One fish is rapidly becoming one of the biggest problems facing the fragile food web of coral reefs in the U.S.: the lionfish. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific region, but are an invasive species in the Caribbean and Atlantic.
In their native waters, lionfish are at the top of the food chain, and are ferocious hunters. They are equipped with dangerous venom-filled spines that run along their dorsal, pectoral, and anal fins. Although they are venomous, they are not poisonous, and are safe to eat once you cut the spines off – and are actually quite tasty!
Twenty years ago lionfish could only be seen in their native habitat in the Pacific, as well as in many aquariums in the United States, but today they can be seen off the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and everywhere in the Caribbean. They are thought to have been accidently released when a hurricane in the late 1990s destroyed a beachfront aquarium in Florida. The fish immediately colonized the Florida Keys, and their eggs floated in the currents around the Caribbean. Scientists were left to watch in horror as the lionfish spread in a predictable pattern around the Caribbean Sea along the current patterns.
Lionfish are voracious feeders, and have no natural predators here, which has resulted in an exponential growth of their population. Plus, they spawn year-round and each brood can have tens of thousands of eggs. They are especially worrisome in the Caribbean since they prey on juvenile fish species, including the endangered Nassau grouper and other recovering fish species.
Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to solving the problem. The population has established itself to the point where eradication appears futile. But every little bit helps, and I myself have hunted the pesky predators all across the Caribbean; from beaches in Florida to the pristine reefs of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and in the world’s second longest barrier reef off the coast of Belize.
There are two ways to hunt lionfish. The easiest is with a spear gun, and the other is by trapping the fish in between two nets. The key to hunting lionfish is to move slowly and stalk the fish so as not to spook it. When threatened, they will swim into small crevices that make them nearly impossible to reach. When using nets, they key is to herd the fish into one net by chasing it from behind with the other. This is difficult because you have to anticipate where the fish will swim to. Using a spear gun is much easier, but can attract sharks, who want to check out the fresh piece of meat you just snagged.
There are endless ways to eat lionfish; my personal favorites are lionfish pizza and lionfish-cakes (crab cake style). Lionfish is a flaky white fish and can be used in recipes for halibut, cod, tilapia, and haddock.
Next time you venture into the water in the Caribbean, be on the lookout for this invasive species, just don’t get too close! Learn more about the Lionfish invasion at http://www.reef.org/lionfish.
The health benefits of seafood are well-documented, but some people avoid eating it after hearing reports of high mercury levels. This video might help make things a little clearer.
Produced by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, the video explains how mercury gets into water and then into the fish that we eat. Burning coal releases mercury into the air and increases its concentrations in our waterways. Depending on where in the food chain a fish is, it could have low levels of mercury or high levels that could be unhealthy.
Eating seafood has many health benefits—it has important Omega 3 fatty acids and is low in the saturated fats you find in other animal proteins, especially red meat. Many fish are safe and healthy to eat. While shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna have higher mercury levels, there are plenty of other options that are safe to eat. You can find responsible and healthy seafood choices in our Sustainable Seafood Guide.
Check out the video, which also features Oceana senior scientist Kim Warner, to learn more about how mercury builds up in the environment and how to stay healthy while including seafood in your diet.
Almost half of the world’s seafood now comes from fish farms, which can cause significant environmental harm if not responsibly managed.
Because many fish are confined to a small area, aquaculture can lead to high levels of pollution and outbreaks of diseases. Sometimes the farmed fish escape, which can hurt wild fish populations and the local ecosystem. Aquaculture can also lead to overfishing since carnivorous fish, like salmon and tuna, are fed large amounts of fishmeal made from prey fish like anchovies or herrings.
The Velella Project is an experiment off the coast of Hawaii that is trying to address some of the problems associated with aquaculture. Instead of enclosing fish in stationary nets or tanks like traditional farming methods, a specially-designed spherical pen, called the Aquapod, drifts through the water containing 2,000 hatchery born fish.
Every year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins alone. Shark fins are used to make shark fin soup, a popular and expensive dish that is a symbol of wealth and status primarily in Asian cultures.
The demand for fins can lead to cruel and wasteful practices, such as cutting off a shark’s fins at sea and then throwing the rest of the shark, sometimes still alive, back into the water. And shark fin soup can be dangerous to humans. Since sharks are at the top of the food chain, they accumulate toxins like mercury, which is a dangerous neurotoxin.
So are there any alternatives to shark fin soup? Shark fins themselves have no taste and are used only for texture. In traditional shark fin soup recipes, chicken or fish stock is added to give the soup flavor which means that there are a lot of ways to enjoy shark fin soup without using shark fins – like this recipe from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:
According to new estimates, farmed shrimp from Asia may have one of the highest carbon footprints of any food.
More than half of all shrimp farms are located in Asia, primarily in areas that used to be mangrove forests. Mangroves are trees that grow in salt water, and they are important for marine ecosystems because they provide nutrients and shelter for many fish, turtle, and wading bird species. Mangrove forests are also important because they serve as a carbon sink, removing and storing more than 1,000 pounds of CO2) per acre each year.
But around the world, mangrove forests are being cut down to build shrimp farms. These farms are also often short-lived. The intensive farming methods pollute the environment, and disease spreads easily among the shrimp, which means that shrimp farmers must frequently clear new areas to stay in business.
Congress took a strong step forward today in the fight against illegal fishing, as Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced legislation to fight this growing global problem that threatens our oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers worldwide.
The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Frank Guinta (R, NH-01), Sam Farr (D, CA-17), Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), and Donna Christensen (D-VI).
The legislation, titled the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act,” would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
Illegal, or pirate, fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching species that may be threatened or endangered. Because this fishing is unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess the true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates, however, that pirate fishing results in global economic losses of between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for as much as 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Today the World Bank announced a new international alliance called the Global Partnerships for the Oceans and we are excited to announce our involvement!
It’s a collaborative partnership in every sense with many of the world’s top conservation organizations, private interests and the World Bank pooling their resources and energies to help tackle the toughest issues facing our oceans like overfishing, marine degradation and habitat loss.
Oceana understands the need to protect our oceans for their beauty and splendor, but we also recognize that there’s more at stake here. It’s not just about the environment. It’s also about the millions of people who rely on the oceans to keep them healthy and well fed—and the millions more who will rely on them in the future.
Oceana’s CEO Andy Sharpless said it best: “This global partnership couldn’t come at a better time. At this moment we’re looking at two diverging lines: world population, on a steady ascent, and global fish catch, on a steady decline. If we reverse this latter trend with better fisheries management, we could have enough wild seafood to feed the 9 billion people projected to live on our planet in 2050. No longer is this issue solely about ocean conservation - it’s also about humanity and saving the oceans in order to feed the world.”
We’re advocating for better ocean management to meet this challenge. By ensuring our oceans are productive enough to feed a growing population we’ll improve biodiversity and strengthen key habitats in the process, which will make the oceans healthier, too.
Oceana’s model for saving the oceans is just one of many. But that’s what makes this partnership so great. We’re uniting conservationists from all corners, public and private. It’s the complementary collaboration that makes this alliance so strong and well rounded.
The news of the alliance was first announced today at the World Oceans Summit in Singapore, which brought together many of the world’s leaders in ocean conservation including our very own CEO Andy Sharpless.
Great news! On Friday, Marketwatch reported that another chlorine plant will stop polluting the atmosphere and waterways, and ultimately our seafood, with dangerous mercury.
The chlorine plant, owned by chemical giant PPG and located on the Ohio River in West Virginia, would be the eighth to stop using mercury-polluting technology since Oceana started our campaign. When we began our campaign, nine plants in the U.S. used outdated technology that resulted in mercury pollution; with PPG’s announcement, just one mercury-based plant remains.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that can harm the development of children. It has become so prevalent in seafood that the federal government advises women of childbearing age and children not to eat swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish or shark, and to limit eating albacore tuna, because they contain high levels of mercury.
Oceana has also been active in combating mercury contamination internationally. Recently, Oceana board member and entrepreneur María Eugenia Girón wrote about Spain’s decision to finally issue a formal advisory about mercury in seafood after pressure from Oceana.
We’re dedicated to ensuring we have safe, healthy, abundant seafood around the world. Once again, your support helps make this possible. Thank you!
Oceana is a truly international organization, with campaigners at work in places from Alaska to Chile and Europe. And our leadership reflects that international agenda. We’re fortunate to have the vision of board members from around the world.
In the past week, two of our board members have spoken up on our behalf with essays in the Huffington Post, and I wanted to share their insight with you.
María Eugenia Girón is a Spanish business leader as well as Oceana board member, and she reported on Oceana’s successful battle to get the government of Spain to issue mercury warnings on certain seafood. Spain is one of the world’s largest consumers of seafood per capita, so the warning is much-needed. The announcement came after Oceana was forced to sue the Spanish government to release its own reports that show high levels of mercury in Spanish seafood.
María writes in the Huffington Post:
As a Spaniard, I'm proud of our seafood tradition. Unfortunately, as a mother, I'm worried. There's a downside to our seafood habit: studies have shown that the mercury level in our blood is 10 times that of the average level in the US and in other countries.
The next step is to get Spanish grocery stores to post mercury warnings, much like the stores on Oceana’s Green List in the U.S. have done after our prodding.
Our chairman, Dr. Kristian Parker, is a marine biologist and citizen of Denmark. He reported on Oceana’s summer expedition in northern Europe’s Baltic Sea. He writes:
Despite being surrounded by some of Europe's oldest cities, such as Stockholm and Copenhagen, the Baltic Sea doesn't get too much global attention. That's a shame, because the Baltic has provided fish for millions of people since the days of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, the sea is increasingly sick as a result of decades of pollution and overfishing.
The Baltic Sea expedition was the first of its kind launched by a nonprofit; the crew of campaigners and scientists covered 7,000 nautical miles, some of it in absolutely frigid conditions. Now back on shore, we will analyze all the good data the crew gathered to help make the case for additional protections for this important source of seafood in Europe.
Several other members of our board of directors, including board president Keith Addis and Susan Rockefeller, have also spoken out on Oceana’s behalf. Their commitment to the future healthy and vitality of our oceans is greatly appreciated, as is yours.
It’s Shark Week over at Discovery Channel, and that means everyone’s talking about them: sharks at the beach, sharks hunting seals, scuba diving with sharks, but…eating sharks?
We found a piece at esquire.com called A Man's Guide to Eating Shark, for Shark Week or Otherwise which explains, after acknowledging the conservation concerns for the species, a few ways to cook a mako shark right at home for dinner.
We like eating seafood, as long as it is sustainable. And shortfin mako is not; it’s listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List (as is its cousin the longfin mako). The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined that overfishing of shortfin mako sharks is occurring in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Recently, NMFS launched a program to encourage fishermen to release shortfin mako sharks alive back into the sea after being caught. This will help stop overfishing of the species and maintain a healthy population for the future. There is even an interactive online map and an Android app where fishermen can report their releases of shortfin makos back into the ocean.
As if being overfished wasn’t enough, sharks can also contain toxins like mercury in excess of the FDA’s recommended limits for moms and children. Certainly something to think about the next time someone recommends putting some shark on the barbie.
Do your part by telling the U.S. government to protect threatened sharks!