When I hear a piece of news, I usually take it with a grain of salt. So, earlier in the week when I read an article about humpback whale populations making an incredible recovery, let’s just say I was very skeptical. The reason I was skeptical, is because time and time again we hear that animals are taken off the endangered species list—only to help developers build in a certain area or air quality standards get relaxed, not because of “so-called” improved air, but because industry wants to loosen emission regulations.
Recently, the IUCN (World Conservation Union) reported that humpback whales have downgraded from Vulnerable to Least Concern, meaning it is at low risk of extinction.
I am really happy that humpback whales are doing much better! And, the credit goes to conservation efforts and the fact that humpbacks have been protected from commercial hunting.
But, my worry is now that the humpback whale has been “down-graded” some of their protections will be lifted. They will receive less habitat protection and many will feel that they are now in the running for commercial hunting once again. Why waste all the good work protecting them, just to go back in and decimate their populations again?
It’s also interesting to note that while some species have started to recover, no whale population has reached the level it had before industrial whaling began. Whales species are either recovering very slowly, or not recovering at all. Clearly, commercial whaling is neither sustainable nor necessary in the 21st century.
I hope the news of the humpback recovery is just the beginning! If resources continue to be put towards recover efforts and commercial whalers can keep their “hands-off”—then, it truly will be a good day for the humpbacks.
One of the most used comments bantered in the halls of the hotels where the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) holds their meetings where many of the decisions are already decided with the big, wild, commercial fishing industry with the public is “best available science.” The NPFMC usually holds their meetings at the Hilton hotel in Anchorage four times a year. And, although no one says it, the process is a “good ol boys” conference. My brother is fond of telling me; the industry writes the regulations. But, even though the cards are stacked up against me and others who have concerns and try to offer alternatives toward habitat protections, I attend. Its part of my responsibility. I often feel like my attendance is futile and a waste of time. Anyway, “best available science.”
The use of that term as an acceptable tool to manage our fisheries seems to me is like saying: “best available truth.” Remember the most famous question ever asked in all of humanity? “What is truth?” And so I wonder, what is “best available science. What does that mean and how does that help our people in the villages?”
Well, NPFMC, Mr. Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez of the U.S. Department of Commerce, we have a problem. What does your “best available science” or “best available truth” tell you about our out of control salmon by catch problems in Western Alaska? The problem is this. Really huge, large, big industrialized fishing machines, called boats, use huge, large, big nets and go out into the waters of southern Bering Sea, just north of the Alaska Peninsula to fish for 3.2 billion pounds of pollock, the total allowable catch from both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. And as they vacuum up these fish, a very important food source of the foods we depend upon for our survival, they “accidentally catch” hundreds of thousands, and millions of salmon during the past 30 years, in their pursuit of happiness. This is by catch. In 2004, they caught, as far as we know, 63,000 king salmon. In 2005, 75,000 kings. Chum salmon took a huge hit. In 2004, 447,000 chums, and in 2005, 700,000 chums. That’s according to their best available truth. If I remember correctly, in 2007, they said they caught 117,000 king salmon while in pursuit of happiness, their happiness. Never mind our people’s food security in our villages that depend on these fish for survival. The song and dance is getting old. Outside multinational fishing companies, meeting with the federal government in a hotel somewhere destroying our home. Destroying our dreams. Destroying our children. And saying, well, sorry. It’s legal. It may be, but it is immoral.
A really good friend of mine once told me: “our commercial fishing season for king salmon on the Kuskokwim River lasted for 60 minutes, all year!” And he has a family, Children. And he cannot do anything, anything about it, because like you and me, he is poor. He cannot afford to attend one of them meetings in a hotel somewhere to testify for three minutes about his concerns, nor, like you and me, he cannot afford a lawyer or a lobbyist. And so, he hears “best available science” spoken from reputable scientists and NPFMC members. And to further add salt to the wound, the Council will say, we are only an advisory council. Mr. Gutierrez makes the final decision. Know what? Uncle Ted in his wisdom thru the Magnuson Stevens Act set it up like this.
Well, the NPFMC says they have a solution to deal with this salmon by catch, stolen fish problem. Here it is, in brief. Lets not force our good buddies who go out to the Bering Sea to fish for a share of the 3.2 billion pounds of pollock they catch every year to suffer to much. After all, they are our buds. Lets let them continue stealing food from the people on the Kuskokwim River, but, really, not too much. Lets put a cap on how much they can take out of the mouths of our children. Now, really. And further, lets let one of the biggest fishing companies who participate in this immoral practice, Trident Seafoods, give that fish to Bean’s Café to feed the hungry. Peter stealing from Paul to feed people? And now, others are caught up in their circle of destruction, being used to make themselves feel better about what they are doing and getting a huge tax write off to boot. See how this “best available science” and “best available truth” works? And so the question: “what is truth?”
The only real solution to this problem is stop it. Stop the insane practice of by catch. Stop raiding our people’s food. Stop. And use your “best available science” to figure out how not to do it any more. After all, you use that statement to justify what you do. And, in many cases, you give the scientists who use that statement, grants to provide research to justify that behavior. We the people in Western Alaska have had enough of supporting your pursuit of happiness. We need to pursue ours and that of our children. Please, level the playing field. Your quarterbacks are just too “best available.” You can afford it. We cannot even afford to feed our children.
George Pletnikoff is Unangan from the Pribilof Islands. He now works for Greenpeace as the Alaska Oceans Campaigner in Anchorage. He can be reached at email@example.com
Growing up, I always loved listening to Bryan Adams. I think I may have even had a couple posters of him hanging up on my bedroom walls. So, when I found a YouTube video of him being interviewed by the BBC and wearing a Release Junichi and Toru t-shirt I just had to share it with everyone.
Junichi and Toru are Greenpeace anti-whaling activists who were being held for 23 days without charge for uncovering a whale meat smuggling scandal in Japan. Currently, the activsts are out on bail and awaiting trial. You can read more about their story on the Greenpeace website.
I'll post the video up here, but after watching the video for 8 minutes, the talk show hosts don't even ask him about the t-shirt. How upsetting. But, hopefully people will want to learn more and will be able to google it and find the Greenpeace information.
Yesterday, Ahold (aka Giant, Stop&Shop and Martin's Food Markets) announced they are going to stop selling orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and shark. These 3 fish rank among the most imperiled on the Greenpeace seafood red list.
It was kind of wild to hear that people are still eating shark and it’s being sold in stores, but I’m excited that Giant Foods has committed themselves to removing these fish from their seafood counters. It’s a great step in the right direction for protecting the oceans.
In a ranking report released last month, Greenpeace called on the top U.S. supermarkets to improve their seafood purchasing policies and move towards sustainable seafood practices. It looks like Ahold got the message and is willing to improve their store practices to help the oceans.
You can encourage the other top U.S. supermarkets to get in the game by taking action today and writing them a letter!
Covering nearly 70% of the surface of the planet, the oceans are not escaping the impacts of global warming. Bleaching is threatening our spectacular tropical coral reefs, and melting sea ice is reducing critical habitat for seals, polar bears, and other marine mammals. And everywhere in between, rising temperatures are starting to change currents, migration patterns and even species composition. The fish that used to live in a particular area are often no longer there. On top of that, acidification, global warming’s evil twin, is turning the oceans into a corrosive bath that is rapidly becoming inhospitable to clams, corals, and everything else that forms a calcareous skeleton.
So when Randy Olson asked me to review his new movie, a “global warming comedy,” I have to admit I was curious to see where he was going to find the humor in all this. As it happens, Sizzle is a very funny film, sometimes even spit-out-your-drink funny.
Similar to Randy’s last film, Flock of Dodos, which focused on Intelligent Design, Sizzle tries to grapple with questions about the causes of global warming, the seriousness of the problem, and the degree to which humans can do anything about it. For Randy, the hordes of scientists involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and most people who read the news, these are not controversial topics. The science is clear: global warming is happening, humans are a major cause, and we can and must do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.
Of course, some people don’t see it that way, and Randy takes his low budget camera crew out to get their stories. Other than the guy who works for Okie Senator James Inhofe, who looked like an attack dog in search of someone to bite, the climate skeptics come across as surprisingly nice guys (if occasionally hapless). Most of these interviews are followed with a scene with Randy muttering “that’s not true” or “he’s got it all wrong,” and there are some strong segments from scientists like Naomi Oreskes, but in general there’s not much of an effort to debunk the skeptics. The sense you get is that there’s really no need – everyone knows the truth already. But if that’s true, why bother with the skeptics at all?
So I was left wishing for a little more exploration of the forces behind the skeptics. Greenpeace has researched this in depth, showing how leading climate skeptics tend to be funded by ExxonMobil. If something smells funny, follow the money.
Dr. Oreskes saves the day by convincing the crew to abandon plans to film yet another scientist and to go to New Orleans instead. In the most emotionally compelling part of the film, Randy and his crew see firsthand the impacts of the kind of disasters global warming will cause. The film points out that the biggest victims will be poor people, whether in Africa or in the richest nation on earth.
If there’s a take home message, other than the fact that it IS possible to find humor in even the most dire topics, it may be a reminder that it’s probably not going to be the newest data, powerpoint slides, or speeches from scientists that convince people to take action. The stories are there, but we may need more story tellers like Randy if we’re going to wake people up in time.