Friday, April 30, 2010

felton acres welcomes its first lamb!

There we were, moving chickens and feeding and doing our evening chores, and I looked down at the sheep for a moment and exclaimed "OMG, we had a lamb!" You gotta love Barbados Blackbellies. No suplemental grain, no lambing barn, no sleepless night. Just looked down at the sheep and saw the cutest little lamb among the now pretty big looking crew. Brought the kids down the next day with the nice camera for the evening chores and snapped a few pics. Even zoomed they are not great because mommy is being very protective and hanging back. Good job Ram Sam Sam and Ghoully Ghoully Ewe!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

is commercial fishing bad? NO!!!

I was just responding to a letter to the editor in a magazine, but somehow it turned into an essay, so why not add to my poor neglected blog with another of my enviro-rants?

I read with some pain the letter in your May 2010 issue calling for an end to the commercial harvest of wild fish. Yes, the previous letter calling for an end to all sport fishing so there would be more fish for the non-boat-owning population was also wrong, but Mr. Johnstone's opinions about what's wrong with commercial fishing were incorrect enough as to force a response.

The summary of Mr. Johnstone's argument is that because technology for fishing is so advanced, humanity is incapable of sustainably harvesting wild fish; in essence the greed of commercial fishers has no antidote, they will always over-fish if allowed to fish at all. This is the "tragedy of the commons" argument. More people need to understand that this was an argument created by the super-rich to take the commons away from everybody so they could expand their exclusive hunting grounds. The commons were doing just fine when commoners had little plots of garden and a few animals grazing to put a little something extra on their tables. They had a vested interest in preserving it and they did just that. But back to fishing.

There IS an antidote to overfishing: it is called fisheries science, regulation, and enforcement. Nevermind some people do not think government is capable of anything (while they depend upon it every day for so many many things); that too is a hypocritical viewpoint. If your regulators aren't doing their jobs well then what are you doing to force them to improve? There are several examples of fisheries that are commercially harvested and THRIVING. Look at the Pacific salmon fishery in Alaska or the Halibut fishery in the Pacific Northwest. Lobster in the Northeast. (OK, those traps are not efficient and very leaky thus sustainable, but that's because of regulation and enforcement, likely mostly by the fishermen themselves, that those are the only allowed pots). When the Sacramento river Fall chinook run collapsed, smart people blamed everything but commercial fishing and commercial fishing interests have supported the total ban on their activities until the stocks rebuild. They have a vested interest in preserving the stock in perpetuity. That's how incentives really work here, the science just needs to be plain and accurate. And we can put people on the moon if we want to and fund it.

The most dangerously incorrect assertion followed: that fish FARMING is more sustainable than harvesting the wild ocean; that farming the ocean which we barely understand and do not live in is comparable to farming on land. This could not be further from the truth. There are at least 2 huge unsolved problems with fish farming (it is my belief they can NEVER be solved until we have lived in the ocean for three generations): 1) concentrations of a single species in a small confined area concentrates both waste and pathogens which then cannot be contained in the pens basically making dump-sites and dead zones 2) even if you solve that problem (more or less) by keeping the pens way way out to sea and diluting the pollution with miles of open ocean, you have to feed the fish baitfish that have been commercially harvested, thus robbing the wild populations of their forage resource. In the case of salmon for example, feeding them baitfish means they are going to get 100% of their food from a "trophic level" (each rung on the food chain ladder is one trophic level, algae/diatoms->copepods->krill->herring->salmon) just below themselves where in the wild they often eat 2 trophic levels down. At each trophic level you lose efficiency. Its simply much more efficient to let wild populations of fish do their thing and then harvest them with small artisanal fishing craft (which could be mandated by law). There are some efforts to fix this one by genetically modifying salmon to eat corn, or feeding feather/bone meal from factory chicken farming, which besides being somewhat distasteful propositions are both farmed unsustainably on land and pollute the ocean with tainted runoff. Fish farming other than shellfish is a lose/lose/lose system. Shellfish is a winner because it is done in a way that mimics the natural system and nothing needs to be imported for feed or medication.

The wild ocean is a beautiful efficient system that we should interact with in thoughtful and provably sustainable ways. Fish farming other than shellfish in the ocean is a dangerous practice that should be banned outright. The "how are we going to feed the world?" argument is a ruse and should not be accepted. There are unimaginable amounts of food waste in our corporate agricultural systems right now in the name of economies of scale and due to basic human laziness. There is plenty of capacity to feed everyone if we re-diversify our land based agriculture, appropriately steward and benevolently utilize our environment. Sustainably harvesting the wild ocean with copious pleasurable jobs for millions of people world wide can be accomplished by forcing government regulators do their jobs (and have enough funds to do them) because we the people are all so well educated (by sportfishingmag). Please do not eat farmed fish. Please do insist on wild caught fish, and whenever it is a wild fishery that is certified sustainable (like Alaskan Salmon) you can feel good about putting your money there.

Marc Felton
Sebastopol, California
(sport fishing for salmon, halibut, dungeness crab, albacore tuna, and pacific rockfish out of Bodega Bay)