sea, where they die. In El Niño years, juvenile fish don’t have enough to eat.

Rockfish recruitment is particularly sporadic, meaning it can be more difficult to gauge how well the MPAs are working.

The idea behind the MPAs is that eventually the protected zones will contribute to a “spillover” effect in which species move from the protected areas to surrounding ocean vicinities to help grow populations.

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Mar 26 2015

Why These Overlooked Fish May Be The Tastiest (And Most Sustainable)

By Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn
Market Fish En Papillote Photo: Armando Rafael for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Heather Meldrom, Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

A FEW YEARS AGO, one of Charleston’s finest fishing boat captains approached chef Mike Lata with a problem: If business didn’t improve, he would have to hang it up. Federal quotas limited how much lucrative grouper and snapper he could catch, and while there were plenty of other fish for the taking, what he brought in barely sold for enough to cover gas. So, the chef made him a proposition:

The Recipes


Roasted sardines with seaweed salsa verde Photo: Armando Rafael for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Heather Meldrom, Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

“I told him on his next trip to bring us everything he caught, and we’d pay.” Mr. Lata and his cooks set to work on the catch—a grab bag of amberjack, banded rudderfish, mackerel, eel, lionfish and sea robin—and discovered that many of these fish were remarkably delicious. “This was great product, treated with care and attention, only the species names weren’t marketable. So, we decided to take care of the marketing side.”

Mr. Lata is one of a growing number of chefs making a case for eating abundant domestic species that have up until now been largely ignored. These are widely referred to as “trash fish,” a name originally bestowed by fisherman unable to sell them, now co-opted by some of their staunchest advocates.

The sea is home to thousands of fish species, but only a few of them regularly appear on American tables. Shrimp, tuna, salmon and tilapia together account for nearly 70% of seafood consumed in the U.S.; in the case of fine dining, cod, halibut and sea bass have also been in heavy rotation for the past 30 years. These once-plentiful species have retained pride of place on menus and behind fish counters long after it stopped making ecological sense, as chefs and seafood purveyors have catered to a dining public skeptical of trading salmon and swordfish for fish with names like “scup” and “smelt.”

Every fishery has a unique set of under-loved species. Waters in the Northeast are teeming with pollock, hake and dogfish, which match the flaky, mild profile of dwindling cod. Acadian redfish, once used for lobster bait off the coast of Maine, makes a superior alternative to tilapia, much of which is raised in antibiotic-spiked pools in China. The Chesapeake Bay is lousy with blue catfish, similar to the basa being imported by the ton from Vietnam. Firm, buttery and plentiful Pacific lingcod is a good understudy for pricey halibut. “There are incredibly delicious, vibrant, abundant fish out there and people don’t know about them,” said Michael Dimin, the co-founder of Sea to Table, a supplier to top seafood restaurants like New York’s Marea and RM Seafood in Las Vegas.

Confronted by the copious overlooked species swimming off Massachusetts, chef Michael Leviton is working on a trash fish cookbook. At Lumière in Newton, Mass., he regularly serves such underappreciated species as Acadian redfish and porgy.

Would you eat goosefish or slimehead? Chances are, you already have, and just didn’t realize you were eating a re-branded trash fish. WSJ’s Jeff Bush reports.

“Diners have become very accustomed to chefs going to the farmers’ market and putting on the menu whatever is fresh and local,” said Barton Seaver, director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food program at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “We’re just beginning to see that sustainable menu philosophy applied to fisheries.”

Earlier this week, chefs from 20 of the world’s best restaurants—including Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in New York—committed to serving ocean-friendly species like anchovies, herring and sardines on World Oceans Day, which falls on June 8th. And Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability, has organized seven Trash Fish Dinners around the country in recent years, gathering top chefs to work their magic with local invasive species, by-catch and other alien sea creatures. The most recent such dinner took place at the Squeaky Bean in Denver, where chef Theo Adley cooks with the likes of snakehead, brown shrimp, moon snails and drum. “We go for broke in terms of the range of fish we serve,” Mr. Adley said. “A lot of the challenges we face have to do with guest knowledge, and providing a gentle education in terms of what a fish is going to taste like.”

As a member of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, chef Jonathon Sawyer is similarly committed to supporting a diversity of species. His menus at Greenhouse Tavern and Trentina in Cleveland, Ohio, simply list “market fish,” which gives him flexibility to buy the best-choice catch of the moment. Porgy, grunt, black drum and farmed sturgeon have all made appearances.

Trash fish advocates hope that introducing diners to a wider array of seafood in restaurants will ultimately trickle down to home kitchens. It will likely take time, given home cooks’ hesitancy to work with unfamiliar fish, and the fact that most seafood counters still offer only well-worn options. Mr. Dimin and Mr. Seaver encourage consumers to start by choosing only domestically caught fish—U.S. fisheries are regulated to protect vulnerable species—and letting the best local choice dictate the preparation method, rather than shopping to a recipe.

After all, cooking with the whole net offers benefits beyond the ecological; it provides novelty at the table, it’s cost efficient and, best of all, choosing a local porgy or dogfish rather than farmed or imported options keeps fishing communities all over the country in business.

“Fishing is the last true hunting on earth,” Mr. Dimin said. “We have a duty to protect it.”


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Feb 25 2015

How Long Does Fresh Fish Last In The Fridge After You Buy It?


It’s a simple question, but one many people don’t know how to answer: How long does fresh fish last in the refrigerator after you buy it?

Equally passionate about good seafood as we are afraid of fish that’s gone bad, we at HuffPost Taste reached out to the experts to confirm the answer once and for all. After speaking with some fishmongers from around New York City, we found the consensus: Fresh fish lasts in the fridge for two to three days, at most.

The folks over at Brooklyn’s Fish Tales say that fish will keep for three days maximum. Of course, they buy fresh fish every morning and urge anyone to buy fish the same day they’re going to cook it. If that’s impossible, you should keep it on ice in the refrigerator. Never keep it in the freezer, they say.

According to the fishmongers at The Lobster Place, which also buys fresh seafood every day and suggests you do your shopping as close to the time that you’re planning to eat as possible, a whole fish will keep slightly longer than fillets. When you buy a whole fish, less of the area that you’re planning to eat is exposed to oxygen. This means it will keep a little longer. They estimate a whole fish will last a maximum of three days, while fillets will last closer to two days.

Certain fish will dry out faster than others, the folks at The Lobster Place say, and some will change color slightly as they age. Discoloration doesn’t necessarily indicate that the fish has spoiled, however. Your best method of deciphering whether or not your fish is still fresh is “by giving it the old smell test,” the fishmongers say. If it smells off, it probably is.

To prolong the lifespan of seafood, you need to store it correctly. Village Fishmonger has a detailed list of instructions for the proper way to store various kinds of seafood. (The website also has great instructions for prepping and cooking different kinds of seafood.) Village Fishmonger recommends storing fish two ways. The first is to keep the fish in its packaging or to seal it in a bag and rest it on top of ice. The second is to unwrap the fish and place it on top of a layer of plastic that is set over the ice. Either way, the fish should not come in direct contact with the ice.

Storing shellfish requires a different technique. Village Fishmonger suggests keeping clams and oysters covered with a damp paper towel in a container that will allow for drainage in case there’s any excess moisture. Fish Tales confirms: store shellfish in a bowl, covered with a paper towel, in the fridge.

The bottom line is that seafood is best eaten when it’s as fresh as possible — but with proper storage, it will last up to three days. Now that you know how long your fish will keep, check out the easy seafood recipes below. Just make sure to use the smell test before you get started.

Original article:  The Huffington Post  |  By Alison Spiegel

Jan 23 2015

Fatty Acids in Fish May Shield Brain from Mercury Damage


New findings from research in the Seychelles provide further evidence that the benefits of fish consumption on prenatal development may offset the risks associated with mercury exposure. In fact, the new study, which appears today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that the nutrients found in fish have properties that protect the brain from the potential toxic effects of the chemical.

Three decades of research in the Seychelles have consistently shown that high levels of fish consumption by pregnant mothers – an average of 12 meals per week – do not produce developmental problems in their children. Researchers have previously equated this phenomenon to a kind of biological horse race, with the developmental benefits of nutrients in fish outpacing the possible harmful effects of mercury also found in fish. However, the new research indicates that this relation is far more complex and that compounds present in fish – specifically polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) – may also actively counteract the damage that mercury causes in the brain.

“These findings show no overall association between prenatal exposure to mercury through fish consumption and neurodevelopmental outcomes,” said Edwin van Wijngaarden, Ph.D., and associate professor in the University of Rochester Department of Public Health Sciences and a co-author of the study. “It is also becoming increasingly clear that the benefits of fish consumption may outweigh, or even mask, any potentially adverse effects of mercury.”

“This research provided us the opportunity to study the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids on development and their potential to augment or counteract the toxic properties of mercury,” said Sean Strain, Ph.D., a professor of Human Nutrition at the Ulster University in Northern Ireland and lead author of the study. “The findings indicate that the type of fatty acids a mother consumes before and during pregnancy may make a difference in terms of their child’s future neurological development.”

The new study comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and international agencies are in the process of revisiting fish consumption advisories to better reflect the health benefits of nutrients found in fish. The FDA’s current guidance – which recommends that pregnant women limit their consumption of certain fish to twice a week – was established because of the known risk of high level mercury exposure on childhood development.

Mercury is found in the environment as a result of both natural and human (e.g. coal plant emissions) activity. Much of it ends up being deposited in the world’s oceans and, as a result, fish harbor the chemical in very small amounts.

This has given rise to concerns that the cumulative impact of prenatal exposure to mercury through fish consumption may have negative health outcomes, despite the fact that that a link between low-level exposure and developmental consequences in children has never been definitively established.

At the same time, fish are rich in a host of beneficial nutrients, including fatty acids, which are essential to brain development, leading to a long-standing exchange among scientists, environmentalists, and policymakers over the risk vs. benefit of fish consumption. This debate has significant consequences for global health, as billions of people across the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein.

The Seychelles Child Development Study – a partnership between the University of Rochester Ulster University, and the Republic of Seychelles Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education – is one of the longest and largest population studies of its kind. The Seychelles, a cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean, has proven to be the ideal location to examine the potential health impact of persistent low-level mercury exposure. The nation’s 89,000 residents consume fish at a rate 10 times greater than the populations of the U.S. and Europe.

The study published today followed more than 1,500 mothers and their children. At 20 months after birth, the children underwent a battery of tests designed to measure their communication skills, behavior, and motor skills. The researchers also collected hair samples from the mothers at the time of their pregnancy to measure the levels of prenatal mercury exposure.

The researchers found that mercury exposure did not correlate with lower test scores. This finding tracked with the results of previous studies by the group – some of which have followed children in the Seychelles into their 20s – that have also shown no association between fish consumption and subsequent neurological development.

The researchers also measured the PUFA levels present in the pregnant women and found that the children of mothers with higher levels of fatty acids known as omega 3, or n3 – the kind found in fish – performed better on certain tests. Another common form of PUFA, called n6, comes from other meats and cooking oils and is found in greater abundance in the diets of residents of developed countries.

The fatty acids in fish (n3) are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, compared to n6, which can promote inflammation. One of the mechanisms by which mercury inflicts its damage is through oxidation and inflammation and this has led the researchers to speculate that not only does n3 provide more benefit in terms of brain development, but that these compounds may also counteract the negative effects of mercury.

This was reflected in the study’s findings, which showed that the children of mothers with relatively higher levels of n6 did poorer on tests designed to measure motor skills.

“It appears that relationship between fish nutrients and mercury may be far more complex than previously appreciated,” said Philip Davidson, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the Seychelles Child Development Study, a professor emeritus at the University of Rochester, and senior author of the study. “These findings indicate that there may be an optimal balance between the different inflammatory properties of fatty acids that promote fetal development and that these mechanisms warrant further study.”

Additional co-authors of the study include Sally Thurston, Gene Watson, Tanzy Love, Tristram Smith, Kelley Yost, Donald Harrington, and Gary Myers with the University of Rochester, Alison Yeates, Maria Mulhern, and Emeir McSorley with Ulster University, and Conrad Shamlaye and Juliette Henderson with the Republic of Seychelles Ministry of Health. The research was supported with funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Government of Seychelles.

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Nov 6 2014

Coast Marine Mammal Survey Spots Unusual Whales, Dolphins, Turtles and Seabirds

Marine Mammal and Turtle Division,

By Michael Milstein, NOAA Public Affairs Officer

An on-going NOAA Fisheries marine mammal and ecosystem survey off the West Coast has sighted several surprising species of tropical cetaceans and birds, including pygmy killer whales and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, never before documented so far north, and loggerhead turtles, likely attracted by unusually warm Pacific Ocean waters.

pygmyPygmy killer whale in foreground with Research Vessel Ocean Starr in background (photo: Paula Olson).

The survey has encountered strikingly warm sea surface temperatures as high as 23˚ Celsius (74˚ Fahrenheit), which NOAA Fisheries researchers have been watching for months. The warm conditions have been linked to other recent sightings of unusual species of seabirds, fish and marine mammals rarely seen in the northern Pacific.

CommonAndStripedDolphins_BoydThe recent sightings are part of the four-month California Current Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (CalCurCEAS), conducted every three to six years by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). The CalCurCEAS assesses marine mammals off the U.S. West Coast and tracks conditions that affect the ecosystems in which they live. The findings inform NOAA decisions on West Coast fisheries, ensuring safeguards to protect marine mammals and other protected and endangered species, such as marine turtles and seabirds.

“There’s no substitute for actually getting out on the ocean and systematically surveying the number and location of these animals,” said Jay Barlow, a SWFSC marine mammal biologist who is chief scientist for the survey. “The ocean is always changing, and we need current data to understand how these top predators are doing and how they are responding to ocean conditions.”

The survey began in San Diego in early August and has continued in legs of about 24 days each, crisscrossing waters up to 300 miles off the West Coast north to Washington. The survey coincides with fall whale and seabird migrations and will continue into December. Research scientists describe their findings from each leg in reports available on the SWFSC website.

Among the highlights so far:

  • A group of pygmy killer whales, a rarely seen tropical species that typically frequents warmer southern waters. “We knew immediately it was an unusual sighting,” said Lisa Ballance, Director of the SWFSC’s Marine Mammal and Turtle Division. Scientists aboard a small boat took tiny skin samples for genetic studies of population structure.
  • The sighting off Oregon of a killer whale with a distinctively damaged dorsal fin that was previously known mainly from sightings in Monterey Bay, CA and more recently off Vancouver Island. The whale’s dorsal fin was apparently injured in past years by an entanglement and a propeller strike.
  • Short-beaked common dolphins almost every 15 to 30 minutes over the course of one day, totaling thousands of individuals.
  • Warm-water seabirds that are extremely unusual so far north. Scientists spotted a exitBrown Booby off Washington and two others, each off Oregon and California, which researchers described as “an unprecedented northward dispersal” of the species. Sightings of two Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were likely the first-ever reports of the species in the northeast Pacific. The storm petrels were likely from populations in Hawaii or the Galapagos.
  • Other sub-tropical seabirds such as Hawaiian Petrels, Black-vented and Pink-footed Shearwaters and Red-billed Tropicbirds.
  • Numerous other whale and dolphin sightings included sei, blue, fin, humpback and short-finned pilot whales, and common, striped, Pacific white-sided and northern right whale dolphins. In one case, northern right whale dolphins were riding in the wake of a fin whale.

The surveys take frequent environmental measurements and sample plankton and marine life such as squid as indicators of ocean conditions and the state of the marine ecosystem. Researchers also deploy acoustic equipment to listen for whale and dolphin vocalizations. The equipment includes a towed hydrophone array, buoys that listen to high-priority species and free-floating recording devices that monitor ocean sounds 100 meters below the surface without noise interference from the research ship.

In one mid-September report researchers recounted recording humpback whale songs once described as a “barnyard chorus.” They identified one humpback whale 0.2 nautical miles from the starboard side of the research vessel. After retrieving the hydrophone array so the vessel could better maneuver, researchers found they could hear the whale vocalizations in the open air.

“Out on the back deck we could actually hear, with our bare ears, the singing humpback whale just behind the boat on the starboard side,” they described. “Out in the open air, it is easy to understand how whale song has inspired decades of research and centuries of curiosity on cetacean vocalizations.”

Reports from future legs of the survey will be posted as they become available.Please contact the Chief Scientist, Jay Barlow, for additional information.

line1Pilot whales on left (photo: Paula Olson) and juvenile loggerhead turtle basking in warm waters on right (photo: Mridula Srivivasan)

line2Red-billed Tropicbird resting on left (photo: Michael Force) and blue whale at surface on right (photo: Paula Olson)

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Oct 28 2014

FDA finds wholesale seafood products are labeled correctly 85% of the time

Posted by permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM [SCOM] October 27, 2014


A two-year long investigation by the FDA into seafood mislabeling among wholesaler distributors found that fish products are labeling correctly 85 percent of the time.

The FDA’s study (the report can be found here) tested seven hundred DNA samples collected from wholesalers in 14 states, prior to restaurant or retail sale. Part of the study had the FDA target seafood that is most often suspected to be mislabeled including cod, haddock, catfish, basa, swai, snapper and grouper. Of that group, the FDA said a majority of the mislabeling was found in two species, snappers and groupers, which represent less than two percent of total seafood sales.

“This extensive federal analysis brings the challenge of mislabeling into a much clearer focus,” said John Connelly, President of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI.) “While at the same time calling into question other mislabeling ‘studies’ that suggest the issue is widespread and in need of a legislative fix.”

The NFI has previously called for more enforcement of federal and state labeling laws, rather than new legislation, noting that multiple anti-fraud laws already exist.

“What the FDA found reinforces the need for implementation of rules already on the books,” said Lisa Weddig, Secretary of the Better Seafood Board (BSB.) “We don’t need more regulations and rhetoric, we need more enforcement.”

Along with releasing the findings, the FDA also released its first-ever online seafood labeling training module designed to instruct industry participants, retailers and state regulators how to properly label seafood items throughout the supply chain.

“Proper identification of seafood is important throughout the seafood supply chain to ensure that appropriate food safety controls are implemented and that consumers are getting the type of seafood they expect and for which they are paying,” the FDA said.

Meanwhile, the BSB and the National Restaurant Association will work together on the labeling issue through a memorandum of understanding that includes educational outreach and even menu audits.

“Eighty-five percent of seafood was labeled correctly and the mislabeling was focused on two species,” said Connelly. “Our job is to work with companies and focus on those problem areas.” He continued, “This type of information gives regulators important insights and helps them focus their resources. New laws don’t do that.”

Photo Credit: FDA

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Oct 22 2014

The joy of sex began 385 million years ago with armored fish, scientists say

fish-fossilsProfessor John Long has discovered that the earliest example of sex was invented by Scottish amoured fish called placoderms.

An ancient fish with evolutionary ties to humans could have originated intercourse as we know it, which scientists say is ‘nothing short of remarkable.’

Scientists studying fossils have discovered that the intimate act of sexual intercourse used by humans was pioneered by ancient armored fishes, called placoderms, about 385 million years ago in Scotland.

In an important discovery in the evolutionary history of sexual reproduction, the scientists found that male fossils of the Microbrachius dicki, which belong to a placoderm group, developed bony L-shaped genital limbs called claspers to transfer sperm to females.

Females, for their part, developed small paired bones to lock the male organs in place for mating.

Placoderms are the earliest vertebrate ancestors of humans.

“Placoderms were once thought to be a dead-end group with no live relatives, but recent studies show that our own evolution is deeply rooted in placoderms and that many of the features we have — such as jaws, teeth and paired limbs — first originated with this group of fishes,” said John Long, a paleontologist at Flinders University in South Australia who led the research.

This new finding, he added, shows that “they gave us the intimate act of sexual intercourse as well”.

Matt Friedman, a paleobiologist from Britain’s Oxford University who was not involved in the research, described its findings as “nothing short of remarkable” and said they suggested much more could be learned from the fossil fishes.

Long, whose study was published in the journal Nature on Sunday, discovered the ancient fishes’ mating abilities when he stumbled across a single fossil bone in the collections of the University of Technology in Tallinn, Estonia, last year.

The research then involved scientists from Australia, Estonia, Britain, Sweden and China, who analyzed fossil specimens from museum collections across the world.

These demonstrate the first use of internal fertilization and copulation as a reproductive strategy known in the fossil record.

Measuring about 8 centimeters (3 inches) in length, Microbrachius lived in ancient lake habitats in Scotland, as well as parts of Estonia and China.

Long explained that “Microbrachius” means little arms, but said scientists have been baffled for centuries by what these bony paired arms were actually there for.

“We’ve solved this great mystery,” he said. “They were there for mating, so that the male could position his claspers into the female genital area.”

In one of the more bizarre findings of the study, Long said the fishes probably copulated from a sideways position with their bony jointed arms locked together — making them look more as if they were square dancing than having sex.

“This enabled the males to maneuver their genital organs into the right position for mating,” he said.

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View the original article: | REUTERS Monday, October 20, 2014

Oct 2 2014

Do more fish in SoCal predict El Nino weather?

A number of exotic bounty normally found in more tropical waters have been popping up across Southern California, exciting fishermen and researchers alike.”This year is probably the first time in 15 years that we’ve had really good tuna fishing close to the California coastline,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, a professor at Cal State Long Beach’s Shark Lab.Tuna aren’t the only marine life turning up. Video from Dana Point Whale Watch shows a hammerhead shark attacking yellowfin tuna off the coast. Those who went to Manhattan Beach this summer were also greeted by blue creatures known as velella.

A hammerhead swims through Dana Point waters in this undated file photo. (Dave Beeninga,


But what’s bringing all the marine life to our ocean?

“The animals are following warm water and the prey that move with those conditions,” Lowe said.

Experts say ocean water temperatures last month alone hit 76 degrees, almost 10 degrees warmer than average.

“The last time we had conditions was in the late-80s when we had the strong El Nio periods,” Lowe said.

Lowe said it’s not yet clear if the increase in marine life signals a full El Nino.

“Normally, when we have El Nino conditions, we have really wet falls,” Lowe said. “We’re hoping that we get an El Nino that will bring us more water.”

View original story here.