This Week on TalkingFish.org – August 5-9

Aug 9, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

August 5 - Man, Eating Shark - My plan was to kick off Shark Week by feasting on Squalus acanthias, aka Spiny Dogfish, and reporting my impressions. Spiny dogfish are one of the few fish populations in good biological condition that New England fishermen can still catch, having recovered from a crash back in the early 1990’s. Once a fish despised because of the havoc it caused with fishing gear and its voracious predation on more valuable commercial fish, many fishermen who can no longer find cod or other prime species are turning to dogfish out of financial desperation.

August 6 - Uncertain Science Isn’t to Blame for Groundfish Crisis - The real issue is not whether there is uncertainty in fisheries management science. Of course there is, and the more you get into the weeds of fishery management science the more the numerous uncertainties reveal themselves. The real issue is how managers choose to deal with the uncertainty that is inherent in fisheries management. In New England, by and large, they deal with it badly.

August 7 - Managing Fisheries in “A Climate of Change” - The Maine nonprofit Island Institute organized the two-day symposium “A Climate of Change” to bring fishermen, scientists, fishery managers, and NGOs together to share information and ideas about how climate change is already affecting fishing, and what they can do about it.

August 9 - Fish Talk in the News – Friday, August 9 - In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, a new study shows marine species moving poleward in response to climate change; the ASMFC delays a decision on elver management; NEFMC chair Rip Cunningham writes to John Bullard in response to NERO’s refusal of Amendment 5 to the herring plan; NOAA declines to list river herring under the Endangered Species Act; Obama nominates Kathryn Sullivan to lead NOAA; Maine’s lobster monoculture is vulnerable to climate change; Senator Warren calls for federal disaster aid for the groundfish industry.

Healthy Sharks – Healthy Oceans

Aug 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Shortfin Mako

I love diving with makos, but they have a very different behavior than other sharks. They come in appearing to be more agitated. They’re much more hyper and jacked up.” - Brian Skerry

Mako sharks are built to move. They are very acrobatic – sometimes leaping high into the air –and are also extremely fast. Some scientists think they are the fastest fish, possibly going over 50 mph at times. (Fun fact – makos are one of the only “warm-blooded” fish, which helps explain why they can move so fast, even in colder water.) Makos need wide open spaces and healthy places to eat and reproduce. The health of our oceans depends on healthy top predator populations, and healthy top predators depend on healthy oceans.

Our nation has taken a major step forward in protecting the health of our oceans with the National Ocean Policy – which calls better management through agency coordination, science-based decisions and robust public and stakeholder involvement.  One important priority of the National Ocean Policy is to protect ocean habitat and wildlife while supporting sustainable new and traditional uses of our ocean.

Regional ocean planning and ecosystem-based management are two other key components of the National Ocean Policy that can go a long way in protecting our top predators. Regional ocean planning is a process that brings together all our ocean stakeholders – from fishermen to whale watchers, from beachgoers to renewable energy developers – to help us figure out how to share the ocean sustainably. This process helps all New Englanders use and enjoy our ocean and coasts while making sure we protect ocean wildlife and habitats and maintain the benefits these resources provide for us all.

For an example of how regional ocean planning can protect marine wildlife, check out this blog about endangered North Atlantic right whales and shipping lanes.

Collecting and sharing good data, and using it to help make ocean management decisions, are some of the keys to succesful regional ocean planning. If you are wondering how this might apply to mako sharks, check out this app from NOAA that allows fishermen to share information about caught and released makos – to literally put that shark on the map. NOAA says “Overfishing is occurring on the North Atlantic shortfin mako shark population. By releasing shortfin mako sharks that are unintentionally caught or caught for sport, fishermen can lead the way for conserving this shark species.” Now that sounds like some good planning.

CLF Scoop’s Top 10 Blog Posts of 2011

Dec 30, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It’s been a great year for CLF — and a great year on CLF Scoop. We’ve had lots of great posts by our advocates, staff and volunteers. See below for the most read 10 blog posts published in 2011.

1. Northern Pass: The 5 million ton elephant in Massachusetts’s climate plan 
By Christophe Courchesne

“The Northern Pass transmission project is being pitched by its developers as a clean energy proposal for New Hampshire. As I’ve pointed out before, Northern Pass is aregional proposal with dubious benefits in the Granite State. Unfortunately, the developers’ hollow promises have found an audience further south, in Massachusetts.”

2. RGGI results good for our climate, economy and consumers 
By N. Jonathan Peress

“If you listen to the word on street, or read the headlines, you’ll have heard that our times are hard times. Joblessness remains stubbornly high, markets remain volatile and credit is tight. Most people agree that what we need is a program to creates jobs, generates money, and reinvests each of those in our communities to make them stable, healthier and happier.”

3. My NY Times letter to editor 
By John Kassel 

“It would be hard to find “a tougher moment over the last 40 years to be a leader in the American environmental movement” only if your sole focus is the national debate. All the rest of us — at the local, state and regional levels — have known for years what the nationals are only now realizing: we’ve got to engage people closer to where they live.”

4. Countdown to Shark Week 2012
by Robin Just

“I really do love our New England sharks. But I also love to surf. And as the water temperature at my favorite break is going down, the great whites are heading south. One less thing to worry about as I struggle with frigid water, thick head-to-toe neoprene, and my own personal resolve to surf all year long.”

5. We Can Get There From Here: Maine Energy Efficiency Ballot Initiative 
by Sean Mahoney 

“Maine has a new motto: We can get there from here… As Washington has failed to advance clean energy legislation, and Governor LePage has expressed open hostility to the state’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS), I am reminded of that famous quip from Bert and I: “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah.” For Mainers concerned about Maine’s dependence on expensive, dirty fuels, and sincere in their interest in building a sustainable economy for the years to come, this quip has become a frustrating reality – a reality we can change, with your help.”

6. Love That Dirty Water: Massachusetts Lacks Money, Needs Clean Water 
By HHarnett 

“Massachusetts lacks money and needs clean water. This bind – one in which the state found itself following a June report – has forced a discussion policies that are raising the hackles of Massachusetts residents.”

7. Would Northern Pass Swamp the Regional Market for Renewable Projects? 
By Christophe Courchesne

“With the Northern Pass project on the table, as well as other looming projects andinitiatives to increase New England’s imports of Canadian hydroelectric power, the region’s energy future is coming to a crossroads. The choice to rely on new imports will have consequences that endure for decades, so it’s critical the region use the best possible data and analysis to weigh the public costs and benefits of going down this road. To date, there have been almost no objective, professional assessments of the ramifications.”

8. CLF Negotiates Cool Solution to Get Kendall Power Plant Out of Hot Water (And To Get Hot Water Out of Kendall Power Plant)
By Peter Shelley 

“Today marks a new milestone for CLF in our efforts to clean up the lower Charles River. Concluding a five-year negotiation, involving CLF and the other key stakeholders, the EPA issued a new water quality permit for the Kendall (formerly Mirant Kendall) Power Plant, a natural gas cogeneration facility owned by GenOn Energy. The plant is located on the Cambridge side of the Longfellow Bridge.”

9. What the Keystone XL decision should mean for Northern Pass
By Christophe Courchesne 

“Last week, a major disaster for our climate and our nation’s clean energy future was averted – at least for now – when the Obama administrationannounced that it won’t consider approving the Keystone XL pipeline’s border crossing permit before it reconsiders the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts and the potential alternatives to the proposal on the table.  For all the reasons that my colleague Melissa Hoffer articulated in her post last week, the Keystone XL victory was a resounding, if limited, triumph with important lessons for environmental and climate advocates across the country as we confront, one battle at a time, the seemingly overwhelming challenge of solving the climate crisis.”

10. When it comes to river restoration, haste makes waste
by Anthony Iarrapino

“In their rush to exploit recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Irene, ideologues who perpetually fight against regulation and science and who posture as the defenders of traditional “Yankee” values are forgetting two important rock-ribbed principles.”

Meet the Pteropods

Dec 13, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Image courtesy of Arctic Exploration 2002, Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, NOAA/OER

Sharks need pteropods, and so do you! At the risk of looking at the world through shark-shaped glasses, let me explain.

Pteropods are little mollusks (related to snails, slugs and squid) that drift around in ocean currents, feeding on nutrient-rich plankton. Their rich diet makes them delicious to many fish. Seals eat many fish, and sharks eat seals and fish, so there it is: not even 6 degrees of shark separation. Sharks need pteropods, and so do you.

Pteropods are gorgeous. People get poetic when they talk about them. Pteropods with shells are sometimes called “sea butterflies” and the shell-less ones are deemed “sea angels.” But good luck seeing them. The ones around here are tiny. According to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) pteropod researcher Amy Maas, the biggest they get is about 1/10 of an inch. Visible to the naked eye, but you probably couldn’t see their little faces. Small though they may be, unimportant they are not. Just ask the sharks.

As tiny sea creatures borne by currents, pteropods are individually delicate. Unfortunately, those with shells are under threat from ocean acidification (OA). I’ll be writing more about OA in the coming months, but here are the basics.

The carbon dioxide we are cranking into the atmosphere in unprecedented quantities does not just hang around heating up the planet, it also changes the chemistry of the oceans. The gases in the ocean must be at equilibrium with the gases in the air, so when CO2 concentrations increase in  the air, some of it dissolves into the ocean to achieve that balance. This forms carbonic acid, which decreases the pH of the water, making it more acidic. Ocean Acidification.

This is not good news for these little mollusks, since the minerals they need to grow shells are less available in the acidic water. WHOI scientist Gareth Lawson and other ocean researchers are trying to figure out exactly what will happen to our “charismatic microfauna” as the ocean pH drops. I’ll keep you posted. For now, check out this site about pteropods and OA (don’t miss the song at the bottom, it’s super catchy)

Carbon pollution and ocean acidification are not just New England issues. Yet, while OA is a global problem, there are things we can do right here, right now, to help.

CLF is working hard to prevent further harm and to give our abundant ocean life a chance to thrive. We are promoting clean energy and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to help stop OA and other negative effects of climate change. We are supporting a climate friendly modernized public transportation network. And we support our National Ocean Policy which calls for immediate steps to protect critical marine habitats, ensure a sustainable future for our fishing industry and coastal communities, reduce coastal pollution and promote the responsible development of offshore renewable energy.

By the way, according to the Shark Week Countdown Clock, only 231 more days to go!

Counting Down to Shark Week 2012

Nov 11, 2011 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

I really do love our New England sharks. But I also love to surf. And as the water temperature at my favorite break is going down, the great whites are heading south. One less thing to worry about as I struggle with frigid water, thick head-to-toe neoprene, and my own personal resolve to surf all year long.

Out of sight may be good news for a surfer like me, but it’s important that we don’t let these magnificent creatures get out of mind. With Shark Week 2012 still 263 days away and counting, I am resolved to do occasional posts of shark news, facts and conservation updates to help get us through the long, sharkless months ahead.

So to kick things off, here are a few of my favorite current events, a la shark:

  • Taiwan will no longer allow shark finning, starting next year. Hopefully this type of ban will become more prevalent, and our important apex predator will be allowed to grow in size and number and help our oceans thrive. If you’re not sure you want more sharks, and bigger ones at that, consider the incredibly important role they play in our marine ecosystems. In short, they help preserve a healthy balance of species, from other large fish, on down to clams and oysters.
  • And a great local story: the Cape Cod Shark Hunters. Don’t worry, they don’t hunt to kill. They track down “The Landlord” (surfer nickname for great whites) and tag it. Then scientists from Woods Hole and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries track them to learn more about their habits, and to help us know when it isn’t safe to go in the water. I love their slogan: “Tag a shark, save a tourist!”

If you love sharks and can’t wait until my next post, check out the series I did around Shark Week 2011. More to come soon!

Shark Week Series: Risk and Fear

Aug 5, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

This is the fifth and last post in our Shark Week Series. Happy Shark Week, everyone!

Many rational people are very afraid of sharks. We can tell ourselves that the odds of attack are extremely low, especially in New England, but the primal image of the gaping maw and jagged teeth is hard to drive away with logic. As David Ropeik points out in his thought-provoking book, How Risky Is It, Really?, a risk feels bigger if you think it can happen to you, regardless of the odds. Sharks attacks are easy to imagine. However, if you look at the numbers, you should be way more worried about the drive to the beach, or lightning. The odds of death by shark each year in the U.S. are 1 in 3,748,067. You are way more likely to die from a dog attack. Here are some other things that are deadlier than a shark:

  • Car accident – you have a 1 in 84 chance of dying in a car crash each year
  • Death by sun/heat exposure – 1 in 13,729 per year
  • Death by fireworks – 1 in 340,733 per year

I do worry about sharks. Almost anyone who spends time in the ocean thinks about them. But I worry a lot more about getting sick from polluted water.

Potentially harmful bacterial pollution enters our coastal environment in partially or untreated wastewater and stormwater, in septic and cesspool waste, and from animal waste on or near beaches. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illnesses caused by recreational use of contaminated water are on the increase. For the fifth year in a row, beach closure or advisory days in 2010 topped 24,000 nationally, the majority which are due to bacterial contamination. Swimming in pathogen-contaminated water can result in respiratory infections, pink eye, stomach flu and many other health problems.

Many popular beaches have water-testing programs to help keep swimmers safe, but the testing is generally not daily, and the results are not “real time.” It’s a good idea to avoid the water during or after a storm, when bacteria levels are likely to be higher, since some of our stormwater is untreated. Worse still, many towns and cities in New England have antiquated Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) systems that are designed to release untreated sewage and stormwater into our rivers and oceans during storms. Some beaches close down as a result of storms, without even being tested, if it is known that CSOs will be flowing into the water. Fortunately, some CSOs are being upgraded and eliminated. But for now, there is still a very real risk of illness from swimming in contaminated water.

There is risk in everything we do. I’m willing to risk an encounter with one of the “Men in Gray Suits” if it means I get to keep surfing. But I’m going to be very careful about swimming in polluted water.

My point is not that we should be too afraid to enjoy our amazing beaches and ocean life. But, that we should work to protect them. Join CLF in advocating for our National Ocean Policy, in protecting the Clean Water Act, and in ensuring we leave a legacy of protecting these special places.

Shark Week Series: Mindful Eating Machines

Aug 4, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Great white sharks off the coast of Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Green Massachusetts)

Let’s be honest. When we talk about great white sharks, we are usually talking about their appetites. White sharks have been found with a number of thought-provoking objects in their stomachs, including a partial suit of armor and an engine block. But what they really like is large, fatty ocean going animals: tuna, seals and sea lions, rays, whale carcasses. These are not always easy to catch, so sharks employ a number of hunting strategies, including a sneak attack from behind (shudder) and rushing up from the depths (double shudder). So, while their feeding style can be quite lively, and more than a little intimidating, scientists believe it is usually a case of “mistaken identity” when a shark bites a human, not mindless, malicious predation. White sharks are visual predators, and sometimes we humans do a fairly good seal impersonation. Often, once the shark realizes there has been a misunderstanding, it will move on to something tastier. Don’t get me wrong; I am not recommending anyone take their chances in the water with these big fish. If there is a shark sighting at your favorite beach, please stay out until you hear it’s safe again. I know they’re out there, but it gives me a bit of comfort to think that if they REALLY wanted to eat us then we’d know about it by now.

Shark survival, and hopefully I’ve convinced you by now that this is a good thing, is dependent on a robust, thriving food chain. Overfishing, coastal pollution (especially nutrient pollution), and the byproducts of power generation are severely impairing our near shore and blue water ecosystems. Coastal areas function as nurseries for ocean going fish, birds, and other marine life. So a small area of degradation can have a big effect out to sea. Protecting sensitive coastal ecosystems is protecting the bottom of the food chain. The things at the bottom feeds the things we like to eat (shellfish, cod, striped bass), the things we like to see (seals, whales), and things we maybe don’t want around, but are good anyway (sharks). CLF is working to protect these important ecosystems. From supporting our National Ocean Policy, to fighting dirty emissions that create unhealthy acidic water, to promoting healthy estuaries, CLF is on the forefront of efforts to protect our oceans and keep their waters clean and productive for generations to come.

Shark Week Series: What Makes Sharks So Special?

Aug 3, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A shortfin mako shark, one of the very few warm-blooded fish. (Photo credit: Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries Service)

Great whites, makos, porbeagles, and salmon sharks are among the very few warm-blooded fish. I’m not going to hug them, though, since it makes them more efficient predators. Their ability to thermoregulate makes them more tolerant of cool water and allows their muscles to respond more quickly than their cold-blooded relatives. This is just one of traits that make sharks such a diverse and interesting group of animals. Here are some others:

  • Most sharks don’t have tongues, but they have taste buds lining their mouths and throats
  • Some sharks give birth to live young, but some lay eggs
  • Sharks live in saltwater, but some species are able to spend a significant amount of time in freshwater, and have been found as far inland as Illinois (Illinois!), in the Mississippi River
  • While they do develop cancer (there is a myth that they do not), it is at a much lower rate than other kinds of fish
  • Among the varieties of sharks found in New England waters are basking sharks, spiny dogfish, shortfin makos, blacktip sharks, porbeagle sharks, thresher sharks, sandbar sharks, smooth dogfish, and, of course white sharks

This may seem like a lot of sharks to be swimming around with, but most of them are found much farther offshore than us. A rich diversity of species is a great thing. In ecological terms, diversity can be a sign of the robustness of an ecosystem. If one population is struck down by disease or predation then another can fill the role of top predator. Considering the complexities of species diversity and interactions among them is important when managing the multiple uses of our ocean. This is another great example of why Ecosystem Based Management, one of the core strategies in our National Ocean Policy, is the right tool for the job. Click here to write your Governor today to urge them to support this policy, and healthy oceans for all.

In Honor of Shark Week: Why I Love Sharks

Aug 1, 2011 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

(Photo credit: NOAA Photo Library)

It’s more of an obsession, really. I spend a lot of time in the water: surfing, boogie boarding with my kids, or just cooling off. I think about sharks every time I get in the ocean. If I haven’t had a good long think about them before I get in, then I ponder their existence as soon as I’ve made it out past the break and I’m dangling my feet off the sides of my seal shaped surfboard. If you meet a surfer who says they don’t think about sharks, they are lying.

So, why the love? Well, I love the ocean. I love a balanced ecosystem. I love eating fish and shellfish. Sharks are one of our more exciting apex predators. An apex predator is the one at the top of the food chain that keeps the populations in check all the way down the line. Recent studies on shark populations have found that a drop in shark numbers leads to plummeting shellfish populations. Sharks eat other predatory fish, as well as rays and other animals that feed on shellfish. Once the sharks are gone, the clams, scallops and oyster populations are preyed on heavily by animals that would normally not be so abundant.  Unfortunately, sharks are declining precipitously around the world. Sharks are taken intentionally for “finning” (the removal of fins for shark fin soup), and unintentionally as bycatch during the fishing of other species. Marine scientists aren’t exactly sure how things would play out if sharks were gone, but none of the scenarios are good.

In “A Sand County Almanac,” Aldo Leopold wrote about one of the apex predators of the west. In his days with the Forest Service there was a mass kill policy for wolves. As a result, deer populations exploded. This led to major overgrazing of mountain vegetation. Erosion and river-choking sedimentation are a couple of the problems associated with overgrazing. Leopold wrote: “I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.” This was a formative part of his land ethic. Simply put “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

The release last year of our National Ocean Policy (NOP) was a big step in promoting a saltwater version of this ethic. CLF’s Priscilla Brooks had this to say about the newly created NOP: “For the first time in this country’s history, we will have a national policy that aligns the great promise of our oceans with the great responsibility for managing them in a coordinated, thoughtful and sustainable fashion. New England has led the charge to balance the ever-increasing interest in our state waters … with the need to protect wildlife and critical habitat areas so that our region’s oceans will continue to be productive for generations to come. From Massachusetts to Rhode Island to Maine, we are developing ocean management plans that will serve as guides for better protection and management in federal waters across the nation.”

Ecosystem-based management is at the heart of the NOP. Healthy shark populations are just one facet of a balanced ecosystem. Seal populations have been recovering after near decimation from hunting (and a thriving shark population will keep the seals in check). Some commercial fish populations are now recovering from decades of overfishing. Shellfish, seals, sharks, commercial fish – all are linked. We can’t “manage” one without the effects cascading through the others. Ecosystem-based ocean management plans will consider these connections.

So, even as I picture just what it would look like if a great white shark came rushing from the depths for a neoprene-wrapped snack (me), I still love sharks.  I try to be sensible. I avoid the water at dawn and dusk (unless the waves are really good). I stay in shallow water. I get out of the areas where seabirds are working – evidence of major food chain activity. And I’ll take a shark sighting as seriously as anyone. But, since sharks are essential for thriving, productive oceans, they are good to have around. Even if I don’t want them around me.