13 May 2009

Sorry Charlie- They're going to hunt you to EXTINCTION.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

I have written little here about the Oceans. I only had one graduate level course in Oceanography, and since I work in Meteorology, it is not a science I keep up with on a day to day basis. However, I have been following this story, and it’s as sad and telling of modern society as they come.

American Samoa is home to a major Tuna Cannery.

Charlie the Tuna on American Samoa (from wikpedia)

Do you remember the Starkist Tuna commercials back in the 1960’s and 70’s? The catch phrase is always SORRY CHARLEY. The poor fish is just not good enough to be caught. These days, tuna fisherman will take Charlie and every cousin. They will take anybody, and they do. Charlie is being hunted to extinction.

Cod in Newfoundland 1880's from Queen Eliz. II Library St. John NL.

It’s a story that is eerily reminiscent of what happened to the once mighty Atlantic Cod. Early Americans wrote of how the oceans off of New England were teeming with the Cod. No way it was said, could we ever fish enough of them to impact the population.

They’re all mostly gone now, along with the livelihoods of the fisherman who fought the stringent quotas that were proposed to save them. Simply put, there is no more Atlantic Cod fishery. Just like the Bison, and dozens of other species, that man liked on the dinner table, or even just to hunt.

The problem with Tuna is Sushi. It’s a delicacy in Japan, and the price per kilogram is astronomical. It will likely be fished until it’s gone.

Some top sushi outlets will not use endangered Tuna. If you love sushi, and the planet, ask! (Thomas Lu- used w/permisison)ace Pic)

Many sushi places will not serve endangered tuna. Sustainable Sushi can be had. Pic from Thomas Lu, and Greenpeace.

In the Atlantic and Mediterranean, it’s the Blue Fin Tuna that’s endangered. In the Pacific, it’s Yellow Fin Tuna. Both are being caught as fast as they can. The organization that was formed to stop the collapse of the fishery is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). They met last November and the U.S. (based on recommendations of NOAA Scientists) pushed for a moratorium on fishing. Not likely.

We are talking about an organization whose own scientists say is out to lunch. They called the ICCAT’s management of the fishery an “International Disgrace”. I won’t go into the details, but you can get them on the World Wildlife Funds website. NOAA has plenty to say too. Just like the Cod fishery, the restrictions passed were very weak. So much so, that virtually every scientist who is familiar with the situation says that the fishery is nearing collapse.

Now, I do not like to eat fish, let’s be clear about that at the start. Still, I cannot see how people can eat something when it will very likely lead to the collapse of an entire species. Most likely, it’s because they don’t know they are doing it.

You now do know.

Which is why I am writing about fish instead of thunderstorms.

Everyone is talking about Star Trek right now.  The new movie is a big hit. (We are still talking fish here by the way-bear with me. I’m not Tom Clancy, and I’m from Oklahoma, it takes me a minute to get to the point.) I thought that the Star Trek movie (where they go back in time to save the Whales) would really get peoples attention, and that we as humans would do something to save them and our Oceans. Nope. Japan gets a double whammy in this post. They are fighting any meaningful protection for most species of Whales too.

Now, if you read this journal regularly, you are not likely the type who would say something like “who cares about a stupid fish!” If you are the type then why read this when People Magazine can be had at half off!

Still, just in case it was in the back of your mind, I want to end with a lesson in Ecology.

Pisaster ochraceus.

Pisaster Ochraceus Image ctsy: NOAA

Pisaster Ochraceus is a Keystone Species courtesy NOAA

It’s a starfish.

Robert T. Paine, a zoologist in Washington State, did some experiments, and wrote a now famous paper in 1969. He was studying the coastal ecology on Northwest Washington State. He found that when some species were removed from a coastal environment , along the Washington Coast, that not much happened to the ecosystem. It adjusted.

When he removed that species of starfish though, it had major ramifications. He called the Pisaster ochraceus a KEYSTONE SPECIES. This concept has become accepted across all of Biology and Ecology in the years since.

Keystone species are defined in wikipedia this way: A keystone species is a species that has a disproportionate effect on its environment relative to its abundance. Such species affect many other organisms in an ecosystem, and help to determine the types and numbers of various others species in a community. (corrected specie to species- sorry for the typo)

The problem, is that many times, we do not know which species is the keystone species! We may one day kill off yet another species and find out that it directly impacts our food supply. Think of it this way. Much of the oxygen you are breathing right now, did not come from trees. It came from tiny microscopic organisms called phytoplankton in the ocean. Want to wipe them out?

Someone once asked me how it was possible to wipe out a species of fish when oceans cover 70% of the planet to a depth of nearly 4 kilometers!


Most of that water is in a cold and dark place. The temperature is just above freezing, and no light ever reaches it. Only the top 300 meters of the ocean see sunlight, and only the top 100 meters get enough sunlight for photosynthesis. Most of the tropical oceans are biological deserts too. With ships running 50km nets all over the Pacific and massive armadas of Tuna fishers from Turkey (Who mostly ignore what little regulations exist), it won’t take long until someone really means it when they say Sorry Charlie.

Something to think about next time you are in a Sushi restaurant, or the grocery store by the canned tuna or the seafood counter.




WWF website Greenpeace,  Wikipedia, and http://www.washington.edu/research/pathbreakers/1969g.html

also:  Environmental Science by Richard T. Wright and NOAA