‘Holy Grail’ Test for Illegal Cyanide-Caught Aquarium Fish May Be Fatally Flawed [Excerpt from NatGeo]

This is an excerpt from my latest article in National Geographic.

A widely celebrated test believed to be able to determine if tropical marine aquarium fish were caught illegally using cyanide may be based on problematic data, a new study says.

aquarium-fish-cyanide-nationalgeographic_972735-adapt-676-1

Blue tangs are popular saltwater aquarium fish that until recently couldn’t be bred in captivity. It’s believed many of them are caught using cyanide to stun them.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TIM LAMAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

KOMANG SWERVES TO miss a pothole and then to avoid an oncoming bemo, the ubiquitous minibuses providing public transportation throughout Indonesia. He turns off the main road onto a sandy track. Large leaves slap against the truck’s rusted sides, as bags of reef fish slosh in the back. Ahead, through an insect-splattered windshield, chickens and children scuttle in a cacophony of squawks and laughter until the lushness gives way to a cobble beach with a fishing village huddled against dark hills in the distance. Komang pulls up near a small building. A man leans against an overturned dory surrounded by the detritus of his livelihood—nets, a boat beyond repair, a rusted engine block.

He leads Komang to a concrete pool filled with seawater. A fish darts into the open, gills gaping. Komang nods. There’s a brief negotiation, then the man nets and bags the fish and hands it over.

Komang returns to the truck, placing the fish in the back with the others. He starts to slide in behind the wheel but stops, as if he forgot something. Komang removes a plastic bag containing several small tablets from his pocket and hands it to the fisherman.

The scene repeats that day at fishing villages along the northwest coast of Bali. Komang is a middleman. He buys fish from fishermen and drives them back over the island to Denpasar, where he sells them to exporters at a profit. For those concerned about illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, the middleman system in Indonesia is a roadblock to sustainability. It often removes traceability from the supply chain, as provenance is lost by the time the fish reach the exporter.

There’s also a more insidious concern: Those tablets Komang handed out are potassium cyanide. Combined with seawater in a squirt bottle, they’re used to paralyze fish, making them easier to catch.

It is estimated that during the past half century more than 2.2 million pounds of cyanide were illegally used on Philippine coral reefs to exploit fish for the aquarium and… [Continue Reading in National Geographic]

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Posted in Developing Nations, Indo-Pacific, IUU Fishing, Ornamental Fisheries | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chefs on Seafood, Changing Menus & Trust – A Special Report from Seafood Expo North America 2018

Click here or on the play button below to listen to a special episode of Beyond Data reporting on the 2018 Seafood Expo North America.

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In this episode, we focus on chefs as change agents in the seafood industry. Forward-thinking chefs who are thought leaders in the seafood space, are always trying to figure out how to create demand for lesser-known species that are both delicious and seasonably abundant. Can these chefs drive industry change, and if so, how? Chef Evan Mallett moderates a panel on this topic with top New England chefs and a supplier.

Panal Participants

Evan Mallett, Black Trumpet and Ondine Oyster & Wine Bar

Jeremy Sewall, Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34

Derek Wagner, Nicks on Broadway

Jared Auerbach, Red’s Best

Justin Boevers, Fish Choice

Part I [00:00] Intro

Seafood Expo North America

Part II [02:15] The Discussion

Top Seafood Species

FishPeople Seafood

“What about the ‘S’ Word?” by Ret Talbot

This was a 75-minute panel discussion, so today’s 20-minute episode is just a small slice of what was discussed. Stay tuned for more from this session in future episodes.

Posted in Beyond Data Podcast, Chef's Collaborative, Maine Fisheries, Northeast Fisheries | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Special Episode of Beyond Data Podcast Released – Resiliency in Maine’s Lobster Fishery & More

20180302_125300This special episode of the Beyond Data Podcast is reported from the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, which recently wrapped up here in Midcoast Maine.

In this episode, we hear from Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner Patrick Keliher on resiliency in the State’s most valuable fishery. We also explore a case of mistaken science versus fishing industry, and we touch on the single biggest issue facing Maine’s working waterfronts over the next few years: right whale entanglements.

This coming weekend, the Beyond Data Podcast will be headed to Seafood Expo North America, so stay tuned for live tweets from that event, as well as additional special episodes of the podcast.

Beyond Data is reported, narrated and produced by me, Ret Talbot, in Rockland, Maine. If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell a friend about it, and consider subscribing on Apple Podcasts where you can also help out the show by rating it and giving us a review. That really does make a difference!

BeyondData3kx3k

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Introducing the Beyond Data Podcast

This month, I launched the first episode in the first season of the Beyond Data Podcast, and I hope you’ll give it (and the rest of season one) a listen.

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As many of you know as readers of my work, I’ve been a freelance journalist and science writer reporting on fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability for much of the past decade. I frequently use the hashtag #datamatter because, well, they do. But what happens when the data simply don’t exist, are insufficient or unavailable? What happens when so-called alternative facts are considered just facts and people operate under the impression that the plural of anecdote is indeed data? How do we reach consensus when everyone espouses his or her own data—his or her own facts? In the Beyond Data Podcast, my guests and I go where I’ve often been unwilling to go in my reporting–beyond data.

In the inaugural episode of the podcast, you’ll join me in a deep dive into New York’s oyster toadfish fishery. In the 1990s, commercial landings of this data deficient, unregulated species in New York waters increased by more than 300 percent in a single year without fisheries managers taking note and assessing the sustainability of the fishery or its effects on other fisheries. How did this happen, and could it happen again in the face of climate change, the culinary trash fish movement and developing international markets? My guests and I go beyond the data in a quest to answer these and other questions. You can check out links and images from the episode on the episode’s homepage, or you can listen to the whole thing below.

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There are eight episodes–one per month–of the Beyond Data Podcast planned for season one. The episodes will generally release during the last week of the month, with a Follow-Up Friday episode released two weeks later. At the end of season one, we’ll take a few months off and work on season two.

If you like what you’re hearing in the first season, please consider subscribing on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts (the podcast is also available through Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIn, and YouTube). If you want to help the show grow, please consider rating and reviewing it on Apples Podcasts–that really does make a big difference!

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The Big Reboot!

Dear Readers,

It’s been almost a year since I last published on The Good Catch Blog. There are lots of reasons for that, but at the moment, they are relatively unimportant. What is important is that in a year of figuring out what comes next, I’ve been working on a couple big projects, and one of them is scheduled to launch next Thursday (12 October)–the one year anniversary of my last blog entry. I hope you’ll stay tuned for this next iteration of pursuing fisheries-centric stories at the intersection of science and sustainability.

All the Best,

Ret

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USGS Confirms 36th Non-Native Marine Fish Species Found in Florida

Today the the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced a West Pacific Ocean fish species commonly known as the blotched foxface rabbitfish (Siganus unimaculatus) was successfully captured off Dania Beach, Florida.  According to the USGS, this is the first record of the species outside of the western Pacific Ocean.

While there is no indication that species has established itself in Florida waters, scientists are not taking any chances. “The lionfish has definitely changed the way we think about marine fish invasions,” said Pam Schofield, USGS Fish Biologist. “Lionfish spread incredibly fast and now it occupies an enormous invaded range where it negatively impacts native marine life. We know that we need to be vigilant when it comes to future introductions.”

The live capture of the blotched foxface rabbitfish was a coordinated effort between USGS and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and occurred within 24 hours of the species first being spotted by scuba diver.

“Any organism outside its normal range has the potential to cause negative impacts,” said Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects for REEF. “If we wait to see what those impacts are going to be, it’s too late–they’ve already happened.”

The rabbitfish is the 36th non-native marine fish species documented in Florida waters. Most of the non-native reef fish species are, according to the USGS, the result of intentional or accidental releases of aquarium fishes. Non-native marine fish occurrences are documented in the USGS’ Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database.

 

Posted in Forida, Invasive Species, Ornamental Fisheries, Southeast Fisheries, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CITES Adopted Draft Decisions on Banggai Cardinalfish – A New Chapter?

Over the past several days, I have been reporting on the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). My focus has been primarily on the marine species proposed for regulation under CITES with an emphasis on the Banggai cardinalfish, a species I have covered extensively here and elsewhere. Now that CoP17 is over, a new chapter begins for the Banggai cardinalfish, and the following is really the beginning of that story. 

On Monday, the European Union withdrew its proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) under CITES Appendix II. The withdrawal occurred following Indonesia’s acceptance of a series of draft decisions, which are outlined below. On Tuesday, during the CoP17 plenary session, the withdrawal and the draft decisions were officially adopted (see video above), beginning a new chapter for the species.

Species included on Appendix II are those that, although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls. The inclusion of the Banggai cardinalfish on Appendix II was supported by the CITES Secretariat, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United States and numerous other Parties, NGOs and observers who believe the Banggai cardinalfish meets the criteria for inclusion. The proposal was opposed in severely abbreviated committee consideration by Indonesia, the only range state for the species, as well as by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) and Kuwait. Aquarium trade associations also generally opposed the proposal, although Ornamental Fish International (OFI), which had a representative present at CoP17, said “we are open to possible new information that could emerge during the CoP.”

Of the 62 proposals considered at CoP17, only six, including the proposal to include the Banggai cardinalfish, were withdrawn.

The final adopted draft decisions agreed to by Indonesia are as follows:

Directed to Indonesia

  • 17.X1 Indonesia should implement conservation and management measures to ensure the sustainability of international trade in Pterapogon kauderni, and report progress on these measures to the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting.

Directed to the Secretariat

  • 17.X2 Subject to external funding, the Secretariat shall commission a study to assess the impact of international trade on the conservation status of Pterapogon kauderni and to advise on suitable conservation and management measures, as appropriate.
  • 17.X3 The Secretariat shall share the results of the study as referred to under decision 17.X2 with the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting.

Directed to the Animal Committee

  • 17.X4 The Animals Committee shall, at its 30th meeting, review the progress report submitted by Indonesia as referred to under Decision 17.X1, as well as the results of the study as referred to under Decision 17.X2, and make its recommendations to the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

Directed to donor Parties and other relevant organizations

  • 17.X5 Donor Parties and other relevant organizations, including FAO, are invited and encouraged to provide support to Indonesia and to the Secretariat for the purpose of implementing Decisions 17.X1 to 17.X3.

The 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee will likely be held during the spring or summer of 2018. The role of the Animals Committee is to provide technical support to decision-making regarding species of animals that are subject to CITES trade controls. The members of the Animals Committee represent the six major geographical regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean, and Oceania) as well as one specialist on nomenclature. Members are elected at the CoP, with the number of regional representatives weighted according to the number of member nations or “parties” within each region and according to the regional distribution of biodiversity. COP18 will be held in 2019 in Sri Lanka.

Mixed Reaction to Withdrawal of Proposal

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, OFI praised the EU’s decision to withdraw its proposal to include the Banggai cardinalfish on Appendix II and instead to propose the draft decisions listed above.

OFI…wholeheartedly supports the agreement that was adopted yesterday; to give Indonesia the possibility to implement conservation and management measures, with the support of the CITES Secretariat, Parties and organisations, including the FAO, in the time leading up to the 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee.

Svein A. Fosså, an aquarium and pet trade consultant who represented OFI at CoP17 and who is also a longstanding observer in Animals Committee meetings, was pleased with the EU’s action and the draft decisions, saying “We could hardly have expected a better outcome, for the species, for the trade and for the livelihoods in Indonesia.” 

It should be noted that many in favor of the withdrawal also note the precarious nature of the species’ conservation status and even acknowledge, as the FAO does, that it meets the criteria for inclusion on Appendix II. Nonetheless, they feel a listing was not the right path forward and that the draft decisions listed above are a much better outcome than forcing a CITES listing on the only range country despite its stringent opposition.

Not everyone was as optimistic though.

“I would say that the fact that in eight years there has not been significant improvements to stocks makes me wonder about the ability for us to help this species recover [without a CITES listing],” says Michael Tlusty of the New England Aquarium in Boston. Tlusty’s project to better monitor the aquarium trade is a winner in this year’s Wildlife Tech Challenge. “Are we preserving the status quo, or will the call for more effort and data to understand this species actually move the needle towards improvement?” Tlusty’s concerns are concerns that were also expressed by the US delegate in support of the EU proposal to grant the Banggai cardinalfish CITES protection. As the US delegate made clear prior to the EU withdrawing its proposal, Indonesia’s efforts to better manage the species to date have proven largely ineffective.

During CoP14 in 2007, the US withdrew its own proposal to include the Banggai cardinalfish on Appendix II, citing Indonesia’s renewed commitment at that time to better managing the trade in the species. “At that time, we were convinced that the national conservation management plan presented by Indonesia would help stem the decline of this species,” the US delegate said on Monday. “However, since then, the national conservation measures seem to be insufficient, and CITES regulation would compliment the measures that are in place by Indonesia.”

The US delegate went on to note that in the intervening years since the US withdrew its own proposal in 2007, the conservation status of the Banggai cardinalfish under Indonesia’s management has not improved. “We would note that the FAO Expert Advisory Panel…since the first evaluation, has found now that local extinction has occurred at five sites across the Banggai archipelago with an additional seven sites where there are declines in abundance.” [View the full intervention by the US in support of the EU proposal in the video below.]

While they may differ in their degree of optimism, both Fosså and Tlusty are hopeful that the draft decisions put in place at CoP14 will indeed move the needle in terms of the conservation status of the species. Although we likely won’t know the results until the Animals Committee reviews the progress report submitted by Indonesia, as well as the results of the study commissioned by the Secretariat regarding the conservation status of the species, there is some comfort in the fact that there is now at least an international framework with set deadlines in place. Perhaps it will insure that we don’t see a hat trick at CoP18 insofar as withdrawals of Banggai cardinalfish proposals are concerned.

CORRECTION: An earlier draft of this entry said Svein A. Fosså sits on the Animals Committee. Fosså is an observer in Animals Committee meetings, but not a formal member. He intends to be present at AC30.

 

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