August 8, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Sustainable Seafood, Algal Blooms, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

lobster boat leaving dock

A lobster boat prepares to leave a dock in Maine. it takes just 783 liters of fuel to fetch a ton of Maine lobsters from traps.

Gas-guzzling seafood. “Most of us don’t think about fuel when we eat seafood. But diesel is the single largest expense for the fishing industry and its biggest source of greenhouse gases. Not all fish have the same carbon finprint, however, and a new study reveals which ones take the most fuel to catch.” This article in Science calculates the diesel fuel use for several popular fish so you can know which ones contribute most to climate change (those that use the most fuel), and which ones do the least damage. In terms of fuel consumption, the least offensive catch mentioned in the article is sardines. (In addition to contributing the fewest GHGs, sardines are low on the food chain, which means less depletion of the ocean’s wild fisheries—overall, a very environmentally responsible dinner choice.) The biggest offenders mentioned in the article? Shrimp and lobster. Perhaps we’ll see a revival of the Friendship sloop fleet and a return to lobstering by working sailboats along the coast of Maine.

Big news for Bluefin. This story in Climate Progress tells us that NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is considering a ban on Pacific bluefin tuna fishing as the animal’s population dips to four percent of its historic average. The ban would include both recreational and commercial fishing, and there’s speculation that the species could be listed as imperiled. According to the article, “After years of large-scale fishing and rising demand in the sushi industry it is estimated that as few as 40,000 adult Pacific bluefin tuna remain in the wild, around four percent of the fish’s historic average.”

Meanwhile in Mexico. According to this story by the U-T San Diego, Mexico has banned all fishing for Bluefin for the rest of the year. “This measure will be strictly enforced by Mexican authorities,” says the announcement, and it applies to both recreational and commercial fishing.

Sustainable seafood choices. Which fish should we eat? This story in The Sacramento News and Review addresses the controversy and confusion around how to choose wisely when buying seafood. The article covers the complexities of trawling, bycatch, the debate about farmed fish versus wild-caught, and so on.

Oysters in the Pacific Northwest. In this New York Times story, we learn more about what’s going on in the state of Washington, where it seems that climate change has caused the waters to acidify, which is bad news for oysters and other crustaceans that rely on calcium carbonate as an exoskeleton building block. As billions of baby oysters in the Pacific inlets are dying, the state’s Gov. Jay Inslee is using this fact to build political will for the ultimate goal of creating better policies aimed at climate change. The article provides good insight into the political machinations of local and regional politics, as well as the local response to climate change claims.

Toledo’s drinking problem. Big news this week was the disgusting water quality in Toledo, Ohio, which draws its drinking water from Lake Erie. This story in The Guardian correctly pinpoints the main cause of this phenomenon—farm runoff pollution, which creates algal blooms. According to the story, “Water problems in the Great Lakes – the world’s largest freshwater system – have spiked in the last three years, largely because of agricultural pollution … The main cause for such algal blooms is an overload of phosphorus, which washes into lakes from commercial fertiliser used by farming operations as well as urban water-treatment centres.” The runoff has been exacerbated by the unusually heavy rains that are becoming more and more common as part of climate change. I hope that the communities in the Great Lakes watersheds develop sound policies for tackling the phosphorus overload, and that it can withstand pushback from the farm lobbies that tend to oppose any kind of plan for managing the pollution that comes from farming operations.

Phosphorus in Maryland. Here in Maryland, we face what can feel like an uphill battle managing the phosphorus that comes from farming operations on the Eastern Shore, where there are more than 1,300 poultry farms. The American Farm Bureau Federation is trying its best to prevent the EPA from cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, largely because of how the cleanup efforts might make farm operations accountable for their pollution. In this blogpost we explain what the Environmental Integrity Project’s recent reports say about the Governor O’Malley administration’s failure to act on managing the phosphorus that comes from farms. There are steps we can take toward improvement, but politics within are creating a roadblock; O’Malley’s potential bid for President in 2016 may be one of those roadblocks and his desire to do nothing to offend corporate agriculture. This story posted by the University of Maryland Sea Grant tells us about using satellite technology to detect algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay. According to the story, “Detecting harmful algal blooms early continues to be a key concern because they often go unnoticed until they have grown large enough to threaten fish populations and human health. To spot and track harmful blooms in the Bay more quickly, scientists and natural-resource managers are considering taking a new approach: analyzing images from an eye in the sky, a satellite-mounted sensor.” The article explains that when harmful blooms are detected, local officials could take steps to protect the public from bad water in municipal water systems and at beaches. This is all great, of course. But can we use these satellite images to identify sources of phosphorus pollution—and what can we do to mitigate the pollution coming from those sources, especially if those sources are industrial poultry operations? Public health officials have the agency to warn the public about potential risks, but it’s unclear which agency can force polluting farm operations to stop.

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