Guardian Launches Major Climate Change Series


ISS-40_Typhoon_HalongToday – 6 March 2015 – the Guardian launched a major new series putting the issue front and centre in public thought and action. It is sorely welcomed. The science is rock solid, the penalties for not acting now are real and terrible.

The first in the series is an extract from Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything.

We will be following and we hope you do too!

The series.


Hope Springs Eternal – Colorado River update


An update on our Climate Change and Fisheries post of January 2012. In it we stated, referring to how the political realm may respond when addressing long-term contingencies regarding resource allocation:

We are reminded ofHorseshoe_Bend_TC_27-09-2012_15-34-14 the damming of the Colorado River, done so to provide vital energy and fresh water for the South Western US, but with the consequence that the river itself now peters out in the desert of Northern Mexico (it no
longer reaches the sea). 

It is with great pleasure that we have read that due to an international agreement between the US and Mexico, the Colorado River has now for the first time in 16 years reached the Mar de Cortés. Apparently water was released from the Morelos Dam and after an eight week journey through the desert, reached the sea on May 16, 2014.

It’s good to see those two working out differences!


The State of Cod


QUESTION: Is it OK to eat cod again? Martin from Brighton, UK

ANSWER: Martin, being from Brighton you are probably talking about Atlantic cod, which lives in the cold, deep regions of the North Atlantic. It is a very important fish, and in the UK it is best known as the most common (traditionally) ingredient in fish and chips (the famous “fish supper”). Cod is by far the most popular whitefish in the UK, with 14,100 t landed in 2011, and a retail consumption of approximately 36,000 t of whole fish (about 9% of the world’s catch). [1]

Wikipedia does a pretty good job of describing the historical context of cod as a British culinary tradition:

Fish and chips became a stock meal among the working classes in the United Kingdom as a consequence of the rapid development of trawl fishing in the North Sea, and the development of railways which connected the ports to major industrial cities during the second half of the 19th century, which meant that fresh fish could be rapidly transported to the heavily populated areas. [2]

This doesn’t quite capture the true position cod holds in the hearts and minds of British diners – it isn’t quite as culturally revered as the cup of tea, but it is close.

Today cod stocks everywhere are viewed with a wary eye to the Northwest Atlantic Cod fishery (off the US and Canada), as in the early 1990’s the stock experienced an abrupt, almost unprecedented collapse. Suddenly there were just no cod at all. Charts and graphs and predictions showed a gradual decline over the preceding years but the severity and suddenness of the following collapse has made for much discussion about fisheries management and the value of the precautionary principle. There is a very scientific definition for this principle, but what it really means is exercising extra prudence and reserve, even in the face of data showing little imminent danger.  

The collapse resulted in a complete moratorium on fishing from 1993 -97, and while recovery plans are in force or are being developed for most stocks, many have shown no signs of recovery or remain outside safe biological limits. What it graphically showed was that with some species, perceived health may hide a looming disaster.  

But what about stocks in the seas around Great Britain? Your reticence on the consumption of cod probably comes from information you have received about how your local stocks are in danger. On this there has been some some good news as of late; things seem to be getting better. The EU has adopted a long-term plan for cod (the Cod Recovery Plan) in most of the areas around Britain and fishing industry groups have been working on techniques to limit over fishing. The results are that spawning stock biomass (the actual amount of fish able to reproduce) has increased from the historical low in 2006, and fishing mortality (the removal of fish from the stock due to fishing activities) has declined since 2000. Recruitment (new fish of breeding age), however has been poor and the stock remains outside safe biological limits. [1] The Marine Conservation Society (a UK charity for the protection of the seas around the United Kingdom) still rates poorly cod caught in most British waters. [3]      

We would recommend adjusting your views on cod consumption, expanding your seafood choices; there are many other species out there ready to be tasted, and which are not under the same sort of pressures as cod. As we have suggested before, mussels are just about nature’s perfect marine protein source. Sardines are very good grilled, and anchovies can add an extremely nice robustness to any sauce. Think “Mediterranean Diet” where proteins are used to add richness, heft and mouth-feel, but with less actual ingredient. Gumbos, soups and chowders are also great ways to enjoy seafood without requiring a huge white fillet.  

We can still eat seafood, but by just expanding our culinary repertoires, we can relieve pressure from heavily harvested stocks. If you are still craving a fish supper fix, try limiting it as a choice, interspersing with other seafood-based meals.  

Reed McFarland
European Coordinator
Deep Blue Public Relations


[1] Seafish, UK – Responsible Sourcing Guide: Cod

[2] Wikipedia: Fish and Chips

[3] Marine Conservation Society

The Perfect Food Source?


QUESTION: Have you heard about claims that the ‘perfect delivery method’ for food has been developed in the form of a hamburger? – Sarah from Topeka, USA

ANSWERThe Freakonomics blog recently queried whether McDonalds’ double cheeseburger was the ‘cheapest most nutritious food ever produced in the history of humankind’. It is a fascinating assertion which cuts to the heart of the subject of efficiency in food production. We at Deep Blue are much more interested in fins than hooves, but efficiency is as fundamental to seafood production as to any other food industry segment.

As flighty as the assertion seems, it can’t be dismissed too easily; there are a lot of people to feed now – 7 billion of us, each requiring a certain number of calories a day to survive and prosper. Production is of paramount importance, and as these 7 billion are spread around willy-nilly (with over 50% living in urban environments) logistics come into play. Quickly complexity sets in: fertilisers, water, labour, transport and energy. In a market-based economy the forces of supply and demand are ever-present, but ethical pressures are more and more part of the process. But the population figures and calorie requirements remain.

This burger, which is said to supply 1/3 of that daily calorie requirement, sells for around a US dollar (in the US, mind – things are different in other parts of the world where that burger could cost an average week’s wage) perhaps could be considered a modern marvel. Heck, it should be, like Concorde or man landing on the moon, its existence to a degree verifies itself.

But let’s not kid ourselves, there is a lot going into those meat patties, cheese slices, rolls and sliced pickles. The cow was fed and medicated and required a certain amount of space to grow and mature. It also breathed air and consumed water (either from a public source or from the aquifer, etc. ), it produced waste and it belched out methane. The meat from the cow was transported along road and rail and water using petrochemicals as fuel. Energy was used to cool the meat and cook it….and the list goes on and on. Some of these things are factored into the price of the burger – which is the marvel of it all – that efficiency has made this possible, but some of these things are not. In other words the producers are benefiting from at least a degree of public subsidy.

But how does this relate to seafood? First and foremost we must remember that like the burger, the fillet of fish we see on a restaurant plate is more than it seems. Many resources and processes went into getting it there. Too, we must always remember that it is very difficult to compare pricing in regards to competing food items – there is no telling the level of public subsidy each has benefited from.

UK Marine Conservation Zones


QUESTION: Why is the Government moving so slowly setting up marine conservation zones? – Pamela, Coventry, UK

ANSWER:  Several news items of late have focused on the Government’s current consultation on only 31 of the 127 marine conservation zones originally nominated for protection under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (England and Wales). Environment Minister Richard Benyon (Conservative) blames the on-going financial squeeze for the seemingly snail-paced implementation, saying that as a result of the lingering malaise he cannot designate as many areas for protection as he would like, but that more are set to ‘come on line’ over the next few years. 

Some disagree with this hesitant approach. Hinting that fears of complex judicial review may also be slowing the process (and getting in a political pot shot), the Chair of Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee Andrew Miller MP (Labour) said recently:

The Government is currently letting the project flounder while sensitive environments are further degraded and the industry is subjected to further uncertainty.” 

The Minister should not let his priorities be dictated by fear of judicial review, he must end the uncertainty and set out a clear timetable to designate the zones with a firm commitment to an end date by which the protected areas will be established.”

So just what is going on, and how did this situation develop (or is there even a ‘situation’)?

As with a lot of these sorts of schemes things can get confusing rather quickly. The nomenclature of the different flavours of areas – MPAs, MPZs, NTZs, etc., etc. – go on and on; each meaning roughly the same thing, a geographically defined protected area, but with varying levels/types of restricted activity. Some forbid types of commercial fishing (think of nets being dragged over reefs) and some are virtually “no go zones”, where even anchoring a small boat or wading about picking up shells may be designated off-limits. 

Too, they are administered at many different levels. In addition to those enacted at national level there are International Zones and European Zones, and within the UK, administration is handled in Scotland and Northern Ireland by the devolved Governments. In England and Wales, with the passage of the Marine Act (which created the 127 zones mentioned above) four regional groups were formed to provide technical expertise in developing the MCZs: Finding Sanctuary (south west), Balanced Seas (south east), Irish Sea Conservation Zones (Irish Sea) and Net Gain (North Sea). Just knowing who is doing what is challenging.

But what are marine conservation zones? Or Marine protected Areas? Put simply they are designated geographical where nature can flourish protected from at least some level of human activity. We at Deep Blue like the concept of marine protection zones even though we are more involved with supply/demand issues (the fish retailers choose to stock and people choose to buy – think Friend of the Sea eco-certification) and hands-on governmental/scientific management. 

The big challenges – perhaps deal breakers – are in choosing the appropriate sites to designate and in setting the level and kinds of activities to restrict. And of course we must remember that Mother Nature doesn’t recognise lines on maps. Ocean acidification, sea warming and shifts in currents can also affect these areas, as well as human activities perhaps not included in the management scheme – think of storm water run off from on-shore development.

They are a piece of the puzzle – and needed – and if set up correctly should be put in place without undue delay.

Reed McFarland
European Coordinator
Deep Blue Public Relations



EU Parliament and Member State Fishing Opportunities


QUESTION: Did I read that under new reforms, the EU is considering changing the way they set fishing quotas? – Devin, Plymouth, UK

ANSWER: There is an interesting situation developing in Brussels/Strasbourg concerning the EU Parliament’s role in regulating Member State fishing opportunities. It comes in the wake of a recent mid-December vote of the Parliamentary Fisheries Committee (PECH), where a number of amendments were suggested to the legislation currently seeking to reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Included in the lengthy list of possible changes/additions (they still must be voted on in plenary – full Parliament) are provisions for multi-year fishery management plans as a Parliamentary function.

As it stands now, Parliament holds powers to approve Commission proposals regarding the technical systemic legislation pertaining to fisheries management, but the actual fishing opportunities – quotas – are ultimately decided by the Council (representatives from Member State governments). The official decision flow is supposed to stem from scientific studies provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), with the data then analysed by the Commission and packaged into recommendations for ultimate Council approval. In reality, decisions are made at end-of-the-year Council meetings where Ministers and lobbyists are crammed into a room, horse trading until some sort of agreement is reached. Suffice it to say the original ICES studies nor the Commission recommendations hold the weight of Canon.

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament has seen its powers increased. Pre-Lisbon, many felt a democratic deficit existed in EU governance/legislation making, with too many rules and regulations springing from cloistered Commission comitology committees, and back room processes such as the aforementioned quota sessions. Now Parliament – directly elected representatives – will have say on many more policy areas. But they still are not tasked with setting quotas – the things actually determining how many fish can be harvested.

The setting of quotas is very much a local/national political exercise, with pressure applied to Government fisheries ministers to ‘bring home’ liberal quotas (and in some instances days at sea, another method of managing fishing opportunity). The importance of quotas to concentrated fisheries-based economic areas is of course crucial and given the almost even split between left and right in many countries, the loss or gain of even a few seats could result in a change of government. The old phrase ‘all politics is local’ rings true in this situation.

If we do see Parliament gain the ability to set multi-year plans it could undermine the Council’s free wheeling powers and thus curtail the ability of national governments to use quotas as political bargaining chips. If targets are set via long-term plans, quotas would seemingly be determined by science and law, and not by politics.

Alongside this political/philosophical issue is of course the question of whether the actual stocks would benefit from long-term management, and on this we at Deep Blue must say ‘yes’. It seems obvious. But as with so much regarding the workings of the EU, all is never quite as it seems; at this point we don’t know what the multi-year management systems will look like. Much can happen before they are finalised.

Some see this as an opportunity to return powers to local authorities and/or industry. ‘Euro skeptics’ have been calling for this for a long time. If powers were returned to localities, but within a too weak structure, we could see something which runs counter to the original idea of basing decisions on scientific advice – quotas being set in the regions with national government ministerial guidance (politics), and not necessarily with Parliamentary participation.

Reed McFarland
European Coordinator
Deep Blue Public Relations


Climate Change and Fisheries


QUESTION: Following the Climate Change Convention in Durban, I was struck that very little coverage was given to fisheries. Oceans seem a good place to start. – Edwin, Brisbane.

ANSWER: In the wake of Durban some have criticised the Convention’s lack of specific marine-related outcomes and the perceived marginalization of marine environmental and fisheries-related issues when discussing Climate Change. It is true that the Convention hosted an Oceans Day, charged with keeping marine issues in the spotlight, but it does often seem that when negotiations begin the focus is on factories, cars and airplanes (causes) and not fish stocks (effects). This is understandable – manufacturing and transport (and in the end individuals) will shoulder the heaviest corrective burdens, but to those of us who work with fisheries and aquaculture it all can feel a bit cart-before-the-horse.

Oceans make up the majority of the Earth’s surface and play a dominant role in the systems governing our atmosphere. We have already begun experiencing marine-related effects of Climate Change including sea level rise and extreme weather events. Small Island Developing States and Developing Coastal Communities are particularly at risk of early and profound negative impact. Ocean acidification, warming and deoxygenation are all happening now and will continue. It is postulated that ocean currents themselves may shift, or even reverse, with cataclysmic results. Undoubtably all of the aforementioned will impact fisheries and aquaculture.

The Durban Co-Chairs’ report Climate, Oceans, People states that combating these effects will require an integrated strategy for oceans and coasts, saying we must:

  • Enact stringent and immediate reductions in CO2 emissions
  • Deepen understanding and policy approaches to support “Blue Carbon”
  • Accelerate progress on mitigation approaches using oceans and coasts
  • Undertake climate change adaptation in vulnerable coastal areas
  • Build the capacity of coastal and island areas to predict, understand, and respond to the risks posed by climate change
  • Work with coastal countries to raise awareness about the implications of climate change impacts on ocean and coastal areas
  • Perhaps suggestions like “deepen understanding and policy approaches to support Blue Carbon” seem a bit esoteric but it adds a bit of immediacy to note that we may have just recently witnessed the first large-scale, fisheries-based Climate Change-derived political intrigue. Earlier this year when the European Union blocked landings of mackerel from Icelandic boats at EU ports, it was according to some a direct reaction to Iceland seeking to benefit from warmer sea temperatures and a corresponding northern movement of mackerel stocks. Whether this particular instance of warmer conditions is indeed Climate Change-related is a bit beside the point, it is a foreshadowing of the kinds of fisheries-associated conflicts that will inevitably arise as environmental conditions change.

    One of the most intriguing quandaries when discussing climate change is just this, how the political realm will respond when addressing long-term contingencies. Issues will rarely be clear-cut, blending disparate and semi-related issues such as population growth, migration, border conflict and trade agreement (so-called ‘front burner’ issues).

    We are reminded of the damming of the Colorado River, done so to provide vital energy and fresh water for the South Western US, but with the consequence that the river itself now peters out in the desert of Northern Mexico (it no longer reaches the sea). As Climate Change is predicted to drastically affect the hydrosphere and weather patterns, we will most likely see these sorts of situations arise more and more as valuable fresh water resources are allocated not with downstream fisheries in mind but along political lines. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 itself, which ushered in the damming of the river, was a snarl of political and legal intrigue fuelled by developer and agricultural concerns. Suffice it to say, neither the downstream Mexican fisherman, nor the indigenous fish populations, were even at the table.

    So what do we make of it? We at Deep Blue believe in the scientific evidence – that the Earth’s climate is changing and that this change is at least partially due to man. We also believe that oceans and the biological system supporting marine ecosystems will be affected early and fundamentally. We advise that the recommendations made in Climate, Oceans, People be incorporated into all policy dealing with development which may in any way affect the marine environment. It will do us no good to squabble over TACs and quotas only to have any gains nullified by Climate Change.

    To be blunt, failure to address Climate Change will not only create tragic outcomes, but will also be a terrible indictment on humanity itself. Our species has faced many monumental challenges in the past, and failure so many times was due to ignorance and the nonexistence of the scientific tools necessary to understand the problem. But today we know, and we have been warned. Our failure on Climate Change will more than anything be a moral failure of will.

    Reed McFarland
    European Coordinator
    Deep Blue Public Relations