Conservation & Science

Counting fish like a BOSS

Counting fish in the ocean isn’t easy—particularly when they swim among jagged rocks and along undersea cliffs hundreds of feet below the waves. To help, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has developed a new camera system called the Benthic Observation Survey System, or BOSS.

The BOSS camera design was fine-tuned, including simulated deployment in MBARI’s test tank, before it was placed in the ocean. BOSS photos ©MBARI

A five-foot metal cylinder that features an array of cameras and lights, the BOSS is designed to be lowered from a ship to the seafloor and land upright on rocky terrain. There, it will help scientists survey fish populations using eight high-definition video cameras.

Researchers and policymakers need this technology to find out more about life in the ocean and how to better protect it. MBARI developed the BOSS with input from investigators at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and The Nature Conservancy .

“The scientists I’m working with are looking at areas that previously were heavily fished out,” explains MBARI staff engineer Chad Kecy, who led the effort to design and build the BOSS. Chad and his colleagues are trying to get a better understanding of how fish populations are recovering in these areas, what species are present, how big they are and where they swim.

Chad likes the challenge of solving problems on a tight timeline. The BOSS had to be built and tested in a matter of months, because the scientists who planned to deploy it already had research trips scheduled on boats that could not wait.

“Now the scientists are busy analyzing all this video they were able to capture with the tool that we developed,” Chad says.

Mary Gleason, science director for The Nature Conservancy’s California Oceans Program and who helped develop the BOSS, says it can fill important gaps in existing data, based on its inaugural voyage: “We showed that we could get 400 video surveys done across 300 miles of coastline during one three-week cruise. So that’s pretty efficient in terms of data quantity.”

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Making strides for ocean health at the Our Ocean Conference

For nearly 20 years, Monterey Bay Aquarium has worked to shift global seafood production in more sustainable directions—because fishing and aquaculture, done the wrong way, can do great harm to the ocean and ocean wildlife. What started as the Aquarium’s consumer-focused Seafood Watch program has blossomed to engage major seafood buyers, producers and governments in seafood-producing countries around the world.

More recently, the Aquarium has stepped up to address another growing threat to ocean health: a tide of plastic pollution.

Our Ocean BaliThe global impact of our work on both fronts took several steps forward this week at the international Our Ocean Conference in Bali, Indonesia—in ways that will be felt in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Since the inaugural conference in 2014, Our Ocean has brought government officials, business leaders and NGOs together to make measurable commitments that will improve ocean health. This year, the Aquarium is a part of four commitments: two to make our global seafood supply more sustainable, and two to reduce the use of ocean-polluting plastic.

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Julie Packard named ‘American Food Hero’ for tackling seafood sustainability and slavery

 

For American Food Hero Julie Packard, protecting the rights of people in the seafood industry is as fundamental to sustainability as are sound environmental practices. Photo courtesy Motofumi Tai.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s commitment to sustainable seafood has grown over the past 20 years, from a simple Seafood Watch consumer guide to a program that influences seafood production and government policy around the world.

The impact of that work—including a new initiative to address slavery and other labor abuses in seafood supply chains—has earned Executive Director Julie Packard recognition as an American Food Hero from EatingWell, the influential print and online publication that’s been at the forefront of the healthy-eating movement for more than 25 years.

EatingWell cites the “wildly successful Seafood Watch program,” which has “revolutionized the way we buy fish and shellfish today.”

It’s a view shared by ocean conservation leader Carl Safina, who told EatingWell: “Julie Packard has been the single most effective person in raising public awareness about seafood sustainability.”

A Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press series found that even seafood landed in Hawaii was being caught by crews of slaves. Photo by Associated Press

The honor singles out the launch earlier this year of a Seafood Slavery Risk Tool that helps major seafood buyers assess potential risk of labor abuses in their supply chains, so they can work with suppliers globally to correct problems and improve the sustainability of their seafood.

When news articles highlighted the scope of the problem, EatingWell notes, “The thought of slave-caught fish landing on American plates—or any plates for that matter—was a galvanizing moment for Julie Packard. To her, protecting the people working on our waters was no different than protecting the fish swimming in them.”

“’I felt it was imperative that we include human rights issues in our definition of sustainable, because sustainable isn’t just about the environment,’ she says. ‘It’s about the broader social impact. And the seafood industry is rife with problems in that area.’”

You can read the full article here, with profiles of Julie Packard and 11 other American Food Heroes: men and women doing extraordinary things to make food and food systems better.

Featured photo: Shrimp are left on an abandoned peeling table after a raid in Thailand connected with seafood slavery investigations. Credit: Associated Press/Dita Alangkara

Chefs serve up support for sustainable U.S. seafood

On June 14, chefs nationwide will be serving up support for our U.S. sustainable seafood law.

DanielleLeoni_TheBreadFruit&RumBar
Chef Danielle Leoni of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix, Arizona shows off sustainably harvested short-spined thornyheads from California.

Over 50 culinary leaders across the country in cities like Honolulu, Los Angeles, Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland, Sarasota and New York are joining together that evening to celebrate the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), our country’s premier fisheries management law—and to defend it from threats in Washington D.C.

Two bills currently before Congress, H.R. 200 and S. 1520, would weaken the MSA’s sustainability measures that have largely ended overfishing and recovered depleted species in U.S. waters. Chefs have been particularly vocal in their opposition to these proposals, pointing out that fisheries management is not just an issue for fisherman or coastal residents—it’s a food issue.

The culinary community from landlocked states knows this better than most. Seventy-two chefs from Midwest and Mountain West states recently weighed in with a letter to Congress, urging them to maintain science-based management and accountability measures of the MSA.

“Fisheries management may seem like a weird topic for chefs to get involved in,” says Danielle Leoni, chef and owner of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix, Arizona. “But we all love fish. And as a businessperson, I want access to a consistent supply of sustainable seafood—even though my restaurant is hundreds of miles from the nearest coast.”

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A time machine to understand ocean health

For scientists seeking to understand how the ocean is changing, perhaps the ideal research instrument would be a time machine. Absent such technology, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been working to create the next best thing. It’s a new facility called the Ocean Memory Laboratory.

The white-tailed tropic bird was one of eight species from the North Pacific included in the Ocean Memory Lab study. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the lab’s inaugural project, researchers have put together a dataset of the feeding habits of eight species of seabirds over the span of almost 130 years. They analyzed archived feathers dating as far back as 1890, using a technique called compound-specific stable isotope analysis, to better understand how the birds’ diets shifted in response to factors ranging from competition with humans to the changing climate.

“In the grand scheme of things, in our field of science, even 10 years of data is encouraging,” says Tyler Gagne, an assistant research scientist at the Aquarium and lead author of the new study, published February 14 in Science Advances. “This is a 130-year-long dataset, which is really amazing.”

Data, data everywhere

The study exemplifies the promise of the Ocean Memory Lab—the brainchild of Aquarium science director Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, who co-authored the publication together with two colleagues based in Hawaii, Dr. David Hyrenbach of Hawaii Pacific University and Molly E. Hagemann of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Dr. Kyle Van Houtan conceived the Ocean Memory Lab as a way to learn about past ocean conditions and inform current conservation policy.

Identifying novel sources of long-term data is at the heart of the lab’s mission, Kyle says, because conservation projects often lack an informed baseline of ecosystem health to compare against.

“What are the conservation targets? What are we managing for? How do we know when we’re done?” he asks. “We often don’t have enough data or a sufficiently long-term record to provide informed answers to those questions.”

The solution, as Kyle sees it, may lie within the creatures themselves—or more precisely, in the chemistry of their tissues, which can record what they were eating, as well as clues about the surrounding ocean. Read more…

Fish carbon-era: How our fossil fuel habit is changing the future of seafood

Jim Barry and deep-sea urchin
MBARI researcher Jim Barry handles a sea urchin in his lab. Photo © 2009 MBARI / Todd Walsh

In the early days of ocean acidification research, experiments were simple, says benthic ecologist Jim Barry. Some involved plopping fish into containers of high-carbon seawater. This sort of lab test allowed researchers to observe animals’ physiological responses to our ocean’s changing chemistry.

These days, many studies attempt to address the more difficult question of how acidification and ocean warming might affect interconnected marine species. “What you can’t learn from tests of fish in a jar,” Barry says, “is how climate change affects the way energy moves through a food web.”

That line of inquiry may start in the pages of scientific journals, but it leads somewhere more intimate: our dinner plates.

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Japan sets its sights on sustainable seafood and 2020 Olympics

Japan, one of the world’s largest consumers of seafood, is moving to embrace sustainable practices for fishing and aquaculture in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Monterey Bay Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer Margaret Spring was invited last month to speak with Japanese business leaders about the growing global movement toward seafood sustainability. Here are her impressions from her trip.

Chief Conservation Officer Margaret Spring was the keynote speaker for the sustainable seafood conference in Tokyo.

I recently returned from the 3rd annual Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium hosted by Nikkei Ecology and co-hosted by Seafood Legacy. I was honored to be asked to keynote the event and eager to learn about progress in this seafood-loving nation as global awareness grows for addressing ocean conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.

In 2016 the United Nations adopted a new sustainable development goal specifically for the ocean, and earlier this year hosted a first-ever global conference dedicated to ocean. At that conference, nations endorsed an ambitious target of ending overfishing and illegal fishing by 2020, the same year that Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics. In August, just after the UN Ocean Conference, the fishing nations of the Pacific, with full support of Japan, agreed to set harvest limits to bring Pacific bluefin tuna back from its currently depleted state. And last year, Japan ratified the global enforcement treaty, the Port State Measures Agreement. I was hopeful. Read more…

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