Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 10, 2011

Menhaden to be protected

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 3:58 pm

NY Times November 9, 2011
Panel Votes to Reduce a Forage Fish Catch

BOSTON — A fishing oversight group voted Wednesday to sharply reduce the allowable East Coast catch of menhaden, an oily forage fish that does not show up on dinner plates but is vital, scientists say, to the ocean ecosystem.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which includes representatives from 15 Eastern states and the federal government, voted to reduce the menhaden harvest by as much as 37 percent compared with 2010 levels after a review found the species had been overfished and needed to rebuild.

Millions of pounds of menhaden are caught along the Atlantic Seaboard each year, most by Omega Protein, a company that grinds it and reduces it to fish meal and oil that goes into fertilizer, feed for  livestock and farmed fish, pet food and even dietary supplements. But menhaden — which is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and is also known as bunker or pogy, depending where you live — is also an ecological building block, serving as a crucial food for larger fish like tuna, striped bass and bluefish, as well as birds and marine mammals.

“There’s really not much in the ocean that is as healthy to eat, pound for pound, as menhaden,” said Peter Baker, director of Northeast fisheries at the Pew Environment Group, which supported the catch reduction. “If these other species don’t have menhaden in their diet it becomes less nutritious and they’re more susceptible to disease.”

Mr. Baker said the menhaden fishery was the largest on the East Coast by weight and that the population had fallen to less than 10 percent of historic levels.

The bait industry also harvests the fish for use in lobster and crab traps, Mr. Baker said, though it is estimated to catch 20 percent of the harvest, compared with about 80 percent for Omega Protein.

“We’ve been pushing this fish into the red zone over and over again,” he said, “and we’re now at the critical point where it’s going to stop being able to reproduce itself and perhaps go into freefall and collapse if action isn’t taken immediately.”

In two separate votes, the commission members called for a minimum catch reduction of 23 percent and a target reduction of 37 percent until menhaden stocks rebound. It has yet to figure out exactly how to reduce the catch.

The only states whose representatives on the commission voted against the target 37 percent catch reduction were Virginia, where Omega Protein’s fleet is based, and New Jersey.

Jack Travelstead, a representative from Virginia, questioned whether the measure would really increase menhaden stocks, suggesting that environmental factors played more of a role.

“There’s an enormous amount of uncertainty,” he said.

Ben Landry, a spokesman for Omega Protein, said the company was disappointed and felt the commission was responding to pressure from environmentalists and recreational fishermen.

“One thing is certain,” Mr. Landry said. “The industry is going to have to face some significant harvest cuts that will lead to a lot of hard employment questions, and a lot of tough questions as to how they’re going conduct their operation.”

Several recreational fishermen at the meeting said they were deeply encouraged by the vote, which came after the commission received more than 90,000 public comments, mostly in favor of steep catch reductions.

“I think it’s great that so many states recognize how vital this fish is,” said Paul Eidman, a fishing guide based in Sandy Hook, N.J. “It’s just a start, but it’s an important one.”

Mr. Eidman, who founded an advocacy group called Menhaden Defenders, said that smaller schools of menhaden off the New Jersey coast had meant a drop in business for him in recent years.

“The general feeling in New Jersey is if we don’t have bunker the fishing’s terrible,” he said. “And in this economy, people just aren’t going to take a day off from work to fish unless they know the fishing’s going to be really good.”

But H. Bruce Franklin, who wrote “The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America,” said a better step would have been to get rid of the so-called reduction fishing industry — harvesting menhaden for the manufacture of meal and oil — altogether.

“There’s no rational reason for this industry to exist,” he said. “If the maximum measures were taken right now, it might still be a little bit too late. But we’re hoping it’s not.”

* * * *

With its putrid smell, bony flesh and rancid oily taste, the menhaden would seem the least likely candidate for “The Most Important Fish in the Sea,” the title of H. Bruce Franklin’s brilliant new environmentalist study. But Franklin is not being ironic. The menhaden is the most important fish in the sea if you understand its ecological purpose.

While it is understandable that groups like Greenpeace would take up the cause of sea creatures at the top of the food chain, like the great whales or the bluefin tuna, Franklin understands that without the easily dismissed menhaden, those above it on the food chain do not stand a chance. This includes the human race as well, since the menhaden is particularly suited to cleaning up plankton-ridden waters. As one of the few marine specimens that thrive on microscopic plant life or phyloplanton, it is uniquely positioned to purify waters that have become virtual swamps as a result of the massive influx of nitrogen-based fertilizers from farms, lawns and golf courses. With much of the Gulf of Mexico having been turned into a vast dead zone by fertilizer run-off from the Mississippi River, there is a drastic need for the humble menhaden.

The villain in “The Most Important Fish in the Sea” is industrial fishing in general and a particularly odious company called Omega Protein, whose website informs us that they “market a variety of products derived from menhaden, an inedible fish found in abundant quantities in coastal waters off the U.S. mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.” It might be inedible to human beings, but fish love to eat them. Franklin explains that what makes them unappealing to human beings has an irresistible appeal to prized food fish, including the striped bass and the bluefish. Once the menhaden eat phytoplankton, they convert it into omega-3 fatty acids that all living creatures require but are available from only limited sources, such as flaxseed, soybeans and walnuts. Unfortunately, the striped bass and the bluefish cannot stroll into the local grocery store to pick up a bag of walnuts.

full: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/05/28/the-most-important-fish-in-the-sea/


  1. Wow, the government moves to restrict corporate power? +1 for the occupy movement. Hopefully this will be the first of many victories.

    Comment by Binh — November 10, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  2. And with the other hand, it taketh away:

    NY Times November 9, 2011
    Parks Chief Blocked Plan for Grand Canyon Bottle Ban

    Weary of plastic litter, Grand Canyon National Park officials were in the final stages of imposing a ban on the sale of disposable water bottles in the Grand Canyon late last year when the nation’s parks chief abruptly blocked the plan after conversations with Coca-Cola, a major donor to the National Park Foundation.

    Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled. His account was confirmed by park, foundation and company officials.

    A spokesman for the National Park Service, David Barna, said it was Jon Jarvis, the top federal parks official, who made the “decision to put it on hold until we can get more information.” He added that “reducing and eliminating disposable plastic bottles is one element of our green plan. This is a process, and we are at the beginning of it.”

    Mr. Martin, a 35-year veteran of the park service who had risen to the No. 2 post in 2003, was disheartened by the outcome. “That was upsetting news because of what I felt were ethical issues surrounding the idea of being influenced unduly by business,” Mr. Martin said in an interview. “It was even more of a concern because we had worked with all the people who would be truly affected in their sales and bottom line, and they accepted it.”

    Neil J. Mulholland, president of the foundation, said that a representative of Coca-Cola had reached out to him late in the process to inquire about the reasons for the water bottle ban and how it would work.

    “There was not an overt statement made to me that they objected to the ban,” Mr. Mulholland said, adding, “There was never anything inferred by Coke that if this ban happens, we’re losing their support.” The foundation president noted in the interview that Coca-Cola had recently donated $80,000 for a recycling program on the Mall in Washington.

    A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Susan Stribling, said the company would rather help address the plastic litter problem by increasing the availability of recycling programs. “Banning anything is never the right answer,” she said. “If you do that, you don’t necessarily address the problem.” She also characterized the bottle ban as limiting personal choice. “You’re not allowing people to decide what they want to eat and drink and consume,” she said.

    In seeking the ban, the Grand Canyon park, under Mr. Martin’s direction from 2006 until his retirement last December, was following the example of Zion National Park, in Utah, which had instituted a similar program to great acclaim in 2008. The park service gave it an environmental achievement award in 2009 for eliminating 60,000 plastic bottles from the park in its first year.

    Discarded plastic bottles account for about 30 percent of the park’s total waste stream, according to the park service. Mr. Martin said the bottles are “the single biggest source of trash” found inside the canyon.

    Mr. Martin said he got approval to proceed with implementing the ban after he briefed his superiors in both the Denver regional office and Washington headquarters in the spring of 2010. Research showed that the park sold about $400,000 worth of bottled water in a given year. The planned ban at the Grand Canyon would have covered only smaller bottles and would not have applied to other beverages such as soda or juices.

    In preparation, the park and its contracted concessionaires installed more water “filling stations” for reusable bottles at a cost of about $300,000, according to information provided by the park service to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental group based in Washington that has worked to uncover the underlying reasons for the abrupt turn-around on the ban.

    Senior park officials considered having Mr. Jarvis announce the ban to a meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists in the fall of 2010. “From a media standpoint, we see this as good news, it fits perfectly into Jon’s sustainability goals,” Mr. Barna wrote in an internal park service e-mail. He concluded, “We are aware that others (Nestle, etc.) may not be thrilled at this decision but other than that, are there any downsides?”

    In mid-December, Mr. Martin received a telephone call and an e-mail from his immediate boss, John Wessels, the Intermountain regional director for the park service, with news that the ban was being postponed indefinitely.

    Mr. Jarvis said that he had not heard of the ban until Nov. 17, and felt that an action by Grand Canyon park would have more impact than Zion’s. He added: “My decision to hold off the ban was not influenced by Coke, but rather the service-wide implications to our concessions contracts, and frankly the concern for public safety in a desert park.”

    The decision was laid out in an e-mail by Jo A. Pendry, then chief of commercial services for the park service, who explained that during a Dec. 13 meeting, Mr. Jarvis “reiterated his decision to have the Grand Canyon hold off on implementation” until “we have hosted a meeting with the major producers of bottled water.”

    She also wrote that Mr. Jarvis expected that Mr. Wessels would “touch base with the N.P.F./Coke, and he asked that I get in touch with you to see where you are with making that contact.”

    The N.P.F. refers to the acronym for the nonprofit foundation, which was chartered by Congress to generate individual and corporate private donations to the national parks.

    The e-mails were provided to The New York Times by a current park service employee concerned about the handling of the bottle ban. The employee declined to be identified because he does not have permission to speak publicly on the subject.

    PEER, the public employees’ group, filed a Freedom of Information Act request in August seeking documents that could shed light on the decision, but only two documents — letters between Mr. Martin and representatives of the park concessionaire Xanterra — were released, said Jeff Ruch, the group’s president, who is weighing a lawsuit.

    Asked why Mr. Mulholland, the president of the foundation, had been involved in the decision to table the ban, Mr. Barna, the park service spokesman, said, “He’s a partner, and he represents a lot of people who do good things in the parks. He’s a way for people to get introductions within the park service.”

    Mr. Barna quickly added that he did not mean that donors could buy access.

    For his part, Mr. Mulholland said he had no qualms about entertaining Coca-Cola’s questions and concerns. “I don’t feel conflicted, because the park service does a very good job of policing themselves and adhering to their standards,” he said.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 10, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

  3. [“the park service does a very good job of policing themselves and adhering to their standards.”]

    Yea right!

    Here’s what the Park Service is really up to from today’s “Tucson Weekly” (11/10/11)


    What’s the Rush?

    A draft environmental impact statement on the Rosemont Mine inspires more teeth-gnashing
    by Tim Vanderpoo

    This has been a scorching year for the Coronado National Forest. First, some of its premier Southern Arizona highlands were ravaged by summer infernos.

    Now the Forest Service’s long-awaited draft environmental report on a proposed copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains is drawing fire left and right.

    But critics say the Coronado’s own bumbling ignited the latest fury. Not that such bumbling is uncharacteristic when it involves the hopes of Canadian-based Augusta Resource Corporation to dig an open-pit mine in the lovely Rosemont Valley south of Tucson.

    Consider that the Forest Service haplessly used public-relations flacks from Augusta’s subsidiary, Rosemont Copper, to organize public hearings on the draft report.

    Or that it also managed to infuriate Tohono O’odham tribal leaders by failing to tell them that two such meetings were to be held at the tribe’s Desert Diamond Casino. This might not have caused such a ruckus were the tribe not vehemently opposed to Augusta’s project, fearing its impact on sacred sites in the Santa Ritas. The tribe is actually a cooperating agency in the project-evaluation process, and thus demands an official place at the table.

    Tribal Chairman Ned Norris Jr. was not amused.

    “We support the Forest Service’s stated efforts to ensure meaningful public comments about this project,” he wrote to Coronado supervisor Jim Upchurch. “We look forward to providing input in this process as the proposed Rosemont Mine will have dramatic negative impacts on the Tohono O’odham Nation. … It is further troubling that Rosemont Copper and its PR firm arranged these public meetings, not the Forest Service.”

    According to Norris, that close cooperation “raises serious questions about the objectivity of this entire process.”

    Upchurch responded to Norris in a letter thick with mea culpas and promises to include the tribe in future decisions. But Upchurch also defended the role of Augusta’s propaganda machine. “As is customary with most large projects proposed on National Forest … lands,” he wrote, “the proponent (Augusta) is contributing funds to offset the costs for the meeting locations as well as funding deposits for the facilities.”

    All final decisions about where and when to hold those meetings were made by Upchurch, says Coronado spokeswoman Heidi Schewel. She adds that Augusta’s P.R. people, at Strongpoint Public Relations, simply helped a short-staffed Forest Service quickly pull the roster together. “We checked out the facilities first, and they were just checking on the availability,” she says. “It wasn’t anything that carried any decision-making power or influence. It was just logistics—just helping us with the workload.”

    Still, this isn’t the first time Coronado officials have been accused of sharing a relationship with Augusta that’s too cozy. Earlier this year, mine opponents filed a lawsuit over the presence of company officials at 13 meetings in 2009 and 2010 with Coronado officials and representatives from other government agencies. Other interested parties—including mine opponents—were not invited.

    In June, Senior U.S. District Judge Frank Zapata quashed the lawsuit and refused to grant an injunction to delay release of the draft environmental impact statement. However, he did chide the Forest Service for being “less than prudent” and fostering “an appearance of impropriety” by allowing Rosemont’s representatives into those otherwise closed meetings.

    Roger Featherstone is director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, a group opposed to Augusta’s project. He says Coronado officials apparently haven’t learned much from that earlier fracas, “when they were screwing up left and right, letting Augusta and Augusta’s contractors (get) too much involved.

    “When we went to court over it, we didn’t get our injunction, but the judge was pretty strong about the appearance of impropriety on the part of the Forest Service. And then the Forest Service turns right around this time and does the same damn thing: They allow Augusta’s P.R. people to set up their meetings for them.”

    Featherstone suggests that these repeated missteps may be symptoms of a bigger problem. “Is it ingrained in the Forest Service culture that they automatically are going to the proponents of a project for help?” he asks. “At some point, you have to think that this goes deeper than just goofing up three or four times in a row.”

    Nor did the stumbles end there. While scheduling the impact-statement meetings, forest officials not only angered the Tohono O’odham tribe, but also drew the ire of U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. In an Oct. 25 letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (the USDA includes the Forest Service), Grijalva criticized Strongpoint’s role and chastised the Coronado for failing to observe a required 15-day window between the release of the draft statement and the first public meeting to discuss it.

    Grijalva also noted that those meetings had originally been slated for the same dates as popular local events, and questioned whether such scheduling conflicts were pure coincidence.

    “The fact that Rosemont’s representatives are directly involved with the planning of these public meetings raises obvious questions as to how much influence Rosemont has had in the overall timing, location and structure of these meetings—all important factors in determining a successful public-involvement process,” Grijalva wrote. “Rosemont’s involvement could at least in part explain why these public hearings were being expedited” in violation of federal regulations.

    Notice of the Rosemont DEIS was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 19.The first public meeting to discuss the nearly 900-page draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 22 at the casino.

    Schewel says the meetings were scheduled so quickly because the public comment period lasts a mere 90 days. Nonetheless, she says, the Forest Service is predictably catching hell from both sides: Rosemont officials complain of a dragging process, while mine opponents carp about being rushed. But according to Schewel, the Coronado is trying to drive down the middle. “There is a lot of opposition, and there are people who are for (the mine),” she says. “And professionally, we are neutral.”

    Although the Coronado has since pushed those meetings back, the initial schedule left Featherstone with one impression: The Coronado had an agenda.

    “And that was to bow to (Augusta’s) wishes and just kind of ram this stuff through,” he says. “It makes no sense from the Forest Service’s standpoint to have the first meeting just a couple of days after the official notice in the Federal Register. … Common sense dictates that when you have a document that’s 3 or 4 inches thick, and you have a 90-day comment period, it just doesn’t make sense to rush the first meetings.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 10, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

  4. The opposite problem is occurring in Japan, with giant Nomura’s jelly fish depleting the waters of the zooplankton necessary for the food chain, while at the same time gumming up fishing nets and even sinking ships(!).

    In the states, the invasion of Asian carp in the Mississippi River watershed has wiped out zooplankton and algaes, destroying entire ecosystems. The Asian carp have become so plentiful that they have even eaten themselves out of a food supply! In that case, they are in danger of entering the Great Lakes and spreading the damage even further, but the government refuses to cut off access to the lakes because that would also mean making it more expensive for corporations to move freight. Of course we can’t have that, so we’ll just sit back and watch the mayhem ensue.

    Comment by The Idiot — November 11, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

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