The Surf Check

A surfers preservationist perspective on our oceans and beaches

Archive for the ‘Pacific Northwest’ Category

‘Super Green’ seafoods for health and the environment

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Since the early 1970’s vegetarian diets have been hailed as sustainable. This is partly due to Frances Moore Lappe’s book, Diet for a Small Planet. In which she argues that cattle and other livestock are essentially “reverse protein factories.” With the appearance of farmed seafood the argument reemerges with respect to ocean aquaculture.  Are fish farms reverse protein factories that destroy  environments and food chains?

Recent evidence suggests they may not be. A partnership of the Harvard School of Public Health, the Environmental Defense Fund, and The Monterey Bay Aquarium have released a “Super Green” list of healthy and environmentally conscious seafood.

The argument against meat and its status as a “reverse protein factory” is thus. When someone eats protein in the form of beef, they are eating a cow that already consumed many times that amount of protein in the form of plants. Meaning that a diet of plants is more environmentally efficient than a diet of meat.

For example, in the book Food Energy and Society by David and Marcia Pimentel, they contend that for a cow to provide a person with one calorie of beef, the cow must first consume twenty to forty times that amount of calories. Which makes sense when you consider all the grass a cow consumes in its lifetime to bring you a relatively small amount of beef.

These inefficiencies apply to all animals and not surprisingly carry on into the world of aquaculture. As a 2007 Time Magazine article reported, “It takes a lot of input, in the form of other, lesser fish — also known as “reduction” or “trash” fish — to produce the kind of fish we prefer to eat directly. To create 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) of high-protein fishmeal, which is fed to farmed fish…it takes 4.5 kg (10 lbs.) of smaller pelagic, or open-ocean, fish.”

Malaysian farmers harvest Pomfrets for export. The fish are a major food source in Southeast Asia

Courtesy, jensen_chua @ flicker

As you would expect this has some negative consequences on ocean environments. Tuna farming for example requires that wild Tuna first be captured (no one has yet been able to grow Tuna from eggs) and then, “dine on live pelagic fish, such as anchovies, sardines and mackerel, but it takes about 20 kg (44 lbs.) of such feed to get 1 kg of tuna ready for a sushi bar near you.” according to Time Magazine. Which puts serous strain on ocean ecosystems.

However, omega acids and other health benefits of eating seafood may still be had while staying ‘green’.  Harvard School of Public Health, the Environmental Defense Fund and The Monterey Bay Aquarium have made two designations to seafood they found to be both healthy and sustainable. “Super Green” being the greenest and most healthy, and “Best Choices” being the next best. All seafoods that have been designated as such are listed below. More information on the criteria and selection is available at the Monetary Bay Aquarium’s website.

The Best in Healthy Sustainable Sea Cuisine “Super Green”

Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
Mussels (farmed)
Oysters (farmed)
Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
Pink Shrimp (wild-caught, from Oregon)
Rainbow Trout (farmed)
Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
Spot Prawns (wild-caught, from British Columbia)

Other Healthy “Best Choices”

Arctic Char (farmed)
Bay Scallops (farmed)
Crayfish (farmed, from the U.S.)
Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington)
Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic)
Pacific Cod (longline-caught, from Alaska)

Ocean “dead zones” in Pacific Northwest are likely irreversible

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This map depicts ocean dead zones in the pacific northwest as of 2006.

courtesy UC Riverside, labeled for reuse

An irreversible ocean ‘dead zone’ has been discovered in the Pacific Northwest; and is being attributed to human-sponsored climate change by researchers.  While over four hundred dead zones exist in coastal waters around the world  this one is unique as it appears to be a result of climactic change associated with global warming.

Ocean dead zones are as they sound, regions of the ocean in which nothing is able to live. This is a result of low oxygen levels in the water or “hypoxia.”
“When oxygen gets too low in the ocean, it has a deleterious effect on organisms,” Jack Barth, professor of physical oceanography at Oregon State University, told the LA Times. “They either have to flee the area, or they get stressed or even die off. Those die-off [areas] are dead zones.”

Hypoxic ocean regions are normally found in shallow coastal waters near river mouths. It’s here agricultural fertilizers and pollutants enter the ocean. And as Barth, points out in a National Science Foundation video, the high levels of land based nutrients lead to unchecked algae growth. As that algae bloom begins to die off bacteria consumes the dead algae. It is this bacteria that over time starves the shallow coastal waters of oxygen.

Cloudy water to the left is a oxygen-starved dead zone in the Gulf Of Mexico stemming from the Mississippi river delta.

courtesy “harmon on earth” at, labeled for reuse

Unlike most oceanic dead zones, the one in the Pacific Northwest is found in open ocean. And according to the National Science Foundation, that’s what makes it so unique. It’s is not the regular dumping of fertilizer or pollutants that has prompted the oxygen depletion, but rather changing wind patterns as a resulting from global warming.

Changing wind patterns in the Pacific Northwest no longer move ocean water in the affected regions. Now, when nutrient-rich deep ocean water surges up towards the surface, where algae lives, the ocean lacks a sufficient current to draw the low-oxygenated ocean water away. Because this altered wind pattern is likely a result of global warming it may be irreversible.

“I really think we’re in a new pattern, a new rhythm, offshore now. And I would expect [the low-oxygen zone] to show up every year now,” Barth said at a news conference, as reported by the LA Times. Scientist began to notice ocean dead zones in 2002, and by 2004 even beach goers were taking notice as dead crabs began to litter beaches. The hypoxic conditions continue to appear each summer. “In the summer of 2006 for the first time ever we saw oxygen levels go to zero” Explains Barth in a video for the National Science Foundation.

Globally dead zones are developing all over the planet. Today it sits at four hundred, but it has been doubling every decade since the 1950’s. For more information on dead zones globally visit the LA Time’s multimedia series, Altered Oceans.

Written by surfchecker

October 11, 2009 at 1:26 am