Can seaweed farming save the coral reefs?

*Here is a piece from graduate school, where I began to learn about seaweed farming as an alternative to fishing and combining conservation with development*

The Web of Causality of Carrageenan in the Philippines

Barbara Clabots, 2012. 

Social and ecological background of the Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines is an archipelagic nation in Southeast Asia made up of 7,107 islands containing 300,000 square kilometers (CIA). It is situated in a tropical marine climate with relatively high temperatures, high humidity, and abundant rainfall (DA 1996). The monsoon season in the Northeast of the nation is from November to April, and in the Southwest it is from May to October (CIA). It is one of the most geologically unstable areas of the globe, regularly facing typhoons, landslides, and volcanic eruptions (CIA). The population is currently 103 million people, 60 percent of who already live in coastal areas (CIA, DENR 2001). Combined with a high concentration of population and economic activity in coastal areas, it is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change (CIA).

The economy of the Philippines has been deeply impacted by its history as a Spanish colony and subsequently a U.S. territory (Ricklefs 2010). Foreign powers have had heavy influence on the economy since the 1890’s, when North Europeans and Americans began to monopolize the import-export market (Ricklefs 2010: 210). When the Philippines became a U.S. territory in 1898, the economy became linked to that of the U.S, and political independence became constrained by economic dependence (250). Even in post-independence Philippines, the pursuit of economic development has been consistently dominated by oligarchic control of production and ties with the U.S., through both trade and aid (Ricklefs 2010: 387).

The Republic is a democracy that faces real social and political challenges. International debt servicing forced the government into heavy domestic borrowing and deficit spending in the 80’s (Ricklefs 2010). Abuse of power and financial corruption by politicians are major concerns, as well as high population growth rate and inequitable distribution of income (Ricklefs 2010, CIA). Muslims make up only 5% of the population and there are high levels of poverty and social unrest in the Muslim-dominated Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) (CIA, ARMM Historical Background). Failure of the government to enforce land reform in the 1980’s has perpetuated the continued dominance of landlords, which caused unrest among landless peasants (Ricklefs 2010: 393). Though access to land may be restricted, the coastline and marine environment are public resources. In 1991, local governments became empowered through the Local Government Code that was created to devolve powers of national agencies to Local Government Units (LGU’s) (Ricklefs 2010: 441).

The nation faces many environmental issues. As the economy of the Philippines transformed from subsistence to export in the 1800’s, agricultural expansion cleared lowland forests, causing flooding and occasional droughts, and uncontrolled deforestation continues today (Ricklefs 2010: 210, CIA). Other significant environmental concerns include soil erosion, air and water pollution from urban centers, and pollution of mangrove swamps (CIA). Coral reefs are also under severe pressure- over 90% of them are threatened (Burke et al. 2002). The greatest threat to reefs is unsustainable, illegal, and over- fishing (Burke et al. 2002). Growing tourism, population, and industries are also increasing coastal development that exert direct and indirect pressure on reefs (Burke et al. 2002)

Fish are a socially and economically coastal resource for many Filipinos. Fish form a major part of the diet, even in urban populations (Burke et al. 2002). Small-scale fisheries traditionally make up more than 50% of total marine fisheries production in the Philippines (Hoegh et al. 2009).

Many people spend their time foraging local waters for fish, invertebrates and seaweeds for either direct consumption or sale in local markets. In addition to local subsistence fisheries, communities may also participate in pelagic fisheries such as tuna, the live reef fish trade, as well as the trade in aquarium fish. The live reef fish trade has flourished in recent years due to the growing demand from China and Taiwan (Hoegh et al. 2009).

In the past, coastal areas and resources in the Philippines were maintained by the fact that there was a limited demand for the essential resources of space and economically valuable fish and other items, but this is no longer the case, due to a combination of factors such as population growth, increased resource extraction, and unsustainable fishing methods (DENR 2001: 31). In 2003, the Philippines ranked 11th in the world in terms of fish production and fisheries exports 2003 were valued at US$525.4 million (Burke et al. 2002). Unsustainable fishing methods have been used to keep up with market demand and have gained a significant amount of attention by the international public, especially conservation organizations (Hoegh et al. 2009).

Seaweed farming and carrageenan processing

Seaweeds are an economically significant coastal resource in the Philippines that accounts for 70% of their aquaculture (BFAR 2009). Though fresh seaweed is highly valued in restaurants, this use will not be included in further analysis (Hurtado 2003). Carrageenan is derived from a red algae or seaweed, and Euchema denticulatum (formerly spinosum) and Kappaphycus alvarezii are the two main species of seaweed grown for carrageenan production (McHugh 2003). 85-90%tof the seaweed farmed in the Philippines is K. alvarezii (Hurtado 2001). Carrageenan is used globally as a binder, stabilizer, emulsifier, and gelling agent in food (dairy and processed meat) and personal care products (Bixler and Porse 2010). It is also used in pet food (McHugh 2003). Carrageenan accounts for 87% of all exported seaweed in the Philippines, a total of 1.7 million MT annually (BFAR 2009). The total market for carrageenan has a value of about US$ 300 million (McHugh 2003).

Coastal Filipinos do the farming of seaweed for carrageenan mostly on a small scale, either individually, within the family, or through a cooperative. Though there are 800 documented species of seaweed in the Philippines, a monoculture of Euchema sp. or K. alvarezii is standard (BFAR 2009, McHugh 2003). Culture methods most often used are either a fixed bottom line or floating monoline and raft (McHugh 2003, BFAR 2009). It is simple to cultivate, requires low initial capital, and earns a high return on investment (Crawford 2002). Females and children, not traditionally part of fishing, are involved in aquaculture (Crawford 2002). Women work to tie propagules on lines and tend the lines alongside their husbands (Crawford 2002). The farming is labor intensive- harvesting involves diving and is usually done by men (Halwart et al. 1999). In Tawi-tawi there are some female caretakers of the farms (Halwart et al. 1999). More than 80,000 families were involved nationwide a decade ago, but all small islands are producing seaweeds now (Trono 2000, DA 1996). Though it was considered an alternative livelihood in the 80’s, it has since grown to an especially important primary livelihood in the ARMM, particularly Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, which now produces 70-80% of the nation’s seaweed (BFAR 2009). Once seaweed is harvested it needs to be dried. Farmers usually dry the seaweed then sell it to a middleman or trader who purifies it and sells it to a producer (McHugh 2003).

The purifying and processing of seaweed into carrageenan often occurs prior to export. The Philippines has the largest carrageenan refining industry in Asia (Bindu and Levine 2010). Many processing facilities are located near major production sites in the Philippines (McHugh 2003). Processing mainly occurs in Cebu, Zamboanga, Metro Manila, and Laguna (DA 1996). It is filtered, condensed, and either alcohol precipitation or gel-pressing is used to make refined and semi-refined products (McHugh 2003). 58% of all seaweed produced is processed into semi-refined chips/carrageenan, 31% are exported raw (dried), and the remaining 11% are processed into refined carrageenan (BFAR 2009). Originally many smaller companies did processing, but now a few Filipino-owned companies dominate processing: Shemberg Corp, PCI Worldwide, TBK and Marcel Trading Corp (Bixler and Porse 2010). There are also a few Western companies that do primary production and processing in the Philippines, including Cargill, CPKelco, and FMC (Bixler and Porse 2010). After refinement and processing, the carrageenan is ready for export and further use. The major importers of seaweed produced in the Philippines are the USA, Germany, and the UK (BFAR 2009).

 

Web of causality

In Breakfast of Biodiversity, Vandermeer and Perfecto identify a “web of causality” as the source of rain forest destruction in the Tropics (1995). It is centered around the production of a commodity (rain forest trees), and the primary users or harvesters of that commodity (Central American peasants). The web then expands to include secondary users (producers and consumers) of the commodity, the market and financing structure, the government, and environmental conditions. This framework will be applied to the commodity of seaweed and further production of carrageenan.

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Web at the local scale

It is necessary to begin with the web of causality framework as applied to the local scale of the Philippines. There are a handful of key participants in the local production, processing, and consumption of carrageenan. The relationships are represented in Figure 1. In the Philippines, the industry employs between 100,000-120,000 people, 90% of who are seaweed farmers (“farmer”), and the rest are processors and traders (BFAR 2009). To limit the scope, this analysis will focus on impacts on the farmers because they make up a significant part of the labor force. It is important to note that anyone considered a seaweed farmer, unless it is a woman or child, is generally also a resident of the coastal environment and a fisherman, even if only for subsistence.

Farmers often lack capital and need a loan to buy seeds and equipment to begin a seaweed farm (Best Practices 2010). Loans from government agencies or processors indebt the farmer until he has a successful harvest and can pay them back. The prices paid to the farmers are generally quite low compared to the profits that are being made by secondary processors via the end products (Bindu and Levine 2010). Interest paid to financers can take away up to 75% of potential profits, reducing the farmer’s ability to change his economic situation (Best Practices 2010). When farmers fail to make good on loans to processors, sometimes traders take over financing. However, if farmers can find a better price for their harvest with another trader, the trader will lose his investment. Sometimes farmers accumulate their harvest waiting for a better price, but they risk the seaweed spoiling. The end result has been a general decline in available financing for seaweed farmers and a trend of low prices for the raw product (Habito 2011).

A few significant local drivers of production are low-interest loans and programs implemented by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). BFAR has worked to increase productivity nationwide through deliberate efforts in research and extension (Habito 2011). BFAR established seaweed nurseries, promoted seaweed health management, provided post-harvest facilities and established a pilot semi-processing plant (BFAR 2009). Though these efforts may increase harvests, raising productivity can flood the market and cause prices of seaweed to drop. This results in the local buyers and traders offering lower prices to the farmer. If the value of the raw seaweed drops too much, the farmer will abandon the crop and take up other livelihoods. If he abandons the crop, then local marine life gain a food source, but any tools he used to fix the crop, such as plastic or metal stakes, will remain in the marine environment as well. The farmer may have the opportunity to either return to or increase his efforts in unsustainable fishing practices.

Seaweed harvest and value is limited by multiple social factors. BFAR has identified pollution in production areas, inadequate supply of dried seaweeds for processing leading to processors’ losses, and the peace and order situation in seaweed-producing areas as factors limiting profits from harvest (BFAR 2009). Market growth and introduction of simpler processing contributed to an increase in the number of small processing companies in the Philippines, though many operate at 50 percent capacity and may be struggling to survive (McHugh 2003).

Certain local ecological factors limit the amount and quality of seaweed harvested. Harvests fluctuate drastically by season and are particularly low during monsoon season. Monsoons bring strong wave action, lower water temperature, and lower salinity because of heavy rains and flooding (Hurtado 2001). Lower salinity leads to ice-ice disease that can ruin a crop and strong waves can physically destroy entire farms (Largo 1995, Hurtado 2001). Herbivory can cause losses of up to 30% of the crop’s biomass, as many marine organisms eat seaweeds, especially siganids (rabbit fish) and sea urchins (farming study). Other marine life, especially sea grasses, compete with the seaweed for resources of light and nutrients (Hurtado 2001). Wild seaweeds considered non-epiphytic “foulers” often compete directly on the line with farmed seaweed (Hurtado 2001).

Positive social outcomes are increased fish catches due to rabbit fish being attracted to the farm, and economic growth leading to peace and development in Mindanao (Habito 2011). Unfortunately, seaweed farming has not been correlated with a reduction in destructive fishing practices (Crawford 2002). This is due to several factors- the time needed to tend the seaweed does not overlap fishing times of the day, and when the women are involved tending the crop, the man of the house is free to fish. This does not, however, mean that promoting seaweed farming is negative for the community- in fact, it does provide an income and also promotes community-based resource management (Crawford 2002).

Seaweed farming is generally considered a non-destructive form of aquaculture in comparison with other activities (Crawford 2002). There are positive outcomes as well as slightly or potentially negative ecological outcomes. Some marine organisms gain an extra source of food (Bindu and Levine 2010). However, through competition for light, seaweeds can cause coral mortality by the overgrowth and shading of colonies, and off bottom cultivation can also directly harm corals (Sievenan 2005, Crawford 2002). They also can out compete other marine plants for sunlight and deplete water of nutrients (Bixler and Porse 2010). Biotechnology through genetic modification is used to improve seeds, enhance growth, resist disease, and endure adverse environmental conditions (DA 1996). These seaweeds are already highly successful in varied environments because they have high growth rates, asexual reproduction via fragmentation, and can be resistant to grazing in foreign environments (Bindu and Levine 2010). The effects of interactions between wild and modified organisms in this situation are not yet well documented (Bindu and Levine 2010). Another concern is the direct loss of mangroves for harvestable sea space and for raw materials; mangroves are an important ecosystem for juvenile fish and water filtration (Crawford 2002).

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Web at the global scale

The production of carrageenan does not end at local refinement and processing. Figure 2 illustrates the web as applied to a global scale. As previously noted, major importers of carrageenan are developed nations, namely USA, Germany, and the UK (BFAR 2009). Further processing leads to food and personal care products that are also consumed in developed nations. Similar to John Vandermeer’s model of disarticulation of the economies of the Global North and South, the product and labor begins in the Global South, but the residents of the South cannot afford the end products of shampoos and ice cream. This leads the economy of the Global North to grow as the money made by residents of the North is spent on products made in the North (Vandermeer and Perfecto 1995). However, considering the web around carrageenan, money and support given to conservation NGO’s is actually linked back to increased seaweed production. Conservation groups also aim to decrease destructive fishing by directly protecting no-take zones, or Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These MPAs sometimes exclude any economic or extractive activity; so coastal people are sometimes not only kept from fishing certain areas, but also barred from the potential of farming seaweed. There is at least one case of increased conflict over marine tenure to farm, in Bunaken Park (Crawford 2002).

There are multiple global drivers of production, including governments and conservation NGOs. Seaweed farming has been lauded as a success in creating economic opportunity for poor coastal peoples. This has motivated nations around the world, from Fiji to India to Kenya to create similar government and aid-backed programs promoting seaweed farming (Bindu and Levine 2010). Considering the impacts of these programs and its affect back on the Filipino seaweed farmer will not be included in the expanded web. Farmer training programs and funding has been incorporated into many coastal management projects in Indonesia and the Philippines (Sievenan 2005). Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund have programs that promote it as an alternative livelihood in an effort to reduce unsustainable fishing (Conservation International, Stysliner 2011). Their campaigns do not publicly address the concern of Crawford (2002) that farming often does not reduce fishing effort. Support for seaweed farming is even coming from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., citing other benefits of using it as a sustainable source of biofuel, supplying a cheap protein source, and sequestering carbon emissions (Stysliner 2011).

 

Discussion

Increased global production will interplay with the market demand and the effects of these factors on the farmer should be considered when promoting industry growth. There is a growing consumer demand for carrageenan used as filler in low fat and pre-cooked meat products (McHugh 2003). However, even though production capacity in the Philippines is already over-built, facilities continue to be built in China and eastern Africa (McHugh 2003). These new operations could result in the export of processing, causing overall economic loss to the Philippines, or the new operations could fail if there is not sufficient demand. If overall production increases and market demand does not similarly increase, the value of the seaweed will decrease, ultimately putting the farmer out of work and driving him to fishing practices that may be unsustainable (Habito 2011). If production is held constant and market demand increases, the value of the seaweed will increase, directing the lion’s share of profits to everyone down the production chain from the farmer and still putting pressure on the coral reefs where he lives. The global commodity market may become increasingly volatile, and this unfortunately coincides with fluctuating environmental conditions.

Changing environmental conditions make it increasingly difficult to anticipate harvests, as there are factors such as water temperature and storm damage that cannot be controlled by the farmer. Sea surface temperatures in Southeast Asia are already near the thermal cap of 31°Celsius, and coastal reefs are expected to warm several degrees Celsius in the next century (Kleypas and Lough 2008, Munday et al. 2008). Warmer waters are associated with increased marine diseases, especially ice-ice disease (Munday et al. 2008, Haapkyla et al. 2011, Largo 1995). Increased intensity and frequency of storms may also damage crops (Munday et al. 2008). Considering these factors, increasing the economic dependence of coastal people on a highly variable system may not be the best strategy.

Instead of focusing on creating more seaweed farms just for carrageenan, it would be better for conservation groups and the Filipino government to take two new strategies. One, developing other markets and alternative livelihoods through sustainable use of other coastal resources would not only enhance economic opportunity for coastal people, it could maintain or reduce carrageenan market competition and increase the value of seaweed. Two, farming native species of seaweeds for direct consumption could actually reduce subsistence fishing efforts if people ate more of it instead of selling it. Also, farming multiple wild species of seaweed could increase the tolerance of harvests to disease and fluctuating environmental conditions. There is a global market for raw and dried seaweeds as food products, and they are increasingly popular in alternative and boutique groceries such as PCC Natural Markets in Seattle.

Multiple strategies should be used to reduce overfishing, including increasing food stability and financial security through alternative livelihoods other than farming. One way to increase the trickle of profits to the farmer is through fair-trade production. There is at least one example of a local program to increase fair-trade production in place in Tuwi-Tuwi, ARMM (Philippine Embassy 2008). Though applying fair-trade principles to the production would enhance economic benefits to the farmer, the Philippines will also be competing with fair-trade products that are already coming from Ireland, South Africa, and Indonesia. However, lower production and labor costs may still enable the Filipino companies to offer products at a lower cost than other nations.

Seaweed farms could also be encouraged as de-facto Marine Protected Areas, as many farmers spend a significant amount of time tending and guarding their crop. Giving landless people legal rights to marine tenure could reduce conflict like that seen in Bunaken Park. If there was an increase in the planting of seaweed for carbon sequestration, as the FAO proposes, then coral reefs may suffer from the increased competition. However, intentionally promoting productivity of the ocean could continue to bring positive benefits to coastal people if there were a diversity of “crops” and it was done sustainably; kind of like an organic garden.   Crawford (2002) points out the benefits of economic diversification and the need to adjust livelihood programs to each community. Reefs are intrinsically highly biodiverse and could be utilized in a more economically diverse way.

All of these strategies could be adapted for a local community in order to increase income for the farmer and reduce ecological impacts of farming seaweed. The overarching goal to reduce unsustainable fishing will not be accomplished by increased seaweed production alone.

 

References

ARMM Historical Background. Official website of Autonomous Regional Government of Muslim Mindanao. Accessed 1 March 2012. http://www.armm.gov.ph/

Asian Development Bank (ADB). (2009) The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A regional overview. http://www.adb.org/documents/books/economics-climate-change-sea/default.asp

Best Practices in Local Governance. (2010) Seaweed Farming (Bien Unido, Bohol). 31 Jan 2012. http://lga.gov.ph/bestpractices/home/11.html

Bindu, M. and Levine, I. (2010). The commercial red seaweed- Kappaphycus alvarezii-an overview on farming and the environment. Journal of Applied Phycology 23: 789-796.

Bixler, H. and Porse, H. (2010) A Decade of Change in the Seaweed Hydrocolloid Industry. Journal of Applied Phycology. Published online 22 May 2010.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). (2009) Philippine Fisheries Profile. Department of Agriculture, Philippines. Dilliman, Q.C.

Burke L, Selig L, and Spalding M. (2002) Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia. World Resources Institute, Washington DC.

Card, Virginia. (2002) “Algae.” Biology. Ed. Richard Robinson. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. 20-22. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook. Accessed 28 Feb 2012.

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rp.html

Conservation International. (2012) Global Marine Initiatives: Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape. Accessed 6 March 2012.

http://www.conservation.org/sites/marine/initiatives/seascapes/sulu_sulawesi/Pages/sulusulawesi.aspx

Crawford, B. (2002) Seaweed Farming- An Alternative Livelihood for Small-Scale Fishers? Coastal Resources Center, University of Rhode Island.

Department of Agriculture of the Philippines (DA). (1996) Philippines: Country Report. FAO International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources. Leipzig, Germany.

De Silva, S. (1992) Tropical Mariculture. Academic Press, New York. pp.28-29.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Department of Agriculture, and Department of the Interior and Local Government. (2001) Philippine Coastal Management Guidebook No. 1: Coastal Management Orientation and Overview. Coastal Resource Management Project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Cebu City, Philippines, 58 p.

Garcia, B. (2012) Agri exec: Climate change affects seaweed production. Sun Star Publishing, Inc. 30 Jan 2012.

http://www.sunstar.com.ph/zamboanga/local-news/2011/09/12/agri-exec-climate-change-affects-seaweed-production-178952

Haapkyla, J., Unsworth, R., Flavell, M., Bourne, D., and Schaffelke, B., et al. (2011) Seasonal Rainfall and Runoff Promote Coral Disease on an Inshore Reef. PLoS ONE 6(2): e16893.

Habito, C. (2011) No free lunch: Sustaining Seaweeds. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Nov 1, 2011. Accessed 29 Feb 2012.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/16365/sustaining-seaweeds

Halwart, M., Kumar, D., Bondad-Reantaso, M., Overton, L., and Balzer, P. FAO Fisheries Report No. 611. Papers presented to FAO/NACO consultation on aquaculture for sustainable rural development. Chiang Rai, Thailand. 29-31 March 1999.

http://books.google.com/books?id=0kai0Rl33zcC&pg=PA55&lpg=PA55&dq=seaweed+aquaculture+workers&source=bl&ots=RD2LYO2Cbl&sig=LTIUFdaQ_zGmnV144tkkJOPbsM8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3WdJT76TMsGpiAKyofjaDQ&ved=0CFsQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=seaweed%20aquaculture%20workers&f=false

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Hoegh-Guldberg, H., Veron, J.E.N., Green, A., Gomez, E. D., Lough, J., King, M., Ambariyanto, Hansen, L., Cinner, J., Dews, G., Russ, G., Schuttenberg, H. Z., Peñaflor, E.L., Eakin, C. M., Christensen, T. R. L., Abbey, M., Areki, F., Kosaka, R. A., Tewfik, A., and Oliver, J. (2009) The Coral Triangle and Climate Change: Ecosystems, People and Societies at Risk. WWF Australia, Brisbane, 276 pp.

Hurtado, A., Agbayani, R., Sanares, R., and Teresa, Ma. (2001) The seasonality and economic feasibility of cultivating Kappaphycus alvarezii in Panagatan Cays, Caluya, Antique, Philippines. Aquaculture 199: 295-310.

Largo, D., Fukami, K., Nishijima, T., and Ohno, M. (1995) Laboratory-induced development of the ice-ice disease of the farmed red algae Kappaphycus alvarezii and Euchema denticulatum (Solieriaceae, Gigartinales, Rhodophyta). Journal of Applied Phycology 7: 539-543.

McHugh, D. (2003) A Guide to the Seaweed Industry-FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 441. Rome, Italy.

Munday, P., Jones, G., Pratchett, M., and Williams, A. (2008) Climate change and the future for coral reef fishes. Fish and Fisheries, 9, 261-285.

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http://www.census.gov.ph/

Parker, P. (2009) Import and Export Market for Seaweeds and Other Algae in Asia. ICON Group Ltd. Singapore & Fontainebleau, France.

Philippine Embassy Webmaster. (2008) Seaweed Master Plan All Set. 31 Jan 2012. http://www.philippine-embassy.de/bln/index.php?Itemid=217&id=494&option=com_

content&task=view

Ricklefs, M.C., Lockhard, B., Lau, A., Reyes, P., and Aung-Thwin, M. (2010) A New History of Southeast Asia. Palgrave Macmillan. New York, NY.

Sievenan, L., Crawford, B., Pollnac, R., and Lowe, C. (2005) Weeding through assumptions of livelihood alternatives in ICM: Seaweed farming in the Philippines and Indonesia. Ocean & Coastal Management 48: 297-313.

Stysliner, M. (2011) Innovation of the week: Climate smart seaweed farming. 23 Dec. 2011. Accessed 5 March 2012. http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet/innovation-of-the-week-climate-smart-seaweed-farming/

Trono, G. (2000) Environmental implications of seaweed farming. First Mindanao Seaweed Congress. 26–27 April 2000, Zamboanga City, Philippines.

Vandermeer, J. and Perfecto, I. (1995) Breakfast of Biodiversity-The Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction. 2nd ed. Food First Books. Oakland, CA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grow a garden of clams

It shouldn’t have surprised me to learn that there is evidence of clam gardening from Washington through British Columbia and up to Alaska. The Coast Salish tribes are  globally known for existing on a bounty of salmon, but the middens of herring bones and bivalve shells found along the coast here are strong evidence that these were a significant part of the diet as well.

A traditional method of salmon cooking -Indian Country Today

A familiar image of salmon cooking –Indian Country Today

Similar to rice terraces, where the steep slopes of a hill are graded and supported with rock walls, the clam garden is a form of aquaculture called mariculture- or “sea farming”. As demand for seafood continues to rise globally, the World Bank, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and many others are looking for ways to farm more seafoods more efficiently. I know many people who reject aquaculture as a solution to food production because they’d rather focus on reducing over harvesting, but I suspect that mostly they are thinking about how unsustainable farming carnivorous fish, like salmon, has been. This idealism I hear so often among ocean conservationists doesn’t take into account that no matter your personal opinion, aquaculture is the only growing food sector globally for a few years now. Further, the environmental footprint and energy costs of seafoods varies widely, where shellfish seems to have the lowest environmental cost and can even improve water quality. [After reading The Evolving Sphere of Food Security out of Stanford I am more familiar with these nuances of energy needs for food production and believe that we must look carefully at how aquaculture practices vary]

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Local clams, including native littlenecks and butters. -WDFW

 

Scientists from Simon Fraser University and University of Washington looked at modern clam gardens and planted multiple species to compare the growth of wild clams versus farmed clams. By digging and changing the shape and water circulation of the intertidal zone, you can essentially create more prime habitat for shellfish. This resulted in four times as many butter clams and twice as many littleneck clams, as well as faster growth rates. This is really incredible results for what is essentially organic, low impact farming of healthy proteins!

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Clam gardens from B.C. -Groesbeck et al.

Now, if only we could convince Seattle Tilth to add some clam gardening projects into the home gardening movement that has gotten such a foothold in the community, I’d be- you guessed it- happy as a clam.

Continue reading

Smoked salmon and oysters for the holidays- a healthy choice?

Around the holidays, smoked salmon and oysters are crowd pleasers in the Pacific Northwest. Well, to be honest, they are crowd pleasers all year round, but winter is a time for party platters of smoked salmon and oysters. Which got me to thinking- if some people choose to avoid barbecued meats in the summer months because of the risk of consuming carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), should they also be considering smoked salmon in the winter months? What about oysters? Does it matter if they are smoked or raw?

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Zero results. Not helpful.

Well, with a bit of research into the issue we can start to answer that question. I consider Nat Geo to have the best seafood consumer decision making guide that actually has information about human health risks and benefits, so I checked that out. Nope, smoked fish is not an option on the seafood finder, but we do know wild salmon has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than farmed salmon, so we can already label smoked farmed salmon as less heart healthy. But does the smoking process alter those omega-3s? A 2011 letter to the editor from Harvard Heart Letter has insight from Norweigan fish nutrition scientist Marit Espe, who found that the smoking process does not alter the amount of omega-3’s. While it does matter for heart health whether your salmon was raised in the ocean or in a farm, perhaps baked is as good as smoked. The carcinogens on barbecued meats are on the most blackened parts, so it is possible that smoked salmon is healthier than blackened salmon. That is, unless the amount of sodium in smoked fish counteracts the omegas. So many questions and so few answers!

Oyster nutritional profile- it's missing some important info!

Oyster nutritional profile- it’s missing some important info!

Oysters are a different story. They already have a rainbow of benefits: omega-3s, Vitamin A, Vitamin B-12, Iron, Magnesium, thiamine and niacin, and a bonus of zinc to aid your immune system in the sickly winter months. Now, would your oysters have carcinogenic PAHs? They could, if you had smoked oysters that were doused in liquid smoke, according to a 1993 study by Gomaa et al. So, the amount of PAHs in liquid smoke would deserve just as much consideration as real smoke. I’ll take my oysters raw, thank you.

That’s all I could find, folks. Some of these resources were a bit outdated, so please chime in or Tweet at me if you have anything to share.

*Disclaimer: This is a blog, not a way to replace your doctor.

For more information on cancer causing compounds from barbecuing meats, see the National Cancer Institute’s site.

Oyster nutrition facts from Granatta et al. The Seafood Industry: Species, products, processing, and safety. 2012. 2nd edition. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Are fisheries activists and researchers afraid of being seen as Feminists?

womenandfish:

“Despite the denigration of feminism, in the popular media and in the jokes casually traded by men, feminism is the “radical notion that women are people”, and so, have equal rights.” Letter from Yemaya editor

Originally posted on GENDER IN AQUACULTURE AND FISHERIES:

In the July 2013 edition of Yemaya, the gender and fisheries newsletter of the International Collective in Support of Small-scale Fishworkers (ICSF), the Editor, Nilanjana Biswas, pointed out that women fisheries activists were frequently afraid of being branded “feminists” because of the pejorative connotations of the term. And yes, she wrote,  “feminism is the ‘radical notion that women are people’, and so, have equal rights“. [See also our glossary explanation of the origins and use of the term feminism – http://genderaquafish.org/resources-3/glossary-of-terms/].

This observation about the resistance to being branded a feminist arose partly as an overall reaction to the challenges facing women in small-scale (and other) fisheries, but also directly from the Yemaya report, by Natalia Tavares de Azevedo and Naina Pierri, on the June 2013 International Congress on Women in Artisanal Fisheries. After this South and Central American event, Natalia and Naina wrote:

A striking point in the discussion was…

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1st anniversary of questioning misogyny in fisheries

Today is the 1st anniversary of the first post on womenandfish, and as it is June 8, it is also #worldoceansday .  Yesterday, I successfully made it through my thesis defense and presented my research to a room full of friends, family, and colleagues.  I answered a few great questions- one in particular I am still chewing on.

In response to my results (specifically those in the post Becoming butterflies) my buddy Raz asked, “Is the level of misogyny in Siquijor going to limit the ability of women to participate in fisheries management?”  The short answer is no, because while it may limit it today, it doesn’t have to limit it tomorrow.  Let’s continue with two examples.

1) In the field, I completed an interview with a female Bureau of Fisheries staff who thought it was incomprehensible that women could or should guard marine protected areas from poachers.  After I turned off the recorder, I told her about the women in Maite who approached violators on the beach day and night.  Her eyebrows raised, her eyes went big, and she said, “really?!” I think her opinion on what women can do changed in that moment, and a big window of opportunity flew open.

2) Also in the field, when I ended a presentation of my preliminary results, the group of 30+ was very quiet for a few moments.  And then a hand raised and a man asked, “So, do you think women make better project managers? Because that is also what I am beginning to observe in the mountains with land management.”  I explained that perhaps sometimes they do make better project managers, but I don’t mean to say that we should be excluding men from fisheries management.  Androgyny will not serve us any better than misogyny.  It is very likely that some of the fishermen in attendance were embarrassed by the quotes I had captured from them that were degrading to women.  Fishermen are half the story and I do not support pushing them aside.

These two examples illustrate that misogyny is not the end of the story, but only a moment in time.  Exposure to new things challenges and shapes our worldviews whether we are American or Filipino, highly educated or barely literate, woman or man.  As I have talked and written a lot about what the women in Maite had accomplished, it seemed that around the island, and even around the world, people are interested in the possibilities that women bring to the table of environmental management.  The exchange of information pokes holes in people’s perceptions of women.  I have seen that the consequences of sharing what I’ve learned is real, and it can have a positive impact not only on women’s well being but also on our planet ocean and our global village.  So let’s celebrate #worldoceansday by flinging open the windows of opportunity for women. Please share this story with a friend.

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Enforcement of MPAs

In response to my cousin Benny’s questions…my last post could use a little more background information.  Here is how enforcement of the MPA works.

Most people guarding the sanctuary are normal community members; I would say that usually they do not carry weapons unless they are authorized to do so as a deputized Fish Warden and issued one.  If you are guarding and catch a violator, you have options.  As I saw a few times, the women pulled out whistles and yelled at violators who were walking the tide flat and searching for creatures to eat.  These are considered warnings and are often undocumented.

If you catch someone fishing in the MPA and you are not a deputized Fish Warden (Bantay dagat) then you can not arrest them.  You have to contact the police; they have to come directly to the site or get some bantay dagat together in a boat and cruise to the site.  The bantay dagat do not receive many benefits; one of the things that diver’s users fees can go towards is ensuring that a bantay dagat’s family will receive money if he/she dies while on duty.

These are their outfits; only Belyn on the left is a deputized fish warden, the other women are wearing their husband’s gear.

And here’s how it played out in one story Belyn told me:

She and her husband were on patrol one night, probably shining the flashing around the area like usual, when they caught an illegal fisherman.  When they approached him, he dropped his net and ran.  She ran the half mile or so to the police station, but by the time they came back, the man had returned to take his net and disappeared.  Even though she can identify the violator, she can not do anything about it other than write it down in the police logbook.

One of the big challenges is the intrusion of commercial fishing boats within what is legally declared the property of the local government (15 km from the coast).  The boats can come from anywhere in the Philippines, or even Malaysia or China, and what is the local government to do? They are no match against the guns and political power of commercial fishing fleets.

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Fighting over fish

This is an excerpt from a group interview with the fishermen who guard their MPA in Caticugan, Siquijor.

Me: Has there been conflict about the sanctuary?

Fisher 1: Hard headed fishermen. That is the conflict.

Fisher 2: Mountain minded fishermen.

Fisher 1: Because some of the hard headed fishermen shot our president and …

Me: Sorry?

Fisher 2: They had a triple 7 gun.

Me: They shot at you?

Fisher 2: Yeah.

Me: Were you guarding or were you…?

Fisher 2: Roaming the road, (I was) walking the road and got shot by those boys.

 And then he describes how he was shot four times in the leg and shows me the scars.

Me: (Were they) fishermen from this community?

Fisher 1: Illegal fishers.

Me: What kind of illegal fishing do they do?

Fisher 1: (They use) triple nets and trammel nets.

Me: Is it dangerous to be a part of the sanctuary?

Fisher 1: Yeah. (It is) dangerous. I am scared but I still watch the marine sanctuary… I believe in God so there is no danger.

These men are husbands, fathers, and children.  They volunteer to guard the local coral reef for 24 hour shifts once a week.  They hope that there will be enough fish someday that their children will be able to earn more than $2 a day.  Hats off to you, guys.  I know few men so brave.