Conservation

Whole Foods Market and Sustainable Seafood

Fish 'n Chips

Russ Bowles unloads dogfish that will be sold to make fish and chips from the Serena. The vessel changes the species it fishes for based on quotas set by the National Marine Fisheries Council. As the region's quote for a more valuable species is met, and regulators force fishermen to quit bringing them to market, fishermen pursue the next most-valuable species. Dogfish are low on that list.


Starting this week Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, will no longer sell seafood rated red by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the Blue Ocean Institute. The standards take into account not only how many of each species of fish there are in the sea, but also how quickly they reproduce and how damaging the methods of catching them are to their marine habitats and to other species. The chain originally announced that they would no longer carry “red-rated” wild seafood in 2013, but pushed up the start of the moratorium to coincide with this year’s Earth Day. On Sunday the grocer announced in a blog on its website that “From now on, all of the wild-caught seafood we carry will be from fisheries certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or green (best choice) or yellow (good alternative) species rated by Blue Ocean Institute (BOI) and Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA).”

That means that Atlantic cod sold by the grocer will have to be caught using hooks or gill nets, not trawlers that drag nets over the bottom of the ocean. Sturgeon, Atlantic halibut, octopus, turbot, tautog, imported wild shrimp, swordfish caught by certain methods, and many species of tuna and rockfish will be no longer appear on the Whole Foods fish counters. The grocery store has already stopped selling certain critically overfished species such as bluefin tuna, orange roughy, shark, and, for the most part, marlin. Even canned tuna sold at Whole Foods will have to be caught with a pole or a line.

While environmentalists embrace Whole Foods’ embargo of overfished species and fish caught by environmentally damaging methods, fisherman, particularly those in New England, where I covered the collapse of fisheries in the 1990s, are outraged. The description of fishermen grousing and complaining also angers anglers, but it’s well-earned, and often justified. The New England Fisheries Management Council makes the regulations fishermen have to navigate as turbulent as the seas they work on. Consumers and retailers pushing sustainability with their purchases make those fishermen’s jobs that much more difficult. It's not unlikely that Whole Foods' move will push a few of them out of business, like New England Fisheries Management Council regulation drove a fisherman named Russ Bowles, who I spent time with in the 90s, from the business.

In the New York Times story on Whole Foods’ ban on selling certain seafood, and New England fishermen’s reaction to it, one Gloucester fisherman commented, “they’re just doing it to make all the green people happy.” I heard similar complaints virtually every time I wrote about or photographed the dwindling New England fish stocks and efforts to restore it.

The complaint of the fisherman is not only true, it’s the way market-based environmentalism is suppose to work. And you don’t need Whole Foods to interpret the ratings for you – on my smartphone I use the Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch App and another just called Seafood that make purchasing sustainably harvested seafood as easy as reading a grocery list.

Unfortunately, the ratings that Whole Foods is basing its actions on don’t always work. Last week the journal Marine Policy published a study showing that, for fish stocks where enough data is available, nearly a third of those certified as sustainable by the MSC were actually overfished. Juliet Eilperin, an environment writer for the Washington Post and the author of Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks, reported Saturday on the credibility of sustainability standards in fisheries and the move of some fisheries to less-stringent certifiers. Last Thursday, Eilperin points out, the MSC certified the long-line swordfishery in eastern Canada that kills hundreds of endangered sea turtles and 35,000 sharks every year. As the MSC has approved more species as sustainable to catch and sell, environmentalists concerned about those fish are backing away from the organization’s certifications.

Whole Foods ban on red-rated species swims in the right direction, and fishermen are likely to have a lot more to complain about when scientists and activists push the other 30 percent of commercially harvested fish species that are currently overfished onto the MSC list, and Whole Foods moratorium, or those stocks start to run out.

In the meantime, those of us who vote with our dollars for conservation should see Whole Foods’ move as a success, but also recognize that it’s just a drop in our terribly troubled oceans.

Netted

Russ Bowles, first mate on the Serena, a fishing vessel out of Stonington, CT, works on nets before the ship takes off in the middle of the night for a day of trawling.

Serena

The Serena, a trawler our of Stonington, CT, heads into port at dawn after a trip trawling for fluke. 

Early Morning, Long Day

Bowles cleans up after finishing a day and night fishing for skates, then has a smoke after returning to port on one of his last fishing trips. Bowles left the industry because restrictions prevented him from captaining his own vessel and bringing enough fish to market to support his family.

Last Trip

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

Last fall, at the Society of Environmental Journalists' annual conference in Miami, I organized and moderated a panel on which environmental photojournalists discussed their work. I became friends with all of the panelists, but recognized one - Carlton Ward, Jr. - as a kindred spirit in adventure when a group of us ended up swimming in the Atlantic in middle of the night. Carlton was organizing a far more ambitious adventure - the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a 1,000 mile journey by human power from the southern tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp. On Sunday, Carlton and his three companions finished their trek and moved on to the next stage of their work - establishing a continuous wildlife corridor running the length of Florida. For yesterday's Weekend Edition, National Public Radio caught up with the team. The piece is worth a listen, and the Florida Wildlife Corridor is a worthy endeavor to provide appropriate habitat for Florida panthers, black bears, and countless other species threatened by Florida's rapid development.Last fall, at the Society of Environmental Journalists' annual conference in Miami, I organized and moderated a panel on which environmental photojournalists discussed their work. I became friends with all of the panelists, but recognized one - Carlton Ward, Jr. - as a kindred spirit in adventure when a group of us ended up swimming in the Atlantic in middle of the night. Carlton was organizing a far more ambitious adventure - the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a 1,000 mile journey by human power from the southern tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp. On Sunday, Carlton and his three companions finished their trek and moved on to the next stage of their work - establishing a continuous wildlife corridor running the length of Florida. For yesterday's Weekend Edition, National Public Radio caught up with the team. The piece is worth a listen, and the Florida Wildlife Corridor is a worthy endeavor to provide appropriate habitat for Florida panthers, black bears, and countless other species threatened by Florida's rapid development.Last fall, at the Society of Environmental Journalists' annual conference in Miami, I organized and moderated a panel on which environmental photojournalists discussed their work. I became friends with all of the panelists, but recognized one - Carlton Ward, Jr. - as a kindred spirit in adventure when a group of us ended up swimming in the Atlantic in middle of the night. Carlton was organizing a far more ambitious adventure - the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a 1,000 mile journey by human power from the southern tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp. On Sunday, Carlton and his three companions finished their trek and moved on to the next stage of their work - establishing a continuous wildlife corridor running the length of Florida. For yesterday's Weekend Edition, National Public Radio caught up with the team. The piece is worth a listen, and the Florida Wildlife Corridor is a worthy endeavor to provide appropriate habitat for Florida panthers, black bears, and countless other species threatened by Florida's rapid development.

No Way To Run A Zoo

A tiger at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO. (Photo © Michael Kodas)

 

When I worked in newspapers, it wasn't at all uncommon to compete head-to-head with other newspapers on a big story, and to see that subject lead all of the papers on the same day. But competing magazines like to have their big, narrative stories as exclusives. So it was interesting to see GQ and Esquire both publish longform takeouts Monday describing private zoo owner Terry Thompson's release of 50 animals - most of them large carnivores - on his farm in Zanesville, Ohio last October. After setting the animals free, Thompson committed suicide with a gunshot to his head. The local sheriff and his deputies, responding to a complaint from one of Thompson's neighbors that an African lion was prowling her property, were faced with tigers, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and wolves as well. With residences, a school, and I-70 nearby, they felt they had with no alternative but to exterminate the animals.

"The Insane True Story of the Zanesville Zoo Escape," was the headline of the GQ story, while Esquire announced its piece as "The Most Dramatic Story of the Year: Inside the Massacre at the Zanesville Zoo." Esquire went so far as to promote the tome with short videos on the magazine's website, perhaps the first time a magazine story has been promoted with a movie-style trailer, at least according to the New York Times' Brian Stelter, who wrote about the trailers on the Media Decoder blog. The Times' C.J. Chivers also gave the Esquire piece a push on his blog, The Gun, where he commends Chris Jones, the writer of the Esquire piece, for what Chivers feels is the best lead of the year:

"The horses knew first."

At first glance I wondered if Chivers was promoting the Esquire piece because he is a contributor to the magazine. His realm is usually military affairs. But given what happens throughout both stories, I guess commentary from the author of the book and blog entitled "The Gun," makes sense.

And Chivers is right, the lead of the Esquire story, along with the rest of the piece, is gripping and heartbreaking, and the package has some strong, atmospheric photographs by Pari Dukovic. However the GQ story – also a dramatic and wrenching narrative – scores big points for stepping away from the terrible chain of events that led to the death of 50 animals and their keeper to look more deeply into the issues surrounding private collectors of "charasmatic megafauna," and this troubled keeper of a private zoo in particular.

Gawker had fun with the magazines' fight to own the Zanesville zoo story, and it's an interesting exercise to hunt for inconsistencies between the two stories. In many ways they are quite similar, right down to both being written by guys named Chris - Jones at Esquire and Heath at GQ. On his blog, writer Brandon Sneed has an elightening and very long interview with Jones about the reporting and writing of the Esquire story, and the competition between him and Heath to get the scoop.

But in the end, I wish both would have dug into the problems presented by horders of large predators and other exotic animals. Thompson released his animals within a couple weeks of being released from prison for weapons charges - a few of his more than 100 guns had no serial numbers. According to the Esquire story, the numbers had been filed off the weapons. Thompson seemed to show the same negligence with his animals that he did with his weapons. While most of his exotic animals were healthy, his home was squalid, his property covered with rusted cars (a number of them classics). He had been charged, but not convicted, of animal cruelty when cattle and a buffalo were found starving on his property. When Thompson was released from prison, his wife was not waiting for him, they split while he was incarcerated, and he faced financial problems that were certainly exacerbate by the needs of his nearly 60 exotic animals, some of which required hundreds of pounds of meat a day. Deputies in the sheriff's office predicted that it was only a matter of time before something bad happened. In fact, the sheriff left to oversee the culling of Thompson's animals had long tried to deal with "T's Wild Kingdom," but nothing that Terry Thompson was doing with exotic animals on his property, including, apparently, letting them loose, was against the law, at least in Ohio. State efforts to regulate exotic animal ownership have proven largely toothless - after one fatal encounter between an exotic animal and its keeper Gov. Ted Strickland issued an executive order banning exotic animal ownership (but grandfathered in people who already owned exotics), but the ban lasted just 90 days. A Pro Public investigation after the slaughter of the animals showed that Ohio has the highest rate of exotic animal escapes in the country.

"It's just a free-for-all in Ohio...," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, told the Associated Press. "Tigers, wolves, bears in a suburban Lorain County community: It is a disaster waiting to happen."

That disaster came in October, but it didn't have to. Thomspon had another alternative for his animals. There are a number of sites where large predators can go, such as The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, and the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyd, Texas that specialize in providing homes to the world's largest predators which are no longer wanted by the private collections and circuses they have lived in, but cannot survive in the wild. But in the case of many of these private menageries, it's not so much about the animals as it is about the collection. While many of Thompson's friends have testified to the love he felt for his lions and tigers and bears, the end he assured those animals when he released them doesn't offer much evidence of concern for their well being.

As shocking as the incident in Zanesville was, even more surprising is how widespread private collections of exotic animals are. There are more tigers in private collections in Texas than there are wild in any nation on earth. With inconsistent regulation at best, numbers of privately held exotic animals are hard to come by, but it's almost certain that there are actually more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild. Exotic animals that outgrow their cuteness or novelty often come to tragic ends or impose it on others, as in the chimp in Connecticut dressed like a child that tore off the face of its owner's friend. In Ohio recently a kangaroo in badly beat its keeper, and a bear killed its caretaker in a Cleveland suburb. A recent study shows that pythons imported into Florida and released in the Everglades when they were no longer wanted as pets have devastated populations of native wildlife. The numbers of raccoons and opossums in the Everglades have declined by 99 percent, and bobcat populations are down 88 percent.

Several years ago I responded to a police call for a man who had been attacked by his pet python in eastern Connecticut. The animal, which the owner had moved into a bathrooom in his apartment while he cleaned its cage, had attacked him when he tried to return it to its quarters. It swallowed the man's arm up to his shoulder and certainly would have killed him, but the owner managed to hold the bathroom door shut on the snake to prevent it from constricting him. While he waited for the police to arrive, the snake ripped the toilet off the bathroom floor. Police officer extracted the man's arm from the python, then shot it in the head and decapitated it. It was still writhing, headless, in the backyard when I arrived. Even headless, it was nearly 19-feet-long, making it the second longest snake in the United States when it died - only a reticulated python in the Bronz Zoo was longer. Nobody but its owners knew the snake was living in a residential neighborhood thousands of miles from its natural habitat.

A lion lounging at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO. (Photo © Michael Kodas)

A wolf at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO. (Photo © Michael Kodas)

 

 

Following the Sun

The side of our bus is painted with a command to "Follow the Sun," and we tried to heed its instructions. Really, we did. But at midnight, when a dozen of us were pushing the bus through a blizzard up highway 550 in northern New Mexico, it didn't seem like we'd done very well sticking to the plan. As we attempted to "man haul," (and woman haul) our 55-seat bus up the snow slicked highway, I thought of the coming 100-year-anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole, Raold Amunsdsen's successful round trip to the pole, and of the tourists who are making their own trips to the bottom of the planet to commemorate the centennial. Despite repeated trips off the bus to chain up, push the vehicle, or throw snowballs, none of the travelers on our expedition ever feared losing their lives during our ordeal, just a few hours of sleep.

 

 The Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources has brought together 14 journalists for its Energy Country Institute led by Frank and Maggie Allen. We're traveling through southern Colorado and northern New Mexico in a bus driven by Dick Sandlin, who's vast knowledge of the turf helps fill in the knowledge gaps of the energy wonks and regional journalists who make up our crew. When he's not busing tour groups through the fickle weather of the southern Rocky Mountains, he leads tours of Spaceport America, but despite his interest in the stars, most of the fellows have come to see as our own polar explorer - something of an Ernest Shackleton of the Greyhound class.

Fellows in the Energy Country Institute are spending eight days visiting sites in New Mexico and southern Colorado to learn how the region will keep the lights on in the coming century. On Sunday we drove from Santa Fe to Colorado's San Luis Valley, a magical and fragile plain sandwiched between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains. The valley is one of Colorado's most important and tradition-bound agricultural areas, but a diminishing and over-allocated water supply, and an abundant solar resource, are bringing change

We first visited the Ranch of George Whitten and Julie Sullivan, who run a small cattle ranch in Sawatch County.
George's family has been ranching in the valley since the late 1800s. Julie was an environmental activist who brought a group of students to visit George's ranch and ended up falling in love with the rancher. Each of them bears the title of "environmentalist" a little differently. George's philosophy is rooted in the land ethic - he raises grass-fed cattle for meat. Julie arrived at the ranch with more progressive ideals, and was a vegetarian, but eats meat now, so long as she "knows the animal's face." So, while they share the same goals and ideals, they don't always agree the methods and approaches to keep a sustainable ranch running. It's provided an interesting system of checks and balances in an increasingly challenging agricultural environment.

 

 

Others have been sited on grazing land or on fragile wetlands. We left the valley with an understanding that energy, water, tradition and progress are all part of an increasingly precarious balancing act in the San Luis Valley.  After lunching and touring George and Julie's ranch, we were treated to a reception by county and town officials in Alamosa. 

 

 

 

 

The following morning we rejoined them along with representatives from Sun Power, a company that recently brought a 17-megawatt plant online, and Iberdrola, the Spanish solar power company that this week will begin testing a 30-megawatt solar facility it just completed installing in the valley. We heard from representatives from the solar-power companies, officials involved in the plan to conserve the valley's water by taking 40,000 acres of agricultural land out of production, the Chairman of the Alamosa County Commissioners, and representatives of environmental organizations concerned with both the water and energy issues affecting the valley. While virtually everyone we've met is excited by the development of solar power in the valley, in an environment where water and energy are tightly linked, utility scale solar projects are also causes for concern. Some types of solar projects, particularly those that involve turning a steam turbine, use a lot of water.


 

From the San Luis Valley, we planned to head to the Southern Ute Reservation via Wolf Creek Pass, but by the time we left Alamosa, an early-season snowstorm had made that route unsafe. Plan B was to take Route 17 over Cumbres Pass, but the bus lost traction in the heavy snow on the pass, even after stopping to put chains on, leaving us stranded. Two Colorado Department of Transportation snowplows cleared the road so we could turn around, then escorted us back down the pass. We finally took a route back into New Mexico and up Route 550, but even in the foothills of the Four Corners, the bus got mired in the snow, so the fellows piled out of the bus to push it though the steepest section. For at least one of the fellows, freelance writer Lindsey Hoshaw, the announcement of the detours were a shock - she was hoping to get to a hotel room desk to continue working on a story for the Boston Globe. 

 

She's adapted well to writing on the bus. And, although a trip that was planned at 2 1/2 hours ended up taking more than 12, at least nobody had to eat any dogs on our way to the Southern Ute Reservation in Ignacio.

The Image and Conservation

Thursday night at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Miami I had the honor of moderating a panel of photographers who document threatened landscapes and environmental issues. I had already planned ot use the forum to launch a new blog on my website, but the New York Times beat me to it, honoring the panelists I recruited with a post on its Green blog written by Rachel Nuwer. To me, the attention from the Times was both a well-deserved honor for the photographers - Clyde Butcher, Connie Bransilver, Patrick Farrell and Carlton Ward, Jr. - and a validation of the increasing power of images to tell important environmental stories and to promote the preservation of landscapes, species and cultures.
 
As much has changed in the world of photography as has in the world's environments, and I tried to illustrate that by showing a couple of my own photographs to begin the session. Both photos related to my current book project looking at the global increase in wildfires. i began by showing the first photograph I ever made at a wildfire - a black-and-white image of a prisoner at the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers Connecticut that I took in the mid-1980s.

 

 

I made the photo after jumping a few fences to get closer to the flames without realizing I had trespassed onto prison grounds. A guard came up to me screaming, knocked me down, and began dragging me out, but when he noticed me trying to photograph the exploding wildfire and the prisoner running for his life, he let go of me, pushed me towards the flames and let me do my work. The paper I worked for didn't publish in color, so we only shot on black-and-white film. I'll be forever thankful to Clyde Butcher, the Ansel Adams of the Everglades, who commented during Thursday's panel that he found the photograph more powerful in black-and-white than he would have in color. I can't claim that the lack of color was a creative decision.

Travel 2,000 miles southwest and 25 years into the future to Bastrop, Texas, where I spent much of September documenting the worst wildfires in state history. I made this photo of a man with the cellphone photo he made of the Bastrop Fire descending  onto his home.

 

 

My, how the world has changed.

Much of the world Clyde Butcher documents has changed for the better, to some degree due to his efforts.

When he started photographing Everglades National Park and Big Cyprus National Preserve in 1984, “there was virtually nothing to photograph — it was one big ditch,” he said in a trailer for a documentary that we showed during the panel. The documentary will appear sometime in the spring. Clyde now makes his home in Big Cyprus and led about 20 lucky SEJ conference attendees on one of his famous "swamp slogs" earlier in the day of the panel. Big Cyprus is clearly no longer a ditch. Clyde saw his photographer as a way to inspire preservation. When officials expressed an interest in the photographs he was selling at art fairs and asked how much he would charge few, he told them he'd give them to them for free in hopes that they might get hung in places where they would inspire people to protect the landscape he loved. As opposed to the 35 mm cameras photojournalists hang on their shoulders, or the cell phones that many citizen journalists use to make their images, Clyde takes hulking, heavy large format cameras deep into the Everglades. He's often waste deep in the glades and has been known to wait a day or two for the right light before clicking his shutter. For that kind of dedication to a single landscape, I always figured Clyde must have grown up there, but he's originally from Kansas City - my own hometown.

Connie Bransilver, the second photographer who spoke, is one of the founding members of the International League of Conservation Photographers. She's as well has shown a long devotion to preserving Florida's most beautiful and threatened landscapes, but she's also worked extensively in places like Madagascar, where she was part of a National Geographic expedition that discovered a new sub-species of lemur. Like a number of image makers, Connie's experimenting with new ways of showing her photos, but unlike those of us who are looking for the latest digital displays for our pictures, her Guardians of the Everglades project is a show of diaphanous, eight-by-four-foot silk banners printed with her photographs of endangered orchids. The wafting silks are both a futuristic multimedia experience and a step back into an ancient art form. While Clyde wades in a swamp for his work, Connie had to stand on a chair to show us one of her stunning, orchid-printed silks.

Miami Herald photojournalist Patrick Farrell's résumé includes winning the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for his coverage of the deadly 2008 hurricane season's impacts on Haiti. He was also a part of the Miami Herald team that won the Pulitzer in 1993 for coverage of Hurricane Andrew. HIs assignments have taken him to Turkey, Cuba, and through Central and South America. His work has also been honored by Pictures of the Year International and won a National Headliners Award. Most recently he covered the earthquake that devastated Haitii. Patrick's quiet, but his photos are not. The most striking of the images he showed Thursday were what I would call horribly beautiful. Children killed in the devastation of Haiti, shown with both respect and sadness. In the most wrencing of circumstances, Patrick's images showed impecable compositon and a keen eye for telling light. Patrick's photographs brought home the idea that society's vulnerability to disasters is an increasingly important environmental story. He told of covering the earthquake in Haiti, then sleeping on the lawn of a destroyed hotel after filing his photographs. After a few days, he lost even his piece of grass when others in need of space moved into the hotel grounds.

Carlton Ward, Jr., another of the founding members of the International League of Conservation Photographers, is an eighth-generation Floridian who started working in Africa, but realized that his home state was also in need of photographs that might prompt conservation. He's published a photo book of Florida cowboys, and worked extensively with camera traps to document wildlife, as with this photo of a black bear that appeared on the cover of Audubon. He's also photographed features for Smithsonian, National Wildlife, and Outdoor Photographer magazines. Carlton's focus now is on the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, for which he and his friend Joe Guthrie, a bear biologist, will trek the length of Florida over a 100 day period starting on January 17th of next year. They'll travel by foot, boat and horse. You can follow them at the expeditions website, or better yet, join them for a leg, so long as you don't mind getting dirty.

 


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