Monday, September 26, 2011

Not So Much of a Demon After All

Sijmon de Waal/Marine Photobank.

The interaction of humans and sharks began only a short time ago, from a shark’s perspective. Sharks evolved somewhere around 400 million years ago and have been thriving on Earth ever since. In their most recent chapter of history they have encountered a new competitor, humans, who have quickly developed as a formidable foe and efficient predator. The populations of nearly every known species of shark have declined heavily in the last few decades and are still decreasing. The fate of sharks depends on our ability to turn this predator/prey relationship into a co-existing relationship that will maintain the integrity of the ocean ecosystem.
On Monday, September 19th, a group of conservationists gave up their lunch break to gather in the conference room of the World Wildlife Fund to hear Juliet Eilperin, Science and Environmental Reporter for the Washington Post, discuss her new book, Demon Fish. The goal of the book is to convince readers to reconsider their preconceptions about sharks, inform them about problems these marine animals are facing, and educate them about what can be done to help sharks. Eilperin began by talking about the perceptions of sharks throughout history and how early humans portrayed them. Many early island cultures drew pictures of sharks and displayed them always as powerful, but sometimes benevolent and sometimes dangerous - a view that Eilperin believes we should return to. The view that the public holds today is of great fear that sharks are out to attack whenever they can, which is not the case. Her research noted that the Western world forgot about sharks in the Middle Ages until seafaring journeys became more common.
The great fear of sharks started when tales were told of sailors being attacked out at sea. Very few people had ever seen a shark before, so when they heard these great tales of beasts and saw portrayals by artists - ,many of whom had never seen sharks - of violent attacks, the public became terrified. At this time in history the Ocean was very much a mystery because humans didn’t have a way to explore the depths. This thought of monsters coming up from the depths became, and still is, frightening.
In 1916, there were a string of shark attacks on the New Jersey shore, which led to the film that viewers either love or hate: Jaws. This film sparked fear into millions of Americans and has had a heavy impact on the perception of sharks in the Western world. Peter Benchley, the director, had never seen a shark before making the movie and went on to become a serious advocate for sharks before his death in 2006.
Eilperin moved on to describe current issues affecting sharks. Many people are aware of the fact that up to 70 million sharks are killed every year to feed the Chinese shark fin soup habit. Eilperin had the opportunity to meet with shark fin merchants and visited markets in Hong Kong, where 80% of the shark fin trade takes place. According to one dealer that she talked to in Hong Kong, 20% of his fins sold from the market go to restaurants in Canada. Most of what she encountered were fins from sharks that were brought in full, not finned at sea, although she is sure that it does happen more than is visible. Eilperin is most shocked by the fact that the shark fin does not add any flavor to the soup at all, its only purpose is as a status symbol.
Sarah Valenti 2008/Marine Photobank.

The ecological and scientific importance of sharks is nowhere close to being fully understood and we are learning more and more about them as research progresses. We are still a long ways away from fully understanding the marine food chain and what could potentially happen if sharks were removed from the equation. Research is being conducted to mimic some natural shark functions, such as their ability to repel barnacles, attach to the bottom of boats, and cure diseases.
Eilperin is a proponent of ecotourism to help reduce the catch of sharks, as it helps to bring in alternate income to local economies. The value of a shark alive, through ecotourism and environmental factors, outweighs the value of shark fins and meat significantly. Fishermen should realize that shark finning is a dying industry and that by switching to ecotourism they can make more money for a longer term, in a sustainable fashion. Eilperin points out that there are limits to ecotourism, and activities such as feeding must be regulated so as not to alter the behavior of animals. In Grand Cayman, locals feed stingrays at Sting Ray City so that people can swim up close and personal to them, but as a result, the rays have gone from being nocturnal to diurnal due to the feeding.

Eilperin closed explaining how people do not think of the ocean as wilderness, like they do of Alaska or Yellowstone, because it is more difficult to see the beauty. When most people look out at the sea, they see a large, blue, homogeneous area full of water and do not realize the complexity of what lies beneath. The public needs to get away from the “out of sight, out of mind” way of thinking and realize that all life on earth is connected and that every person is impacted by what goes on in the ocean at all times.
(c) Terry Goss 2008/Marine Photobank.

Written by: Aaron Jacobson.  Follow him on Twitter: @idratherbedivin

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finding Common Ground Between Seafood Messages

On the final morning of the conference, the group reconvened to review the outcomes from yesterday's working groups. Over the course of several hours, the participants dissected each of the proposed risk and benefit messages, parsing out different messages for different audiences. Several commonalities emerged from each group-

Consumption benefits:
  • Low calorie, nutrient rich, lean protein, heart health omega-3s
  • Supports cognitive development
  • Supports local fishermen
Consumption risks:
  • Threats to seafood supply
  • Contaminants (i.e. mercury, PCBs, etc) may have adverse health effects (neurological, development, cancer, etc)
  • Potential pathogens, foodborne illnesses, allergens
Under the overarching banner of "eat more seafood," the attendees addressed issues ranging from audience to communication strategies. The varied perspectives and viewpoints represented in the room alone reflect the incredibly complex, dynamic nature of seafood as a food source.

Ultimately, there is no single seafood consumption message that applies to an universal audience. Rather, a mixture of audiences (children vs adult vs elderly, etc), concerns (environmental, health benefits, health risks) and authorities (EPA, FDA, USDA, advocacy groups, etc) that must be considered. Moving forward, all of the participants agreed that consumers should learn more about the fish they eat to promote a better, more holistic understanding of this important dietary component.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Starting the Dialogue about the Great Seafood Debate

On a grey, drizzly Tuesday morning, 50 or so participants converged upon the University of Delaware for the "Framing the Message About Seafood" conference.

The conference kicked off with 8 presentations representing the government, industry, consumer and advocacy perspective. Each presenter tackled a different set of opportunities and challenges surrounding seafood consumption advisories, from risk communication to sustainability concerns. Following the talks, the attendees broke into four different working groups to distill the morning's messages down into simple, concise messages. After several hours of heated debate, each of the groups walked away from their session with a set of messages conveying the benefits and risks of seafood consumption. Each of these messages will serve as the grounds for tomorrow's discussion to combine and refine each idea into one or several concise consumption recommendations.

That afternoon, the team reconvened in the lobby for a bit of networking and poster presentations. KidSafe Seafood's poster generated some interesting dialogue around the NGO perspective and consumer messaging. Common themes throughout many of the conversations during the presentations and poster session adressed the potential roles, concerns and limitations of the consumer: How much information is too much? Should we communicated the risks AND the benefits? Should environmental messaging be incorporated with health messaging?

Following a quick break, the group joined up again at the conference center for dinner and drinks and the chance to unwind after a long day of discussion and debate. Dinner closed with an engaging dialogue led by Nancy Tringali Piho, author of "My Two-Year-Old East Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything." Parents old and new swapped stories and shared advice, bonding over their shared adventures in parenthood.

Stay tuned to find out if/what consensus is reached...can industry, government, consumer, health and environmental interests all agree on one message??

Aker Seafoods processing facility

A white fish processing facility owned by Aker Seafoods was one of the last stops during the trip to Norway. This facility, located in Stamsund, in the Lofoten Islands (northern Norway) processes primarily cod but also saith. On the day of our visit, they were processing saith. This facility utilizes modern technology to keep the fish a low temperature (~1 C) throughout processing to optimize quality. Fishing and Seafood processing is a key industry for rural areas in northern Norway where there are few sources of employment.

The plant manager explains the grading process.

All byproducts from the filleting process are utilized. The worker above packs these byproducts.
A worker splits the fish into various cuts.

Packed fillets are prepared for transport. These are for the Scandinavian market.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Seafood or oil?

Dock in the Lofoten Islands
While seafood is the second largest contributor to Norway's exports, oil and gas is the first, constituting well over 50% of the value of exports for the country. Oil and gas have been the biggest drivers in the Norwegian economy the past few decades are are responsible for the country's high standard of living. These resources are largely located offshore and compete for space with both wild fisheries and aquaculture.

However, in recent years the existing wells have become depleted and there has been growing pressure to open new areas to exploitation. One of the areas of interest by the oil and gas industry is near the Lofoten Islands. These islands are an important nursery area for seafood stocks, including cod and to some extent herring, two of largest populations in the world (according to biomass). While seafood is a key industry for the country, especially in rural areas in the north of Norway, such as the Lofoten Islands, it is difficult for it to compete against the oil and gas industry which is the primary economic driver for the country.

The future of the Lofoten Islands and its picturesque landscape remains uncertain.

Visit to Lerøy salmon farm

One of the most interesting aspects of the trip thus far has been a visit to a salmon farm operated by the company Lerøy Seafood Group.

A salmon cage pen. The net on over the top prevents birds from eating the salmon.

Barge where staff monitor the salmon and dispense feed.

Staff monitor the salmon every day. They use cameras to monitor the fish's behavior for stress, identify disease and optimize feeding. They also monitor the nets for any wholes. Finally, they dispense feed with the computer system.

Michelle Cho (New England Aquarium) and I stand on the walk way around the salmon cage with a staff member who explained various features of the cage. Working at a salmon farm is seen as a fairly attractive job in Norway.

Salmon feed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Consumer perceptions pose a challenge for "red list species" in Norway

Norwegian red fish. The only red fish caught in Norway is as bycatch.
Despite strong management practices, some species in Norwegian waters are still threatened.  While the Directorate of Fisheries has an annual priority list of improvements, a lack of consumer awareness plays a role in the continued (sometimes illegal) exploitation of threatened populations in Norwegian waters. WWF Norway lists six Norwegian species on the “red list” of their seafood guide.
·      Coastal Cod (a specific cod population, other Norwegian cod populations are healthy)
·      Eel
·      Norwegian lobster
·      Wolfish
·      Monkfish
·      Red fish

Norwegian consumers have an assumption that all seafood in Norway is domestically produced, which it largely is, and that because it is produced in Norway it is automatically from a sustainable well-managed population. This assumption, leads to very limited use of the seafood guide produced by WWF Norway and to consumers asking few questions about their seafood. While the majority of Norway’s seafood populations are in good condition, the failure of consumers to ask pertinent questions discourages the recovery of threatened species.

KidSafe Seafood is off to Delaware

KidSafe Seafood will be attending the upcoming conference titled "Framing the Message about Seafood" organized by the Delaware Seagrant College Program. The conference will take place Sept. 20–21 at the University of Delaware’s John M. Clayton Hall Conference Center in Newark. The event will convene an array of different stakeholders including nutritionists, seafood professionals, scientists, public health professionals and dieticians to focus on the issues and implications of current messaging efforts related to seafood consumption.

The conference will specifically address issues related to the role of industry and government, risk-based approaches and the use of seafood guide cards and advisories, among other topics. Participants will attend presentations by research, government, industry, advocacy, and nongovernmental organizations followed by a series of workshops with the hope of reaching a consensus on messaging seafood consumption for health care providers and consumers through science-based, actionable recommendations.

Check back here for more updates from the conference!

Strong insitutions help manage Norwegian fisheries

It has been a rainy but interesting few days in Bergen. After arriving early Monday morning, our group, composed of Katherine Bostick (WWF), Michelle Cho (New England Aquarium), Thor Lassen (Ocean Trust) and our host Børge Grønbech (Norwegian Seafood Export Council) and Carolyn Knott (Food Group) headed off to meet with Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs and Directorate of Fisheries to learn about regulations governing the management of Norwegian fisheries and aquaculture operations. Followed on Tuesday by visits with WWF Norway, Institute of Marine Research and Cermaq, which operates EWOS (an aquaculture feed company) and also has salmon farming activities. The time in Bergen wrapped up on Wednesday with a tour by Lerøy Seafood Group (salmon farm operation).

Reports from the IMR
Seafood is an important commodity for Norway's economy, accounting for 6-7% of exports, by value. Significant quantities of Norway's seafood are export as domestic supply far outstrips the demand. While wild-caught fisheries produce significantly more quantity, the aquaculture industry accounts for close to 2/3 of the value of overall seafood production, driven in part by high prices for farmed salmon in recent years.
Strong institutions and management, along with active participation from the industry help to support sustainable seafood production in Norway, though some species still have low populations and face challenges. The Institute of Marine Research (IMR) is one such institution. IMR has been in operation for over 110 years, working to provide the latest science on Norwegian fisheries, which in turn drives policy. IMR is about 50% financially supported by the ministry.

A few of the management measures include:
·       Mandatory fallowing period for all aquaculture sites after every production cycle.
·       Mandatory third-party tests on the seafloor below fish farming sites to determine the level of environmental impact on benthic communities. Sites that are found to have a high impact must have longer fallowing periods and potentially reduce stocking densities in future production cycles.
·       Mandatory landing of all catches, including bycatch species. There is a strong desire to utilize all fish, which is caught; discarding fish at sea is illegal.
·       Licenses are required for all fish farming activities. No new licenses have been issued in the past two yeas.
·       Ban on aquaculture of non-native species.
·       The national government is working with local communities to develop coastal plans

Overall, the level of transparency has impressed me. There are significant investments in research on fisheries and aquaculture (commercial species are prioritized) and much of the data companies report are publicly available.  The government and industry members we were able to meet with have been forthcoming about the work they have done to improve management and sustainability and also about some of the challenges they still face. There also appears to be a high-level of cooperation between the government, industry and NGOs. Though some of the measures are clearly working, Norway has the largest number of MSC certified fisheries in the world and was recently ranked first in the world for compliance with the FAO code of conduct for fisheries.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Seafood Choices is headed to Norway!

Svalbard, Norway. Credit: Thomas Hallermann/Marine Photobank
SeaWeb’s Seafood Choices program was invited by the Norwegian Seafood Export Council (NSEC) for an educational visit to Norway to experience Norwegian fishing and aquaculture operations first-hand. Norway exports seafood to over 150 countries and is the 8th largest supplier of seafood to the US market.

The trip is intended to highlight the sustainability efforts of Norwegian seafood producers. SeaWeb’s  Lacey Schmeidler will meet with:
•    The Norwegian Seafood Export Council – promotes the export of Norwegian seafood to all major international markets. NSEC also complies statistics and information on Norwegian seafood exports.
•    Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs – responsible for the sustainable management of Norway’s coastal and marine resources and the regulation of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.
•    WWF Norway –one of the largest environmental and conservation groups working in Norway.
•    Institute of Marine Research – the largest marine science center in Norway.
•    EWOS Group – a major supplier of feed to the international aquaculture industry, with about a 1/3 share of the market.
•    Lerøy Seafood Group – one of the largest seafood exporters in Norway.
•    Aker Seafoods ASA/Norway Seafoods – a leading Norwegian seafood company encompassing harvesting, procession and retail operations.
•    Norwegian Seafood Federation – the primary trade association representing Norwegian seafood companies at all points of the value chain.
•    Norwegian Fisherman’s Sales Organization – provides services for fishermen related to the sale and trade of seafood.

This experience will be an opportunity to see how operations vary between the US and Norway, with a focus on sustainability measures and how these can be adapted on an international scale.  We look forward to an open dialogue and welcome questions from our audiences for the organizations Lacey will be visiting. If you have questions, please leave them in the comments section below or email Lacey directly. Lacey will be posting updates on the meetings all next week, check back for the latest news!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Seafood Choices in Hong Kong - One year to the Seafood Summit!

Although a year might seem like a long time, there is plenty of preparation for SeaWeb's Seafood Choices team to keep busy on until September 6, 2012 --opening day of our 10th International Seafood Summit and first Summit to be held in Asia. Philip Chou, SeaWeb Senior Manager, is in Hong Kong laying some of the groundwork. If you are unfamiliar with our Seafood Summit, please visit to see the great things that happened at our last 2011 Summit in Vancouver.

Today Philip met with staff of the Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel to do a site inspection of the facilities, rooms, and meeting space. Past Summit attendees will not be disappointed. The Shangri-la has beautiful spaces, delightful staff, well thought out meeting spaces, and a great harbor view! Just look at the pictures attached from Philip's hotel room.  Philip followed up the site inspection with a meeting to Shangri-la corporate headquarters and met with the Director of CSR & Sustainability, Director of Culinary Operations, and Group Director of Purchasing. Shangri-la Corporate is really looking forward to working with SeaWeb to make this one of the best ever Summits and is hotel leader in Hong Kong that has taken bluefin tuna and shark fin off their menus.

Philip also attended the Asian Seafood Expo at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center to meet many foreign seafood businesses looking to break into the Asian market. Keep in mind that the Asian Seafood Expo will also be held next year in 2012, right after the Seafood Summit, so for those of you looking to get the most out of the opportunities the Seafood Summit and this trade show afford, get your calendars out and start marking the dates for what promises to be a great trip! Of course we must mention that the Seafood Summit will also be organizing workshops and field trips pre and post Summit like we have done in past years. We'll keep you updated on those as we already have plans in place to scope out a potentially great Summit field trip to visit some of the major aquaculture production and processing areas in mainland China, just over the border from Hong Kong.