Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Overfishing Threatens Critical Link in the Food Chain - Earth Policy Institute

The fish near the bottom of the aquatic food chain are often overlooked, but they are vital to healthy oceans and estuaries. Collectively known as forage fish, these species—including sardines, anchovies, herrings, and shrimp-like crustaceans called krill—feed on plankton and become food themselves for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.


Historically, people have eaten many of these fish, too, of course. But as demand for animal protein has soared over the last half-century, more and more forage fish have been caught to feed livestock and farmed fish instead of being eaten by people directly. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that current fishing levels are dangerously high—both for the forage fish themselves and for the predators and industries that depend on them.

Found from the tropics to the poles, forage fish typically travel in dense schools of thousands or even millions of fish. While this is effective for guarding against ocean predators, it makes them easy prey for modern fishing fleets equipped with purse seine nets that can cinch up an entire school at once. What’s more, forage fish stocks are highly sensitive to environmental change and prone to population crashes, so fishing levels considered safe in good years can be disastrous in bad ones.

Many of the world’s largest fisheries focus on forage species, including Peruvian anchovy, Atlantic herring, and chub mackerel. Together, forage fish typically account for more than 30 percent of the 80 million tons of fish caught annually in the world’s oceans and estuaries. Roughly 9 of every 10 tons of forage fish hauled in are destined for the “reduction” factory, where they are cooked and pressed to extract the oil; what remains is then dried and milled into fishmeal, a high-protein brownish powder. About 6 million tons of fishmeal and 1 million tons of fish oil are produced each year. Nearly all of the fishmeal is fed to farmed fish, pigs, and poultry. The oil, high in omega-3 fatty acids that are prized for their health benefits, is a popular feed additive and is also used as a nutritional supplement for humans.

Notwithstanding their large contribution to the world fish catch, recent research suggests that forage fish are worth at least twice as much in the ocean as they are on the boat. In 2012 the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, an international group of 13 distinguished marine and fisheries scientists, released the results of a three-year study in a report entitled Little Fish, Big Impact. The authors calculated that forage fish generate nearly $17 billion per year in reported catch—$5.6 billion for the small fish themselves and $11.3 billion in landings of the fish that eat them. This does not include the value of ecotourism for watching whales, which eat forage fish; the value of recreational sport fishing where forage fish are used as bait; or the important role of forage fish in keeping plankton under control.

Forage fish have a long history of being targeted for meal and oil. For example, Atlantic menhaden—herring and sardine relatives that migrate along the U.S. Atlantic coast—were first sent to processing factories in New England and the mid-Atlantic region in the mid-1800s to become fertilizer and a cheap substitute for whale oil, which was used in everything from leather tanning to cosmetics. Menhaden meal was later used in animal feed, beginning in the early 1900s. (Around that time, North Europeans started fishing Atlantic herring for the same purpose.) Still used mainly in feed but also in health supplements, Atlantic menhaden are one of the largest U.S. fisheries by weight today.

As more pork and poultry producers in the United States and Europe began using inexpensive fishmeal in feed rations, landings of forage fish grew. When the large-scale Peruvian anchovy fishery was launched in the 1950s and Peru and Chile began to aggressively exploit the productive waters along the western coast of South America, fishmeal use in feed began to spread worldwide. For decades now, the Peruvian anchovy has been not just the world’s largest source of fishmeal, but the world’s largest fishery overall, in some years topping 10 million tons. Peru alone has some 1,200 vessels supplying anchovy to 140 reduction factories, which produce meal and oil worth about $2 billion per year in exports.

While the Peruvian anchovy fishery is indeed lucrative, it is also, like many other forage fisheries, highly dependent on favorable environmental conditions. Especially during El NiƱo events, warm Pacific Ocean waters—sometimes with overfishing as an accomplice—have over the decades led to numerous anchovy population crashes and devastated harvests. In October 2012, Peru cut the allowed anchovy catch to its lowest level in 25 years after the fish’s population plummeted yet again, likely due to warmer ocean temperatures. With the anchovy supply thus restricted, the world price of fishmeal jumped to a record high by December. (See data.)

A half-century earlier, the young but already massive Peruvian anchovy fishery illustrated the ecological repercussions of heavy forage fishing. Unfavorably warm waters and an anchovy catch averaging 8 million tons per year depleted the food base for cormorants, gannets, and pelicans in the mid-1960s. Severe population declines among these birds ensued. Cormorants, almost entirely reliant on anchovies for food, saw an 89 percent drop from their historical average. Seabird populations in this ecosystem still have not recovered.

Worldwide, three quarters of the 72 marine ecosystems studied by the Lenfest Task Force contain predators dependent on forage fish for at least half their diet. Some predators, including the blue whale, Humboldt penguin, and yellowfin tuna, rely on forage fish for at least 75 percent of their diets. For these animals, plummeting prey populations can mean both impaired breeding and starvation.

The vast majority of the world’s forage fish stocks are either considered fully exploited, with no room for safely increasing the catch, or they are already overfished and in need of rebuilding. Given the climate sensitivity of forage fish and the key ecological role they play, the Lenfest authors recommend that, in general, catches should be half their current levels.

Reducing demand for fishmeal and oil will largely depend on the aquaculture sector. Twenty-five years ago, pigs and poultry accounted for 80 percent of world fishmeal consumption. By 2000, this share had dropped to 60 percent. But over the next decade, aquaculture production doubled, fishmeal prices rose nearly four-fold, and pig and poultry producers rapidly replaced fishmeal in feed with soybean meal. Today 68 percent of fishmeal goes to fish farms, as does 74 percent of fish oil.

There are some encouraging signs on this front, however. For example, nearly every major type of farmed fish—from salmon to carp—has seen significant reductions in the fishmeal content of feed since the mid-1990s as proteins from plants (particularly soybeans) and livestock and poultry byproducts have increasingly become suitable alternatives. Between 1995 and 2007, the fishmeal content in shrimp feed dropped from 28 percent to 18 percent. The drop was even more dramatic for salmon, from 45 percent to 24 percent. The recent surge in fishmeal prices is forcing even more feed switching.

There has also been a rise in the use of seafood industry byproducts in fish feed. In 2010, one third of fishmeal production came from fish trimmings and other food fish production wastes. On the other hand, finding substitutes for fish oil rich in omega-3s has been more difficult and may prove a bigger obstacle to lowering the forage fish catch in line with scientific advice.

Some scientists and chefs have promoted greater consumption of forage fish directly as food, noting that this is much more efficient—and more accessible to poorer consumers—than eating them indirectly through farm-raised salmon or shrimp. Forage fish already provide an important protein source in many low-income countries around the world, especially in coastal Africa. In fact, they account for over half the supply of food fish in 36 countries, including the Maldives, the Philippines, and Ghana. And direct consumption is on the rise in some countries. For example, Peruvians ate 190,000 tons of anchovies in 2010—19 times as much as in 2006. More


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A King Tide Near You: A Preview of Sea Level Rise

A recent article in SF Gate, entitled "Preparing the bay for rising sea levels," reminded me of what I sometimes take for granted.

King tide - Tuvalu

As a spokesperson for drowning islands -- the low-lying coral atoll island countries which face imminent sea level rise inundation -- I have talked with many an islander about the King tide season. If you have never heard of the King tide before, it's a predictable high tide, occurring when the orbit and alignment of the Earth, sun, and moon coincide. They happen a few times each year, from December to February, and they provide a preview of what's to come in coastal shorelines and coastal communities. What now occurs just a few times a year during the King tide, where low-lying areas are flooded beyond recognition, will someday be the year-round reality. On low lying islands in the Pacific, the King tide exaggerates these issues and gives islanders a dreaded sneak peek of what's around the corner. But the King tides don't only happen in the small island countries. There are King tides nearly everywhere the Pacific Ocean touches, including just a mile from my home in Oakland, Calif. For those that pay attention (and depending on your proximity to the water, some people can't help but notice), the King tide provides a window into the future of what sea level rise will do. It also provides us with a better opportunity to visualize and understand what it is like for islanders who live vulnerably close to the rising sea.

The aforementioned article showcases the flood-mitigation conceptual design of architects Elizabeth Ranieri and Byron Kuth. The Bay Area architects entered their ventilated levee design into the International Rising Tides competition in 2008, and were one of the six winners. A system of pump ventilators, called "Folding Water," "would be built into the walls, returning excess water to the sea while mimicking the effects of tidal exchange. Natural pressure would force ocean waters and small sea life into the estuary through one side of these tubes, while the mixed water would be pumped back out the other side." The technology is conceptual at this stage, and could very well remain that way. Not only would it be incredibly costly to implement, but like most other mitigation measures, it would be a controversial addition to the landscape.

Controversial or not, the reality is that the water is rising in the San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco has the oldest continually operating tidal gauge in the Americas, which has recorded the varying sea levels since 1854. Over the past 100 years, it has tracked an 8-inch rise in water level. It will continue rising, scientists say, and could rise by 1.5 feet by 2050. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission has warned that large tracts of land near the bay could regularly flood, threatening airports and other infrastructure, offices and government buildings, and the homes of 100,000 individuals.

Here in the Bay Area, the place my husband and I have called our home for the past five years and truly, completely love, it's easy to feel insulated from so many of the world's problems. We do have earthquakes, but aside from that, it is always a treat to return home to the mild bay weather, and the fresh year-round, local, organic produce. By and large, the people are wonderful and I can easily ride my bike ten or eleven months out of the year. That's probably one of the most wonderful things about being "home" for most people; it's comfortable, and despite the few flaws, humans for the most part love where they land and call "home." But it's more important than ever to remember that we are all impacted by climate change. I travel to far-flung locations all over the globe, visiting backyards and kitchens and graveyards that have been ravaged by waves and saltwater intrusion. But all I have to do is walk out my front door, turn left, and walk straight for a mile to witness the rising tide. That is particularly true this next Feb. 7-9, 2013, during the last King tide of the year. On those few days, I will do just that, and I will take a photographer/videographer with me all along the bay, capturing the waves and noting what a higher sea level might mean in my own backyard. I encourage anyone who lives near the Pacific to do the same, and to send your pictures to, or post them to the drowning islands site on Facebook. During the King tide, think about the people in the drowning islands who live 10 feet or less above the level of the sea, and please share your thoughts. More


Monday, January 28, 2013

Seychelles appeals for aid following floods and landslides

VICTORIA, Seychelles, Jan 28, 2013 (AFP) - Seychelles, hit by a series of rare floods and landslides, declared a state of emergency on Monday in three districts of the main island and appealed for international aid.

Local authorities reported no casualties, but said three districts on the main island of Mahe were badly damaged with reports of flooding in more than 150 houses.

The Indian Ocean archipelago's president James Michel called for international help, saying his country could not cope with the "disaster" on its own.

The popular tourist destination usually escapes unharmed during the hurricane season, but was hit on Sunday by heavy tropical storms, with lashing rain on Monday hampering rescue efforts.

Seychelles, a former British and French colony, is made up of 115 islands with 85,000 inhabitants, with at least 70,000 people living on Mahe. More



Monday, January 7, 2013

Fear of 'catastrophic' sea-level rise as ice sheets melt faster than predicted

Glaciologists fear they may have seriously underestimated the potential for melting ice sheets to contribute to catastrophic sea-level rises in coming decades which could see increases of a metre or more by 2100.

The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contain about 99.5 per cent of the Earth's glacier ice and could raise sea levels by 65 metres if they melted completely – although experts think this is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. However, a survey of the world's top 26 glaciologists found most believe melting of the ice sheets could be more rapid and severe than previously estimated. They believe that melting of the ice sheets alone this century would be likely to raise the average global sea level by 29cm, the poll found, but there is a five per cent chance of it increasing even further by a catastrophic 84cm.

This would take the total sea-level increase to well over a metre if other factors such as the thermal expansion of oceans and runoff from mountain glaciers are taken into account.

"Our analysis shows the biggest uncertainty when it comes to sea levels is the contribution from the ice sheets," said Professor Jonathan Bamber of Bristol University, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

"It shows glaciologists believe there is a one-in-20 chance of sea levels rising by a metre or more by 2100, and a metre rise in sea level is really very serious.

"The impacts of sea-level rise of this magnitude are potentially severe, implying a conceivable risk of the forced displacement of up to 187 million people within this century."

Rising sea levels are one of the greatest uncertainties of climate change. A warmer world causes oceans to expand thermally but also leads to faster melting of mountain glaciers and some regions of the polar ice sheets. More


Friday, January 4, 2013

Island community St Helena renews plea for internet cash from UK

BBC News

By Dave Lee Technology reporter,


Residents on the remote South Atlantic territory of St Helena have renewed their plea for the UK to back plans to bring broadband to the island. The British Overseas Territory needs £10m to connect to a submarine cable. The island's 4,200 residents currently rely on a slow satellite connection, which campaigners say is stunting the island's growth.

The Foreign Office has said a "full economic assessment" was needed before any new link could be funded. The UK, like several other countries, refused to sign a proposed UN treaty regarding wide-ranging changes to internet governance at a conference in Dubai last month. It meant a clause requiring states to aid in connecting remote communities will not now be enforced, removing any obligation or commitment for the government to work with communities such as St Helena. "The UK did not sign the revised International Telecommunication Regulations last week in Dubai, and has no intention of doing so in the future," the Foreign Office said in an email. "We will therefore not be bound by the provisions contained in the Treaty when it comes into force on 1 January 2015."


'Revolutionise' Campaign group A Human Right, which is supported by the UN, has called on the Department for International Development to contribute a substantial amount to the engineering costs of connecting the island to the South Atlantic Express, a new superfast fibre optic cable being laid by South African firm eFive. Dr Rosalind Thomas, eFive's chief executive, agreed last year to alter the cable's path to bring it closer to the island, opening up the prospect of connecting it. An investment of around £10m, campaigners said, would be enough to latch on to the cable and "revolutionise" the island - with private backers contributing further costs.

Due to the island's location, it is well-placed to support infrastructure relating to satellite operations, including base stations and communication hubs. The campaign successfully convinced eFive to re-route the cable's path The government is already spending £250m on the island to build a new airport in a bid to encourage high-spend tourism to the island which is one of the most remote on earth. "The plan [for the airport] is to establish high-spending tourism on the island which will be quite a challenge," said Christian von der Ropp, organiser of the campaign. "If you spend an additional £10m or a bit less getting this cable landed, there would be a huge opportunity for social and economic development. "This is something that would revolutionise the island, and people's perspectives there. And I believe it would relieve British taxpayers." Currently, the UK government spends £20m a year on supporting the island. 'Economic and social benefits' In an email to A Human Right, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said telecommunications on the island was the responsibility of the St Helena Government. "We are aware of eFive Telecom's plans to lay a fibre-optic cable connecting South Africa and Brazil and the St Helena Government's initial discussions with them about the feasibility and costs of a spur link to St Helena," the Foreign Office said.

St Helena has a population of 4,000

Residents are known as Saints

It measures 47 sq miles and lies 1,200 miles from the African mainland

An estimated 7,000 St Helenan families are living in the south of England

Source: St Helena Development Association (SHDA)

"If the developers proceed with the project then a full economic assessment would be needed to consider the extent of the economic and social benefits that such a link could bring to St Helena."

Campaigners hope that with better internet access local residents, particularly young people, will be less inclined to leave the island for study and work purposes.

Mike Olffon, owner of the island's radio station Saint FM, told the BBC that getting access was prohibitively expensive.

"Internet here at the moment is tremendously expensive because it's satellite - it's well over £100 a month. We have no choice.

"It is important for the development of the island, if we want to have IT services and internet-related business.

"The population would very much look forward to the government's help to pay the money." More

This is unfortunately typical of the England's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Just the name of the department that governs the colonies 'Foreign and Commonwealth Office' sums it up. If the colonies are possessions and the residents are citizens why do they fall under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? It is typical FCO deniability. Editor