May 262010
 

I just finished listening to a short from Radiolab called Killing Babies, Saving the World. The subject follows a lot of discussions I’ve had with friends over the years about the differences in logic choices depending on how abstract a benefit is, or how overloaded one’s thought processes are. It does a great job of illustrating how our minds have changed over time, and how much further we still need to go to confront some of the long term (and somewhat disconnected) issues that challenge our species. Highly recommended.

Oct 232009
 

I was literally pounding my steering wheel while listening to the KPBS Editors round table butcher coverage of the Marine Life Protection Act this morning. They did minimal research (at best), but were more than happy to speak about it anyway. There are several things which were missing from the discussion or simply incorrect:

“Fish stocks haven’t changed in 10 years”
Gloria quoted an op-ed from the UT written by someone from the fishing industry saying the fish stocks had not changed since the law was passed, in 1999. That is simply wrong and they didn’t really follow it up correctly – our fish stocks are not the same as they were 10 years ago. Major pelagic species are under huge threat and the catch size of many species is going down. It seems like everyone forgets that California has a salmon industry in a death spiral. Thankfully someone mentioned the LA Times Altered Oceans series.

“The MPAs will help keep spear fishing away from swimmers”
I’d love to see a list of all the incidents that would prompt this concern. My guess is there are very few. No one wants to spearfish where people are swimming as beaches make for lousy fishing. Why was this even discussed as a valid issue?

“Closing areas will lead to overfishing the only areas left open”
This is a ridiculous statement for several reasons. The size of the MPA at best is going to be in the 15-20% range, far less than the 30-40% range recommended by scientists. If closing that small of a percentage of space available leads to environmental destruction, then we are in horrible shape and it is all the more reason to close areas off. For more on this point, see the next two:

“The MPA’s are about protecting certain areas and will hurt fishing”
Marine preserves are not only about conserving life in the preserve. They are also about increasing life in non-preserve areas. Frequently Marine Preserves *increase* yields in non protected areas as they act as nurseries for the rest of the ocean.

“California fishing industry is well regulated, management is working”
Using salmon as an example, clearly it is not working for all species. Size and catch based fishing regulation alone (as California has) is a very poor management of fish stocks. Most species do their best reproducing when they are very old and mature. It can take many years, even decades for some species to reach a prime reproductive size. If you allow the taking of fish over a certain size only, you are targeting the very best producers of new fish. By blocking off MPA’s, you allow a portion of those best breeders to survive and produce the next generation.

Considering this network broadcast The National Parks: America’s Best Idea not that long ago, I found it very surprising that they didn’t understand the impact or importance of the Marine Life Protection Act. MPA’s preserve our ocean wild areas for generations to come in the same way our National Parks have for land use. These areas are critical to sustaining our economy, our food supply, our way of life, and ensuring it is still as much of a joy to explore our coast in 50 years as it is today.

Mar 202009
 

The LA Times has some good coverage of the large debate around the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. They even get a quote from the Avalon institution known as Dr Bill:

But Bill Bushing, a marine ecologist who has been diving off Catalina for 40 years, believes reserves are the only hope of saving critical habitats and bringing back the kind of 400-pounders that made scales creak a century ago.

“The marine protection area selection process has become so tainted by politics and self-interests that it is losing sight of its original goal,” said Bushing, who has proposed five no-fishing zones at Catalina. “That is to bring marine ecosystems back to life by setting aside a network of protected areas based on the best possible science.

“It’s not reserves that will ruin local economies,” he added, “it’s overfishing.”

Jan 282009
 

The UT has some positive words (in fact, it sounds a little like a press release) about a fish farm proposal from Hubbs-SeaWorld. The fish farm would be located off Mission Beach and would grow striped bass. This would be the first in the county, but not in the area. A 30 minute drive into Mexico or a trip to the Coronado Islands would yield a number of fish pen sightings – mostly tuna exports for Japan.

As Jay at the Linkery states, these fish farms would have a negative impact on our local environment:

Concentrated animal feedlot operations degrade their environment, propagate antibiotic-resistant disease, and ultimately provide second-rate nutrition, because the animals aren’t eating their natural food. Feedlots’ “positive economic effects” are simply that they exploit certain subsidies in our economy (commodity crops and unregulated environmental damages) to externalize most of their costs and thus make money for their operators.

He also states that this method of raising fish also ultimately impacts other areas of the country:

Just as in the movement of cattle to feedlots, they’re saying we can raise cheap fish by feeding them something that’s not their natural diet, but which is cheap. Of course, commodity corn is grown primarily through the use of fossil fuel, and is a big cause of the degradation of the soil and of rural communities in the Midwest, and the water in the Gulf of Mexico.

I agree with everything Jay wrote, his post is worth a read. Yet even believing all of the above, a part of me also believes the fish farms could have two positive effects. The first is California pollution controls. If we don’t farm the fish I believe some other country will. This country will probably have much lower standards for pollution controls and the health of local populations. We can probably do it cleaner here than China can and perhaps even set the bar higher.

The second reason is that we need more awareness of our food sourcing. The US is a net importer of sea food – most of the US population has no idea where our seafood comes from, or the damage that its harvest may have caused. The ocean stocks are on the brink of collapse, yet there is no problem walking into any seafood (or sushi) restaurant in the county and ordering whatever type of fish you want. Local production will force us to confront many of the ills that industrial farming produces. This will hopefully encourage people to think about where their food comes from and make better decisions.

Would the positive effects outweigh the negative effects? I’m not sure. I am probably being too optimistic, or naive about our ability to do it better or change peoples behavior. All the same, I think it is in everyone’s best interest to avoid NIMBY behavior.

Dec 082008
 

San Diego county will be home for more artificial reefs. We already have several – The ships to reefs projects (Yukon, Ruby E, etc), and others like the old Ingraham Bridge debris.

The newest reef (though technically in Orange County) is also one of the biggest – the Wheeler North Artificial Kelp Reef is made up of 175-acres of 120,000 tons of volcanic rock two miles south of San Clemente Pier. It was built by Edison as a way to repair the damage done to an existing reef by the warm water discharge of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. It is the first artificial reef to specifically host kelp, and special care had to be taken to make sure it would take:

“There have been many failed attempts to build a kelp forest,” House said. “We learned you just can’t pile high rocks and expect a successful reef. David Kay, Southern California Edison’s manager of environmental projects, said the rocks must be large enough to anchor the kelp, which are algae that can grow 1½ to 2 feet a day to a length of 120 feet… Some of the rocks have to be light enough so the ocean can toss them about, to shake off organisms that crowd out the kelp.

LA Times reports that the Coastal Commission also has Edison doing some other projects to help repair the damage:

“Edison is also creating a $90-million, 150-acre wetland in Del Mar as part of its environmental mitigation, and has built a white sea bass hatchery in Carlsbad. In spite of a complex elevator system to help fish sucked into the plant’s cooling system return to the ocean, the power plant kills an average of 600 tons of fish each year, Kay said.”

Chula Vista is is hoping to increase local fish stocks by placing 350 structures off the shoreline of Bayside Park in Chula Vista.

Called “a-jacks,” the structures are made from concrete and are two feet wide and weigh 78 pounds each… When the project is finished, the Port says there will be about 35 artificial reefs that measure three feet tall and four feet in diameter.

An interesting aspect of the reef is the low cost – just $30,000 for the project. I suspect that is a raw materials cost and that labor is all volunteer, but that is still pretty impressive.

Oct 302008
 

I hope it is a wet winter for California. From KPBS:

The Department of Water Resources announced it will deliver just 15 percent of the amount that local water agencies throughout California request every year. That marks the second lowest projection since the first State Water Project deliveries were made in 1962… It could force farmers in the Central Valley to fallow fields and cities from the San Francisco Bay area to San Diego to impose mandatory water rationing.

Oct 292008
 

A study tracking salmon in the Fraser and Columbia rivers has determined that dams are not the main cause of Salmon collapse.

“dam modifications to assist migrating salmon have led to much-improved survival rates since the 1970s, the study team suggests.”

In other words, the core issue with Salmon survival is in the open ocean. This does not bode well for an easy fix.

“Possible negative factors include ocean warming and changes to salmon prey distribution, increased salmon predation by seals and sea lions, and lethal parasite infestations of wild smolts spread by coastal salmon farms.”