Tag Archives: activism

How to Choose Sustainable Tuna

Greenpeace has just launched its 4th edition of the Australian Canned Tuna Guide.  For those of you out there that love your tuna and the oceans, you really must take a look for yourself, so you can make an informed choice about your tuna.

You can download the above image as an A4 poster to stick on your fridge: Click here (PDF 1.27MB)

I was involved in bringing the first canned tuna guide to the Australian public a couple of years ago. Back then, none of the cans on our shelves were sustainable, with catches of overfished yellowfin tuna, destructive fishing methods and politically poor fishing choices packaged up and sold to us with barely any labeling.   Down the line we’ve seen a complete game change in the canned tuna market, with companies like Fish 4 Ever and Safcol providing sustainable, pole-and-line caught skipjack tuna, and genuinely working towards a sustainable future.

The tuna brands are ranked according to their:

  • sustainability policy
  • fishing method used (Fish Aggregating Devices, or FADs, are a definite no-no because of the unacceptable bycatch levels)
  • species caught (yellowfin and bigeye are overfished)
  • labelling – so that customers can make an informed choice
  • support for marine reserves (ensuring long-term sustainability) and equitable tuna policies (so that reasonable economic benefits are returned to countries who own the rights to certain tuna stocks)
  • guarantee of a supply chain free from illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) fishing (which accounts for up to 46% of fishing activity in the Pacific)

Since the first guide was released, consumer pressure has forced many brands to change their tuna. You can now buy eight different brands of sustainable pole-and-line caught tuna, in most supermarkets.  Safcol for example was the first Australian company to commit to 100% sustainable tuna – an industry-changing move.  They also actively promote sustainable fishing methods and the conservation of overfished species.  Greenseas and Sirena are making a positive change by committing to 100% FAD-free sourcing by 2015.  But several other brands still lag behind, sometimes offering up one sustainable brand whilst making little effort across their range, or in the case of Sole Mare, none at all.

Greenpeace’s current campaign is focusing on John West.  As Australia’s largest seller of canned tuna, John West is having the most damaging impact on marine life through the 10% bycatch rate of its fishing method (FADs and purse seines).  That means they catch the equivalent of about 10 million cans of bycatch every year.

If you would like John West to step up their game and change to sustainable tuna, you can tell them here.

So check out where your favourite brand comes out – and why – in the Greenpeace Canned Tuna Guide.

Make an informed choice, and use your consumer power to make a difference.  Choose sustainable tuna next time you shop.

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Shark Culling Not The Answer

The government recently announced a new package of funding for ‘shark mitigation strategies’, aimed at reducing the incidence of shark attacks on our beaches.  After five fatalities in only one year the WA government is under immense pressure to be seen to be doing something…  But the announcement that $2mil of the $6.85mil package is to spent on tracking and potentially destroying sharks if they come too close to swimmers has many people up in arms.

Great White Shark. Source: Courier-Mail

White Pointers and Western Australia

The Great White Shark (white pointer) is listed as vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN’s Red List of threatened and endangered species (i.e. it is endangered).  It is protected in Australian waters under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act and internationally under the Convention for the Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

Not much is known about their populations, but if this apex predator is lost from the ecosystem, there could be significant and far-reaching consequences for the oceans and our fisheries.

Of what we do know, these animals make transoceanic migrations, and global populations appear to be linked.  Therefore culling them could, in fact, become an international issue.

In WA, certain times of the year may be more dangerous than others.  Oceanic events attract large sharks to feed near shore, for example when snapper are spawning in Cockburn Sound.  Educating the public and providing beach patrols could reduce the risk of incidents.

And whilst the past year may have seen more large sharks off WA’s coast, sharks are in reality facing a global crisis.  Illegal and unregulated fishing driven by the demand for shark fin soup in Asia has reduced shark populations by 90%.  There is yet no evidence to determine if populations of large sharks are recovering in WA or if there have just been more visiting the West Coast than in previous years.

The $4mil funding for applied research and tagging programs is very welcome.  We need to understand these animals more in order to deter future incidents.  Money allocated to surf-lifesavers to increase beach safety, and $150,000 for community awareness programs is also really positive.

We need education and research.  Public safety and shark conservation working together.

Culling: Necessary or Knee-Jerk?

The current legislation (Section 7[2] of the Fish Resource management Act 1994) allows the Department of Fisheries to kill sharks after a fatality, if they can properly identify the individual involved.  To date, they have never acted on this legislation.  Now the Department of Fisheries will have the option of killing sharks before an incident.

The proposed culling would take place if a human life was in danger.  The authorities are still trying to work out how this would be determined.  But how could they prove that a specific shark would in fact cause an incident?

Killing an animal in its natural environment – especially a protected species – pre-emptively is unscientific, unnecessary and a knee-jerk reaction.  ‘Guilty until proven innocent’ is killing without a purpose.  No shark that has been spotted by authorities has ever been implicated in a later attack.

$2mil allocated to track, catch and destroy sharks is an overreaction.  It is a ‘cosmetic’ reaction, an appeasement tactic, based on emotion rather than science.  Sharks are already killed in their millions every year due to overfishing and shark-finning.  Hawaii once culled 4,668 sharks (including 554 tiger sharks) between 1959-1976, but no significant decrease in the rate of shark bites was detected.

In comparison, aerial patrols have been shown to work, along with taking personal responsibility for your own safety.  Four out of the last five fatalities were people diving, surfing or body boarding – further from shore than most swimmers would go.

There may also be the problem of increased risk with this new policy, if ocean lovers choose not to report a sighting of a large shark for fear of it being killed.  On the other hand, the policy may perpetuate the fear that all large sharks are potential killers, when in fact we don’t know this.

Education and research will help reduce fear of swimming, not culls.

Shark Nets

Port Jackson Shark caught in a net in NSW. Source: HSIA proposed method of protection in my local area is to introduce shark nets on swimming beaches.  These have been around on the East Coast for around 70 years… but shark nets are cruel, indiscriminate and they also don’t work.

Shark nets give the public a false sense of safety, but in reality sharks are free to swim around the nets, often getting caught as they leave the shallow “protected” areas again. They are indiscriminate and catch any and all marine life that come in to contact with them, including dolphins, turtles, whales, manta rays, dugongs and other sharks.  Nets which have caught other marine animals may even act as floating bait for sharks.  (Drumlines set to capture and kill sharks have also been suggested, and would do the same thing).

And nets have even been known to catch people: in 2007 a teenage boy drowned when he got caught in a shark net off NSW.

In a Department of Primary Industries report in 2009, focussing on NSW, shark bite incidents from 1937-2008 showed that of the 38 shark attacks recorded in the state, 24 of them (63%) took place at netted beaches, with 14 injuries.  There was only one fatality at a netted beach (1951).  However, survival rates for shark bites are now up to 80%, due to better on-scene treatment and antibiotics, and a 63% failure rate of attack prevention isn’t encouraging.

In addition, a report commissioned by the WA Department of Fisheries (August 2012) actually said: “Due to the environmental impacts of shark control activities, it is not recommended that either shark nets or drum-lines be introduced into Western Australia”.  Someone didn’t read the report, it seems.

Education and surveillance are the best prevention against shark attacks until better repellent devices are developed.

So What Now?

Shark nets, drumlines and culling are environmentally hazardous, cruel and indiscriminate means which are not necessary if money was instead invested in non-lethal methods and increased understanding of these animals.  The government is wasting time and money on something which the WA public is overwhelmingly against, for the sake of appeasing a loud voiced minority.

I am not a shark expert, but as a marine biologist I campaign for conservation of our oceans, so that we can have a sustainable future.  The removal of a keystone species could have far-reaching consequences for our ecosystem and fisheries, and methods designed to indiscriminately kill any marine animal could also be devastating for our local populations, as well as our fisheries and tourism industry.

Some people have said that overfishing has led to sharks coming closer in to shore to find food, others say that ocean currents affect their movement patterns, but until we understand more about the real – and likely multiple – reasons behind the recent spate of shark attacks we need to invest in education, surveillance and research.  Culling is not the answer.

Please sign a petition (there is a list here) against shark culling and destructive shark nets in WA.

– Some of these comments appeared in my local newspaper on 5th October –

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What Would Terry Pratchett Say?

Terry Pratchett. Photo: Les WilsonSir Terry Pratchett is an English fantasy novelist and Alzheimer’s sufferer.  Apparently having Alzheimer’s has made him even more famous than the 70 million books in 37 languages that he has sold worldwide.  I’m not sure on that one, but one thing I do know is that he is an all-round legend and his writing has personally inspired me in more ways than I knew…  Until I took on this week’s Writing Challenge.

This week the challenge asked us to talk about a writer whose style has most influenced our writing voice.

Which really made me stop and think.

How do I write?

This blog is about, mainly, marine conservation.  Its tone is generally one of news reportage, awareness-raising, and examination of issues.  It’s called ‘Sea Change – transforming the way we view the world’ not because I have some egotistical idea that what I write will change the world, but because I believe that every action we take to improve our personal (and others’) environment will ultimately make some difference, and because Gandhi said “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”.  Call it spreading the idea of good karma through positive influence, if you will.

I draw on my science background and love of the English language to (hopefully) write with an ‘informed’, informal bias towards the environment and against silly people (although I know we’re all only human in the end).  Sometimes there’ll be a random post about a more personal issue –  the frustrations of ink running out, how awesome my coffee cup is, or why I feel it’s okay to get out of bed on a Monday morning and face the world.  I’m influenced by my surroundings (especially on a sunny day), by my lower-middle-class-upper-working-class English upbringing, by the places I go, the people I meet, the books I read and my own personal opinions.

Which were formed, to a large extent, during my first 20 or so years.  This is perhaps because, as Sir Terry puts it, “Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.”  I know that I certainly haven’t stopped gaining experience… But there is such a lot to learn when you start out, isn’t there?

As a self-proclaimed bookworm, I used to read a whole lot.  These days I manage to bury my head in a chapter or two on the train during the daily commute, but time is limited (there seems to be so much less as you get older, don’t you think?)  However, I still find time for my favourite author of all time, Terry Pratchett.  His witty, cynical, satirical and often downright laugh-out-loud fantasy novel series, Discworld, has had me hooked for the past 15 years (at least).  TP writes with an eloquent, fluent style which somehow manages to portray a flat world balancing on the backs of four elephants who are in turn standing on top of a giant turtle swimming slowly through space as a parody of our own in a funny, sharp and engaging way.  His ideas on, for example, cats (“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”), creation (“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.”), and human existence (“The most important problem is we’re trying to understand the fundamental workings of the universe via a language designed for telling each other where the fruit is.”) have inevitably influenced me (I am a cat worshipper, an atheist, and a biologist. Go figure).

And although I’m not nearly as witty as Sir Terry, I like to think I’ve got a good dose of his cynicism, sarcasm and general outlook on life, along with a love of fantasy (on which subject TP says, “Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can.”)

In writing style, TP originally wrote whole books without a single chapter.  He would separate periods of action between different characters with long paragraph breaks, and occasionally a line of asterisks.  He also tended to use a lot of footnotes.  These days I’ve noticed that chapters are appearing in his novels, but perhaps this is in response to his Alzheimer’s disease, making it easier to keep track of the order of things.  Or perhaps his writing style has just changed.


I don’t write novels.  Or at least, I haven’t completed one yet.  If I did I would probably use chapters. In blogging I have been known to use headers (occasionally), bullet points (rarely), and pictures (quite often, to make things more interesting).  But the influence of Sir Terry is still there in the long – and short – sentences, occasional comment that seems pretty random, and dry tone that I have been told sometimes crawls out from the woodwork to make itself heard.

I hope that I write eloquently enough.  Sometimes I even try for humour.  Perhaps I’m less cynical than I think I ought to be, since the introduction of the idea that humanity will inevitably destroy itself (consider: “Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it.  If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch.  PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.”)  Perhaps this is because I believe that the world is, in spite of everything, a pretty awesome place.  It’s a good thing to notice the negative aspects, the problems we are causing (locally, globally, in nature and amongst ourselves), and the issues which need action.  This will lead us towards a better living environment, and in the end, that’s what we’re all aiming for, isn’t it?

But let’s not lose sight of the big picture.  Burying yourself in cynicism and disillusionment won’t make your world a better place.  Face it, life’s pretty funny.  If Terry Pratchett can find humour in the chaos of society, and quiet dignity in the face of an illness which is whittling away at his mind, I think anybody can.  So let’s go out there and be positive.  Be realistic.  Be hopeful.

Most of all, let’s have a laugh.  I think that’s what Terry Pratchett would say.

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