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Yet another end of the (sea)world story
January 13, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Yet another end of the (sea)world story. Sadly, not the theme park, the other 3/4 of our planet. The obligatory Corporate Bad Guys. But these kind folks say it's alright

Greenpeace does not agree.
posted by Redhush (31 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, if Greenpeace says it, then I'm skeptical of everyone's claims.
posted by cmoj at 3:15 PM on January 13, 2011


> THE COLLAPSE of the Atlantic menhaden industry allowed one company to gain almost exclusive control of the endangered fishery...

I can't remember the last time I read an article about fish(eries) that didn't include the word "collapse."
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:16 PM on January 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Also, if you're going to do the whole "not telling you what I'm talking about thing" then I would strive to make the post a bit more coherent.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 3:20 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Omega Protein has been banned from fishing in 13 of the 15 Atlantic Coast states, according to this 2009 NYT editorial that talks about the large-scale threat to the ecosystem posed by overfishing of menhaden.
posted by briank at 3:22 PM on January 13, 2011


It's really difficult to eat any fish with a clear conscience anymore. Even the farmed stuff seems to garner criticism from some party or another. I look forward to having aquaculture mature as an industry, so I can enjoy tasty tasty fish & chips again.
posted by hippybear at 3:42 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Good stuff, but a less cryptic post would be better IMHO.
posted by Daddy-O at 3:55 PM on January 13, 2011


Even the farmed stuff seems to garner criticism from some party or another.

My biggest concern with farmed fish is amount of sea life it takes to grow farmed ones. Compared to wild fish, they take more.

From a recent article in Scientific American (Nov 2010): "To grow one pound of farmed salmon requires roughly three pounds of wild caught fish. "It takes wild fish to grow farmed fish. That's the key rub," Abbott says. In short, these farms use up much more fish flesh than they produce and therefore cannot replace capture fisheries."

That's just an excerpt, but this has been reported on more than a couple times in the last decade in SciAm. What the answer is, I don't know, but for the last 15 years I've been eating wild fish with the idea that it is better for overall fish populations.
posted by l2p at 4:17 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Should those pescetarians who moved to that diet for ethical reasons but couldn't handle full vegetarianism go back to eating red meat now, eschewing the fish?
posted by el io at 4:20 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Menhaden are not used for people food, they are used to make fish oil for the consumer market. However, menhaden ARE the bottom of the food chain for most Atlantic fish; just about every other fish eats the menhaden, and the fear is that overfishing them would seriously endanger all the fish in the Atlantic Ocean.

Omega Protein has come under a lot of fire for their reckless fishing practices, hence the widespread ban and hence their effort to buff up their image with these sorts of eco-friendly PR exploits.
posted by briank at 4:41 PM on January 13, 2011


I eat lots of fish, I love fresh fish. I only eat healthy, fresh, local fish. How do I do this? I catch them my self my climbing in the water and hunting individual species with a speargun. No bi catch, no unsustainable fishing and no gear left behind after I get out.

These people, are unsustainable, not fresh, assholes. Anyone who advertises using purse seines in photos of there site is an asshole.
posted by Felex at 4:41 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My biggest concern with farmed fish is amount of sea life it takes to grow farmed ones. Compared to wild fish, they take more.

This is simply not true. Wild salmon can eat 10 to 20 lbs of small fish and crustaceans to put on 1 pound of weight. This is because they are eating low-nutrient skin, shell and bone along with the nutrient rich muscle and liver tissues. It takes a greater mass of nutrient-poor food to add body weight.

Farmed salmon feeds include large amounts of added plant and fish oils along with the ground up small fish and crustaceans. These added oils greatly increase the efficiency of the feed. Combine that with 30 year old breeding programs to select for fish that add greatest muscle mass in the shortest time and you get farmed salmon which are capable of 3:1 and 2:1 feed to muscle mass ratios.

As for whether farmed fish can replace capture fisheries, that is sort of a red herring. The two are separate endeavors, and attempts to conflate the two are just simply misleading.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:42 PM on January 13, 2011


It's really difficult to eat any fish with a clear conscience anymore.

So eat the others instead.
posted by hal9k at 5:15 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


The two are separate endeavors, and attempts to conflate the two are just simply misleading.

Although it certainly looks like fish farming is partly a way of harvesting unsalable species that would otherwise "go to waste". The net effect is that we continue to harvest down the food chain, where it's harder to find public interest in over-exploitation. Call me cynical, but to me it just looks like more of the same.
posted by sneebler at 5:20 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


None of you even looked at the OP's main link, did you?
posted by briank at 5:22 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm so glad that Mother Jones knows what's important: GHW Bush worked for the company 45 years ago! Of course, that was before Zapata Corporation had actually started fishing for anything, let alone menhaden, but you can tell that it's an evil company right there. In fact, Mother Jones helpfully reminds us on every page that "a football tycoon took George H.W. Bush's oil company and used it to go after the fish that built America."
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:34 PM on January 13, 2011


Sorry about the obscure nature of the post, everyone. It was my first and I just wanted to sound as cool as all the long time pro's here.
posted by Redhush at 5:44 PM on January 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


really interesting post, thank you. we may not need to worry about the fish population anyway, due to total jellyfish domination. yes, truly, another "end to the sea (world) story".
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:02 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


and what's with cleaning out the sea with menhaden to feed chickens and pigs? i had no idea, and it's a totally creepy layer/angle of/to our food supply issues.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:09 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


A part of me thinks that we've hit peak evolution and that the future is a future of oceans full of nothing but jellyfish and a few of the ancient ones. . . but still, I'm doing my part to conserve water by drinking more gin and eating less fish on Fridays.
posted by isopraxis at 6:10 PM on January 13, 2011


It's really difficult to eat any fish with a clear conscience anymore.

So eat the others instead.


Getting fish to admit guilt about ANYTHING is difficult. Hell, they live in the same water they shit in.
posted by hippybear at 7:40 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The net effect is that we continue to harvest down the food chain, where it's harder to find public interest in over-exploitation.
Branch's analysis also suggests that humans may not be fishing down the food web after all. In their analysis of catch data, Branch's group found that all trophic levels—from American oysters to bigeye tuna—are being caught in ever-increasing amounts. Although the catch data don't reveal how ecosystems are faring, Branch says they hint at a more optimistic future—one in which higher-level predators aren't wiped out, even if they and all other parts of the food web are scarcer than before.
Science 19 November 2010: Key Indicator of Ocean Health May Be Flawed

I'm not an optimist by any measure. And there is no denying that there are fisheries in trouble throughout the world. That said, catchphrases and ideas like "fishing down the food web" and "jellyfish future" neglect the fact that fisheries management methods have changed quite a bit since 1992, and that many of the dire predictions have failed to be proven. The phrases seem to only serve the purpose of selling agenda based news articles and memberships to environmental organizations.

It's fish, everyone has an opinion on it and everyone is in the know. I'm not going to try to dissuade anyone that is convinced that the end of seafood is near, but thinking that the problem is not being addressed by scientists and others with an active interest is just kind of foolish.

and what's with cleaning out the sea with menhaden to feed chickens and pigs?

It's a great way to boost their intake of omega-3 fatty acids and to market them as such.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:51 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is frustrating and saddening. I work as a sustainability consultant, primarily in renewable energy but also in environmental impact reduction and social business activities. Thus, we are quite updated on the variety of research findings from different aspects of 'global health' (the health of global systems, not malaria in Africa, although that's important too).

The destruction of oceanic ecologies is a substantial threat -- perhaps one of the greatest threats -- however it's also one of the least visible threats. Climate-change related disasters (mudslides, fires, storms, changing weather patterns) are, first, very obvious and, second, directly affect people.

Destruction to oceanic ecologies are much less visible to most of the population (regardless that most of the population lives on coasts) and the effects tend to be second-order rather than direct. Skyrocketing tuna costs for example. Closed swimming areas.

If a fire, flood, or mudslide destroys part of your country, it's very easy to become emotionally invested in impact-reduction. If you have to pay more for sashimi and occasionally you cannot go swimming, it's not necessarily as obvious.

Yet in terms of impact, the chilling quote is about a literal return to a previous period in the history of ocean life. We are changing the oceans to a point where collapse will require substantial time from which to recover. In the best case, this could represent a diminishment of the quality of human life as we will have removed a significant source of food and overall biodiversity. In the worst cast, this could disrupt the food chain and leave us either forced to all eat crunchy-squishy or rely on vegetable-based diets as the caloric requirements of meat is far to high to scale in way possible to replace the loss of the high-density fish stocks.

Yet the problem. The problem is us. And actually the problem is not large business, for large business is phenomenally effective at adapting. The UK raises landfill taxes by 17% a year and within 18 months of that announcement, Tesco has largely cut it's output of waste to landfill through brilliant systems and processes. Large business is fully capable of responding to these problems quickly and thoroughly.

The problem is that those businesses operate within policy frameworks and the policy frameworks themselves are necessarily unstable. We have democracy and democracy is great however democracy is finding it difficult to deal with sustainability problems. Not surprising, because tuna can't vote. We have done well at considering ourselves. But now we literally need to consider the tuna.

They're tasty, sure, I love me some tuna. But this shit is real and and unless you like squishy-crunchy, you best get some deep love for the chicken of the sea. Sometimes deep love means not consuming that tuna.
posted by nickrussell at 11:01 PM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Should those pescetarians who moved to that
diet for ethical reasons but couldn 't handle full
vegetarianism go back to eating red meat now ,
eschewing the fish ?

It goes into fertiiliser and animal feed so nobody's safe.

Also, the post was fine, I like a bit of mystery with my blue, thanks :)
posted by londonmark at 12:04 AM on January 14, 2011


and what's with cleaning out the sea with menhaden to feed chickens and pigs?

Just don't feed those fish-pellets to turkeys. My brother owns a fish-farm, in rural Pennsylvania. He also raises one or two other farm animals per year, for entertainment, and because the occasional wanderings onto the road in front of his house discourages the locals from roaring past at high speed.

One year he raised a prize turkey, that got absolutely huge. It was so spectacular that a distant neighbor pre-bought it for hundreds of dollars for Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving the purchaser returned, barging into the house brandishing a hand gun (did I mention this is rural Pennsylvania?) He demanded a refund, plus the cost of a new turkey.

Seems that the turkey had gotten into the fish feed and had a noticeable and unexpected odor and taste, when it was served to the assembled friends and family. Further research indicated that you can feed them fish pellets, as long as discontinue two or three weeks prior to harvesting.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:05 AM on January 14, 2011


The loss of a huge link in the food chain is bad enough, but the thing that bothered me was the loss of a huge natural water filter. Possibly causing red tide and other algae blooms. Growing up with the beaches clogged with dead fish on occasion, and living near Mote Marine Laboratory (known for research into red tide, among other things) the menhaden slaughter was a reason I hadn't heard of till recently
posted by Redhush at 4:06 AM on January 14, 2011


Although the catch data don't reveal how ecosystems are faring, Branch says they hint at a more optimistic future—one in which higher-level predators aren't wiped out, even if they and all other parts of the food web are scarcer than before. -Science 19 November 2010: Key Indicator of Ocean Health May Be Flawed

Well there are two issues this Branch's statement. First many higher-level predators are effectively wiped out already (i.e. the 90% decline in shark populations over the last hundred years or the huge change Gulf trophy fish size since the advent of photography), so fewer and fewer of these is not good. Second, that argument is awful! We shouldn't worry because the ecosystems might be fine and besides, we haven't killed everything. Gah. Watching how the fisheries have progressed in Newfoundland since the cod crash, I have little hope. They were definitely fishing down the food chain.

Anyway, I'll read the article now because I enjoy feeling depressed about our future. Is anyone else finding Science turning into a tabloid? Like I'm hoping that I don't see a major flaw in this paper because Science rushed to publish this 'cool story' without sufficient peer review.
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2011


kuujjuarapik - thanks for that. I am slowly trying to educate myself about this issue. It seems like there's considerable controversy in this area, and also a knock-down, drag-out fight between two of the senior scientists involved - Ray Hilborn and Daniel Pauly.

One of the things that bothers me is that when I went to find more comment on the Science article, the scholarly articles were buried under this kind of self-congratulatory piece about how Things Are Looking Up (yes, consider the source) and endless republishing of Hilborn's "Apocalypse Forestalled: Why All the World’s Fisheries Aren’t Collapsing" article.

The way this argument is playing out seems very much like a version of climate change denial media manipulation: throwing out carefully worded papers that present a positive outlook - if not a fait accompli - and will be trumpeted far and wide by the vast economic constituency who depend on the status quo, while ignoring the many grey areas involved.

But like I said, I have a lot to learn...
posted by sneebler at 12:35 PM on January 14, 2011


The Science article above is a comment on the article in Nature. Branch et al. 2010. The trophic fingerprint of marine fisheries. Nature 468: 431–435.

This blog seems to suggest what Branch et al found means we're actually having a worse impact on the marine ecosystems than we thought.
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:02 PM on January 14, 2011


The way this argument is playing out seems very much like a version of climate change denial media manipulation...

I've often thought the same thing, and it is exactly this reason that I avoid discussions about fisheries on Metafilter. Every time one of these stories pops up on the front page there is a slew of half-remembered facts from some previous dire tale, and people tend to dig in their heels with ideas that may just be a little dated when the fact remains that the total collapses of various fish stocks as predicted since the early 90s have not happened. It's been close in some cases, some stocks have collapsed commercially, but so far the predicted extinctions have been avoided.

The main reason that the collapses have been avoided is the honest efforts that have been made in adjusting the aim of fisheries policies from economic maximization to more sustainable goals, at least in the first world. Individual transferable quotas (ITQs) and marine sanctuary areas (MSAs) are recent developments in fisheries that have been able to change many previous population predictions.

Fish populations, particularly in marine ecosystems, are often very difficult to assess. Fish are a renewable resource, they don't just go unidirectionally downward, they are dynamic and often react against expectations. For instance: there is evidence that there are density-dependent effects where fishing pressure that decreases populations in turn increases larval fish survivability. This could partially explain some of the effects that have been seen in the George's Bank haddock fishery, where there were predictions of collapse in 2000-01 followed by near-record catches in 2003-04. It is these little weirdnesses in stock recruitment that makes long term predictions problematic. And I would say that it is still too early too assess the impacts that the MSAs will have on the shape of future fish stocks.

As far as media manipulation on a climate-change denier level, I can tell you that the economic interest groups that have formed in the interests of the fishing industry are far more regional, small-scale and individual fishery oriented to have the kind of political clout that the oil and gas extraction industries have. And I would say that commercial fishing interest groups are dwarfed by voices such as Sierra, Pew, Oceana, Greenpeace and even the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. You won't be seeing the quantity or kind of successful media manipulations and pro-biz science in the realm of fisheries. That said, the alarmist tone that is constantly reported in the media does no service to the truth, but I'm it sure helps to line someone's coffers. I would no sooner trust Mother Jones' reporting on these issues as I would trust the Wall St Journal for news about social spending.

Again, this is not to say that there aren't serious problems (bluefin tuna for certain). You don't get to a global population of some 9 billion without leaving some dents and scars. The natural world will never in our lifetime look as it did before the Industrial Revolution. It has taken a few generations to create the problems of today and it will take generations to get out of it. People are working on it.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:09 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for taking the time to write that down - it's very helpful, and possibly encouraging.
posted by sneebler at 7:29 PM on January 16, 2011


Pauly's rebuttal of the Hilborn article is up. One of the first things that I noticed is that he does not address the fact that fishing methods for large pelagic fish have changed dramatically from the 50s to the present. He notes a decrease in size of fish, but some of these size differences could be due to the old (50s to mid 70s) practice of "sticking" fish with harpoons from the bow of the fishing vessel which was visually selecting for large size, and the new practice (mid 70s to present) of longlining which is indiscriminate regarding size. Also, to my mind anyway, it seems a little odd to declare that as a fish of a certain species gets smaller, it necessarily decreases in trophic level. I'm not sure that is a rock solid phenomenon.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:51 PM on January 18, 2011


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