Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The News is Fishy, but not Fishy Enough -- The Real Stories

The news about debt ceilings? Or how the NYT and mainstream press called the shootings in Norway a Muslim jihad when indeed it was a right wing Christian psycho who met with one of the USA's brightest tea baggers? Housing market down? New Pew study on how blacks are 20 times behind whites in household "wealth," and Hispanics 18 times behind? The alleged rapist who once thought he'd run against the standing French president now breathing a sigh of relief because prosecutors just can't go after a millionaire who is accused by an immigrant?

news . . . news . . .news . . . . But, there are important stories on the state of the globe, in this case, oceans.

So, new books, new movies, Ted Danson, TV-comic-turned-ocean activist, and the same story repeated over and over -- if the world's fisheries collapse, then we collapse:

Sylvia Earle is ‘National Geographic’ explorer in residence, the author of
The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Oceans Are One’, and the former chief scientist for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Here's a recent take on oceans from her.

Since the middle of the 20th century, more has been learned about the ocean than during all preceding human history; at the same time, more has been lost. Some 90 per cent of many fish, large and small, have been extracted. Some face extinction owing to the ocean’s most voracious predator – us.

We are now appearing to wage war on life in the sea with sonars, spotter aircraft, advanced communications, factory trawlers, thousands of miles of long lines, and global marketing of creatures no one had heard of until recent years. Nothing has prepared sharks, squid, krill and other sea creatures for industrial-scale extraction that destroys entire ecosystems while targeting a few species.

The concept of “peak oil” has penetrated the hearts and minds of people concerned about energy for the future. “Peak fish” occurred around the end of the 1980s. As near-shore areas have been depleted of easy catches, fishing operations have gone deeper, further offshore, using increasingly sophisticated – and environmentally costly – methods of capture.

The concern is not loss of fish for people to eat. Rather, the greatest concern about destructive fishing activities of the past century, especially the past several decades, is the dismemberment of the fine-tuned ocean ecosystems that are, in effect, our life-support system.

Photosynthetic organisms in the sea yield most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, take up and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide, shape planetary chemistry, and hold the planet steady.

The ocean is a living system that makes our lives possible. Even if you never see the ocean, your life depends on its existence.

With every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, you are connected to the sea.

I support this report and its calls to stop exploitative fishing – especially in the high seas – map and reduce pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But I would add three other actions.

First, only 5 per cent of the ocean has been seen, let alone mapped or explored. We know how to exploit the sea. Should we not first go see what is there?

Second, it is critically important to protect large areas of the ocean that remain in good condition – and guard them as if our lives depend on them, because they do. Large marine-protected areas would provide an insurance policy – and data bank – against the large-scale changes now under way, and provide hope for a world that will continue to be hospitable for humankind.

Third, take this report seriously. It should lift people from complacency to positive action – itself cause for hope.



Oceans on brink of catastrophe

Marine life facing mass extinction 'within one human generation'

State of seas 'much worse than we thought', says global panel of scientists

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor, Independent of UK

The panel of 27 scientists, who considered the latest research from all areas of marine science, concluded that a "combination of stressors is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth's history". They also concluded:

* The speed and rate of degeneration of the oceans is far faster than anyone has predicted;

* Many of the negative impacts identified are greater than the worst predictions;

* The first steps to globally significant extinction may have already begun.

"The findings are shocking," said Dr Alex Rogers, professor of conservation biology at Oxford University and IPSO's scientific director. "As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised.

"This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, in the lifetime of our children and generations beyond that." Reviewing recent research, the panel of experts "found firm evidence" that the effects of climate change, coupled with other human-induced impacts such as overfishing and nutrient run-off from farming, have already caused a dramatic decline in ocean health.

Not only are there severe declines in many fish species, to the point of commercial extinction in some cases, and an "unparalleled" rate of regional extinction of some habitat types, such as mangrove and seagrass meadows, but some whole marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, may be gone within a generation.

The report says: "Increasing hypoxia [low oxygen levels] and anoxia

stressors. The scientific panel concluded that a new extinction event was inevitable if the current trajectory of damage continues."

The panel pointed to a number of indicators showing how serious the situation is. It said, for example, that a single mass coral bleaching event in 1998 killed 16 per cent of all the world's coral reefs, and pointed out that overfishing has reduced some commercial fish stocks and populations of "bycatch" (unintentionally caught) species by more than 90 per cent.


One of my favorite documentaries, which I have been showing to community college and university classes since 2002:

"The next century will witness heretofore unthinkable exhaustion of the ocean’s natural ability to satisfy humanity’s demand for food from the seas."

-- Dr. Carl Safina

Two 60-minute documentaries examine the declining state of the world’s ocean fisheries as we enter the 21st century and the pioneering efforts of fishermen, scientists and communities to sustain and restore them.

Many marine scientists agree that the conduct of the global fishing fleet is now the number one human activity threatening the health of our oceans. Throughout the ages, the world has enjoyed a vast and unlimited ocean, yielding abundant seafood. But increasing demand, new technologies, and burgeoning coastal populations are straining the limits of the ocean’s ability to sustain healthy fish populations. Narrated by Peter Coyote, Empty Oceans, Empty Nets is a powerful documentary on the rapidly declining fish harvests of the world. These harvests are important not only for the more than 200 million people worldwide who hold fishing-related jobs, but for many of the world’s populations, including over a billion people in Asia, who depend on seafood as their main source of protein. Unlike any other documentary yet produced, this series examines the state of the world’s oceans through the prism of fisheries and the millions of people who depend on them.

Using vivid images of sweeping nets full of fish unloading their contents onto commercial fishing boats, Empty Oceans, Empty Nets highlights the overwhelming magnitude of the annual worldwide harvest of more than 100 million metric tons of seafood. It also explores the stark reality of the 22 million tons of fish and other sea life that are caught and discarded by fishers each year. Viewers are transported to bustling and exotic international fish markets, where tons of fresh and frozen fish are sold each day to supply an insistent global demand and consumers will learn how they can make the biggest difference of all in sustaining the world’s ocean fisheries.


2002 CINE Golden Eagle; 2003 Columbus International Film Festival - Bronze Plaque; 2003 Ekotopfilm Festival - Grand Prize Public Affairs



This movement concerning how troubling our ecosystem's speeding collapse includes writers and activists looking for ways to regulate our eating habits. It's really troubling to think Western thinkers and eaters are now trying to make a dent in a quickly dwindling ocean system through restaurant.

Here's an author who also set up a web site to inform and reform:

This website is the first attempt we know of to rate restaurants that serve fish not only for the quality of their food but also for the effect they are having on the seas and on marine life. We have come to realise in the past decade or so that fishing, or rather overfishing, is the main influence on 70 per cent of the planet's surface. As was showed in the documentary film, The End of the Line, based upon my book of the same name, 80 per cent of the world's fish stocks are fully or over-exploited and some fish species, such as the bluefin tuna or the beluga sturgeon, are now listed as critically endangered.

Therefore, we feel that what is contained in the amuse bouche that is offered you before your meal, the sashimi that you eat as a starter or the fillet that you order as your main course is essential information if you are to make choices as a concerned consumer. How are you to know whether you are unwittingly taking place in the eradication of endangered species, or the destruction of ecosystems unless you know what you are eating? Some restaurants give little or no information on what species they serve. And how will your food taste if you know that you are eating the last of a species? Less good, I would hazard, than if you knew there was nothing to feel guilty about at all. With the knowledge of what is going on in our oceans, we believe the quality definition of good food has changed, and good food now means sustainable food.

So which restaurants try to serve it and work with fishermen to lower their impact on the sea? And which restaurants go on serving endangered species and make no attempt to work with their suppliers to avoid by-catch, or endangered or over-fished species? That is what we have tried to show in this guide, which is based on a questionnaire sent to restaurants. Where the restaurants did not complete it, we filled it in ourselves, based on their online menus (the marking system is linked here). We invite you to fill in a form or email us, where restaurants you know are not included or where you believe there is new information.

The success of this site will depend on your willingness to take part - the more information you can provide, the more powerful fish2fork.com will become as a force for change.

We believe that by doing so we consumers can be better informed and, in the process, use our influence to improve the management of the oceans. We also believe our food will taste better.

Charles Clover


The End of the Line (DVD)

Due to endless human appetites, huge factory ships are now depleting the number of fish in the ocean, which is also experiencing the adverse effects of global warming. The net result is that by 2050, we may no longer have a supply of edible fish from our seas.

"Overfishing is the great environmental disaster that people haven't heard about," said the documentary's producer George Duffield. This is not merely an indictment of mercenary corporate fishing, it is also exposes how consumers choose to ignore the impact of eating endangered fish. In fact, as supplies of certain fish dwindle, they become more expensive and therefore more of a delicacy.

Charles Clover, the author of the book that the documentary is based upon, said: "We must stop thinking of our oceans as a food factory and realize that they thrive as a huge and complex marine environment. We must act now to protect the sea from rampant overfishing so that there will be fish in the sea for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

“The End of the Line” reveals how important fish are to the food chain, and that in many nations, the disappearance of edible fish might lead to mass starvation. Narrated by Ted Danson, “The End of The Line (Deluxe Edition)” DVD includes many bonus features.


The report mentioned above by the Independent and Sylvia Earle is, of course, restrained. Read the quick analysis by a much more holistically thinking marine scientist:

For all of the points raised in the report, this isn’t a question of ‘conservation for conservation’s sake’, but a fundamental necessity for the continued provision of vital life support for the population, of human and other living beings, that inhabit our ‘blue planet’. The oceans may have already passed breaking point; if that’s the case, we would never know – with scientific precision – until it is too late.

The report, however, cites the need to adopt precaution when information isn’t available. This idea is not new, but we need to adopt this ‘precautionary approach’ because, while we’ve already degraded vast tracts of seabed to a plough-cleared field, we cant afford still to ask later ‘what are the likely impacts’ – for the all the pollution, overfishing and biodiversity threats raised by the report.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt is a biodiversity policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society

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