How to Shop for Fish Without Ruining the Planet…

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“Without question, fish is the most nutritious animal we can eat, and by far the most varied in flavor and texture. But once you know that humankind has decimated the wild population, you don’t have to be a Greenpeace raft captain to feel conflicted about consuming it. Do we really want to be the generation so obsessed with gastronomic pleasure that we exterminate the Pacific? We can do better—not only for the future of our oceans but for the future of our appetites. There really are plenty of other fish in the sea: sustainable fish, regret-free fish, delicious and abundant fish that in some cases are such invasive species, it’s actually virtuous to murder them. With just a few modest substitutions, you can do your part for the planet while still eating like a king.

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How Antiobiotic-Tainted Seafood Ends Up on Your Table: You May Want to Pass on the Shrimp Cocktail…

20150727-shrimp-cocktail-daniel-gritzer-8By Jason Gale, Lydia Mulvany, and Monte Reel, Bloomberg Businessweek


From the air, the Pearl River Delta in southern China’s Guangdong province resembles a mass of human cells under a microscope. Hundreds of thousands of tiny rectangular blocks, all of them shades of green, are clustered between cities and waterways. Livestock pens are scattered among the thousands of seafood farms that form the heart of the country’s aquaculture industry, the largest in the world.

“People eating their shrimp cocktails and paella may be getting more than they bargained for,” says Dr. Martin Blaser, a professor of microbiology and an infectious diseases physician at New York University Langone Medical Center who chairs President Barack Obama’s advisory panel for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. “The penetration of antibiotics through the food chain is a big problem.”

Research has found that as much as 90 percent of the antibiotics administered to pigs pass undegraded through their urine and feces. This has a direct impact on farmed seafood. The waste from the pigpens at the Jiangmen farm flowing into the ponds, for example, exposes the fish to almost the same doses of medicine the livestock get—and that’s in addition to the antibiotics added to the water to prevent and treat aquatic disease outbreaks. The fish pond drains into a canal connected to the West River, which eventually empties into the Pearl River estuary, on which sit Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Macau. The estuary receives 193 metric tons (213 tons) of antibiotics a year, Chinese scientists estimated in 2013.

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A guide to avoiding misinformation…


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Dr. Ray Hilborn has made a career refuting the scientific consensus that points to declining fisheries worldwide. Now, documents recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that Dr. Hilborn has received more than $3 million from commercial fishing and seafood interests. Photo via Wikimedia Commons. Source

Below is a media article published by well-known fisheries scientist from the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, Ray Hilborn. Dr. Hilborn has published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles in esteemed journals such as Science, however, in his recent contribution to Fox News, he targets specific audiences to provide misinformation, spinning the issue of ocean conservation in a web of confusion. In order to make changes to policy, the general public must be aware of the facts and misinformation is a simple way to skew the facts. As scientists, the public’s trust is also a vital part of progress.

 

Sometimes not taking the bait is difficult when it comes to misinformation; many times psychological techniques are used to ‘frame’ audience acceptance. Using the article below, I will point out common techniques of misinformation and audience psychology to help aid readers in making informed consumer decisions.

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Seafood fraud: traceability of what you eat…

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Seafood fraud has been defined as a purposeful misleading of consumers in order to increase profits, and it happens more often than you might think. Roughly one in three seafood samples were found to be mislabeled, worldwide. As consumers we are routinely given little-to-no information on exactly where or how our seafood came to us.

Many restaurants have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on the source of their fish; beyond the marketplace, they may not even be aware of the complex web that fish catches enter after being harvested. Continue reading

Is ‘Shark Week’ Good or Bad for Sharks?

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“The Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’ is one of the most highly anticipated summer television events each year. Since its inception in 1988, it has grown in popularity to become one of the most widely viewed summer television events around the world. Although Shark Week initially focused on shark conservation and education, the last decade saw a shift to entertainment-focused programming rather than focusing on education. Over the years, Shark Week programming has begun to show more and more footage of violent shark attacks (or dramatized recreations of violent shark attacks). Many scientists and conservationists believe that this media hype around shark attacks (which, in reality, are incredibly rare) fuels the general public’s fear of sharks. Furthermore, this unjustified fear of sharks may be a major barrier preventing their effective conservation, despite the fact that global shark populations are declining and 25% of all shark species are either threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.

What We Know About Shark Week’s Impact on the Public’s View on Sharks

Many factors contribute to the beliefs that a person holds on any one subject, including personal experiences, age, education level, culture, politics, where their information was derived from, and so on. Furthermore, many of these factors interact with one another, creating a very complex collection of variables that result in a person’s beliefs. This makes studying what factors may influence a person’s attitudes towards shark conservation inherently difficult. However, these two studies are a valuable first step in identifying what factors may contribute the most to our views about sharks.

For instance, in both studies, demographic data like age, gender, and education level had little to no relation to knowledge or opinions on sharks. The Myrick and Evans study found that watching videos of violent shark attacks cause a person to over-estimate their risk of being a victim of a shark attack, compared to those who do not watch videos of violent shark attacks. This finding agrees with many studies that have found that people who watch crime dramas on television over-estimate their risk of being a victim of a crime. They also found that dramatized recreations of shark attacks had the same effect as real footage and that celebrity endorsed PSAs and non-celebrity endorsed PSAs did not counteract this effect. This study demonstrates that a short clip promoting the value of shark conservation is not sufficient to overpower our strong fear response to watching shark attack footage. This information highlights the potential for dramatized Shark Week footage to skew the public’s view of sharks in a negative manner.

O’Bryhim and Parsons, on the other hand, found that increased knowledge about sharks is correlated with increased action towards shark conservation. Most interestingly, respondents who previously viewed shark week were more likely (31.2%) to believe that shark conservation was urgent than non-shark week viewers (19.6%). Additionally, people who scored well on their shark knowledge were more likely to have watched Shark Week in recent years. These findings demonstrate the potential for quality educational programming about sharks to increase awareness and action for shark conservation.”

-By Derrick Alcott, Oceanbites

Source

Publications:

Myrick, JG and Evans, SD. 2014. Do PSAs take a bite out of shark week?:The effects of juxtaposing environmental messages with violent images of shark attacks. Science Communication, 36(5): 544-569.

O’Bryhim, JR and Parsons, ECM. 2015. Increased knowledge about sharks increases public concern about their conservation. Marine Policy, 56: 43-47.

Palau vs. the Poachers…

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“Few places on the planet are as isolated as Palau, or as sprawling. Its 21,000 residents are scattered across a handful of its 250 islands, which take up just 177 square miles combined. Relatively poor, and with no military of its own, Palau employs a marine police division with just 18 members and one patrol ship. Yet it has authority over roughly 230,000 square miles of ocean. Under international law, a country’s ‘exclusive economic zone,’ the waters where it maintains fishing and mineral rights, extends 200 nautical miles from its coasts. That means that a country roughly the size of Philadelphia is responsible for patrolling a swath of ocean about the size of France, in a region teeming with supertrawlers, state-subsidized poacher fleets, mile-long drift nets and the floating fish attracters known as FADs.

In the face of this challenge, Palau has mounted an aggressive response. In 2006, it was among the first nations to ban bottom trawling — a practice not unlike strip mining in which fishing boats drag large weighted nets across the ocean floor to catch the fish in the waters just above, killing virtually everything else in their path. In 2009, it prohibited commercial shark fishing in its waters, creating the world’s first shark sanctuary. In 2015, it announced plans to require observers aboard all its tuna longliners. (Elsewhere in the region, observers are aboard just one in 50 tuna longliners.) Palau has also teamed up with Greenpeace, which helped patrol its territorial waters, and it started a campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, raising more than $50,000 to support its conservation work. Palau’s most radical move, though, was creating a ‘no take’ reserve in 2015. Within this zone, which encompasses 193,000 square miles, all export fishing (along with any drilling or mining) will be strictly prohibited.”

-By Ian Urbina, The New York Times

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The shrinking bayous…

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“In the past century shrimp has gone from a sidebar curiosity sold mostly in ethnic markets to the very soul of our seafood economy. So thoroughly do shrimp dominate American seafood today that it is almost a menu category in and of itself–a type of seafood that people who generally don’t like fish all that much will eat with relish. A decade ago shrimp surpassed canned tuna as the most popular seafood in the United States and now the average American eats more than four pounds of it a year–roughly the equivalent to the U.S. per capita consumption of the next two most popular seafoods–tuna and salmon–combined. If they didn’t eat shrimp, most Americans today wouldn’t eat seafood at all…

The erosion of the Louisiana marshes is being further accelerated by another incursion: the powerful agribusiness of the Mississippi valley. The Mississippi River that feeds into Louisiana is one of the most engineered rivers on the planet. The reason it was engineered to such an extent was so that landfood producers could gain access to the tremendous fertility the river deposited in its meandering floodplain…

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Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Army Corps of Engineers systematically lopped off what had been called the Greenville Bends and a dozen other large meanders, shortening the river by 150 miles. Floods were indeed reduced, but afterward the lower Mississippi transitioned from being a complex marshy wetland into a fire hose that blasted sediment straight into the Gulf. With the Mississippi River radically altered, straightened, and no longer able to deposit new marshland in the delta, shrimp habitat loss was made even more extreme. In addition, nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers coming from the corn-growing heartland surrounding the Mississippi were also shooting out into the Gulf. Formerly, when the river was more curvaceous and the floodplain was a hundred miles wider than it currently is, fertilizers and silt were able to drop out of the river and spread out over the entirety of the Mississippi valley. The floodplain performed a kind of dialysis for cleansing the water of nutrients. Today all that fertilizer goes directly into the Gulf, causing extensive algal blooms. And when those algae die, they are consumed by bacteria, which in turn suck life-giving oxygen from the water.

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This problem is further exacerbated by big agriculture’s devastation of what had previously been one of the world’s largest tracts of ecosystem called ‘bottomland forest’–another critical biological filter…

Thanks to the removal of all of those critical biological filters and the addition of so much chemical fertilizer, the outflow of the Mississippi is now markedly more nutrient rich. So much so that massive algal blooms occur every spring and summer around the river’s outflow. When those algae die and decompose, oxygen is removed from Gulf waters. And now, every year, a swath of water as large as the state of New Jersey forms in the Gulf that is so low in oxygen that creatures like shrimp must flee to other waters. This so-called dead zone has been forming annually in summer months at least since the 1970s. Shrimpers are now driven farther and farther offshore in search of a decent catch. In effect, we are trading seafood for landfood, favoring industrial agriculture over a productive natural food system…

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‘When the coastline deteriorates, it gets jagged and creates more edge–more shrimp habitat. So as the marsh retreats you get a false sense of boom in production. The problem is we don’t know when it’s all going to crash. Is it going to be next year? Ten years? A hundred years? We don’t know.’ But when the Gulf shrimp population does finally begin to seriously decline, we are not likely to notice. Because the foreign shrimp-farming industry grew exponentially during the last thirty years, it has all but eclipsed the presence and identity of American shrimp in the marketplace…

We’ve been steady in our shrimp for the last few years. But we all wonder where that tipping point is. At what point do we see this thing go in a different direction?”

American Catch

Amid Controversy, Japanese Whaling Ships Return to Antarctic Ocean…


“Japan sent two whaling ships back to Antarctica’s Southern Ocean today (Dec. 1) after a one-year hiatus, resuming seasonal whale hunts that have come under increasing scrutiny and censure from the international community.

Under a revised whaling plan, Japan proposes to kill 333 minke whales this year for research purposes — significantly fewer than past years’ annual kill limit of 935 whales. Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), which oversees the country’s whaling program, stated on its website that researchers will study the whales’ fish consumption and measure their competition with fisheries, creating ecosystem models for managing marine resources. ‘The purpose of Japan’s research is science — science that will ensure that when commercial whaling is resumed, it will be sustainable,’ ICR claimed on its website.

However, statements from environmental officials in Australia and the United States express skepticism that killing any whales is necessary for data collection.”

-by Mindy Weisberger, LiveScience

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The devil’s bargain…

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“‘If you eat the food in China, that will kill you. But if you do not eat the food in China, that will kill you even faster…’

Americans now harvest our best, most nutritious fish in our best-managed Alaskan fisheries and send those fish over to Asia. In exchange, we are importing fish farmed in Asia, with little of the brain-building compounds fish eaters are seeking when they eat fish. This fish can be difficult to trace back to its farm of origin, and less than 2 percent of it is inspected directly by the FDA. In the case of shrimp, that food is higher in cholesterol than most seafood; in the case of tilapia, instead of heart-healthy omega-3s, it is rich in omega-6s, which are not as beneficial and may in fact be harmful when consumed in large amounts. Many physicians argue that high omega-6 fatty acid content–more typical of landfood like beef and pork–is detrimental to human health and can aggravate heart conditions when poorly balanced with omega-3s. But because American consumers don’t really know their own fish, they tend to lump it all together under that word ‘seafood’ and presume that it is all basically ‘good.’

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And so a frustrating disconnect has emerged on both the foreign and domestic sides of American fisheries resources. Foreign buyers would like the salmon they buy from Alaska to continue to be wild, clean, and readily available. But foreigners have no jurisdiction over projects like Pebble Mine and the industrial development that could eradicate the food that they most want. Americans, meanwhile, who eat seafood raised on Chinese farms would like that Chinese seafood to be grown without the use of carcinogenic chemicals and raised in clean, safe water. But we have no control over the Chinese food system. We can demand standards of our importers and certification of the supply chain, but the rules and regulations that govern Asian aquaculture are local and hard to assess…

According to a recent New York Times op-ed by the scholars Damien Ma and William Adams, more than half of China’s largest lakes and reservoirs were so contaminated in 2011 that their waters were unsuitable for human consumption. This according to the Chinese government’s very own standards. 

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All this makes you want to stamp your feet and scream out loud, to shout at Alaska to just stop. Stop sending your fish abroad. Stop your plans to ruin your rivers. Focus on what you do best. Feed America your good food.”

American Catch

Don’t fear the Frankenfish…

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“On Thursday, for the first time, the Food and Drug Administration approved a genetically engineered animal for human consumption. It’s a salmon that grows much faster than other salmon, thanks to an inserted gene.

Some environmentalists are assailing the decision. They call the salmon ‘Frankenfish.’ Their objections sound a lot like previous allegations against genetically engineered crops. The allegations against GE crops didn’t stand up, as a Slate investigation showed, and it doesn’t look as though the arguments against GE salmon will stand up, either. Let’s examine them.

One complaint against the salmon is that it endangers consumers’ ‘personal health,’ that it ‘could cause human allergies,’ and that it’s been approved based on ‘insufficient safety testing.’ In the case of GE plants, these scary what-if arguments are unfalsifiable, based on speculation about chemical properties and ever-expanding demands for longer study periods and bigger samples. The GE salmon was initially submitted for FDA approval 20 years ago. The agency declared it safe in 2010 and then spent another five years reviewing objections. Thursday’s statement says the FDA has concluded that the salmon is ‘safe to eat’ and is ‘as nutritious as food from other non-GE Atlantic salmon.’ It also says the genetic change is ‘safe for the fish itself.'”

-By William Saletan, Science

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