The Blog Aquatic » aquaculture News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:00:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Confronting Ocean Acidification: It’s Going to Take a Village Tue, 02 Oct 2012 19:46:32 +0000 George Leonard

I’m really hoping last week was a turning point for the ocean. After spending a sobering week in Montereyat a gathering of over 500 ocean scientists, where I learned the latest about the threat of ocean acidification to the health of the ocean, I’ve concluded we are all going to have to pull together if we want a livable ocean in the future.

Since the first global conference on ocean acidification in 2004, a large and passionate group of scientists has coalesced to determine what is happening to our ocean.  Some of these leaders were profiled in the Washington Post yesterday, names that aren’t yet known to the general public but who are firsthand witnesses to a changing ocean. Folks like Dick Feeley, Gretchen Hofmann and Jean-Pierre Gattuso are ocean pioneers, working overtime to understand the threat that our continued burning of fossil fuels poses to the ocean.  Their insights and those from many of their colleagues are now pouring in across a range of scientific disciplines from oceanography to ecology and evolution. While last week’s conference shows that the science on specific species and how they might react is variable and nuanced, one conclusion is clear – ocean acidification is real, it is happening now and it is impacting real people. Scientists can’t yet predict exactly what will happen to every species, but it is clear that the ocean of the future will be fundamentally different from that of today, unless we work together to stem the tide of ocean acidification.

Everyone on earth has a vested interest in a healthy ocean, for the ocean provides much of the food we eat, water we drink and air we breathe. Shellfish farmers like Mark Wiegardt and Sue Cudd have been hardest hit to date; the industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly went bankrupt before scientists determined corrosive seawater was killing their juvenile oysters. But ocean acidification will effect more than just shellfish farmers. Fishermen, seafood retailers, and ultimately consumers will likely be impacted as the base of the ocean food web is restructured.  Others dependent on a living ocean – whether they value the ocean for recreation or profit – need to learn much more about this threat. This includes everyone from recreational scuba divers who treasure coral reefs to the cruise ship industry who ferries tourists to the tropics.  In short, if you have a vested interest in the ocean of today, you need to be deeply concerned about ocean acidification and the ocean of tomorrow.

Scientists are generally a cautious bunch, but the message from Montereylast week was loud and clear.  “We now know enough to know that there is urgency to act,” declared Dr. Gattuso to Science magazine. This sentiment was echoed by Prince Albert II of Monaco and other luminaries in front of a packed house of educators, media, filmmakers, conservationists, scientists, and industry at the conclusion of the conference. The rapidly growing body of science shows that the old adage “think globally but act locally” applies to the ocean as well.  It shows that nutrient and coastal pollution make acidification worse. Overfishing makes ecosystems more vulnerable. Destroying habitats – including sea grasses, salt marshes and mangroves – releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further accelerating acidification and climate change.  All of these are threats we can tackle now.  This will buy us some valuable time as we turn up the pressure our elected officials to work constructively with the global community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

None of this will be easy and it can’t be done by any one group or individual. Confronting ocean acidification really will take a village. But I’m pretty sure I saw that village begin to come together last week in Monterey.

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What’s in a Number? Insights and Opportunities for Ocean Health Wed, 29 Aug 2012 21:31:33 +0000 George Leonard

Credit: Mario Chow

What if you could take the pulse of the ocean? What if that measure could integrate all the threats and impacts to the ocean, rather than evaluating each one separately?  And instead of dwelling on these negatives, the metric could express the health of the ocean by quantifying and adding up the most important ways the ocean benefits humans.  Most importantly, the measure wouldn’t portray humans as separate from nature, but rather embed us deeply in this “seascape” and empower us – all of us – to chart a course for the future of the ocean.

The newly released Ocean Health Index (OHI) may very well get us there.  The OHI takes on the big issues – pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species, fishing and climate change – and its findings should cause us all to think hard about what we want the ocean to provide.  The short story is that the global ocean scores 60 out of a possible 100 points, with large variation among the 171 countries and territories evaluated.  Whether you view the glass as half empty or half full, there is clearly considerable room for improvement. 

A range on insights can be had, if you take the time to delve into the study.  On average, fisheries are faring poorly, with a score of 25. Many fisheries are overfished or not being sustainably managed.  Globally, mariculture (ocean farming) fares even worse, largely because China is so far ahead of the rest of the world in farmed fish production.  Biodiversity of the world’s ocean was surprisingly high (83) but this may be the result of using “risk of extinction” (a very low conservation bar) as the relevant yardstick.  The status of ocean habitats also fared reasonably well at 88, but this may be because current trends were measured against the status in 1980, when much of the damage had already been done.  The ability of the ocean to store carbon is in steep decline; this should be a clarion call to restore coastal habitats like sea grasses, salt marshes, and mangroves that sequester carbon (and fight off climate change and ocean acidification) at a rate 50x greater than the more well-known tropical rain forests.

The closer one looks at the Ocean Health Index, the more questions it raises: What do the numbers really mean? How do we raise the scores? Can we raise the scores? What can I do to raise the score? How did the ocean get this way? And where do we go now?  This is pretty heady stuff.  At Ocean Conservancy, we plan to look more in depth at answers to these questions over the next few months.  Let us know which issues are of most interest to you.

Beyond these deeper questions, the Ocean Health Index is fundamentally a tool for all of us – policymakers, public citizens and industry – to ultimately make more informed and better decisions about the ocean.  If we are ready to roll up our sleeves, the OHI should help us work toward a vision for the future of the ocean that we really want.

Now is the time to chart that course – for our own health and the health of the planet.

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Fish and chips: wild, farmed or hybrid? Mon, 13 Aug 2012 15:04:37 +0000 George Leonard

Do you know where the fish in your fish and chips came from? Credit: David Ascher

Next time you go to your local fish market, ask them for a hybrid fillet. My guess is they will stare at you with a confused look on their face or direct you to the local Toyota dealership. Most consumers and seafood retailers typically think of seafood as either farmed or wild. But if a new proposal on seafood labeling gains traction, you may soon see the term “hybrid” American lobster alongside wild Pacific Halibut and farmed Atlantic salmon.

Fishing is different than farming. Fishermen ply the seas and interact with the fish only once, when they capture it. Fish farmers, by contrast, tend their crop, generally from egg to juvenile fish to harvest as adults. Fishing is thus analogous to hunting, while aquaculture is more akin to farming.  Fishermen also tend to think of themselves as fundamentally different from fish farmers and there can be animosity among the two groups because their products compete in the marketplace. But deep down, most seafood experts have long known that this simple distinction isn’t really based on reality.

Now a new science paper from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis published in the journal Marine Policy maps out a suite of species that are not clearly either wild or farmed – they are a hybrid of both. Hybrids are wild fisheries that use aquaculture techniques or farmed fish that use certain fisheries techniques. For example, the iconic wild salmon from Alaska actually relies heavily on hatcheries (a form of aquaculture) to increase the wild fish’ natural reproduction. The Gulf of Maine has essentially become a large lobster farm, where baited traps feed juvenile lobster until they are large enough to be caught by lobstermen. Bluefin tuna, a species in precipitous decline in the wild, is now “ranched” in the Mediterranean by stocking aquaculture cages with juvenile fish and fattening them until they are ready for market. Likewise, eel (the popular unagi at your local sushi restaurant) is produced from a hybrid system, capturing juveniles from the wild and then farming them to the perfect size for sushi rolls.

While this distinction may seem academic, it makes a difference. If we are to better manage fishing and farming and develop policies to promote ways to reduce environmental impacts, we need a more accurate way of tracking and categorizing seafood.  Those forms of aquaculture that rely on wild fish for feed inputs or wild juveniles to stock the farm, actually put additional pressure on the ocean.  If large quantities of bait are used in wild fisheries or ecosystems are altered by fishing activities, we may overestimate how many fish the oceans can actually produce.

Rethinking how we categorize seafood would help scientists, fishery managers and seafood businesses better understand the impacts of seafood production. Doing could also be an important part of ensuring fish for the future.


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Your Ocean on Carbon: A Field Report Wed, 30 May 2012 16:03:16 +0000 George Leonard

Credit: James Maciariello

I have had three sobering yet empowering days in Boston at the first Global Conference on Oceans, Climate and Security hosted by UMass Boston. I joined colleagues from academia, government, the non-profit sector, private industry and even the military to explore human and national security implications of our changing climate and our changing oceans. While our elected officials in Washington DC continue to debate whether climate change is “real”, those on the front lines have moved beyond this debate to prepare for what is to come and indeed, what is already here.

Make no mistake about it. Our oceans are changing. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the nation’s top ocean official, itemized these changes; sea level is rising and the oceans are getting stormier, seawater is getting warmer and holds less oxygen. None of this is debatable. The data are clear and profound. And the pace of change is increasing. 

The consequences of a changing ocean extend well beyond the coast and should be of concern to all of us, whether coastal or inland residents.  The frequency and severity of catastrophic weather events are increasing. Over 200 of my fellow participants sat spellbound while Dr. Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground, identified the top 12 potential $100 billion weather disasters in the next 30 years.  That’s billion with a b, not million.

You might guess that the sober reality of the science would sap the energy to act from all in the room. Quite the contrary. Many sectors are stepping up to confront a changing ocean head on. Dr. Luchenco’s agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is leading no fewer than 8 initiatives to measure and address ocean acidification and climate change.  The U.S. Navy is planning extensively for sea level rise and an ice free Arctic ocean.  The aquaculture industry is changing business practices to avoid increasingly acidic waters.  States like Massachusetts and Rhode Island are using smart planning to address how ocean uses are influenced by a changing ocean.  Much of this activity is happening at the local level, with an emphasis on local leadership, engagement and success.

There is no question that our future ocean will be dramatically different than it is today.  But with the energy and commitment evident at the UMass Boston conference, we can work together to proactively plan for that future.

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