Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Lots of fishy stuff to read up on ... Weekly blog tomorrow
Below: Marina dredge spoils take a big dump on the Causeway
|Maryland eel fisherman welcomes cutback on Maine's elvers|
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Baltimore Sun] By Timothy B. Wheeler - November 5, 2013 -
The first cylindrical mesh cage they hauled aboard pulsed with a writhing tangle of olive green. Walker dumped the eels into a wooden box with holes in its sides, and the snake-like fish slithered into a large tank of water in the center of the boat.
"People will say, 'I didn't know there were so many eels out there,'" said Trossbach, 54, who's been eeling for 26 years.
For those who think of the Chesapeake Bay as home to blue crabs, oysters and rockfish, it's a revelation to see so many eels hauled up from the depths. But appearances can be deceiving. While there seem to be a lot in Maryland waters, scientists elsewhere have concluded that the Atlantic coast's eel population has been depleted.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is weighing a conservation group's petition to declare the American eel an endangered species, with an answer promised in 2015. Meanwhile, fisheries managers have been mulling action to curb the eel catch, which rebounded recently after a long decline.
Last week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which oversees near-shore fishing along the coast, put off a decision on catch limits until May while one state, Maine, works to slash its commercial harvest of young "glass" eels. The catch there surged in recent years to cash in on a booming export market, with nearly $39 million worth of the tiny translucent juveniles being shipped abroad, mostly to Asia.
Trossbach welcomed news that Maine would scale back its harvest, saying it threatened his livelihood. He is limited by Maryland regulations to harvesting more mature "yellow" eels, which must be at least 9 inches long.
But the prices that overseas buyers pay for larger eels have plummeted, Trossbach said, as the reported harvest of glass eels from Maine soared. The baby eels can be shipped abroad more cheaply and raised there, he said, undercutting demand for his larger specimens.
"It could easily put us out of business,'' he said.
There's a lot the experts acknowledge they don't know about the American eel, but they believe its numbers are at or near historically low levels. The decline stems from a combination of factors, they say, including overfishing, damming of rivers and changing climate and ocean conditions.
Common fare in the United States and elsewhere in the past, eels have largely disappeared from American tables. They remain popular delicacies in Europe and Asia, where they're eaten stewed, fried, grilled, smoked and even jellied.
Many of Trossbach's eels get sold as bait for crabbers and anglers fishing for striped bass. But about 40 percent of his catch goes overseas for human consumption.
He is in rare company in Maryland. Some watermen go after eels when crabbing isn't in season, but the St. Mary's County resident figured he's one of a few full-time eelers. He follows them up the bay in the spring, setting his 800 pots around Baltimore in the summer, and then back south as the water cools in the fall. He fishes until Thanksgiving.
For all his years pursuing the slippery creatures, Trossbach said there's a lot about them that's still a mystery to him.
"They are strange creatures, no doubt," he said.
Eels are different from other fish, in more than just appearance. Unlike striped bass, for instance, which roam the Atlantic coast for years and then swim up the bay into fresh water to spawn, eels spend most of their lives in fresh water and spawn in the Sargasso Sea near the West Indies. Their offspring return to the coast after months adrift on ocean currents, where they change appearance as they grow, from glass eels to darker elvers to yellow eels.
They spread out through the Chesapeake and migrate inland into fresh water — at least until stopped by dams — feeding on insects, worms, small shellfish and fish. They linger for five to 20 years before transforming one more time into "silver" eels and swimming back to the Sargasso to spawn and die.
The larger yellow eels fetch $2.50 to $3 a pound, Trossbach said, while glass eels go for $2,000 a pound. Glass eels are so small, there can be two thousand or more in a pound, and Maine reported harvesting 20,000 pounds of them last year.
Maryland, by comparison, reported landing 556,000 pounds of the more mature yellow eels last year, the second largest haul since the state began tracking the commercial harvest in 1983.
US smuggler of Mexican fish bladders destined for China owes $3 million
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [U-T San Diego] By Kristina Davis - November 5, 2013 -
To the untrained eye, the deliveries of coolers that Jason Jin Shun Xie picked up in Calexico would seem innocuous. In shipping the goods on to China, prosecutors say he listed the boxes as containing dried fish — not exactly a lie.
The contents, in fact, were Totoaba fish bladders, a highly prized commodity in China for its purported medicinal properties that has contributed to the fish's critically endangered status in its native Mexican waters.
The black market Totoaba (toe-TWAH-bah) trade is a lucrative one, with a single dried bladder fetching $5,000 to $10,000. And prosecutors say Xie cashed in.
Now the U.S. wants Xie to pay the Mexican government $3 million in restitution. That puts the value of each of the 270 fish he admitted to smuggling at a whopping $11,375 a piece.
Xie, who lives in Sacramento, was sentenced in San Diego federal court on Oct. 25 to four months in prison, and the upcoming fight for restitution shows the U.S. wants to send a strong message to Totoaba traffickers.
"This crime is more than just an economic crime: It is also an attack on an endangered species. ... Because the smuggling of Totoaba bladders is a growing problem along our border, the need to deter others is strong," Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson wrote in a sentencing memo.
At least six other people were charged with Totoaba smuggling this year in seemingly unrelated cases out of Calexico, with about 700 pounds of fish bladders seized at the border, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
In one of those cases, Song Shen Zhen was detained in April with 27 bladders at the border. Agents followed him to a house in Calexico that appeared to be set up as a bladder factory where the fish were dried and packaged, Special Agent Lisa Nichols of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in an affidavit. Another 214 bladders were seized there.
A brisk business
Commercial fishing for Totoaba goes back more than 100 years. The fish, the largest in a family that includes sea bass and corvina, can grow up to 6½ feet in length and reproduce only once a year.
They are found only in the Sea of Cortez and each year spawn up the Colorado River delta, making them especially easy targets for anglers.
Their swim bladders don't contain urine but fill with gas, helping them to control buoyancy. The sun-dried bladders, which are high in collagen, are believed to boost fertility and improve the skin, and are the key ingredient in a centuries-old Chinese soup recipe.
Even in the early 1900s, Totoaba bladders commanded a high price, selling for $5 a pound, according to court documents. The fish's meat was discarded as trash, left to rot on the banks. Americans discovered the fish in the 1920s and a market for its meat grew (with the bladders removed and sold to China). By 1946, the U.S. was exporting 2.8 million pounds of fish bladder.
The Totoaba population never rebounded and is protected under the Endangered Species Act, as well as an international trade pact that includes the U.S. and Mexico.
Evidence of illegal fishing continues to mar the shores along the Colorado in Mexico, where wildlife officials there still find gutted Totoaba left to die.
An undercover delivery
A stop at the Calexico port of entry — the nearest to the Sea of Cortez — is what led to Xie's arrest.
Customs officers stopped Anthony Sanchez Bueno on March 30, finding three coolers in a minivan containing 170 bladders hidden underneath a top layer of other fish, prosecutors said.
He told authorities he was paid $200 per cooler to smuggle the fish, plus $100 for gas and lunch, court documents show.
Authorities then went undercover, completing the delivery to two men in Calexico. One of those men was Xie.
He told authorities he ordered the fish from someone in Mexico, paying $1,500 to $1,800 per bladder. He also admitted to receiving an earlier large fish load, and records show numerous shipments to China, prosecutors said.
He earned an estimated $3 million from his efforts, buying a $350,000 home in Seattle as well as a BMW and Lexus, according to court records.
Xie pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to smuggle the fish. Bueno also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.
Scientists in Mexico have been working to rebuild the Totoaba population, developing a captive breeding program in hopes of releasing the fish to breed. A professor participating in the study estimates the cost of raising a single Totoaba to the reproduction age is $11,375 — the amount being used to calculate Xie's restitution cost.
Defense attorney Alex Ozols said the calculations have not been validated and there's no telling that if the money went to Mexico that it would be used in a fishing program.
"No one from Mexico is making a claim against Mr. Xie. ... The U.S. Attorney's Office is working for Mexico on this," Ozols said in an interview.
The restitution would be on top of Xie's forfeiture of the Seattle home and other fines and penalties.
Restitution has been ordered to other states or countries in similar U.S. cases, including to South Africa in a rock lobster harvesting case and to Maryland and Virginia in a case concerning striped bass, prosecutors argue.
The restitution issue will be heard in federal court on Jan. 17. Xie, who remains out on bond, must surrender after the hearing.
As for the other Totoaba cases, Zhen, who is connected to the factory house, is headed for trial.
Two other defendants have pleaded guilty and were sentenced to time already served in jail, while another two remain outstanding on arrest warrants.
10 Myths about Marine Aquaculture
There are so many compelling reasons to develop domestic sources of farmed seafood. For one, it’s the best thing we can do to minimize our environmental seafood-related footprint. Second, it could guarantee a safe supply of healthy seafood for decades to come. Finally, domestic aquaculture creates jobs at home and supports vibrant coastal communities and working waterfronts. The U.S. currently imports 91 percent of its seafood, half of which comes from aquaculture. Were we to eliminate aquaculture from the seafood equation, global fisheries could not make up for current demand, let alone future needs. Read more.
Modern technologies, Best Management Practices, and strong regulation and monitoring have led to significantly improved sustainability in aquaculture.
Aquaculture also is a tool for restoration. The white abalone was the first marine invertebrate to be listed as endangered and to receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Modern feeds rely less and less on wild fish for the 40 micronutrients needed by fish. Through the NOAA-USDA Alternative Feeds Initiative researchers are discovering new diets and processes that convey the health benefits of eating seafood.
Shellfish aquaculture provides ecosystem services including nutrient removal, turbidity reduction, and improved habitat quality.
|Experts worry jellyfish blooms will increase dramatically|
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [CNN] By Karla Cripps - November 5, 2013 -
The sun is shining, you're rolling in the waves, showing off the toned torso you worked on at the gym all winter.
Suddenly a sharp, burning sensation hits your skin.
You've just been stung by a jellyfish.
If experts' warnings are true, swimmers around the world can expect to experience these unwanted love taps in greater numbers than ever before.
"Jellyfish and tourism are not happy bedfellows," says Dr. Lisa-Ann Gershwin, author of the recently published book, "Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean."
Gershwin says popular beach resorts around the world are seeing huge increases in jellyfish "bloom" activity, a result of overfishing and changing water temperatures.
"The French and Spanish Rivieras, Chesapeake Bay, the Great Barrier Reef, Hawaii ... some of the numbers are staggering," says the American scientist who's now based in Australia.
"In Hawaii there have been times that 800 or 1,000 people have been stung in a day. In Spain or Florida, it's not uncommon in recent years for a half a million people to be stung during an outbreak. These numbers are simply astonishing."
At the beginning of October, a large amount of jellyfish inhabiting a cooling-water intake at a Swedish nuclear plant caused operators to manually shut down production at its largest reactor.
In Ireland, a jellyfish bloom reportedly killed thousands of farmed salmon, according to the Irish Times.
This past summer, southern Europe experienced one of its worst jellyfish infestations ever. Experts there have been reporting a steady increase in the number of jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea for years.
According to a report titled "Review of Jellyfish Blooms in the Mediterranean and Black Sea," written by Fernando Borea for the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean and the United Nations, scientists are catching up to what travelers in the Med have been experiencing for years.
"In the last decade ... the media are reporting on an increasingly high number of gelatinous plankton blooms," reads the report. "The reason for these reports is that thousands of tourists are stung, fisheries are harmed and even impaired by jellyfish."
Although noting that significant jellyfish blooms "have been known since ancient times and are part of the normal functioning of the oceans," the report cites global warming and global overfishing (which removes jellyfish predators) as causes for exploding jellyfish populations in recent years.
The situation in the Mediterranean was dire enough to prompt Britain's foreign office to issue a warning to its citizens vacationing along Europe's southern coast to watch out for jellyfish.
The world's deadliest jellyfish
There are more than 2,000 species of jellyfish swimming through the world's waters.
Most stings are completely harmless. Some will leave you in excruciating pain.
Then there are the killers.
Many of the world's deadliest jellyfish are box jellyfish, which refers to the species' cube-shaped meduae.
"There are several species of big box jellyfish that have caused many deaths -- these include chironex fleckeri in Australia, chironex quadrigatus in Japan and related species in Thailand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia," says associate professor Jamie Seymour, a venom biologist at Australia's James Cook University.
Also known as the sea wasp and the northern Australian box jellyfish, the chironex fleckeri is possibly the worlds most venomous animal.
Its tentacles can reach lengths of up to three meters long, while its bell is about the size of a human head. It can be found throughout the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific.
A close cousin and fellow contender for the "world's most venomous" cup is the Irukandji, which is the size of a thimble.
Good luck scanning the waters for that one before you leap in.
"How toxic they are is just phenomenally frightening and equally fascinating," says Gershwin.
"Just the lightest brush -- you don't even feel it -- and then, whammo, you're in more pain than you ever could have imagined, and you are struggling to breathe and you can't move your limbs and you can't stop vomiting and your blood pressure just keeps going up and up.
"It is really surprising how many places they occur around the world -- places you would never expect: Hawaii, Caribbean, Florida, Wales, New Caledonia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, India ... as well as Australia."
Is any place safe?
"More and more, places around the world that are suffering from jellyfish problems with tourists are developing prediction systems so that tourists can know when it is safe," says Gershwin.
The irony, she says, is that tourists who avoid a area because of the known risk, may alter their plans to hit a "safe" beach whose officials are merely less up front about the jellyfish situation, putting themselves more at risk.
A common misconception is that places such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines are free of dangerous jellyfish.
"Jellyfish occur in all marine waters from pole to pole and at all depths," says Gershwin. "The life threatening ones are found from about 40 degrees north to 40 degrees south latitude.
"Australia is upfront about its jellyfish dangers, and also assertive in safety management, whereas other places have them, but may understand less about them or, in some cases, just don't want to say. I think tourists need to be very aware of local hazards and not expect to necessarily be provided with information."
What to do when you're stung
Thanks to that infamous "Friends" episode that aired in 1997, millions of people think it's smart to treat a jellyfish sting with urine.
In reality, peeing on a jellyfish sting isn't a good idea.
A report in the Scientific American says urine can actually aggravate the jellyfish's stingers into releasing more venom.
Meanwhile, there's debate over what actually works on a jellyfish sting.
Many doctors say it all depends on whether the sting occurs place in tropical or nontropical waters.
If stung in tropical waters, one should rinse the area with vinegar to deactivate any nematocysts -- the parts of the stinger -- that are still hanging on.
"A freshwater rinse will have the opposite effect," says the Scientific American report. "Any change to the balance of solutes, such as the concentration of salts inside and outside of the cnidocyte [a venomous cell], sets off stinging."
In North America, doctors recommend using hot water and topical pain killers on a sting.
Can we turn this around?
Gershwin says the explosion in jellyfish populations is a visible indicator that life in the oceans is out of balance.
"If we somehow managed to eradicate all jellyfish, then something else -- some other weedy thing -- would find a perfect situation," she says. "So the reason we should care is because they act as a flashing red light."
She says there's no one single factor to blame for the rise in jellyfish populations, but rather places blame on a combination of overfishing, warming water, low oxygen and pollution.
By fishing out jellyfish predators and competitors, humans are creating perfect conditions for jellyfish to multiply.
"Sadly, I am one of a growing chorus of people who believe that, yes, it is too late to turn things around," says Gershwin. "So many species are in such low numbers, and habitats are so badly damaged, that restoring them to their original splendor is simply no longer possible.
"I believe that our only option now is to decide how much we value what we currently have, and to decide what we are willing to do to maintain it -- or at least slow down its disappearance. But honestly, can you really see all 7 billion of us agreeing on that?"
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