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!



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



Aquaculture I


QUESTION: A few years ago I read that aquaculture was the answer to the problems associated with commercial fishing, but lately I have been hearing differently. What has happened? Sinjan from Johannesburg.

ANSWER: Sinjan, when it comes to modern food production, there are no magic bullets. It could be said that when mankind was roaming about gathering nuts and berries and killing the occasional antelope that we were truly living in an organic, sustainable manner. But quite frankly, it was probably no panacea. If the hunt was unsuccessful the tribe could starve. Without ownership, resources went to the strongest group, which in a clinical sense might be good for evolution – survival of the fittest – but to those who were driven into less fertile regions it meant a grim existence, and perhaps a slow violent demise.

As stationary agricultural and domesticated animal-based civilizations formed, and rules of ownership began to be developed, mankind was able to be fruitful and multiply, so to speak. And with the removal of fear and wandering, time was made available to improve systems. But immediately this began to affect the environment. Burning was used to clear land. Water sources were diverted and things like fertilizer application began to be used to increase returns. Stationary stock animals produced waste that after a good rain ended up in the same creek where people bathed and drank. Things have never been the same.

Aquacultural seafood production in many ways is just now entering this stage, which is quite amazing really considering we are now mapping DNA and peering into the reaches and beginnings of the universe. So it is a work in progress. But unlike those early tribes we now can implement systems with science as our guide. But aquacultural development, being based around the aquatic realm, faces philosophical and political questions as much as empirical. We are still squabbling over who owns what waters; and issues referred to in theories such as the tragedy of the commons, issues that for land-based food production have pretty much been solved, are still tangent to aquacultural development.

But aside from philosophical meanderings there are a few facts guiding us. First and foremost we are harvesting pretty much all we can from the seas, and actually in many cases too much. No matter what else happens we can’t dramatically up the volume of catches. Aquacultural development will continue. Secondly, aquaculture does give us a great degree of hands-on control. We can tinker with feeds and enclosures, the amounts of light fish receive, the water temperature and a lot more. This is not quite as possible in the wild. And as with modern agriculture, there is a greater level of certainty about harvests and investments (though nothing is 100%). So it seems aquaculture is the answer to the needs of the hungry masses seeking that great source of Omega 3’s we talk about all the time.

But what of the challenges? Where’s the down side? And why keep fishing in the wild at all? As Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park says, “Nature finds a way”. It resists control. Fish who should be quite happy swimming in the safe confines of a netted enclosure, feeding on tasty easy-to-find morsels, have the damnedest tendency to plot escape. As stocks are confined, disease and parasites are able to become firmly established and transmitted easily, even perhaps to wild fish swimming by. These fish must be fed and many are carnivorous, which puts pressures on wild industrial fish stocks. Too the facilities are in many cases placed in the natural environments.

We will over the next few weeks be addressing particular concerns, starting next week with the feeding of aquacultural species. In particular we will look at the use of wild stocks in feed production for farmed carnivorous fish species. We will also reference the use of fishmeals and fish oils in the production of feed for land based animals, as the two topics are intricately linked. A lot has happened in these areas and exciting developments are occurring very rapidly so please pop back in and read next week’s Ask Deep Blue.