8/2/10 The world’s “peak fish” point came in the late nineteen-eighties, but no one noticed.

 

At one time, Atlantic bluefins were common from the coast of Maine to the Black Sea, and from Norway to Brazil. In the Mediterranean, they have been prized for millennia—in an ode from the second century, the poet Oppian describes the Romans catching bluefins in “nets arranged like a city”—but they are unusually bloody fish, and in most of the rest of the world there was little market for them. (Among English speakers, they were long known as “horse mackerel.”) As recently as the late nineteen-sixties, bluefin in the United States sold for only a few pennies a pound, if there were any buyers, and frequently ended up being ground into cat food. Then, in the nineteen-seventies, the Japanese developed a taste for sushi made with bluefin, or hon-maguro. This new preference, it’s been hypothesized, arose from their exposure, following the Second World War, to American-style fatty foods. The taste for hon-maguro was, in turn, imported back to the U.S. Soon, fishing for bluefin became so lucrative that the sale of a single animal could feed a family for a year. (Earlier this year, a five-hundred-pound Pacific bluefin went for an astonishing three hundred and forty dollars a pound at a Tokyo fish auction.) First, the big bluefins were fished out, then the smaller ones, too, became hard to find. Tuna “ranching,” a practice by which the fish are herded into huge circular nets and fattened up before slaughter, was for a time seen as a solution until it was shown to be part of the problem: as fewer bluefins were allowed to reach spawning age, there were fewer and fewer new fish to fatten.

 

Read Kolbert's review of two books on the state of the world's fisheries:

"Saved by the Sea: A Love Story With Fish" by David Helvang and

"Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse" by Dean Bavington.

 

8/4/10

The amount of water pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would have to be cut in half if vulnerable fish populations are going to be preserved for future generations, a state report declared Tuesday.

The 190-page study by the State Water Resources Control Board is nonbinding, but it could shape how communities from the Bay Area to San Diego divvy up California's most precious resource.

The document, issued by the five-member board after nine months of scientific study, determined that 75 percent of runoff from snowpack and rainfall would need to funnel through the delta to San Francisco Bay and the ocean in order to sustain the estuary's most important wildlife and habitats, known in legal parlance as "public trust" resources.

Right now, about 50 percent of the state's runoff flows through the delta all the way to the ocean. The other 50 percent goes to cities and farms. Raising the flow into the ocean from 50 percent to 75 percent would require taking away roughly half of what cities and farms now get, according to the report.

"The board has finally put to rest the argument about whether the delta needs more water," said Cynthia Koehler, water legislative director with the Environmental Defense Fund. "You can't divert 50 percent of the flows and think the fish and ecosystem are going to be just fine."

 

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7/17/10 The water board unanimously adopted the permit, which enforces federal guidelines applied to other similar American mills for millions of gallons of wastewater the mill discharges into the ocean every day. Under the new permit, the mill will have to build a secondary treatment facility at a cost of about $26 million to remove pollutants before the wastewater is released. The permit and a cease and desist order from the board impose a timeline on progress toward tightening pollution controls.

The mill must reduce the amount of total suspended solids -- solid material present in the wastewater -- and biological oxygen demand, a measure of how much oxygen is stripped from the water around the outfall pipe that runs 11/4- miles into the ocean. The mill released about 14 million gallons of effluent a day in the last three years of the mill's operation. 

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7/7/10 When researchers wanted to test largemouth bass at Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir for mercury levels, the reservoir's managers in San Francisco figured the scientists were simply looking for a clean sample to compare with toxic results at other spots.

Instead, the study showed that the fish in the San Mateo County lake - which collects rainwater as well as water piped in from Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy reservoir - had some of the highest mercury levels in the state.

Now, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which oversees Crystal Springs and the rest of the sprawling network that supplies drinking water to 2.5 million people in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties, is trying to find the source of the heavy metal, a neurotoxin that can cause developmental damage in children and brain, lung and kidney problems in adults.

"It was a big surprise," said Tim Ramirez, manager for natural resources and land management at the commission's water enterprise division. "We're going to jump on it and try to find out what's going on."
 

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Click here for links to the report, fact sheet, and frequently asked questions. 

7/13/10

Some of the most difficult questions surrounding what would be the largest dam removal project in the world have yet to be answered.

Tearing out four dams on the Klamath River would be an incredibly complicated endeavor, requiring a host of engineering studies, economic analyses and biological investigations before it could start. After a broad array of tribes, agencies, fishing groups, environmental and farming interests -- though not without opposition -- signed two agreements to embark on the project in February, the federal government and the state of California are coming to the public in what they say is an effort to turn over every stone.

Public meetings on the development of an environmental impact statement and environmental impact report have been held in inland areas, and they are now beginning on the coast. A meeting will be held today in Brookings, Ore., Wednesday in Arcata and in Orleans on Thursday.

The sessions, called scoping meetings, are meant to inform the agencies working on the environmental analyses, which will be molded together with a set of technical studies. All together, the information will be used by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to determine if tearing out the dams is in the public's best interest.

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