Posts Tagged 'Ocean Conservation'

Do You Know Where Your Seafood is REALLY From?

maryland crab cake infographic

By now, you know that over 1/3 of the seafood purchased in the United States is mislabeled.

According to a comprehensive study by our partners over at Oceana, some seafood is intentionally mislabeled to inflate the value of the fish or to hide illegal fishing practices, which directly impacts restaurant and market owners who then misrepresent their products to the consumer.

Here are some important things to know about seafood labeling procedures/regulations in the US:

  • Ninety-one percent of our seafood is imported from other countries, with a large portion of that product coming from Asia.
  • Only 2 percent of seafood imported into the US is inspected and just .001 percent is inspected for fraud.
  • Over 1,700 different species of seafood are available for sale in the US, including species found both domestically and internationally.
  • The most commonly mislabeled fish types discussed in Oceana’s study were: snapper, tuna, cod, salmon, yellowtail and halibut.
  • Nationwide, the mislabeling of seafood is most prevalent in California, New York City and Miami.
  • Outside of some guidelines put forth by the Food and Drug Administration, there is no current federal legislation to combat seafood fraud (both intentional and unintentional).
  • Some states, including our home state of Maryland, have put forth legislation to regulate these processes.

Have questions/comments about seafood labeling practices in the United States? Share them with us below! 

Thoughtful Thursday: March 22nd is World Water Day

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It’s that time of year again.  Everyone’s favorite holiday – World Water Day!  What? Never heard of the holiday that celebrates the one substance that is the basis for all life?  Think about it, when scientists are looking for proof of life on other planets, what is the one clue they hope to find?  Water.  The simple presence of water.  They know that if there is water, there may be a possibility for life.  No water, no life.

Here on Earth, almost three quarters of our planet’s surface is covered with water.  The volume of water in your own body is made up of almost that exact same percentage.  We all need water to survive.  And by “we all,” I mean microbes, insects, kittens, people, polar bears, trees, frogs, flowers, birds, turtles, forests, ecosystems, etc.  We are all intricately linked through water.  As much as we try to separate these groups in our minds, as much as we disassociate ourselves with parts of the rest of the world, it would do us good to remember that we all have one common need.

blacktip reef

What do sharks and humans have in common? Their need for water. Clean water.

There is some great information now available that helps us visualize how truly dependent we are on water.  We can see how much water it takes to make a one pound of beef, one pint of greek yogurt, one cup of coffee.  It’s all very fascinating – mostly because it forces us to look at water in new ways.  We live in a world where “conserve water” or “save water” used to mean – stop letting the faucet run while you are brushing your teeth, or don’t water your lawn in the middle of the hot summer day.

This new view of water, puts a truer value on the resources required to produce the food we eat and makes us think about our daily choices in different ways.  For example, it takes three eggs to equal the amount of protein in one serving of beef, but the beef requires nine times the amount of water to produce.

If we are committed to being good stewards of this amazing water planet, we need to start with our own daily choices.  Figure out what is most important to you and then look for ways to make less of an impact!

Interested in learning more about the state of our of water supply and how it’s impacting marine life? Tune into PBS NewHour’s weekly Twitter chat (#NewsHourChats) at 1pm EST to hear from me (@LauraBankey) and our Chief Conservation Officer, Eric Schwaab (via @NatlAquarium)! 

Laura Bankey

Ocean Acidification: A Global Issue With Local Consequences

national aquarium conservation expert update

Only a few decades ago, scientists thought that the buffering capacity of the world’s oceans was so great that they could absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide (one of the greenhouse gases that is emitted when we burn fossil fuels) without much consequence. This was good news because carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were rising and while there were consequences for a changing climate, at least the oceans would be spared.

Unfortunately, there has been a growing body of emerging research that links dramatic changes in ocean chemistry to the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere – just in time for us to see the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide that has ever been measured – 400 parts per million. Typically, the new research focused on the effects of changing ocean chemistry, or ocean acidification, on corals and other carbonate-based organisms. It was discovered that the shells of these organisms could actually dissolve.

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A graphic representation of ocean acidification. (Via Seattle Magazine)

But the term ocean acidification is misleading. In fact, the process of converting carbon dioxide to carbonic acid is happening in all types of open water; our bays, our streams, our lakes; our rivers and more. It is affecting organisms in all of these water bodies. The impacts may even be greater in coastal bodies of water where the addition of pollution and nutrient sources from the land are magnifying changes in water chemistry.

Maryland is putting a tremendous amount of resources into Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, including supporting a robust oyster recovery plan in state waters. Ocean acidification has been shown to significantly affect the growth rate of oysters, slowing the growth of adult oysters, and, more importantly, impeding the development of larval oysters at critical life stages. Recent studies also suggest that changing ocean pH levels can affect the thickness of crab and oyster shells, possibly shifting the predator-prey balance of these two species.

national aquarium blue crab

If ocean acidification in the Chesapeake Bay goes untreated,
species like the blue crab will begin to disappear.

Furthermore, other important components of our Bay and ocean ecosystems can be affected such as calcareous phytoplankton- potentially undermining the very foundation on which other commercially and recreationally valuable species depend. At a time when we are just beginning to realize the successes of years of oyster recovery efforts and the rebuilding of important fish and crab stocks, we must work even harder to understand additional stresses these animals are facing and know how to manage against them effectively if we want to see long-term viability. We also need to take responsibility for our actions, both individually and as a community to reduce the two most significant contributors to this problem; rising greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient pollution from land-based resources.

As part of our mission at the Aquarium to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, we take very seriously our responsibility to educate guests on the majesty and importance of the Chesapeake Bay and its wildlife. We have also worked in the field with more than 35,000 students and community volunteers restoring vital Bay habitat. We understand the importance of healthy intact communities and ecosystems and hope work with our communities to reverse the effects of ocean acidification on our local and global wildlife.

national aquarium conservation expert Laura Bankey

Thoughtful Thursday: Bag Fee Coming to Baltimore in 2014?

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This coming Monday, the Baltimore City Council will vote on a bill that would require city businesses to charge a ten cent fee on all bags (paper or plastic) provided by retail establishments at point of sale.  If passed, Baltimore City will join the ranks of Washington D.C. and Montgomery County in trying to use economic incentives to decrease litter and promote the use of reusable bags. These laws, which took effect in 2010 and 2012 respectively, have been successful in substantially reducing the number of single-use bags distributed at retail stores in those districts. In fact, bag pollution in DC neighborhoods has been reduced by more than two-thirds!

Want to make this important environmental step a reality for Baltimore? Here’s how YOU can help:

  • Tell your Baltimore City Council member that you care about out city and our wildlife and you support council bill 13-0241.
  • Make bringing reusable bags with you as you shop a routine!

There is no denying that plastic bag pollution is a real problem in our city.  Discarded bags are almost always visible -stuck in tree branches and floating along our harbor, streams and rivers.  They can clog storm drain inlets and cause localized flooding and the city spends millions of dollars each year cleaning up bags and other litter.

debris at ft mchenry

They are also often seen being used as building material in bird nests and pose a threat to aquatic predators that mistake them as food.   Plastic pollution in our environment and waterways is well documented but its effects on wildlife are still being studied.   In one recent study, more than 50 percent of the sea turtles stranded on a beach in Texas, in a two-year period, contained traces of debris in their digestive tract – 65 percent of those animals had ingested plastic bags.

Our own Animal Rescue team has cared for animals that have ingested plastic bags, and while the deleterious effects of plastic digestion by animals may be obvious, the chronic effects of toxic chemicals found within these plastics and ingestion of degraded plastic (or microplastics) is just beginning to be characterized.

Paper bags are also being included in this legislation because they too require a significant amount of resources to manufacture and ship and ignoring this would be counterproductive to the intent of the bill.

It is important to remember that the intent of this bill is not to penalize our most vulnerable citizens by imposing another fee they will struggle to pay.  In fact, there are several exemptions that take into account the type of purchases and participation in public assistance programs.  We simply can no longer ignore the true cost of favoring single-use products like plastic and paper bags within the system. These items are not free.  There is a cost for their resource extraction, manufacture and shipping.  If they end up as litter, there is a cost to remove them from our waterways, city streets and storm drains – and when we aren’t able to do that, there is a cost to wildlife.

Laura Bankey

Fresh Thoughts: Sustainable Seafood Q&A with Joseph Cotton!

About next week’s featured Fresh Thoughts headliner, our very own executive chef Joseph Cotton:

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Executive Chef Joseph Cotton started his love affair with food at the early age of 9, by making meatballs for a local deli. A Johnson and Wales trained Chef; his passion for fresh, local and eclectic food aligns with the Aquarium’s mission for their guest experience.

After his work in hotels, fine dining establishments and in special event catering, Chef Joseph opened JC’s Grill House in Newton, NJ, in the summer of 2007. His first solo business, the restaurant sat 150 guests, catered weddings and events onsite, and simultaneously operated as the caterer for nearby Bear Brook Golf Club. When he and his family moved to Maryland, Chef Joseph joined the National Aquarium family in December 2012 as the Executive Chef for our main café, Harbor Market Kitchen, as well as overseeing Harbor Market Catering.

Using sustainable and local products whenever possible including seasonal produce, artisanal cheeses, grass-fed beef, humanely raised poultry, sustainably harvested seafood and shade-grown coffee, Chef Joseph’s menus are not only delicious and innovative, but an extension of the Aquarium.

In preparation for next week’s dinner, we sat down with Chef Joseph to talk about how sustainable seafood is changing the culinary scene throughout the mid-Atlantic region:

What’s your favorite sustainable seafood ingredient to prepare?

Oysters are my favorite seafood to eat and also my favorite to prepare. I like how versatile oysters are – they can be fried, grilled, stuffed, raw or sautéed. In the summertime, I love to stuff oysters with local crabmeat and top them with a nice, light spinach cream sauce.

How is sustainable seafood playing a role in Baltimore’s dining scene?

Sustainable seafood is finally becoming a standard for up and coming restaurants! Not only is this a great trend for the industry, but it shows that there’s a lot of awareness and demand from consumers.

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to cooking sustainably?

The biggest challenge is definitely the availability of the product. By working closely with local fisheries, farms and distributors, we hope to see this problem solved in the very near future.

If everyone could walk away from our Fresh Thoughts dinner knowing one thing, it would be …

I hope that they walk away embracing the concept of “fishing today for a better tomorrow.” My goal is that our guests leave satisfied and educated on how important sustainability is to the future of our ocean and the species that live there.

Tell us a little bit about Harbor Market Kitchen and how your team is always churning out such delicious meals!

It’s very important to myself and my team to provide our guests with fresh, homemade meals that showcase the best that Maryland has to offer! Whether it’s our members and visitors that come through the Aquarium everyday or our after-hours guests at catered events, we’re dedicated to making sure every bite of food is high-quality and delicious.

To learn more about our sustainable seafood program and other conservation initiatives, click here


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