All posts by sdachos

MSC Label Deceiving

A study conducted by a group of researchers claims that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) does not represent what its founders projected when it was initially created in 1997: “a conservation tool which intended to provide ‘the best environmental choice in seafood’ to consumers and to create positive incentives that would improve the status and management of fisheries.’   Concerns about overexploitation of fish and the need to expand fisheries due to the depletion of traditional fisheries, led the market to attempt to create an “eco-label.’

There are three major principles that MSC uses to determine if a fishery is sustainable enough to use the MSC eco-label: “sustainability of the target fish stock; low impacts on the ecosystem; and effective management.’ The researchers examined 19 formal objections (representing 35% of eco-labeled food) to the MSC by conservation groups and discovered that most of these objections had been correct: sustainable practices had not been followed. Note, this could partly be attributed to the practice of fishers paying for the certification process, allowing an element of bias.   Examples included certain fisheries which had high levels of bycatch or were not complying with state or federal laws. Thus the study concluded that “with MSC seafood, the definition [of sustainability] has been repeatedly watered down.’

MSC has received an increasing amount of criticism in the last several years, including from WWF one of their founding organizations. Discoveries of these obvious infractions demonstrate that if they want to be relevant, the MSC needs to do some self-reflection. At this point, their label is misleading to consumers and will most certainly lead to the increased degradation of the maritime environment, just the opposite of their initial mandate.

Click here for the article:

Submarine maker wants to replace humans who fish

A Chinese engineer, Zhang Wuyi, and his team have designed an unmanned submarine with the intention of using it for fishing in deep waters.   It has initially been used for harvesting sea cucumbers, a dangerous line of work for humans.   However, it will probably expand to other forms of fishing because it has the ability to pull in all types of fish: “It’s like an automatically controlled undersea harvesting machine, and absorbs aquatic products like a vacuum cleaner,” says Zhang. This efficient machine enables the production rate to be much higher than when men fish.   Last year, he sold his first submarine to a sea cucumber plant operator.   It has performed well, diving up to 30 meters and catching sea cucumbers for 10 hours continuously.

Zhang and his team demonstrated the capabilities of their submarine in a pool environment. An engineer was at the controls in the operating room while the submarine performed its mission in the nearby pool: it floated, submerged, moved slowly forward and backward, and collected sea cucumbers with its underwater camera and robot arms. Zhang claims that with the camera, lighting system, robot arms and the positioning system, the submarine can fish accurately.Chinese Sub for fishing

My concern is that with a machine like that, how do we prevent an extreme level of overfishing? We saw last week that the Chinese are already vastly underreporting their fish imports and catches.   If this submarine performs as well as Zhang claims, the Chinese will use their infinite capacity to build thousands of these machines and send them all over their coast to harvest sea cucumbers. However, they will not stop there — they will also send them all over the world, to harvest any fish possible. I am envisioning a vast fleet of fishing submarines with “mother ships’ above controlling them and collecting their “loot.’ And no one will be able to stop them…


China is drastically under-reporting overfishing

I could not help but post this article when I read it this morning – in a nutshell, in 2011, the Chinese reported that they took in 368,000 tons of fish a year when, through slick detective work, it has been discovered that they truly took in 4.6 million (12 times as much as they reported!).   For the most part, this effects West Africa but read below and attached article for details.

Is China secretly hoarding the world’s fish? (Foreign Policy)

Posted By Elizabeth F. Ralph
Thursday, April 4, 2013 – 12:40 PM

It looks like rare earth elements aren’t the only commodity China has been allegedly keeping to itself. According to a recent study published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, the Chinese have been drastically under-reporting the number of fish that Chinese ships catch in other countries’ waters every year.

While China tells the UNFAO, the U.N. agency that tracks global fishing data, that Chinese distant-water fishing vessels take in roughly 368,000 tons of fish a year, the Fish and Fisheries report estimates that the actual weight of the collective catch is more than 12 times that number — around 4.6 million tons a year. At the same time, China exaggerates its domestic catch.

The report claims that the majority of the haul (64 percent) comes from off the coast of West Africa, where Chinese fishing practices could have a serious impact on the local population. “The study shows the extent of the looting of Africa, where so many people depend on seafood for basic protein,” Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia and one of the authors of the study, told the Guardian. “We need to know how many fish have been taken from the ocean in order to figure out what we can catch in the future. Countries need to realize the importance of accurately recording and reporting their catches and step up to the plate, or there will be no fish left for our children.”

It’s important to note that just because the fishing goes unreported doesn’t mean it’s illegal. The Chinese government may have negotiated special (and usually secret) agreements with certain African coastal states allowing Chinese vessels to fish in the waters.

It’s also true that the Chinese are not alone in exploiting West Africa’s abundant fishing grounds. But, if these estimates are correct, Chinese fishermen are doing it on a much larger scale than anyone else, catching as much as 22 West African coastal countries and the other 38 countries fishing in the region combined. The long-term consequences for food security could be quite severe.





In January 2012, the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF), representing nine Alaska fishery companies and 75% of the salmon harvest, decided to withdraw from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. Instead, they will follow the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) certification.   Though this article was written last year, it is still valid because the issues arising from the AFDF decision are ongoing.   If you google Alaska salmon, MSC, FAO-RFM; you will see articles daily. I selected this article because I found all of the follow-on articles confusing – I did not know the basis for the discussion (sometimes huge arguments!) that were ongoing in the media.   I think by reading the above imbedded piece, you can at least see what the issues are on the AFDF side.

As we learned in class, by their state constitution that dictates fisheries management, Alaska has historically been a relatively good steward of the environment.    AFDF claims that regardless of certification, Alaska’s salmon fishery is sustainable and valid for them to avoid the lengthy and financially high process of going through the MSC certification.   Even the governor supports this change by stating that Alaska fisheries “have a constitutional mandate for sustained yield, a commitment to scientific research, … to serve the Alaska people… employing more people than any other industry in Alaska.’

Understanding that third party certification, such as MSC labeled products, reassure clients that a fishery is responsibly managed, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), has taken pains to communicate that the FAO-RFM process has high standards and is accessible to all. Of note, there are no fees in this certification process, most likely the main reason for this change.

Meanwhile, for those enterprises still using the Alaskan MSC standards, Intertek Moody Marine announced there would be a delay in the re-certification process for the Alaskan salmon fishery.    The recertification will not be complete until summer 2013.

Unusually Warm Waters has Direct Economic Repercussions on the Maine Lobster Industry


Due to atypical water temperatures off the East Coast of the US this past year (since winter through fall), there was a  high number of catches this year (~30% higher than last year). Essentially, when water does not get cold enough, lobsters do not have a dormant winter state.   In these warmer waters (some as high as 60 degrees F) they do three things they don’t usually do: 1) molt early and more often, 2) breed more and 3) move around and thus stumble into lobster pots.   This leads to an overabundance of lobster caught, 18 million pounds more this year than last year’s 123 million.

As a result, lobster prices have plummeted to as low as $3.00/lb (compare to 2011 when it was as high as $6.50/lb). Don’t be fooled that you can actually buy lobster for that price — it is only the price of what a lobsterman is receiving for his catch. The consumer is not seeing a dip in prices of the end product.   We are still paying $10.00/lb for a lobster in Washington, DC and transportation costs cannot account for that much of a difference…

LobsterCompounding the economic problem are the following:

1) Even running 24 hours a day, the factories do not have the capacity to process all of the large volume of lobster.

2) The global economic downturn has decreased the number of clients, especially from Europe, traditionally a high region consumer.

3) Unless the lobstermen themselves curb their catch quantity, there are expectations that the price will continue to be depressed.

The glass half full side of this story is that strong conservation efforts by the Maine Lobstermen have also contributed to the high numbers of lobster, so good that they are in the process of being Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) cerified.

Meanwhile, further south on continent, there is an opposite concern.   The Central American Integration System (SICA) put in place a ban on fishing spiny lobster from March 1 to June 30, its prime reproductive period. The ban covers water off the coast of the entire Caribbean coastline, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Though the penalties are severe, some are pessimisitic that some of these government authorities would be able to enforce this regulation, reinforcing the mindset that good governance is the key to sustainable.

Kampachi Yellowtail Fish – Innovative Management Strategy

Open ocean/ marine aquaculture (referred to as “mariculture’) is the latest innovation for helping to feed the occupiers of the planet while minimizing harm to the planet.   Kampachi Farms has invented technology that uses diamond-shaped net pens to hold a species of yellow tail tuna from spawning to harvest.   Time Magazine called this “Drifting Fish Farm’ as one of 2012’s greatest inventions.

What makes the way Kampachi Farms manages their Yellowtail sustainable?

  • They eat small fish which drifts into their net pens but also are fed a soy-based protein diet. They are not give any antibiotics, hormones or pesticides. All of this minimizes their impact on the environment.
  • They spawn as often (as much as weekly!) throughout the year.
  • They have some of the most optimal feed-conversion ratios: protein required to produce one pound can be as little as 1.6:1.
  • Their pen location has strong currents, which diminishes the impact of the fish’s waste.
  • Kampachi tastes good — it is considered to be high-grade sashimi — so people will purchase and eat it.   Read this critique!
  • Kampachi is high in Omega-3s, so it is good for us.
  • And maybe most importantly, it helps prevent wild fish from being over-exploited.

I had also read about in Four Fishes: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg. I highly recommend this book to learn about how we can attempt to sustain the top four fish species (salmon, tuna, sea bass and cod) that humans consume.

For more info, check out this article:

And this video:

The Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna

The Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna (in official scientific circles, they like to call me Thunnus thynnus)Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna

I’m here for (select one):

  • Networking (I want people to know who I am so they think twice about ordering toro at their local sushi resto!).

My status:   Endangered Species

Hometown: I can be found off Newfoundland and Iceland, as well as the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea, where I go to spawn.BFT Home

Body Type: I am a pretty big guy — one of the biggest in the ocean — measuring as long as 4 m (13 ft) and weighing as much as 250 kilos (550 lbs).   I am a gorgeous metallic blue on top and shimmering silver-white on the bottom — these differing colors are my camouflage from predators (mostly those pesky fishermen).

Children — I am a spawner — and I like to do it in very large groups easily seen from above   which makes me vulnerable to commercial fishermen.   I am also a type of fish that does “natal-homing’ which means I go back to where I was born to reproduce.

I don’t smoke or drink alcohol — isn’t being an endangered species enough of a risk? But really, I just don’t have time for it b/c I spend all of my time eating — I cannot get enough of smaller fish (like sardines), crustaceans, squid, and eels — and I am constantly filter feeding on zooplankton. Hey, one’s got keep his weight if he’s going to be competitive out there!

– My Fav Music: Just the sound of water and bubbles rushing past me as I cruise through the ocean and seas at up to 70 km/hour! My crescent shaped tail and streamlined body enable this but I have another cool trick for reducing drag: I can retract my pectoral and dorsal fins!

– My Fav Book: Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea is my favorite book — every time I read it, I think if it had been a tuna that old man had caught, he would have gotten away!

– My Fav Hobby: I heart traveling!   I love to swim from North American to European waters, even the Med. I have even done this several times in one year — it helps having such blood soaked muscles to give me the strength to do that.

–   My Heros: All the organizations that are trying to ban fishing on Blue Fin Tuna and inform the world about our plight. Keep providing more sustainable alternatives to blue fin, especially in the sushi industry! Monterey Bay Aquarium has been especially helpful getting the word out — check out their clear info on why you should avoid eating me!

Check out this You Tube video that talks about the overfishing of my species:

Pew Environmental Video

Here I am last summer hanging out with my family!



EU Reforms Common Fisheries Policy

EU Reforms Common Fisheries Policy

Environmentalists and fish conservationists around the world are feeling hopeful this week due to the European Union finally passing policy that will reform the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).   If the European member states agree to incorporate this policy, we should see a sizeable decrease in stock depletion of Mediterranean fish.  

The new proposal is a four-fold reform which:

  • ·                 Limits catches to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) with the goal of bringing back overfished stock  
  • ·                 Prohibits discard of unwanted species, diminishing with the goal of eliminating wasteful bycatch practices
  • ·                 Incorporates scientific data in the process, ensuring thoughtful and statistical analysis is used to determine fish stock preservation.  
  • ·                 Shifts to a multi-year management of the fish stock

All 27 Member States will also have to approve this legislation but if they all adopt it, potentially all overfished stocks could be renewed to a sustainable level by 2020.   Unfortunately, and to be expected, France and Spain have already voiced their opposition.   They represent two of the top fishing states in the EU and have a history of challenging sustainable fishing practices that would threaten their fishing industries (

On a personal note, I find this very encouraging that “people power’ played such a significant role in EU’s action – chefs who care about what they serve, environmentalists who are dedicated to their cause, and ordinary people like you and me strongly influenced their decision to push this reform.

Please see these two articles for more details: