‘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.


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.

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]

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

Beyond Data Podcast in the News

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Thanks to the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Office of Communications and Marketing for directing folks to my podcast episode Brown Trout – Beloved Invader that looked at invasive species through the lens of one of world’s most popular freshwater game species. In the episode,  Julie Lockwood provides broader context on invasion ecology as well as her take on how to conserve natural ecosystems within an era of massive global change.

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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.


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!


Posted in Beyond Data Podcast, Lobster Fishery, Maine Fisheries, Northeast Fisheries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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.


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,


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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