Antiquities and Antiquaries

January 12, 2009

President Bush last week designated nearly 200,000 square miles of Pacific islands, reef, waters, and floor as protected, under the century-old federal Antiquities Act. This announcement sent the mainstream press racing for their globes and atlases, and momentarily put oceans at the center of the national conversation. Outlets that cover marine issues intermittently embraced the event, for better or for worse. The New York Times editorial board took this thoughtful stance on the perceived shortcomings of Bush’s move.


Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

More interesting than the news-driven coverage was The Economist‘s Special Report on the Sea, which ran in its Jan. 3 to Jan. 9 issue (Lead story is here, with links to others on the right). It’s rare to see the mainstream press devote such resources to this small corner (okay, 70 percent) of the world. True to form, Economist editors build an arc of logic into the package, opening with exposition about the state of the seas, before sliding into, if not policy prescriptions, commentary on politicians’ ineffectiveness on the issue (From “Saline Solutions“: “Is it too late to save the sea? The solutions to some of its problems are fairly clear, even if it requires political courage to put them in place.”).

A less obvious point lay scattered over the entire 16 pages. Readers of the Economist know that editors commonly save brain space on writing headlines and subheads by ripping forgotten gems out of antiquarian literature. This practice is particularly apt in this oceans package. The articles themselves directly address major, present concerns. The sprinkling of literary references throughout stories and captions has a subtle but powerful effect: Humanity has always lived and thrived by the sea. The ocean is a part of our identity, our history, and, because we eat so much fish, our bodies, too. Here is a list of most of these references, which all in all cover about 2,500 years of cultural history — a fraction of humans history with life by the sea.

“Inestimable stones, unvalu’d jewels”
Richard III

“The mackerel-crowded seas”
Sailing to Byzantium
William Butler Yeats

“Come, friends, and Plough the Sea”
The Pirates of Penzance

“There goes that Leviathan”
Angling Sketches
Andrew Lang

“Creeping things innumerable”
The Bible (Psalm 104)

What Are the Wild Waves Saying? Song, Stephen Glover

“Unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea”
To Marguerite
Matthew Arnold

“Oh, the shark has pretty fins, dear”
Mack the Knife
The Threepenny Opera, Brecht

“A trout in the milk”
The Writings of Henry David Thoreau

“Fishing up the moon”
The Wise Men of Gotham
Thomas Love Peacock

“Is it for you to ravage seas and land”
The Aeneid


Block takes lessons from a tuna’s perspective

June 25, 2008
by Sheril Kirshenbaum

Block, B. A., et al. (2003). “Revealing pelagic habitat use: the tagging of Pacific Pelagics program.” Oceanologica Acta 25 255-266

Barbara Block is based at Stanford University and established the Tuna Research and Conservation Center.  Tuna and billfish are highly exploited in international fisheries and effective management  of existing biodiversity requires an understanding of their biology and population structure.  Block and colleagues catch and tag these pelagic animals to examine short and long-term movement patterns, stock structure and behavior.

The Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) research project explores the Pacific, using a carefully selected group of animals from its ecosystems to gather data about their world.  TOPP is a pilot program of the Census of Marine Life (COML), an international endeavor to determine what lives, has lived and will live in the world’s oceans.  TOPP is jointly run by Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Lab, the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Laboratory, NOAA’s Pacific Fisheries Ecosystems Lab, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium including team members from several countries.  Scientists tag 21 different species  of marine animals in the Eastern Pacific to understand how they live.

By taking a multispecies approach, these autonomous ocean ‘samplers’ provide unprecedented coverage of the water column structure of the North Pacific.  The approach can be used to support the establishment of managed areas – called a “marine conservation corridors” – between the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Coco Islands (Costa Rica), Coiba Island  (Panama), and several other islands of the  region.  TOPP can be applied around the world and incorporated in management planning to include human resource extraction which is fundamental in EBM

A Fishy Executive Order

June 24, 2008

By Mike Orbach

Dr. Mike Orbach gives his opinion on the executive order by President Bush to protect striped bass and red drum fish populations.

A Comment on the October 20, 2007 Executive Order: Protection of Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations

Marine fishery conservation always has two broad areas of objective and impact: 1) The biological objectives and impacts (how many fish, of which characteristics, come out of the ocean); and 2) the socio-economic objectives and impacts (who derives the benefit from those fish). President Bush’s recent Executive Order (Here) prohibiting commercial sale of striped bass and red drum caught in federal waters runs a significant risk of confusing these two areas of objective and impact. President Bush referred only to the biological conservation impact of the Executive Order. In fact, the biological conservation impact will be minimal, but the socio-economic impact substantial in terms of the allocation consequences.

The vast majority of these two fisheries are conducted in state, not federal waters. Striped bass, managed largely by the states under the umbrella of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, is in fact one of the great success stories of successful recovery of the Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina stocks. The primary impact of the President’s proclamation is to ALLOCATE the benefit of these fisheries in the federal waters to the recreational sector. Allocation is a perfectly legitimate objective in fisheries management, but the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act states that, “No (management) measure shall have economic allocation as its sole purpose”(MSFCMA, S. 104-297). While it is true that any fishing effort reduction may have biological conservation benefits, the primary effect of the President’s Executive Order will in fact be socio-economic, a fact that is virtually ignored in the Executive Order and the related press releases. Finally, do we really want the President of the United States making detailed allocative fishery management decisions, or for that matter biological conservation decisions? We have quite an extensive system set up under the MSFCMA and the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act to make such decisions, with the full participation of stakeholders, the states and the public. Based on the history of direct Congressional involvement in such detailed decisions, we should be very cautious. But above all, we should be honest and straightforward regarding our real objectives and their impacts.

Michael K. Orbach

Professor of Marine Affairs and Policy
Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences