The Passenger Pigeon, A Requiem

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
For the Birds, News

By Carl Safina

September 1, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the extinction of what had been the most abundant bird in the Americas, and likely the world.

By 1850, the Passenger Pigeon was still the most abundant bird in the Americas. Around that same time, a long-distance migrant bird called the Eskimo Curlew was shot by the wagonload on the Plains. The prairies and their herds of Buffalo are essentially gone, both birds are extinct, and even the very remembrance of the Eskimo Curlew is vanishing; almost no one I ask has ever heard of it. I feel a loss, but, honestly, does it matter? How many people miss Passenger Pigeons?

Passenger P

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, September 2, 2014.

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A Tortoise Isn’t a Billboard, Except in Aspen

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Uncategorized

By  Carl Safina

The Aspen Art Museum might be doing tortoises a favor but probably isn’t. In a new exhibit linked to the opening of a $45-million new facility, an artist named Cai Guo-Qiang, who was born in China and lives in New York, has glued iPads to several African spurred tortoises. They wander around an enclosure while a film about Colorado ghost towns plays on the iPads. In China turtles and tortoises are eaten in numbers large enough that they’ve essentially been wiped from vast areas of numerous countries. Even U.S. turtles are illegally caught and sent there.

So, in a way, getting iPads glued to them is not the worst thing that can happen (as long as the upright tablets don’t get mistaken for shark fins, in which case all bets could be off). Numerous humane groups have complained to the museum, saying that the exhibit is cruel. The museum says it is taking pains to make sure the turtles are well cared for.

 

A well-appreciated spurred tortoise accepts a slice of sweet potato at the American Museum of Natural History in New York earlier this year (photo: C. Safina)

A well-appreciated spurred tortoise accepts a slice of sweet potato at the American Museum of Natural History in New York earlier this year (photo: C. Safina)

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, August 20, 2014.

Enjoy the Show: Learn More After ‘Sharknado 2′

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Sharks

By author, marine scientist and Safina Center Fellow Dr. Ellen Prager and Carl Safina

People-eating sharks whipped up in a tornado, Manhattan as an ice-capped frozen wasteland, and solar flares that rapidly increase the temperature of the Earth’s core resulting in cataclysmic earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and biblical-scale flooding. Over-the-top? Yes. Based on science? Loosely, at best. And that’s just fine with us.

Hollywood blockbusters are not science documentaries nor do they pretend to be, they are pure entertainment that recognizes the interest and fascination people have with nature, natural disasters, and the Earth. So go out, enjoy the show. But we hope you’ll also take a moment to think about the issues related to the topic at hand. With the summer shark media frenzy already in swing and the upcoming release of Sharknado 2, it is an opportunity to think more about sharks in the real world.

 

Black Tipped Reef Sharks, Photo by Shawn Heinrichs

Black Tipped Reef Sharks, Photo by Shawn Heinrichs

 

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, July 27, 2014.

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Return of a Native: Reflections on the 38th Voyage of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, July 11, 2014

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Fish, Fishing & Fishermen, Whales

By Patricia Paladines & Carl Safina

The first whale was spotted at around 11am. We approached it with the quiet stealth afforded by a light wind in our sails. To the best of our knowledge the animal could not imagine or have any concern that a wooden whale-hunting ship was nearing its magnificent, enormous body.

One hundred years ago this ship’s crew would have spied the whale through a lens on the economic worth of its body parts. When the whaleboat was launched and the rowers approached the whale, they would have been armed with harpoons to begin a bloody attack that would last hours, sometimes days.

Charles W. Morgan by Vernon Smith, NOAA

Charles W. Morgan by Vernon Smith, NOAA

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on NationalGeographic.com, July 21, 2014.

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The Guardians of Raja Ampat: Community-Driven Conservation in the Heart of Indonesia

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Climate Change, Fish, Fishing & Fishermen

Guest blog by photographer, filmmaker and Safina Center Fellow, John Weller

Reversing overfishing, climate change, and population growth can seem insurmountable. Safina Center Fellows strive to amplify the global conservation discussion and, in targeted ways and places, overcome some of these obstacles. They bring a wide range of skills, engaging in every way from primary research to policy to popular media. They make a difference.

Where the rubber meets the road to change, the drive to redefine the future of our damaged oceans starts with the belief that progress is possible.

The story you are about to read from Safina Center Fellow John Weller and his partner Shawn Heinrichs reaffirms that belief. I am proud to introduce and be associated with their project, “The Guardians of Raja Ampat.” —Carl Safina

The Guardians of Raja Ampat: Community-Driven Conservation in the Heart of Indonesia

 

Lush vegetation clung to all but the steepest slopes of the towering islands. Their near-vertical walls hung over the sea, which had undercut the razor-sharp honeycombs of eroding rock. It was as if the spectacular bullet-shaped islands had erupted out of the bay and were frozen in time, hovering just above the surface. The landscape eluded words.

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on NationalGeographic.com, July 8, 2014.

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Palau Plans to Ban Commercial Fishing, Create Enormous Marine Reserve

December 16th, 2014 | No Comments
Climate Change, Fish, Fishing & Fishermen

Originally published July 2, 2014 on NationalGeographic.com.

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

The people of Palau, a small island nation in the northwestern Pacific, have long realized that the health and prosperity of their nation depends on the ocean. Because of this realization, Palauans have always worked to protect their ocean resources.  That’s why Palau has drawn the world’s top scientists and ocean writers, and why Palau has repeatedly been rated the world’s top diving destination. When you go there, you see some of the healthiest, most accessible coral reefs and abundant reef-fish populations anywhere in the world.  

In the old days, when fish in Palau would become scarce, they would declare a bul – today this is known as a fishing moratorium. Fishing was prohibited during spawning and feeding periods to allow the fish populations to recover, so they would remain abundant.  The goal was always to restore balance between people and nature.

The idea is also ingrained in Palauan law, which calls for the government to take action to conserve “a beautiful, healthful, and resourceful natural environment.”  Over the years, the Palauan government has taken many actions to do just this. Palau has protected its reef fishes from the export business that has destroyed fish populations on many other reefs, banned fishing with destructive bottom trawls, and created the world’s first shark sanctuary. Palau has also been an international leader for ocean conservation, calling on other countries to follow their lead and do more to protect the ocean that we all share¹.

These proactive conservation measures are why Palau has remained a tropical coral paradise, and one of the “last great places on earth,” according to National Geographic. Palau’s waters contain 1,300 different species of fish, 700 species of coral, and 130 rare sharks and stingrays. They have more coral fish and invertebrates per square mile of ocean habitat than anywhere else in the world.

Still, Palau has not been immune to the various threats facing our oceans, including commercial overfishing, illegal fishing, pollution, and rising ocean temperatures and seas. Fishermen have seen their fish decline and become smaller over the last decade. And recently large storms have decimated Palau’s shores.

Coral reef in Palau. Photo: Carl Safina

Coral reef in Palau. Photo: Carl Safina

So like in the old days, Palau is declaring a bul to give their marine life a chance to recover. But this time, the Palau president, Tommy Remengesau, is calling for a more drastic bul that would close all of Palau’s waters to commercial fishing. This would essentially turn Palau’s waters into a 230,000 square mile marine reserve, roughly the size of France. Locals and tourists would still be allowed to catch fish recreationally in waters close to shore.

President Remengesau’s proposal to close Palau’s waters to all commercial fishing is certainly bold. The waters of Palau contain vast amounts of bigeye and yellowfin tuna. Countries like Japan and Taiwan pay Palau so they can fish for tuna in their waters. Nevertheless, the president’s proposal would move them out of Palau, to international waters.

The president’s idea is extremely visionary. He understands that tuna, sharks, and other fish in Palau are worth much more alive than dead. Each year tourists from all over the world come to Palau to SCUBA dive in its bountiful waters. Eco-tourism accounts for over half of Palau’s GDP. President Remengesau believes that they can grow their tourism sector and replace lost fishing income, all while preserving Palau’s incredible marine life².

The creation of Palau’s marine reserve would also have larger global benefits for our marine environments. Ocean scientists have been saying that there is need for more marine reserves around areas of important biological diversity. And scientists say that marine reserves are most effective if they are large, isolated, and enduring. Marine reserves with these characteristics were found to have 840% more large fish mass and 1990% more shark mass compared to areas open to fishing³!

The world’s leaders have committed to conserving 10% of the world’s oceans in marine reserves to protect the diversity of ocean animals and habitats.  Yet, so far we have only protected 2.8% of the ocean. The creation of Palau’s enormous marine reserve would move the world closer to its goal.

The reserve could also help Pacific tuna populations. Palau is a nursery area for tuna species, so protecting their waters would give young tuna a safe place to grow. This could result in healthier tuna for the Pacific and enhance fishing for tuna in waters outside Palau 4.  Countries that now pay Palau for the privilege of taking tuna should perhaps pay Palau for the favor of producing and protecting more tuna.

But in order to enforce the fishing ban and make it effective, Palau will need help from other countries. Palau only has one boat to patrol its waters. There is technology available, such as surveillance drones, which could help Palau monitor its waters for illegal fishing, if they can get economic support 5.

We hope the U.S. and others will support Palau’s plans to close its waters to commercial fishing. Palau is doing what is necessary to secure their economy and secure food for its people. And this historic decision could have immense positive affects for our global oceans.

Palau is doing its part “to reverse the devastation to our oceans and seas.” And President Remengesau is calling on the world to join him.  He says, “It doesn’t matter where you live around the world; we are all connected somehow and are impacted by what we do to the oceans and the health of the oceans and the seas.”

Notes:

1.) Palau at the United Nations: Reflections on our 10th Anniversary

2.) Palau President Remengesau’s address to the United Nations

3.) “Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features”,Nature, February 2014.

4.) Environmentalists say proposed Palau marine sanctuary could create more fish stocks

5.)  Drone patrol tests to deter illegal fishing

 

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Tribute: Peter Matthiessen

December 16th, 2014 | No Comments
News

Originally published in Audubon Magazine, June-August 2014.

Author Peter Matthiessen at his home in Sagaponack, NY.  Photograph by Damon, Winter/New York Times/Redux

Author Peter Matthiessen at his home in Sagaponack, NY. Photograph by Damon, Winter/New York Times/Redux

By Carl Safina

If Miles Davis suddenly walked into a small cocktail party, what could a young trumpet player possibly say to him? What could I, a greenhorn writer, say to Peter Matthiessen? It was 1998. I was in my early forties, and had just published my first book. Peter was past 70; the first of his novels, Race Rock, was published in 1954. Anything I could think of saying seemed lame. Then Peter took two steps toward me and ended my dilemma: “So, Carl, when are we going fishing?”

Peter had fishing friends and birding friends and writing friends (and political enemies). His strong opinions often incited debates. We disagreed a bit about fishing policies–he’d fished commercially, and I’d advocated sharp catch limits for men he’d worked with. But I never found him unreasonable, or grudging in conceding a point. Anyway, on the broader unraveling of both civilization and the natural world, we saw eye to eye, both in anger and in hope.

Our biggest disagreement was on the value of his nonfiction work. He wrote more than 20 nonfiction books; many of them were inspirations in my youth. But Peter was clear that he was foremost a novelist, that for him fiction was both a venerable challenge and a sublime task. While working to combine his Watson trilogy into a single book–it would becomeShadow Country–he declined my repeated invitations to fly-fish, which he loved for its Zen-like form, explaining that when the fiction was coming, staying in the flow was paramount. I’d stop at his house to drop off a fish, and even in a quick hello I could see his mind pacing like a caged leopard. When Shadow Country went on to win the National Book Award, Peter, already 80, was elated and told me the award was “tremendously vindicating.” If I ever allowed myself the temerity of feeling proud of Peter Matthiessen, it was at that moment.

Though born to privilege, Peter held great affection for the grace of working and native people of all kinds, whether they inhabited local fishing boats, Indian reservations, the shadows of Amazon rainforests, or the highlands of New Guinea. Like a multivalent electron of some strange element, Peter could exist in numerous orbits in quick succession, one week being feted among the brightest literary lights and the next hanging out with fishermen or teachers or conservationists or birders. Or appearing in The New York Times or on Charlie Rose, and then in our kitchen making tamales with my girlfriend of 10 years, Patricia, whom he alone called Patty.

One day some mutual friends and their kids were visiting our home on Lazy Point, the peninsula that juts into Long Island’s Napeague Bay. Peter joined in as we pulled a beach seine and showed the kids crabs and little fishes and the delightful defense of baby puffers, which swallow water until they’re swollen like balloons. He decided to take some silversides home for the frying pan. Virtually no one eats these finger-long fish anymore; they were food in harder times. Seeing Peter, at 84, with his little bag of silversides seemed a round-trip contraction in a life that had included wide horizons and ocean battles with great swordfish and tuna. He then mentioned that he would soon leave for Mongolia to spend time with hawkers who train Golden Eagles for hunting foxes and hares. One moment Peter was in our humble circle, picking little fish out of a net on his hands and knees. The next he was out of sight, up in the widening gyre of his singular lofty life.

During that trip to Mongolia he became quite weak; upon his return he was diagnosed with leukemia. It was serious. He began that dance while continuing work on a novel set in the Nazi death camps, which–he said with certain relish–was sure to upset a lot of people. (In Paradise would be published three days after his death.)

For years Peter had never failed to end a phone call by telling me to say hi to Patty, and he and his wife, Maria, frequently opined that I “should marry this woman already.” This past January, when Patricia accompanied me to Hawaii, I did just that. Returning home, I proudly called Peter and Maria to tell them I’d finally taken their advice. “Great,” he said enthusiastically. “I’m having a chemo treatment on Tuesday, and right after that we can come to your house and take you out to dinner to celebrate.”

Peter had grumbled good-naturedly that because of his compromised immune system, his doctor had forbidden him alcohol. So when he and Maria arrived at our house for that celebratory dinner I said to him, “I’d offer you a glass of wine but…”

“I can have a little,” he replied with a wink. At the restaurant he ordered another glass. As Peter and I discussed animal communication and Yellowstone wolves, out of the corner of my eye I noticed Maria engaging Patricia in low tones.

After dinner we went back to the house briefly and said our goodbyes. Once they’d left, Patricia closed the door and said, “While you and Peter were talking, Maria told me that the chemo isn’t working anymore. That’s why Peter had a glass of wine.”

A few days later our mutual friend Andrew Sabin returned from a successful quest to see free-living snow leopards–the creatures that had so famously eluded Peter decades earlier when he wrote The Snow Leopard. It was a splendid excuse for me to phone. “That son of a gun!” Peter said, “and they saw three! ” Peter and George Schaller had trekked to 18,000 feet, he recalled, and in that cold, thin air, they were unable to get warm, day or night. “That son of a gun!” Peter said again, still attending to the world yet still inhabiting his own unique relationship with it.

Soon, after a new drug failed, Peter landed in the hospital. Several days later he returned to his beloved home, and his family gathered. When he died on April 5, a flock of blackbirds gathered noisily outside his bedroom window.

And Maria said, “A mighty tree has fallen.”

 

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The Mirror of Armila

December 16th, 2014 | No Comments
Ocean Plastic, Pollution

Originally published June 29, 2014 on NationalGeographic.com.

By Carl Safina and Pam Longobardi

There are no mirrors in Armila.  As a culture, the Guna are less concerned with themselves than they are with their families, friends and community.  When you live in Armila, you see yourself only as a reflection in the faces of the beautiful smiling people of this town.  Armila is in extremely remote southern Panama’s Caribbean coast, just a stone’s throw from Colombia, and is one of the most active leatherback sea turtle nesting areas in the world.  During Pam’s week there last month 2014, there averaged 60-70 nesting turtles each night.  But the omnipresent mirror she encountered was the mirror of contemporary global culture, the overwhelming amount of plastic on their beach.

Armila Girls on plastic beach, photo: Pam Longobardi

Armila Girls on plastic beach, photo: Pam Longobardi

Armila is accessible only by boat, without public utilities or waste management. Ocean currents are quite fierce along this coast, with head-high waves and relentless wind.  These currents also bring massive amounts of plastic to Armila:  it is the most plastic-impacted beach Pam has seen anywhere in the world. That’s saying a lot because we were both on the Gyre expedition to witness and remove plastic in the North Pacific:

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/21/filmmakers-document-the-weirdness-of-marine-garbage/.

The people of Armila are very involved in turtle conservation. The Guna are politically savvy and independent thinkers who see the value of the turtles as an asset for their own future:  one endangered culture taking care of another, and are developing ecotourism to protect both.

Witnessing the force of will it takes the gargantuan creatures to maneuver their 600-1000 lb. bodies on dry land is something profoundly moving.  The turtles’ heads appear like large rocks seemingly incapable of expression, except the female turtles huff and blow with the sheer exertion of their labors, their eyes dripping tears, their necks engorged pink by the heat of their effort.

In the pitch-blackness of a town without artificial lighting, the turtles emerge from the sea toward the darkened land, an hour later following the light of the breaking waves back home.

Except  that now Armila has been given a wonderful gift: solar lighting.  It does make evening routines easier to have light as you scramble around to secure your mosquito net and escort unwelcomed visitors out of your bed.  But lights wreak havoc on the turtles’ sense of place. On a single night, seven behemoths dragged their unwieldy egg-bloated bodies so far up the beach that they entered the dirt paths of the town.  No one slept that night, coaxing the leatherbacks to haul themselves back to the beach and complete their life mission.

Armila Boats, photo: Pam Longobardi

Armila Boats, photo: Pam Longobardi

Pam went to Armila as witness, teacher, friend, and worker. The first-person “I” below is Pam’s voice:

I came to Armila to pilot a project with Oceanic Society and the Guna women artisans.  They are talented creators of the art form of ‘molas,’ which translates simply as “clothing”, a rich and expansive canvas for traditional and experimental imagery.  I found their vision of the natural world, from smiling faces on dragonflies, to beautiful geometries of medicinal plants and leatherback turtles to be individual and powerful.  It was my intention to get the women to see the beach plastic as a potential and abundant art material.Pam went to Armila as witness, teacher, friend, and worker. The first-person “I” below is Pam’s voice:

 In the gender divided roles of the Guna, women are responsible for the food preparation and trash disposal.  Viewing the world from their spiritual center, ‘grandmother ocean’ or Abuela Mar is The Great Recycler; she takes all the refuse and “turns it into sand.”  How sadly right they are now, as plastic tonnage covering the beach gets pounded into plastic sand.  In an earlier world of plantain skins and mango peels, this system of dumping refuse on the beach worked fine, but as the army of global plastic has invaded their beach and their lives, the lack of municipal waste management creates a plastic pollution disaster.

Armila plastic beach, photo: Pam Longobardi

Armila plastic beach, photo: Pam Longobardi

With large colorful fabric bags sewn by my Colombian friend, we met the women in the Council Hall, a ritually important place of spiritual guidance and political decisions.  I did my first beach cleaning with the town’s preparation for the Turtle Festival; massive logs, coconuts and plastic raked ceremoniously into large piles.  From the multitudes of plastic oddities, I chose pieces good for working with: HDPE, LDPE and PP, and natural materials in order to differentiate the things that belong on the beach causing no harm, from materials that are bad for the ocean, but good for making art.  The women left with their cloth bags to fill. 

 In a subsistence culture, most hours of the day are filled with chores to maintain daily life.  All food is cooked by wood fire, so women must drag giant logs from the beach and cut them into firewood.  Plantains must be picked and prepared.  I was aware that taking on another task like beach cleaning plastic was taking time from other aspects of their daily work.

Longobardi working with the Guna women artists, photo: Morrison Mast

Longobardi working with the Guna women artists, photo: Morrison Mast

The day of the workshop, more than a dozen women arrived with bags full of thousands of pieces of plastic. To solve the immediate crisis of the disorienting solar lights, we collected 5 gallon buckets that had washed up to create light covers to shield the glare from the nesting turtles.  As artists and workers, it was instantly appealing to make something both beautiful and functional.  With small hand tools, drill and wire that I had brought as gifts, I taught them basic sculptural techniques, encouraging them to think of the plastic as cloth, and the wire as thread.  The women were totally absorbed, laughing and working, translating their own imagery from plastic, working for hours past the midday meal.  The joy of creating something beautiful out of something ugly, or worse yet, invisible, was significant.

Longobardi and Guna woman artist working on a solar light cover, photo: Morrison Mast

Longobardi and Guna woman artist working on a solar light cover, photo: Morrison Mast

As I departed Armila at the end of the week, the women formed a Plastic Co-op to work with the plastic in the creation of new artwork. 

Pam plans a return in September to continue the collaboration.  The ‘mola’ is elastic and evolving living art. The incorporation of recovered plastic from the beaches into these artists’ material vocabulary provides them with a near endless supply source.  It also begins the removal of the invasive plastic from the leatherbacks nesting zone, and, along with efforts already underway by the village, initiates a conservation victory in the making.

Doing Laundry in Armila, Photo: Pam Longobardi

Doing Laundry in Armila, Photo: Pam Longobardi

 

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Government Says Eat Fish, Not Too Much, Mostly Low in Mercury

July 19th, 2014 | No Comments
Bluefin Tuna, Homepage, Mercury in seafood

Previously posted on huffingtonpost.com 6-18-2014: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carl-safina/government-says-eat-fish-_b_5508173.html

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

A few days ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released updated draft advice on fish consumption for childbearing aged women and young children.

The new advice encourages pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, breastfeeding women, and young children to consume 2-3 servings of a variety of fish per week (a total of 8-12 ounces per week for women and smaller portions for children) that are lower in mercury. This is the first time the agencies have recommended a minimum fish consumption level.

They say they want to encourage fish consumption because studies show that the nutritional value of fish is important during childhood development and development prior to birth – for instance, eating fish may improve fetal brain development and raise children’s IQs. Fish contain high-quality protein, many vitamins and minerals, and some have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

But fish also contain mercury, and too much mercury is bad for humans, particularly for developing fetuses and children. It can cause brain and neurological damage1. So that is why choosing lower mercury fish is important.

Mercury in fish comes from coal; when coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment and it eventually enters our waterways, where it is absorbed by fish. When we eat fish we get a dose of mercury. Roxanne Karimi of Stony Brook’s Consortium for Interdisciplinary Environmental Research says “Mercury is not to be taken lightly. It crosses the blood-brain barrier and it crosses the placenta. It leaves the body slowly.”

However by choosing fish wisely, women and children can get the benefits of fish without the mercury risk. As a general rule, it is best to eat lower on the food chain. Mercury accumulates up the food chain, so large, predatory fish have higher mercury levels than smaller, lower on the food chain fish.

The updated fish consumption advice from the FDA and EPA provides several safer, lower mercury fish choices. Plus they provide a table that lists mercury and omega-3 levels in common fish species to help consumers make smart seafood choices. Lower mercury fish options that have high amounts of omega-3s include salmon, mussels, sardines, herring, anchovies, and trout. Other lower mercury choices include pollock, cod, shrimp, tilapia, catfish, and canned light tuna. The agencies are encouraging consumers to eat a variety of these lower mercury fish, rather than just one type.

Similar to the current advice, the agencies recommend that:

— childbearing aged women and young children avoid certain species with very high mercury levels – king mackerel, swordfish, shark, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.

–women consume no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna a week.
–parents similarly limit how much albacore tuna their children consume, depending on their children’s age.

The agencies are also considering adding marlin and orange roughy – two other species high in mercury – to the “avoid” list. They are seeking public comment on this.

The new draft advice is much better than the current advice and provides the public with much more information about the benefits vs. risks of eating fish. But it still has some problems.

The advice on tuna is not conservative enough. Experts say that if light or average weight (166 lb) women eat 6 ounces of albacore tuna a week as recommended by the FDA and EPA, they will exceed safe mercury levels2. As well, the advice does not give a clear picture of mercury levels in tuna, or provide any warnings about eating dark tuna – like bigeye and bluefin, which have even higher mercury levels than albacore. Tuna is the second most popular seafood item after shrimp and tuna consumption accounts for one third of Americans mercury exposure, so accurate advice is essential.

 

Comparison of mercury levels in salmon vs. different types of tuna.Graphic by Susan Silbernagel, Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Outreach.Data source: Karimi et al. 2012 “A Quantitative Synthesis of Mercury in Commercial Seafood and Implications for Exposure in the United States”.

Comparison of mercury levels in salmon vs. different types of tuna.Graphic by Susan Silbernagel, Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Outreach.Data source: Karimi et al. 2012 “A Quantitative Synthesis of Mercury in Commercial Seafood and Implications for Exposure in the United States”.

The agencies also don’t provide any warnings about mercury for non-childbearing women and men who consume a lot of fish. While childbearing women and young children are the groups most at risk from mercury, anyone who consumes more than 2-3 servings of fish per week needs to pay attention to what types of fish they are consuming and how much mercury those fish have to avoid potential health risks.
Our partners with the Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Outreach at Stony Brook University recently measured blood mercury levels in Long Island, New York seafood consumers. They found that nearly half of the participants in their study hadblood mercury levels above “safe levels”(5.8 micrograms per liter). Elevated blood mercury levels were associated with weekly consumption of tuna steaks, fillets, or sushi or monthly consumption of swordfish, marlin, or shark³.

The FDA and EPA need to ensure they are providing seafood consumers with the most accurate and complete information about mercury levels in fish. And they need to err on the side of caution. The agencies still have time to get the advice right. Hopefully they will.

The full FDA and EPA draft seafood advice is available here  http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm#Advice . They are seeking public comments on the draft advice, so we encourage you to tell the agencies what you think!

For more information on mercury in seafood check out The Safina Center’s Mercury in Seafood Section http://safinacenter.org/issues/fish-as-food/mercury-seafood-overview/   or the Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Outreach   http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/gelfond/. To find seafood options that are both sustainable and healthy, visit The Safina Center’s online Seafood Choices Guide  http://safinacenter.org/seafoods/ .

Notes:
1.) Mercury in Seafood, A Little Clarity

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carl-safina/mercury-in-seafood_b_5044264.html

2.) Eating Seafood, Health Boon or Health Threat?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carl-safina/eating-seafood-health-boo_b_4782176.html
3.)Elevated blood Hg at recommended seafood consumption rates in adult seafood consumers

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1438463914000340

 

 

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New Catch Limit for Menhaden Leaves Millions of Fish in the Sea

July 17th, 2014 | No Comments
Fish, Fishing & Fishermen, Homepage

Previously posted on natgeo.com 6/12/2014:
http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/06/12/new-catch-limit-for-menhaden-leaves-millions-of-fish-in-the-sea/

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

In December 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to establish the first ever coast-wide catch limit for the Atlantic Menhaden fishery, after urging from fishermen, conservationists, and many of you to protect Menhaden1. Menhaden are one of the sea’s most important fish because they provide food for many larger ocean species.For decades prior to this, fishermen were allowed to catch unlimited amounts of Menhaden, and because of this the Menhaden population declined by around 90%.

The Menhaden fishery is the largest on the U.S. East Coast. The fishery primarily catches Menhaden to grind them up for use in fish-oil dietary supplements, fertilizers, and animal feed. Commercial fishermen also use menhaden for bait.

The Menhaden catch limit established by the Commission reduced catches by 25%, to help stop overfishing on this species (catching them faster than they can reproduce). Each East Coast state received a share of the catch limit.

menhaden catch photo credit: NOAA

menhaden catch photo credit: NOAA

Now, a year later, the catch numbers for Menhaden are in and it’s good news. The 2013 catches remained just under the coast-wide catch limit in its first year of implementation2! This means that around 300 million more Menhaden were left in the sea to feed fish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish, as well as seabirds and marine mammals. This helps ensure the maintenance of ocean food-webs. And in turn it helps support commercial and recreational fishing and also eco-tourism, like whale-watching.

All 15 Atlantic Coast states are enforcing the new Menhaden catch limits, though a few states did go over their share of the catch limit – Florida, New York, and Rhode Island. The problem was these states underestimated the amount of Menhaden they catch in their bait fisheries and the amount of the catch share they needed when it was divided among the states. [Previously there was poor reporting of Menhaden catches.]Luckily, the flexibility of the new management measures allowed states with uncaught catch shares to transfer them to the states that exceeded their limits, so they could remain in compliance with the rules.

In 2014, scientists will re-examine the status of the Atlantic Menhaden population. This will tell us if we have reduced fishing levels on Menhaden enough and if the population is rebounding. The results of the assessment will help inform managers on whether adjustments are needed to the coast-wide catch limit. Scientists are also working on developing abundance and fishing targets for Menhaden that take into account the amount of Menhaden that need to be left in the ocean to feed their predators.

Protecting Menhaden and other important small fish is critically important to the overall health of our ocean ecosystems. Please join us in thanking the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for protecting Menhaden by clicking here  http://advocacy.pewenvironment.org/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1793&ea.campaign.id=28578&ea.tracking.id=Newsletter&utm_campaign=2014-05-19%20Herring.html&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua.

To learn more about the sea’s little fish, please visit The Safina Center’s forage fish page http://blueocean.org/issues/changing-ocean/forage-fish/       and the Herring Alliance website http://herringalliance.org/ .

Notes:
1.) The Little Fish That Could—Maybe It Will  http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/12/19/the-little-fish-that-could-maybe-it-will/
2.) 2014 Review of the Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden http://www.asmfc.org/files/Meetings/Spring2014/AtlanticMenhadenBoard_Supplemental.pdf

 

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