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Fish Factor

Greenpeace launches assault against U.S. seafood retailers
By Laine Welch


April 01, 2008

Greenpeace is launching an assault against U.S. seafood retailers - and Alaska pollock tops the list of fish the environmental group wants removed from the marketplace. Alaska pollock is the largest food fishery in the world, and is regarded as a model for sustainable management. Pollock is most popular in fish sandwiches, fish sticks and seafood flavored surimi products such as 'seafood salad."

The Greenpeace campaign, which mirrors one in Europe that met with some success, uses a "red list" to rank good and bad seafood choices based on sustainable management and other 'earth friendly' criteria.

"We were quite dismayed and surprised to be on the red list," said Pat Shanahan, spokesperson for the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP), a trade group that represents every Alaska pollock fishing company.

"It seems to contradict the scientifically-based endorsement of Alaska pollock by nearly every other environmental group in the world, including the international Marine Stewardship Council which has a very extensive certification program. It also goes against the government's recommendation that people eat more seafood for their health, " Shanahan added.

But that's not enough for Greenpeace.

"We have several concerns about the pollock fishery, among them Chinook salmon bycatch and food web impacts," said Greenpeace Oceans Specialist John Hocevar in a phone interview from Texas.

"Pollock is the dominant prey species for much of the marine life in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. As the industry has removed so much of the pollock, there has been a dramatic reduction in the available food for endangered Steller sea lions, depleted northern fur seals and other marine mammals," he said.

Hocevar added that Greenpeace also is very concerned about the overall health of the pollock stocks. He said that the group "has always felt it was a mistake" for Alaska pollock to merit a 'green' label by the MSC.

Greenpeace does give Alaska fishery managers some credit.

"The number of boats that have observers is more than most other places, and there is a real emphasis on collecting data on fish stocks, if not on the broader ecosystem. There is not a problem with illegal catch and enforcement is strong. So these things are certainly positive," Hocevar said.

However, Greenpeace believes Alaska fishery managers "cut it too close to the edge."

"I would argue that the reason there is still so much fish in the Bering Sea is not so much that it is a fundamentally different management approach, but because people haven't been fishing the area as hard for as long as other places. And I really worry that we're heading for some of the same problems we've seen in other places. It's no surprise you see boats from New England or Norway or elsewhere moving to the Bering Sea after they've wiped out fisheries close to home."

Greenpeace is demanding that 23 seafood species be removed from U.S. retail shelves, including farmed salmon and shrimp. The group has sent surveys to U.S. seafood retailers asking them to outline their seafood purchasing and sales practices. It will then rank them and publicize the retail chains that score the lowest.

According to the National Fisheries Institute, if Greenpeace is successful it will halt sales of nearly 47 percent of the seafood sold in the U.S. Greenpeace claims 250,000 members in the U. S. and 2.5 million members worldwide.

Pesticide brew kills salmon

Fishery managers could decide next week to close West Coast salmon fisheries for the first time ever. The shut down stems from a major collapse in salmon stocks all along the Pacific coast.

Most scientists blame 'broad scale ocean survival problems' as the main cause for the crisis. But the federal government may be grossly underestimating the hazard that pesticides pose to the fish.

Chemicals are routinely sprayed on crops and livestock and wash off into waterways. Past studies have looked at the effects of single pesticides. However, half of the Northwest waters sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey contain six or more pesticides - and new research shows that they make a lethal mix.

Zoologist Nathaniel Scholz at the NOAA lab in Seattle exposed juvenile salmon to a cocktail of four or more pesticides at a time. The tests showed that the chemicals interfere with brain transmissions in salmon and harms their ability to feed. Even at the lowest concentrations, the fish became extremely sick.

The pesticide chlorpyrifos was especially lethal. It is widely used to control cockroaches and fleas in homes, to control ticks on livestock and as a pesticide spray on crops. Because there is a great deal of information about where pesticides are sprayed, it may be possible to estimate the impact on fish.

Scholz said that given the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to help salmon stocks recover, it is crucial to consider the biggest threats posed by pesticides. The story 'Pesticide Brew Spells Trouble for Salmon' is in ScienceNOW Daily News.

Remote controlled fish

Scientists are training fish to return to nets when they hear a tone that signals feeding time. The aim is to release farmed fish into the ocean where they would grow to market size, then swim into underwater cages for capture on cue.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute received a $270,000 grant from the federal.government for the project. It is one of several being funded as part of aquaculture expansion plans in the U.S.

It's not the first time sound has been used to train fish ­ scientists in Japan, for example, have used the method to keep newly released farmed fish in certain areas, where they could then be caught in traditional ways. But no one has ever tried to get fish to leave and return to an enclosure where they can be captured.

The Woods Hole researchers began their project last summer by placing 6,500 black sea bass in a big tank. Over two weeks they sounded a tone for 20 seconds, three times a day prior to dropping food in an enclosed 'feeding zone' within the tank. Afterwards, whenever the tone sounded, the fish gathered in the feeding zone and waited patiently to be fed. Researchers are now trying to figure out how long the fish remember to associate the tone with the food.

In May, 5,000 sea bass will be put into a large "aqua dome" feeding station that will be anchored to the ocean floor in a nearby bay. After they've been trained the fish will be released. A few days later, the scientists will sound the tone and see how many fish return to the dome.

The ultimate goal is to cut the costs of fish farming. If fish can be trained to return to net pens after feeding in the ocean, it could reduce the high costs of feed as well as the amounts of fish wastes released into concentrated areas.


Kodiak-based Laine Welch has been reporting news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and radio for 20 years. Fish Factor appears in 15 newspapers and websites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on more than 25 stations across Alaska.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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