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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

California to Address “Hidden” Decline in Recreational Ocean Bass Fishery

Posted On October 23, 2012 by

Kelp aka Calico Bass. Source: CDFG; Photo credit: Rob Johnson

Identifying threats to sea life isn’t always easy. What you see is often far from the whole story. Take kelp bass and barred sand bass, for example. These particular fish tend to get together in the same places at the same time of year. When it comes to spawning, they’re very much creatures of habit.

This makes it easy if your goal is catching them.  These fish also conveniently gather in the summer, when ocean and weather conditions are at their friendliest. You (and a few thousand others) could catch your limit and still be under the impression that these fish populations are healthy.

The problem is, at least in the case of the barred sand bass, we’ve discovered where almost all of the fish are. During the spawn, the overall size of the population doesn’t affect catch levels, due to advanced fish-finding technology and efficient fishing techniques.  Managing fisheries often presents the problem of distinguishing fish availability from fish abundance. Sometimes there are plenty of fish around and none interested in biting.  Here we find the opposite: we can find fish to catch even as their overall numbers are in real decline.

As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, “Big catches mask dwindling numbers of sea bass.”

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Celebrating 40 Years of Making the Ocean Matter

Posted On September 7, 2012 by

coral reef with 40th anniversary logo

Photo: Gloria Freund, Photo Contest 2011

Today Ocean Conservancy turns 40 years old. That’s quite the milestone when you think about how we got started. (View a slideshow of our history.)

Founded in the midst of the nascent environmental movement in 1972, Ocean Conservancy began as a small organization focused on securing grants for environmental educators. Now we are recognized as a leader in empowering citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean.

For 40 years, Ocean Conservancy has found success by relying upon science to inform our work and partnering with unexpected allies ranging from fishing communities to major businesses to a global network of volunteers. However, there is still much work to be done.

Continue reading »

What’s in a Number? Insights and Opportunities for Ocean Health

Posted On August 29, 2012 by

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.  Continue reading »

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Fish and chips: wild, farmed or hybrid?

Posted On August 13, 2012 by

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. Continue reading »

Researchers Find Resilience Inside Marine Reserves

Posted On July 27, 2012 by

After a die-off, pink abalone populations inside of the Isla Natividad marine reserve in Mexico bounced back faster than abalone outside of the marine reserve. Credit: Channel Islands NMS

An exciting new study of pink abalone in Isla Natividad, Mexico sheds light on the ability of marine reserves to make the ocean more resilient to disasters.

Scientists from Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station teamed up with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad to study a patch of ocean that was hard hit by two large die-offs related to recent hypoxic events, periods of low dissolved oxygen in the water. They compared fished areas to nearby marine reserves, with startling results: Continue reading »

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The Value of Little Fish

Posted On June 29, 2012 by

George Leonard finds an ocean ecosystem in downtown Santa Cruz.

Standing on the sidewalk in downtown Santa Cruz, I gaze upon a fish. Actually several fish.  An entire ocean ecosystem really.  Captured artistically in bronze.  The dramatic sculpture depicts a spiral of sharks, tuna, salmon, and marine mammals, connected to and supported by a swirling mass of smaller fish – sardines or maybe anchovies. Commonly known as ‘bait fish’ or ‘forage fish’, these small fish are the base of the food chain, the vital foundation that supports all the larger fish in the ocean.  Scientists warn that they need better protection around the globe.

This week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council took a bold and important step towards protecting forage fish and in turn the ocean ecosystem itself.  Charged with setting catch limits, seasons and gear restrictions designed to ensure the long-term catch of a dizzying array of fisheries, this week’s action was somewhat unusual.  Instead of deciding how – and how many – fish should be caught, the Pacific Council basically decided that some fish shouldn’t be caught at all. At least not yet. Continue reading »

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Does only selling sustainable seafood work? A Q&A with Whole Foods

Posted On June 26, 2012 by

This past Earth Day, Whole Foods Market announced it was doing something good for the ocean: eliminating “red-rated” wild seafood from their fish counter. While some criticism of the methodologies commonly used to define “sustainable seafood” exists, increased awareness of the impacts our choices have on other species is undoubtedly a good thing.

Two months into the program, we were curious how customers had reacted, as well as how Whole Foods management arrived at their decision. Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator Carrie Brownstein took a moment to answer our questions. Continue reading »