When Sheril and Chris asked me to contribute to a series of posts on the losses and challenges from the Deep Horizons well disaster, I had a tough time deciding where to go. It would be easy to talk about the alphabet soup of agencies responding to the disaster; to recount how hard it really is to get oil boom deployed, maintained and retrieved. or discuss in great and probably boring detail the ecosystem services and species now imperiled by America’s carbon burning folly. Instead, I offer you this, as my eulogy to yet another wound inflicted upon my home states by all our hubris (Katrina was the most recent prior one – there have been many others).
At 4AM, Baton Rouge LA is a very quiet town. A day-time drive that takes 15 minutes turns into a five minute sprint. Beside a Quonset hut two large dual cab pick-ups are being loaded. The teams work quietly – but as the coffee kicks in the jokes begin to pervade the air. Boxes of nets, cylinders of chemicals, racks of bottles all emerge from their careful storage rooms and are placed in the backs of the trucks.
In a few short minutes the small convoy is on the road, and running down I-10 leaving the “big city” behind. We exit the Interstate at Donaldsonville, and cross the Mississippi River looking down on the Air Liquide compressed gas plant, and Chef John Folse’s then-new restaurant. Soon enough, the sun begins to think about emerging from the horizon, and we’re in the Hardee’s parking lot in Houma, shoving sausage biscuits and coffee throughout the truck cabs.
We continue on down Highway 30, passing through Galiano and Golden Meadow as the sun begins to seriously climb over the marsh. Golden Meadow slows us down. Like many small bayou towns it is renowned for its fishermen and trappers, its oil industry support, and its speeding tickets. Rumor, or rather rural legend, has it that the Commandant of the Louisiana State Police got a ticket there once. Read More
This is the second in a series of guest posts by Joel Barkan, a previous contributor to “The Intersection” and a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The renowned Scripps marine biologist Jeremy Jackson is teaching his famed “Marine Science, Economics, and Policy” course for what may be the last time this year (along with Jennifer Jacquet), and Joel will be reporting each week on the contents of the course.
Here in Southern California, we’re enduring an extended period of heavy rains and high winds, or as Floridians would call it, “July.” People from harsher climates may laugh at our predicament, but the truth is that San Diego and its residents are ill-equipped to deal with rain. Streets flood almost immediately because drainage is almost non-existent. Traffic slows to the kind of crawl I experienced during white-out blizzards while growing up in Maine.
Most San Diegans know not to swim in the ocean during and after a storm. The rain washes an assortment of chemicals, fertilizers, oil, and garbage straight down the hills and into the sea. How would you feel knowing the fish you ate for dinner came from a farm that similarly inundated the surrounding waters with bacteria? The discharge of waste is just one of many controversial issues concerning aquaculture, our most recent class topic here at Scripps.
Globally, aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production system, increasing by 8.8% per year since 1985, according to a 2007 report by the FAO. Aquaculture already accounts for around one-third of global fish production and may soon rival wild-caught fisheries as our primary source for fish. A shift to reliance on farmed fish could also lessen the burden on over-exploited wild stocks. It’s difficult to talk about aquaculture without mentioning the growing human population: simply put, we’re going to need more protein to feed an estimated 9.2 billion people by 2050. Proponents of aquaculture call it a possible solution to our potential food crisis.
Unfortunately, aquaculture is not the silver bullet that will magically save us from overfishing and global food shortages. Unless the farms are a closed system, effluent from fish pens will pollute the surrounding waters. Escapees can transmit diseases to wild stocks—they become parasite-bearing fish on the lamb, terrorizing the innocent locals. Plus, we need to catch millions of tons of wild fish, like the Peruvian anchoveta, to grind into fish meal to feed the farmed fish. It’s like hunting seagulls off the coast of Africa and using the gull meat to feed chickens on a farm in Arkansas. Despite these problems, we’re going to have to find ways to lessen the environmental impact of aquaculture as the industry continues to grow.
It was pointed out in class that a variety of U.S. government agencies regulate aquaculture, depending on where you are and why you’re doing it. A good start to better management of aquaculture in our country would be to streamline the regulatory power to a single agency. Then we can shift our focus to the rest of the world: to China, to India, to Chile, and every other country hoping to feed its people with farmed fish.
This is the first in a series of guest posts by Joel Barkan, a previous contributor to “The Intersection” and a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The renowned Scripps marine biologist Jeremy Jackson is teaching his famed “Marine Science, Economics, and Policy” course for what may be the last time this year (along with Jennifer Jacquet), and Joel will be reporting each week on the contents of the course.
Guilt. Shame. These aren’t emotions commonly associated with fish. According to Jennifer Jacquet, however, they may actually be effective tools to prevent destructive overfishing. Jennifer knows a thing or two about guilt—she writes the Guilty Planet blog for scienceblogs.com. Her lecture today covered creative ways to convince corporations to buy and sell fish caught in a sustainable manner. A supermarket that sells orange roughy, for instance, might change its practices if made to feel shame for peddling this exploited fish. Greenpeace, which graded the major seafood markets for sustainability, has made headway by calling out less ocean-friendly chains like Trader Joe’s. Can we go further, though, and attach a real public stigma to the trade of unsustainably caught fish?
Jennifer talked about the importance of corporate transparency to bring about policy changes, using examples from other industries. She mentioned the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), which forces polluters to publicize their emission levels. On the day after the first TRI figures were released in 1989, the polluting firms saw their stocks fall a combined $4.1 million. These corporations—feeling guilty and seeking to deflect public scorn—soon announced plans to reduce emissions. Jennifer also referenced restaurant hygiene report cards, which grade the cleanliness of restaurants: you get an A if diners can eat your risotto off the floor, a C if the vermin outnumber your patrons. No restaurant wants the scarlet letter “C” tacked to its window—it would be hard to recover from the public shame of such a poor grade.
Our class discussion, as it has a tendency to do here at Scripps, delved into a number of tangents, all of them thought-provoking. One student, who moved to San Diego from China in June for graduate school, cautioned that with shame can come unfair humiliation. He spoke of China’s Cultural Revolution, when citizens who were suspected of supporting capitalism were forced to walk through the streets wearing hats bearing the sign “Capitalist Dog.” Now, he asserts, China feels regret for putting its people through such a public disgrace because it realizes its original convictions were misguided. I brought up the success of anti-smoking campaigns and the shame placed on cigarette companies for being deceitful about the health effects of smoking and its youth-targeted advertising. Prof. Jeremy Jackson countered by pointing out that a backlash against anti-smoking campaigns actually makes smoking appealing to some young people.
But back to fish—after all, this is a marine policy course. Can seafood retailers like Walmart and Red Lobster be guilted into changing their practices? I think we have a long way to go: it’s still a social norm to buy and eat trawl-caught shrimp, which includes 12 pounds of unintended, wasted bycatch for every pound of shrimp caught. The public looks down upon corporate misdeeds like embezzlement and pollution. It’s time to add trade in unsustainable fisheries to that list of offense.
More than a few folks have noticed that for the first time in years, I’m not at Capitol Hill Oceans Week. Unfortunately, the 2009 meeting overlapped with another commitment in California. The goal at this year’s CHOW is to highlight ‘the inextricable link between the ocean and the economy, and to suggest tangible ways sound ocean policies might impact improvements in our economy.‘