The Beacon: Meghan Bartels's blog
Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing, and health. Today we’ll be focusing on seafood fraud.
Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about seafood and its origins for financial profit—and it happens as to as much as 70 percent of some types of fish.
Fraudulent information can include where and how the fish was caught, or even what kind of fish it is. Seafood producers can benefit from fraud by labeling cheaper fish as a more expensive kind or by covering up illegal fishing practices that would otherwise make their fish impossible to sell.
But seafood fraud hurts consumers, and not just by ripping them off. People with seafood allergies could unknowingly eat fish that gives them a nasty reaction. Fraudulent fish can be tropical species with a disease called ciguatera, which can cause serious symptoms like pain, nausea, cramps, and reversed temperature sensations.
And seafood fraud wreaks havoc on conservation efforts. Mislabeling allows endangered species into the market and can hide fishing methods that hurt and kill other marine life, like sea turtles and dolphins.
How can you avoid being a victim of seafood fraud? Processed fish is more likely to be fraudulent, so look for packages with the most detailed information about when, where, and how fish were caught. Whole fish are more difficult to disguise than fillets—take our online seafood fraud quiz to learn how similar fillets can look.
We’re working every day to reduce seafood fraud, and you can help by asking your senator to pass legislation to curb seafood fraud.
The adult hawksbill sea turtle lives in shallow warm water in coral reefs and mangrove areas around the globe.
This type of turtle is named for its beak-shaped mouth, which it uses to pry food out of nooks in a reef (tweet us their favorite food and you could win a prize!)—they also have two claws on each front flipper.
Like other sea turtles, hawksbills lay their eggs on sandy beaches, cover the clutch, and then head back to the ocean. When the eggs hatch, baby hawksbills make their way to the ocean. They can’t dive as well as other types of turtles, though, so they typically eat seaweed closer to the surface as they grow up. Less than one in 1000 hawksbill eggs will survive to adulthood.
Hawksbill sea turtles suffer the consequences of beaches that are no longer safe for nesting, unsafe fishing equipment, and struggling reefs, but they are also hunted by humans, particularly for their shells, which are the chief source of tortoiseshell. International law prohibits trading hawksbill shells.
Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe. You can learn more about hawksbill sea turtles from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.
When journalist Juliet Eilperin began reporting the stories that have led to her most recent book, she says, “Many people said it was a natural transition from politicians to sharks.”
At a National Geographic Live event in DC last night, she discussed her book “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” about how human relationships with sharks have developed over centuries, and what may lie in their future.
She began by discussing the central role sharks played in the lives of traditional island cultures, from the shark god whom Hawaiians credited with inventing surfing to the common belief that sharks protected ships. But Eilperin said that during the Middle Ages, many European cultures essentially forgot about sharks.
Stark reminders of their power came when sailors noticed sharks following slave ships, and again in the early 1900s, when shark attacks on beachgoers were widely publicized. These incidents played into political campaigns and prompted government committees.
“There’s no question,” Eilperin said, “that Jaws had an incredible impact” on popular perceptions of sharks and their danger to humans. On average, shark attacks kill only five people a year, far less than other large predators, diseases, or even vending machines. However, she is quick to note that while plenty of people—even marine biologists!—were caught up in the scare, there were also some who became inspired to study sharks.
It’s not every day that you hear about the Marshall Islands. Scattered across a swath of the Pacific Ocean, these islands are home to only about 68,000 people. But as of this week, the waters around these islands may become home to a whole lot more sharks.
That’s because the government has decided to make all of its waters—more than 750,000 square miles, or about the size of Mexico—a shark sanctuary. This move will almost double the area in which sharks are protected globally.
Within the Marshall Islands, it will now be illegal to commercially fish sharks, sell any shark products, and use wire leaders (a type of fishing gear often responsible for shark deaths). In addition, all sharks caught accidentally must be released, and fishing boats will be required to bring all their catch directly to port for inspection—an important step in combating seafood fraud. Fines for having shark products will run the equivalent of $25,000 to $200,000.
Troubling news for the Arctic: This week the government decided to uphold its 2008 decision to lease parts of Alaska’s Chukchi Sea for oil and natural gas drilling.
The decision comes despite an environmental impact statement, released in August, which stated that the approval of Chukchi Sea development will harm subsistence activities, air and water quality, threatened and endangered species, wetlands, and a multitude of mammal, bird and fish species.
We are continuing to fight against unsafe Arctic drilling by filing litigation, raising grassroots support, and conducting further research into the possible effects of oil drilling and spills in the Arctic. You can help by donating now.
Another recent study, conducted by the US Geological Survey for the Department of the Interior, found serious gaps in the scientific knowledge about the possible consequences of Arctic drilling.
Dr. Chris Krenz, Arctic Project Manager for Oceana, said of the decision:
“If corporate oil giants will get to make trillions of dollars from the nation’s oil in the Chukchi Sea, we can afford to spend a few million dollars on science to understand how the Arctic Ocean functions and make sure development is done right.
We know the Arctic is home to such iconic species as polar bears, walrus and beluga whales. We know the bounty of the Arctic seas supports the subsistence way of life for coastal communities. Yet we know very little about how the different components of this ecosystem fit together. With receding sea ice, the Arctic is becoming more accessible.
Just because we can now reach this place doesn’t mean we should develop it. The science simply is not yet there to determine if this kind of industrial activity is feasible without destroying the remote and fragile offshore Arctic.”
Just over a week ago, we delivered nearly 33,000 signatures from our dedicated activists, asking the government to delay Chukchi lease sales until more detailed research can determine whether and how Arctic oil drilling can be accomplished safely.
This weekend, Oceana was proud to welcome Academy Award nominees Josh Brolin and Diane Lane and around 400 other guests to our fourth annual SeaChange Party in Laguna Beach, California.
This year’s event raised over $900,000 to fund Oceana’s continuing ocean conservation campaigns. SeaChange was hosted by Ted Danson and Angela Kinsey, and included remarks by Brolin and Lane, who each have a long history of dedication to the oceans. “We are all here tonight out of love for our oceans, her bounty that feeds us, her beauty and her power that give us true awe,” said Lane.
Other celebrity guests in attendance included Aimee Teegarden, Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley Jr., Q’orianka Kilcher, Oscar Nunez and Austin Stowell. The event included a sit-down dinner, presentations from Oceana directors and supporters, an auction, and dancing.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this event a success!
You’ve probably seen tiger cowrie shells, which can be as large as six inches long. In cream, brown, and black, with a variety of patterns, they are so popular that they were once used as money.
The residents of these shells, which are a type of snail, are nocturnal. During the day, they take shelter from predators in coral reefs; at night, they eat algae and sponges. They can also eat fire coral and anemones despite their stings.
Most of the time, a live tiger cowrie’s shell is covered by its mantle, which is its outermost layer. The mantle forms spikes that may help the cowrie breathe or avoid predators. The cowrie can also pull its entire body inside its shell to protect itself.
Tiger cowries are found in tidal areas and shallow reefs in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. You can learn more about tiger cowries and hundreds of other marine animals in Oceana’s marine life encyclopedia.
Green sea turtles are the most common type of marine turtle in tropical and subtropical waters (How many countries do they nest in? It’s this week’s trivia question on Twitter, so answer now to win!)
Green sea turtles begin their lives on sandy beaches. Every year, females return to the beaches where they themselves were born to leave their eggs buried in the sand. After six or eight weeks, the hatchlings use their egg tooth, which later falls out, to break out of the shell. All of the eggs in a clutch hatch at the same time, and the hatchlings make their way together to the ocean.
This hatching process means that young green sea turtles are often eaten by predators like ghost crabs, gulls, sharks, and dolphins. Those that survive live in the deep ocean for a few years and then move to shallower waters along coastlines and reefs. Young green sea turtles eat animals like jellyfish, crabs, and snails, but adults, unlike most types of sea turtles, eat only plants.
Green sea turtles in Florida and the Pacific side of Mexico are considered endangered by the IUCN; the other global populations are classified as threatened. One of the biggest threats to green sea turtles is accidental capture in fishing gear, also known as bycatch. Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch and protecting habitat.
You can learn more about green sea turtles -- and hundreds of other marine animals -- from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.
Happy Monday, ocean lovers! Today’s featured marine animal is the queen triggerfish. Found in coral reefs in the Caribbean and Eastern Atlantic shallow waters, this colorful fish is large and aggressive.
These fish greet intruders with throbbing sounds produced by special membranes. At night, they use their dorsal spine to lock themselves into their burrows so predators can’t pull them out to eat them.
Queen triggerfish are dedicated hunters and prey on lobsters, crabs, shellfish, and urchins. To avoid the sharp spines of sea urchins, they blow water under it to flip it upside-down and expose the safer underside. Sometimes they even pick a sea urchin up by one spine to perform this flip.
The species is considered vulnerable because of hunting pressure (it is popular for human consumption), and there is a possibility it would be at greater risk if its sea urchin prey experienced steep population declines.
You can learn more about queen triggerfish and hundreds of other marine animals from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.
Starting today, we’ll be doing a weekly trivia feature of one of the fascinating species that lives in the oceans. Today’s animal is the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.
Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest and most endangered species of sea turtle. These turtles are usually solitary and live primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, sometimes venturing up the Eastern Seaboard.
The relatively small range of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is one of the reasons its population has been declining. When population concentrations are high enough, females come onshore to lay their eggs arrive together in mass landings (the name of these landings is our weekly trivia question on Twitter, so answer now to win!) Eggs and hatchlings make easy prey for dogs, herons, and humans—and some cultures believe sea turtle eggs are aphrodisiacs.
Adult sea turtles are particularly at risk of drowning after being accidentally caught in the nets of shrimp trawlers and other fishermen. Adding turtle excluder devices to nets allow turtles to escape and have made a difference in turtle bycatch deaths, although these rates are still high. Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe.