Maybe there will be one up side to Katrina and Rita's recent roaring up the Gulf of Mexico - rethinking whether to site an open-loop Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal off Louisiana's Southeast coast.
Back in July, a coalition of fishermen and environmental groups calling themselves the "Gumbo Alliance for Safe LNG" came together to voice their strong opposition to the Freeport McMoRan company's plans to draw in a constant stream of fresh seawater -- more than 100 million gallons a day -- along 16 miles offshore. That process would eliminate billions of fish eggs, larvae, and plankton drifting in the seawater, creating a fish-killing machine in the midst of one of the Gulf Coast's premier areas for redfish, shrimp, crabs, and more.
I've been following the rush to site new LNG facilities - despite concerns about their vulnerability to natural disasters or terrorist attacks - for several years, ever since Mexico's Baja coastline became a favored target of U.S. corporations, with LNG terminals slated to block the annual migration of the gray whales. (See the Articles section on my website, www.dickrussell.org.)
Now big energy companies want to build 30 to 40 new such terminals, mostly in American coastal communities. Massachusetts fishers are up in arms about plans by Excelerate Energy to place an LNG terminal only a mile from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, in the midst of critical fishing grounds.
In Long Island Sound, another body of water that should defy industrialization, a joint venture between Shell and Transcanada Corporation wants to do the same. A Mitsubishi subsidiary is looking to build a $450 million LNG facility off Long Beach.
But the Bush Administration isn't about to let these and other states make up their own minds about liquefied natural gas. The president wants federal control in deciding where terminals get built, saying that a lengthy approval process might hurt the economy. Overriding the objections of state governors, the Senate already voted in July to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the final say.
One can only hope that the terrible example of the Gulf Coast is giving someone pause.
First, you need to try to picture it: thousands of tuna, salmon, cod, and other species being bred in steel cages up to 200 miles offshore, across 3.4 million acres of ocean (about the land area of
I wish we had a more ignominious term than "bycatch" to describe one of the greatest threats to our marine environment. Maybe fishing vessels could be found guilty of "fish-kill in the second degree."
According to the United Nations, fully one-quarter of the fish taken in nets, seines, and longlines are discarded as unwanted or unintentional catch. Literall, tons of fish die in this way, not to mention the 300,000 marine mammals, more than 250,000 turtles, and 100,000 albatrosses killed each year after becoming entangled in fishing gear.
What is our government doing to alleviate this problem? Less than it did before, if the new fisheries legislation proposed by the Bush Administration is passed by Congress. Reporting of bycatch by fishermen need happen only "to the extent practicable." Not explained is how the managers can possibly reduce bycatch without even knowing how much there is.
This latest "comprehensive" package actually weakens the current federal requirements on trying to curb overfishing. While claiming to be getting "serious once and for all about this," it ignores just about all the recommendations of a presidential commission. All the current administration really seems serious about is replacing the devastated wild fish populations with massive offshore fish-farming operations - a subject we shall examine in more detail tomorrow.
It's conceivable many of you have never even heard of a small, bony, inedible member of the herring family called Atlantic menhaden. Yet they are one of the most important fish in the sea. Moving through the water in schools numbering sometimes in the millions, these silvery sea-strainers are a "filter feeder" that consumes huge quantities of microscopic algae which otherwise chokes the Chesapeake Bay estuary. Menhaden are also a critical food source for a wide variety of larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals (high in protein, their fat content is about four times higher than most other forage fish).
With menhaden in decline, the recovered population of striped bass aren't getting enough to eat. Emaciated stripers are being seen all along the Atlantic coast. Up to 70 percent of striperd bass in the their primary spawning territory of the Chesapeake are suffering from a bacterial infection that will ultimately prove fatal. This, many scientists believe, is stress-related, due to lack of food.
Why are menhaden in shorter supply? They're being overfished by the Omega Protein Corporation, owned by billionaire Malcolm Glazer and operating out of America's third largest fishing port in Reedville, Virginia. They're being ground up into fish meal that goes into poultry and swine feed. And they're being "refined" into fish oil for the omega-3 vitamin supplement indsutry.
Nothing points up the critical need for ecosystem management more than the menhaden situation. We've got to look holistically at our fisheries, at how taking one species impacts another, and at the overall habitat. To its credit, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently put a cap on the Atlantic menhaden landings, although the majority of testimony at public hearings favored a moratorium. Whether continuing to allow as many as 300,000 fish at a time to be vacuumed into the holds of factory fishing boats can really make a difference, is very much an open question.
When I became involved - much to my surprise - in a campaign to save the Atlantic striped bass in the early 1980s, I must confess I knew next-to-nothing about the environment. Most recently I'd been a staff writer in TV Guide Magazine's Hollywood bureau, doing profiles on folks like Bob Hope. I was, however, enamoured of recreational fishing - and especially the vaunted striper, a wily fish known to get as big as 100 pounds.
So, when the striped bass suddenly disappeared, I became involved in a grassroots campaign to curtail overfishing, one that ended up changing my life. I became a journalist/activist, organizing fishermen coastwide into a coalition that ultimately resulted in a fishing moratorium. The resurgence of the striped bass is today considered the primary global example that, if you give an endangered fish a fighting chance, it will come back.
In telling this story in my new book, Striper Wars: An American Fish Story, I came to realize that this particular fish truly is "the aquatic equivalent of the American bald eagle." Striped bass enabled the Pilgrims to survive their first winters, were the subject of our first conservation and then fishery management laws, and later became the fulcrum behind the first environmental impact statement and passage of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Now they are a harbinger of something else: the need for more holistic, ecosystem-based management of all our fisheries. They are imperiled once again in the Chesapeake Bay due to a shortage of their food-of-choice, the Atlantic menhaden. That story, we shall examine tomorrow.
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