A Fancy Feast revelation, and the saga of sustainable seafood

Probably most people reading this blog are a lot like you and me – we care enormously about nature and our environment. The planet is numero uno in my book, baby. Being in the mix, working for an environmental group, I’m surrounded by good influencers and bastions of knowledge who make conscientious decisions everyday to make less of a destructive impact. But I still get excited when I have an environmental epiphany all on my own!

A few days ago, I was strolling around Target with my wonderful mom (pre-3.am. Thanksgiving sale insanity), picking up a few essentials: Tom’s toothpaste, an ironing board and cat food for my mom’s fluff ball of love. We were reviewing the selections of Fancy Feast, deciding on what delectable flavors Bella would be in the mood for over the next month. There was roasted turkey, marinated chicken morsels, grilled beef (pass on the grilled liver), and flaked tuna and shrimp feast.

… Hold on there a second. Tuna and shrimp feast?! I looked some more, and also spotted a can of shredded yellowfin tuna and savory salmon! I immediately flipped the can over to look at the ingredients listing. There it was: tuna as the second item. I guess not having a cat of my own, I was always ignorantly inclined to believe that cat (and dog) food was made mostly of meat by-products and some sort of soy or wheat product to hold it all together (unless of course you shop at those gourmet pet supply places or bake your own doggie biscuits).

But there it was, right in front of my very nose – a source of seafood consumption that never once crossed my mind before. “Holy Cow!” I exclaimed, as my mom could visibly see the lightbulb click on. “We can’t get this – we don’t know if the fish is sustainably sourced or not!” My mom did a secret eye-roll but lovingly obliged and switched out the tuna for more chicken.

I came back to the office to do some quick research – I didn’t turn up anything conclusive, but from personal experience I estimate there to be at least half a million domestic felines in San Diego county alone! How much fancy feast consumption that amounts to on an annual basis I can only imagine to literally be tons.

Fact of the matter is, our house pets are very significant contributors to seafood consumption.  And while I go around handing out seafood watch cards like sticks of gum, I never thought to talk to my friends about pet food. There aren’t really any alternative canned options on the market right now, though Mars PetCare, makers of Whiskas and Sheba, have recently committed to use only sustainably sourced fish in all its pet food by 2020.  It’s a step in the right direction, but a good reminder that supporting sustainable fisheries doesn’t just impact people – we need sustainable fisheries so humans and cats alike can continue on with their fancy feasting!

Published in Marine Conservation

Save the boos for Halloween, not for children speaking their minds

I heard my first “BOO!” of the year…but it wasn’t for Halloween.

megaphone1Last Wednesday, over 1000 Southern Californians attended the California Fish and Game Commission public hearing to comment on the Marine Life Protection Act that establishes marine protected areas (MPAs), aka Yosemites of the sea, along our California coast. As a self-proclaimed “educated and informed” youth, fresh out of graduate school with a Master’s in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, I was encouraged to see the hundreds of students from elementary to college level in attendance to express their desire for these underwater national parks. One speech given early in the day by a student from High Tech High School stood out to me. She was composed, elegant and intelligent in articulating her reasons for establishing a marine reserve.  When personally commended by one of the Commissioners for her presentation, she was also met with some rude booing from those with an opposing view.  Luckily, it was the only “boo” of that day, and I hope that most people were more respectful and dignified than to verbally harass someone with a different perspective.

To all those who mistake youth for stupidity…

We are a far cry from naïve and uninformed children you think we can be. The students in that room are not the ones following the flock. Quite the opposite, we know that we need to begin conserving our scarce resources. Our education only serves to empower us because we know what we have lost and what is at stake, but we know that we can begin taking back our future. We have power and conviction in our views. WE are the ones who will ultimately have to live with the decisions made today. But, our generation is taking the first steps toward change. It is our future and we are taking the opportunities to show our support and voice our opinions. Let’s restore our oceans and coasts by establishing a strong network of scientifically-supported MPAs.  

Everyone, regardless of age, should join San Diego Coastkeeper in the fight and voice your support for MPAs by sending a letter to the Fish and Game Commission before the vote in December!

Let’s leave the “BOOs” for Halloween.

Published in Marine Conservation

Can you imagine California without its parks?


Last weekend a close friend and I sat on the banks of a pristine glacial lake along the John Muir Trail, 12,000 feet above the madness of human development. In reverent silence we reflected on the magnificence of the park and our debt of gratitude to those who fought to protect it.

Can you imagine California without its parks?

In a world where natural beauty too easily falls prey to greed, where would California be without John Muir, Edward Abbey, and all those who have fought to keep the wilderness wild?

Today we find ourselves entrenched again in the age-old battle to protect that which cannot protect itself.  Our coastal wilderness has endured a century of unbridled assault and protective neglect.  Its remoteness has left its destruction out of sight and out mind while our local kelp forests bear more and more resemblance to the clear-cut wastelands of the Pacific Northwest.  


No more!  Does a vibrant kelp forest inspire less awe than a pine forest?  Is an underwater canyon less majestic than a granite peak?  Does a thresher shark deserve less respect than a black bear?  It’s time to extend park status to our states underwater treasures.  We can be the John Muirs of our generation.  We can make our children proud of us.  We can keep California wild.

The California Fish and Game Commission is holding a public comment hearing on Wednesday, October 20 to discuss whether and where to create underwater state parks along the southern California coast.  Get there and speak up.  Make South La Jolla the next Yosemite.  Make Swamis the next Kings Canyon.

See you there!

Published in Marine Conservation

Please eat this fish to extinction



Please eat this fish to extinction.

What an interesting idea. Personally I’ve never tried lionfish, but word on the street is that it is quite delectable. Lionfish are an invasive species (and aggressive predator) to the Atlantic. And to keep them from chomping their way to domination, NOAA developed an “Eat Lionfish” campaign.

It’s like a reverse seafood watch card – well, if only for this one species.

While it might be hard to get lionfish on the dock down at Point Loma, all you seafood eaters out there can rightfully eat the cr*p out of locally caught striped bass and still feel just as good.

Published in Marine Conservation

Save the Date for California Fish & Game Commission Meeting

If you had the opportunity to watch the absolutely “invigorating” meeting of the Fish and Game Commission on June 23 and June 24, you know that it was anything but. The only agenda item dedicated to the Marine Life Protection Act was the timeline for the approval of the south coast Marne Life Protection Act. This update modified the timeline for implementation by one month. As a result, we are not expecting the final adoption until at least November.

The delay is in large part due to the development of the California Environmental Quality Act’s (CEQA) Environmental Impact Report(EIR). CEQA, passed in 1970, requires an environmental impact study on any public or private development project in California. These reports are intended to fully inform both lawmakers and the public on the total environmental impacts of a given project. In this case, it will be the potential negative environmental impact of environmental protections. The irony.

Due to the size and population of Southern California, previous baselines and assumptions used for the central coast EIR could not be used for developing the EIR for Southern California; therefore, it will take longer than previously anticipated to develop.

This is just a minor change. One of the most important Fish and Game Commission meetings will still be the August 4 and 5 meeting in Santa Barabara, Calif. This meeting will be the last opportunity for the public to advocate our support for the strongest science-based option “proposal #3” directly to the Fish and Game Commissioners. We need as many supporters to attend as possible. If you are interested or can attend please contact me at Jeremya@sdcoastkeeper.org.

Published in Marine Conservation

Vote with your fork

A lot of people these days want to feel a sense of place in the things they eat. Whether they do it for culinary or environmental reasons, there’s a growing demand in San Diego for locally sourced food. You can easily find local citrus and squash at your neighborhood farmer’s market, but things get a lot murkier when it comes to seafood.  While there some notable ‘farm-to-table’ and ‘slow food’ exceptions to the rule, chances are when you’re biting into a fish taco in Ocean Beach or sushi in a fancy restaurant, the protein on your plate was caught thousands of miles away.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last year that more than three-fourths of the fish Americans eat comes from other countries.  You’d think San Diego might be the exception, since we’re right on the ocean.  But many of us tuck into Alaskan king crab or Chilean sea bass without a second thought.

Part of the reason it’s tough to find and support restaurants that serve local fish is because there just aren’t as many fish as there used to be. In the 1980s, we had a tuna fishing fleet to rival any in the world. Fishermen and processors would deliver fresh-caught tuna straight to markets and restaurants to be served that day.

Then the tuna fishery started to dwindle. Nowadays, the only thing we have that even comes close is our sardines, which are sustainable and local, but are mostly used as bait for larger fish. Even the restaurants that make a concerted effort to buy local often rely heavily on fish from places like Baja, China and Greece.

A recent New York Times article highlighted a similar challenge in San Francisco.  The decline of California fisheries has made it hard even for people in the Bay Area—where they invented the term locavore—to get local seafood. In 2007, California commercial fisheries landings were down by almost half from 2000, according to the National Ocean Economics Program. And the value had dropped by more than half, from $276.5 million to $120.2 million. We’re seeing the same troubling trend here in San Diego County, where the numbers of fishing boats, trips and processors are all steadily declining, along with commercial revenues.

Thankfully, California is in the midst of implementing the Marine Life Protection Act, a landmark law designed to restore declining sea life populations through a mixture of science and community input. The result will be a network of protected “underwater parks” where fish stocks can recover and grow.  Such networks are already in place between Half Moon Bay and Point Conception, and the wheels are in motion for creating protections for our home waters here in Southern California.

California is poised to set the gold standard for ocean protection, but we’ve got to meet the promise of the law with sound implementation. In August, the Fish and Game Commission voted to create a network of underwater parks from Mendocino to Half Moon Bay, protecting 155 square miles of vital kelp beds, canyons and rocky reefs where fish and shellfish feed and breed.  These protections will help support the recovery of depleted fisheries like rock fish and abalone.

Here in Southern California, Fish and Game is considering four possible marine protected area plans, weighing the importance of our ocean’s long-term health and productivity against short-term costs.  They will move forward with a final decision in the fall of 2010, after a thorough economic and scientific review of the options on the table. I for one hope they vote for strong protections—it’s an investment that will pay big dividends.

If we don’t take steps now to help our troubled ocean resources, we’ll continue to see more and more farmed fish or fish from far off places on our plates. I hope we can look forward to a day when the local yellowtail, halibut and swordfish that used to flourish in our waters come back in great numbers. Until then, I encourage you to vote with your fork and request local, sustainably harvested seafood from our nearby restaurants.

Published in Marine Conservation