Thursday, February 26, 2009


For those of you who have an interest or a stake in how the government plans the use of our local marine resources, you might be interested in attending the PNCIMA Forum in Richmond, on March 26 and 27th. There is funding available for stakeholders from the North Island to attend, if you apply for the funding before March 9.

On Thursday, March 5 from 6:15 - 9:00 pm the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will be holding a community meeting in Port Hardy, at Malone's Oceanside Bistro. The purpose of this meeting is to:
  • Give the community an overview of the PNCIMA initiative
  • Offer an opportunity for input on engagement, values and issues specific to the PNCIMA initiative
  • Inform the community about the PNCIMA forum to be held in Richmond on March 26 and 27
Anyone from the community is welcome at both the March 5 event and the March 26-27 event. Hopefully I'll see you there!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Coolest Deep Sea Fish Ever...

... according to me.

Just when I think that the ocean can't amaze me any more than it already has, it goes and does it again:

Check out this video made by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

This deep sea fish, called the barreleye, or macropina microstoma, "has extremely light-sensitive eyes that can rotate within a transparent, fluid-filled shield on its head. The fish's tubular eyes are capped by bright green lenses. The eyes point upward [...] when the fish is looking for food overhead. They point forward when the fish is feeding. The two spots above the fish's mouth are olfactory organs called nares, which are analogous to human nostrils." 1

Monday, February 23, 2009

Corals : When is it appropriate to harvest them?

Recent news releases have announced the discovery of new chemicals in corals that function as antibiotics for microorganisms. As our bodies become increasingly more resistant to traditional antibiotics, the antibiotics derived from corals may begin to take the place of our usual pharmaceuticals. Experts are also saying that in addition to potentially providing new antibiotics, corals may also help scientists to develop ways to make older drugs more effective. This is important news because over the years, doctors have been warning patients of the potential long-term dangers of relying too heavily on antibiotics to fix ailments and illnesses that don't require the drugs. (Anyone seen the "Not All Bugs Need Drugs" TV commercials running lately?)

While this is very exciting news for science and human health, I am a little hesitant to sing these findings from the mountaintops just yet. I have some reservations about harvesting drugs from corals, and perhaps this is simply because I don't have enough scientific information about the subject. How are these chemicals harvested from coral? Does the harvesting of corals for drugs damage the marine ecosystem? Is there current regulation of who should and should not have access to the harvesting of corals? How can we ensure that pharmaceutical companies also have a stake in a healthy ocean environment?

Perhaps this is, in fact, a win-win situation for all. Many coral conservation organizations, such as, Too Precious to Wear, highlight the antibiotic-producing capability of coral as an important reason why we should preserve coral in its natural environment and not incorporate natural coral as a part of our wardrobe or in our home decorations. A quick search of the internet did not show this issue to be too highly contentious or polarized: most of the articles that I came across were positive and hopeful.

How to you feel about using corals to develop pharmaceuticals? Is this is a good thing or a bad thing? Do you have any news or journal articles on this topic that you would be able to share?

Comments are welcome!

Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project

A POST Scientist checks the growth of a tagged salmon smolt
Photo Credit: POST Photo Gallery []

The Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project (POST) is a resource for "tracking the movement and estimated survival of marine animals along the West Coast of North America, using acoustic transmitters implanted in a variety of species, and a series of receivers running in lines across the continental shelf."1 POST began its tracking work in 2001, focusing specifically on finding out what happens to salmon when they leave the rivers and enter the ocean. Today, with additional funders, POST has expanded from just studying salmon migration to tracking a vast array of marine life on the West Coast.

An acoustic unit is deployed. Each unit is equipped with a yellow flotation device, white acoustic modem, and black acoustic receiver. Photo Credit: POST Photo Gallery []

Tools such as the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking project are helpful in understanding key aspects of the biology of marine species and our oceans. When I look at POST from a marine planning perspective, I am reminded that our entire ecosystem is important to planning; and that fresh water systems are indeed quite connected to the rest of the ocean.

To learn more about POST, and to watch an informative video about how it works, visit:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

MPAs and Fishermen - Finding Common Ground

I just finished watching Common Ground: Oregon's Ocean. Common Ground is a three-part documentary about Marine Reserves and Marine Protected Areas off the coast of Oregon. If you have a spare moment, I would recommend viewing these films. If all you have is, literally a moment, I would say to go straight to the second half of Part I.

This part of the series was the most informational for me because the filmmakers went out and actually spoke to a lot of commercial fishermen who make their living on the coastal waters of Oregon. It was interesting to hear commercial fishermen talk about their initial reaction to MPAs, and to hear them reflect about how their opinions have changed over time.

A lot of the time, opponents to Marine Protected Areas are only looking at the potential loss of income due to closures of certain fishing areas. But actually, over time, MPAs can provide increased income for commercial fishermen, because by giving the big old fat fecund female fish a chance to reproduce in Marine Reserves and Marine Protected Areas, we are, in effect, repopulating the ocean with more and bigger fish.

Areas of High Conservation Utility on BC Coast
Our Canadian politicians should be sent a copy of Common Ground: Oregon's Ocean. From the sounds of PncimaWatch's recent comparison of American and Canadian commitments to ocean conservation, we've definitely got some catching up to do:

Canada lags behind as the US moves ahead

Even ex-president George Bush (not known for being much of an environmentalist) recognizes the importance of protecting our oceans. First, he designated one of the world’s largest marine protected areas in Hawaii in 2006. Then, one of Bush’s last actions as US president was to create a series of marine reserves in the diverse and pristine south Pacific totalling nearly 200,000 square miles, an area almost 20 times larger than all of Canada’s marine protected areas combined!

Continuing with this momentum towards protecting US oceans, President Barack Obama appointed Jane Lubchenco, one of the country’s most prominent marine biologists, to the most influential position in the federal government for oceans, the head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Lubchenco is a conservationist who devoted much of her career to encouraging scientists to become more engaged in public policy debates and has been critical of NOAA for not doing enough to curb overfishing.

In stark contrast to this progress south of the border, the recent Canadian federal budget demonstrates that Mr. Harper is not concerned with protecting Canada’s oceans. Renounced oceans scientist, Jeremy Jackson from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said last week “You know you’re in trouble when George Bush proves to be more of an environmentalist than your Canadian politicians!”.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A fossil found on a highway construction site near Courtenay has been identified as an 80-million year old ancestor of the current-day vampryoteuthis, better known as the Vampire Squid. This recently-discovered specimen, now known as nanaimoteuthis jeletzkyi, garnered the attention of marine fossil experts around the world, including Dr. Kazushige Tanabe at the University of Tokyo in Japan.

Rick Ross, the Comox man who discovered the fossil and co-wrote a paper about it with Dr. Tanabe, will be giving a lecture tomorrow night (February 19) at the Courtenay Museum at 7 pm. If you're in the neighbourhood, you should check it out!

Read more about the fossil here. And check out this BBC clip of the modern-day Vampire Squid:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sounds of the Sea

When I am reveling in peace and quiet on a boat in the middle of the ocean on a calm day, or alone on a strip of beach, it is easy to forget how loud the ocean actually is. The other day, I stumbled upon a pretty neat educational tool that I thought I would share: the University of Rhode Island's Audio Gallery for Discovery of Sound in the Sea. Just click on the species of your choice, and prepare to be amazed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Community-Supported Fisheries

Port Clyde, a small fishing village (at a population of 1000, it's only a little bigger than Sointula) off the coast of Maine, has found an innovative (and sustainable!) way to save its local fishing economy: community supported fisheries. The idea behind community supported fisheries is simple: people in the community pay a local fishing cooperative an up-front fee to receive a weekly ration of the in-season catch (shrimp in the winter and groundfish in the summer). Fishermen get a higher price for their product (because they have eliminated the middle-men buyers and sellers who take their own cut of the profits), and the community gets a weekly supply of fresh-caught seafood.

The Port Clyde fishermen's cooperative recognizes the integral role of healthy oceans in a thriving economy, and each member of the cooperative has agreed to fish according to certain practices of sustainability, such as choosing fishing gear that offers lower bycatch and supporting seasonal fishing closures. You can read more about the Port Clyde cooperative in this Washington Post article.

Would this type of community-supported fishery work here on the North Island? Why or why not?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Shellfish Aquaculture and VIU

Pacific Oysters (David Monniaux, mod. by Peter Gugerell)
Way to go, VIU! Vancouver Island University has plans to improve its Centre for Shellfish Research facilities with the Deep Bay Field Station. Shellfish aquaculture in British Columbia is just one example of how industry and economy do not have to come at the expense of a healthy ocean. BC farmed oysters, mussels, and clams are environmentally friendly and are ranked as sustainable "Best Choices" by SeaChoice. The Vancouver Island University's Deep Bay Field Station will be equipped with LEED-certified green buildings, and it will be an important addition to a program that is already working to ensure "that environmental protection and a vibrant economy go hand-in-hand." Money well spent, if you ask me.

Click here to read from the Comox Vally Echo about the planned expansion to VIU's research facilities.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whale Wonder - Tubercles

photo credit: J.G. Brouwer

Whale encounters are always awe inspiring. Folks from afar flock here for such opportunities provided by local whale watching companies. Fishermen often have whale encounters that provide a pleasant pause to a long days work. Unfortunately, some encounters are less rewarding.
I have had many pleasurable encounters but will never forget the morning when I ran offshore from Langara Island in the pre-dawn night to be on the spot for some prime time chinook fishing. I sat steering while sipping coffee and tying hoochies. With one red eye on the sounder and the other on the radar screen during the hour + run out from the harbour, there didn't appear to be much of interest in the darkness. As dawn began to break I slowed the boat to trolling speed, woke up the crew and headed outside to the cockpit to set my gear. Behind my boat the flat calm ocean looked like a pot of oatmeal boiling in honey as the spouts of more sleeping humpback whales that I could count spread back to a horizon being set afire by the rising sun. That encounter was enhanced by the knowledge that not many people would ever be fortunate enough to have a whale watching experience like that. By the time my sleepy crew hit the deck, the sun was up and the whales were spreading out and beginning to sound for their breakfast. The magic of the moment had passed.
Part of my astonishment comes from wondering about these creatures; their anatomy and biology. I was reminded of my encounter and am now even more astonished by these leviathans after coming across this interesting bit of information from Dr. Frank Fish about why a humpback's flipper is shaped the way it is. Check for yourself at;

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Coastal Haiku of Mild Inconvenience

asbestos upstairs
passenger lounge is a bus
how many more days?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shark Fin - The Ivory of the Sea

The Year of the Ox is upon us! The Chinese New Year festivities began this year on January 26 and will run all the way to February 15. Vancouver is a city that is well known for its large Chinese population and for its yearly Chinese New Year celebrations. But one part of these celebrations that we could all do without? Shark Fin Soup.

This "delicacy" is essentially a chicken or pork-based broth mixed with dried shark fin cartilage. Apparently shark fin does not have a flavor, and is just used in soup for the texture. Costing anywhere from $30 to $300 a bowl (depending on the type of shark, the location served, and which source I choose to quote), to some, eating or serving this soup is a symbol of wealth and prestige. To others, this soup is seen to have health benefits. While shark fin soup is consumed year round by those rich enough to afford it, it is mainly seen as a celebratory or ceremonial dish - often served at marriages, New Year celebrations, and other important gatherings.

Shark finning is a particularly crude, cruel, and wasteful practice that usually involves slicing off the fin and throwing the rest of the live shark back in the ocean, leaving this magnificent predator to die a slow and painful death.

In addition to the unacceptable cruelty inflicted upon sharks through the extraction of their fins, academics are concerned that the practice of shark finning is also utterly devastating to our ocean ecosystem.* In light of all the bad media that shark finning has gotten in the past couple of years (ABC News, CNN, BBC, and Sharkwater to mention just a few of the outlets covering this issue...), it is amazing that shark finning and the serving of shark fin soup in restaurants is not yet banned worldwide.

In 2007, the Food Network showed the Iron Chef Japan 'shark fin' episode, complete with American commentators oohhing and ahhhing over the prestige and the price of this featured ingredient. Shark fin soup is still served in at least 15 restaurants in Vancouver, and just this year, the Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws marketed a shark fin soup for the 2009 Chinese New Year crowd. (The product was pulled from the shelf just days after its release, due to the massive public outcry.)

Killing sharks for their fins is just like killing a grizzly bear for its gallbladder, or an elephant for its tusks. So why don't we treat it as such?

*[Brierly, Andrew S. "Fisheries Ecology: Hunger for Shark Fin Soup Drives Clam Chowder off the Menu", Current Biology, Vol. 17, No. 14. (17 July 2007), pp. R555-R557]
[Myers et al. "Cascading Effects of the Loss of Apex Predatory Sharks from a Coastal Ocean", Science 30 March 2007: 1846-1850]

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Studies are showing that the rising acidity of our oceans is causing changes in certain fish characteristics. For example, a recent study showed that clownfish (who rely on smell when searching for a home) lost some of their sense of smell when they grew and developed in waters that had high acidity levels. This study has the overall implications that the falling pH of our oceans may give fish a biologically harder chance of survival. The change in sensory perception was only applied to clownfish in this study, and has yet to be studied with other fish.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Do you have a favorite seafood memory? Leave your comments below!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Google Ocean

Sylvia Earle introduces Google Ocean
Google has done it again. Yesterday, Google launched its most recent iteration of the popular global mapping software, Google Earth 5.0, generating much excitement and media attention. The biggest buzz is around the addition of the Google Ocean feature to this incredible educational resource. I could go on about the myriad of features that Google Ocean offers (for free!) through its 20 layers of ocean information, but why not take some time to explore the 3D ocean terrain, the marine life, the shipwrecks, the historical imagery, and all of the other features of our diverse ocean yourself?

If you're pressed for time or imagination, I would suggest that you at least check out this two-minute video, in which the folks at BBC give you their own whirlwind tour of this upgraded software. It's well worth the watch, and it may inspire you for further exploration on your own!

Have you already explored the new Google Ocean? Tell us your favorite features in the comments section of this post!

To read about John Davis, a Canadian who contributed to the content of Google Ocean, click here.


The Irukandji Jellyfish

Yet again, I must stop and appreciate the marvelous life found in our oceans. Last night, I happened upon a Discovery Channel documentary about the irukandji jellyfish, found in the waters near Australia. This tiny, inconspicuous, fragile little jelly packs a punch: a sting from one will likely leave you in the hospital with the aptly named "irukandji syndrome" which consists of excruciating cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches, restlessness, severe body pains, and high heart rate and blood pressure. Like many other wonders of nature (such as the hunting patterns of a cougar), the surprisingly powerful sting from this jellyfish is something that I prefer to admire from afar.

But watching jellyfish, that is another story altogether! Watching jellyfish can be hypnotic. There is just something about the shape, the drifting swim, the translucence, and the incredible colors of a jellyfish that is absolutely mesmerizing.
There are many different types of jellyfish swimming around in our oceans, and while we do not have the irukandji to worry about on the North Island, we do not have to travel to Australia to look at (or get stung by) a jellyfish. A very common type of jellyfish in our area is the cyanea capillata, also known as the "lion's mane jellyfish". Recently, there has been an explosion of these jellyfish just off the coast of Vancouver Island.

An article in the Province states that lion's mane jellies have been washing up on the coast as far up as Comox, but some readers have mentioned seeing them in Campbell River as well.

Are you from the North Island? Where have you noticed jellyfish washing up on the beach?