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Canada Looks at Safety of Imported Foods

TORONTO, Sept. 24 (UPI) — The amount of imported food on Canadian dinner plates is growing, but the agency responsible for inspecting what Canadians eat isn’t keeping up, officials say.

An internal audit of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it has failed to develop a strategy to ensure that health hazards are not entering Canada in imported foodstuffs, The (Toronto) Globe and Mail reported Friday.

While meat, seafood, fish and eggs are subject to a wide range of controls, “imports of other food commodities rely almost exclusively on destination inspections and projects,” the audit says.

In other words, the safety of those foods is in the hands of the exporting country, officials say.

Imported food that is not regulated and not part of a comprehensive food-safety regime accounts for about half of what Canadians eat, one expert says, and sorting what is regulated from what is not is no easy task for consumers.

“Things like coffee and bananas that we don’t produce in Canada are not regulated,” said Rick Holley, a professor of food safety and food microbiology at the University of Manitoba.

That leaves Canadians relying to a large degree on the skills and diligence of food inspectors abroad, he said, as the CFIA is dogged by lack of resources.

“With the growth of the importation of food into Canada over the last 10- to 15-year period, these guys at the CFIA don’t have the resources and that is what this report is saying,” Holley said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Entangled Raptors Separated, Released

CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island, Sept. 24 (UPI) — Canadian wildlife officials say they separated and released two bald eagles that had gotten their talons locked together in Prince Edward Island.

People arriving at a party near Charlottetown Saturday night discovered the entangled eagles on a front lawn, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News reported.

“They were in distress because they were flopping trying to get apart,” Leith Stretch, one of the people who discovered the birds, said.

Gerald MacDougall, manager of fish and wildlife for the province, was called and went to see what he could do.

“I had never seen anything like it, where the two actually had grabbed each other in this death grip and actually allowed people to walk right up to them,” MacDougall said.

He believes the eagles got into a fight over a scrap of food.

MacDougall put on a pair of welder’s gloves before approaching the birds.

“I had a horned owl that actually put its talons right through my left hand, in three places,” he said. “I know what it feels like, and I certainly don’t want that to happen again.”

MacDougall covered the heads of the eagles to calm them, but still needed help from two other men to hold the eagles and pry them apart.

The raptors were taken to opposite ends of a nearby field and released into the night sky.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Study Ranks World Marine Ecosystem Impacts

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) — China leads the world in the annual tonnage of fish caught and consumed, a study of nations having the greatest impact on ocean ecosystems says.

The research, conducted by the University of British Columbia in collaboration with the National Geographic Society and The Pew Charitable Trusts, ranks the Top 20 nations having the greatest impact through catching or consuming marine wildlife, a society release said.

China’s top ranking is because of its enormous population, despite its very low per capita consumption, the study said.

Japan is high on the list, a result of its rate of consumption — often by importation — of fish rather than its catch.

The United States comes in third in both catch and consumption, due to its relatively large population and tendency to eat top predator fish such as Atlantic salmon, the study found.

Much of the world’s catch is being purchased by wealthy nations for their people; poorer countries simply can’t afford to bid for high-value species, the study says.

World demand for seafood has sent fishing fleets into every fishing ground in the world, the researchers say.

A report by the World Bank and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that even if the number of boats, hooks and nets now used were cut by half, the world would still end up catching too many fish to be sustainable.

The scientists favor treaties among nations setting seafood-consumption targets as well as ocean havens to safeguard resources.

“Barely one percent of the ocean is now protected, compared with 12 percent of the land,” National Geographic Ocean Fellow Enric Sala says, “and only a fraction of that is fully protected.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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In-water Power Generators to Be Studied

SEATTLE, Sept. 20 (UPI) — A U.S. study will take a look at how renewable energy devices placed in America’s rivers and coastal waters might affect marine life, researchers say.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will test whether a variety of fish and invertebrates change their behavior after exposure to an electromagnetic field similar to those produced by marine and hydrokinetic power devices that capture energy from ocean waves, tides, currents and rivers, a laboratory release said.

“The ocean’s natural ebb and flow can be an abundant, constant energy source,” Andrea Copping, an oceanographer at the laboratory, said. “But before we can place power devices in the water, we need to know how they might impact the marine environment.”

The laboratory will use large electromagnetic coils to examine how fields may affect wildlife.

Several different technologies can use wave or river current movement to generate electricity that travels through cables that connect the device with a land power line.

Researchers want to know what effect the devices and their cables might have on marine life.

“We really don’t know if the animals will be affected or not,” Jeff Ward, a marine ecologist at the laboratory, said. “There’s surprisingly little comprehensive research to say for sure.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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'Noise' is Symptom of Coral Reef Health

BRISTOL, England, Sept. 20 (UPI) — Coral reefs can be surprisingly noisy places and the noise level is a good indication of the reef’s overall health, U.K. scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Bristol in England say coral reef inhabitants, such as fish and invertebrates, produce clicks and grunts that add up to considerable cacophonies, a university release reports.

Analyzing recordings of coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean near Panama, Bristol marine biologists found some reefs are noisier than others, and these differences provide useful information about the state of the reef.

Healthier reefs were louder, with a clear association between overall noise level generated and the amount of living coral, the researchers found.

“This study provides evidence that reef generated sound contains a real richness of information,” Bristol University scientist Steve Simpson said.

“This would provide fish and invertebrates with the cues they need to assess the quality of potential settlement sites before they can see them, a bit like wandering around a music festival eavesdropping on different bands before choosing where to pitch your tent.

“It may even provide the information that enables some fish to return to the very reef on which they were originally spawned.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Flying Squirrels Disappearing in SoCal

RIVERSIDE, Calif., Sept. 20 (UPI) — Biologists and environmentalists say the apparent disappearance of flying squirrels from a Southern California mountain range has them puzzled — and worried.

It has been years since any have been spotted in the wilderness around Idyllwild, Calif., in the southernmost of the two Southern California mountain ranges where they have been documented since the 1800s, The (Riverside, Calif.) Press-Enterprise reported Monday.

“They’ve just disappeared from our mountain range and we don’t understand why,” said Anne Poopatanapong, a Forest Service biologist.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been petitioned to protect San Bernardino flying squirrels, a subset of the more plentiful northern flying squirrel that lives across much of the United States, under the Endangered Species Act.

The threats are many, the petition says, and chief among them is climate change, which shifts the squirrels’ forest habitat upslope to cooler temperatures.

“They’re already at higher elevations so they have limited options for moving upward,” said Shaye Wolf of the Center for Biological Diversity, which brought the petition. “Eventually, they start to run out of room.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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EPA Asked to Ban Lead Fishing Tackle

DETROIT, Sept. 18 (UPI) — Efforts to ban lead fishing tackle, seen as a threat to wildlife, has Michigan anglers and environmentalists at odds, observers say.

Environmental advocates say the change would save waterfowl that occasionally eat sinkers and other gear, causing death by lead poisoning, The Detroit News reported.

But many in the state’s $7 billion fishing industry say if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bans lead in lures and tackle the cost of equipment would soar for a sector hit hard by the recession.

“It’ll cripple the industry,” professional fisherman John Maniaci said.

A common lead sinker costs 5 cents. Alternative items, like the tungsten sinkers used in Europe and Canada, where lead laws are stricter than in the United States, run $4 a piece.

The $4 cost may sound small to someone who doesn’t fish, Maniaci said, but where he fishes in Lake St. Clair, shallow water with rocks and invasive zebra mussels means he often has to cut his line when his tackle gets caught.

Under the proposed ban, each snag would cost him $3.95 more, he said.

Environmental advocacy groups petitioned the EPA in August to ban lead tackle and ammunition.

The groups presented research estimating up to 20 million birds and animals die annually from lead poisoning attributable to lead tackle.

The EPA, which is expected to announce its decision in early November, hasn’t indicated how it will rule, the News reported.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Ban & Jerry's Weighs in on Genetic Foods

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 (UPI) — Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has joined the debate in Washington over genetically modified salmon, observers said.

Speaking at a Washington protest Thursday, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim said his company won’t use products consumers are not interested in buying, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News reported.

“Most Americans do not want to eat food made from genetically engineered animals. … Ben & Jerry’s certainly has no interest in using foods from animals that are genetically engineered in our product,” Solheim said.

“Today it’s a fish that we’re talking about, but very soon it will be a genetically engineered pig, a chicken, even, God forbid, our beloved cows,” he said.

The protest in Washington was organized by people opposed to the genetically modified salmon produced by Canadian company Aqua Bounty at its facility near Prince Edward Island.

Aqua Bounty is approaching the end of a long process to have its genetically modified salmon approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A coalition of groups from both the United States and Canada organized the Washington rally.

A report by scientists from the FDA concluded the Aqua Bounty salmon, engineered to grow at twice the normal rate, are not significantly different from other salmon as a food.

The FDA will hold public hearings on the fish Sunday and Monday.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Shape of Fish, Shrimp Shoals Examined

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Sept. 16 (UPI) — Schools of fish and swarms of ocean krill get together in almost identically-shaped shoals, seeming to follow an unknown “rule,” Scottish researchers say.

A study published online in Current Biology says shoals of fish and swarms of krill hang out in groups that take on the same overall shape, not a simple sphere, cylinder or ovoid but something more akin to an irregular crystal, the researchers say.

“The fact that several species of fish and krill that live in very different locations — from the tropics to polar oceans — form shoals that are the same shape suggests that the same forces are at play in diverse ecosystems; there is a common ‘rule’ for shoal shape,” Andrew Brierley of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said.

Sonar used to record the three-dimensional shape of Antarctic krill swarms found they had the same ratio of surface area to volume even as the overall size and density of the group varied. Studies of fish like sardines and anchovies from diverse locations turned up the very same pattern, Brierley said.

Using computer modeling, researchers came up with an apparently simple explanation — individual fish and krill juggle their access to oxygen-rich water at the outer boundaries of the shoal or swarm against the risk of being eaten by predators.

If oxygen availability is a major driver of shoal shape, Brierley says, then changes are in store. Oxygen concentrations are declining as the world’s oceans warm so shoals will have to adapt accordingly, becoming smaller or less densely packed.

“The ease (or difficulty) with which fishermen can catch pelagic fish and crustaceans — catchability — can vary as a function of shoal size, so understanding the response of shoals to changing oxygen concentration will be of commercial as well as ecological importance,” the researchers wrote.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Otters in Calif. Falling Prey to Sharks

SACRAMENTO, Sept. 16 (UPI) — California wildlife officials say they collected a record number of sea otters killed or injured by shark bites off the state’s coast in August.

Seven more in September have been added to the total of 19 for last month, a Department of Fish and Game release said.

The 10-year average for August is seven, officials said.

Scientists say they believe cooler-than-average ocean temperatures from an unusually mild summer are creating an ideal condition for white sharks.

“White sharks do not typically feed on sea otters,” Michael Harris, a DFG environmental scientist, said.

“Their preferred prey is seals and sea lions. This would explain why the majority of the otters collected have a single bite mark. These bites are more investigative — like a taste test.”

White sharks inhabit mostly cold, temperate seas with a surface temperature of 50 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. As they grow, they transition from feeding on fish as juveniles to feeding on marine mammals like seals and sea lions.

“Without much data on the white shark population off California, we can only speculate as to the cause for the increase in the otter bites,” Harris said. “But perhaps there are more juvenile sharks in the area, testing various prey items as they transition.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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