The gender of sustainable seafood

In my recently published article on women’s health and seafood, there’s a short bit on how third party sustainable seafood certifiers don’t do a good job of providing information about health risks and benefits. This is based on my observations, as I have followed the movement since the 90’s. At the ripe age of 9, I began my journey into animal rights and a decade as a vegetarian. At the time, I had to accept the label of “lacto-ovo-pesctarian”. My dad convinced me that our halibut and salmon fisheries were sustainably managed, I loved eating fish, and I didn’t have the same sensitivity towards fish that I did towards animals raised in CAFOs. So, if we “gender analyze” that interaction- an older male strongly influenced a young woman’s eating habits…hmm… I think we’ll see this pattern again!

Another incident I described in the article occurred at Sustainable Seafood Week. I tried to help other attendees understand the relevance of women’s perception of risk and how they interact with the seafood market, and I suggested that it needed to be addressed by the industry. The response was surprising. It was almost as if the men were personally offended, and I swear one rolled his eyes when I spoke. If I were a more sensitive person, I would have been personally offended by their responses, but I’m really more offended on behalf of women seafood consumers. Why would a food producer go “meh” at the chance to expand their market and build loyal customers? Because it would be acknowledging that women have a legitimate concern and have the right to know exactly what toxins are in their seafood, and that goes against the entire history of modern seafood production.

I’d like to elaborate on this, because what I see in the sustainable seafood movement is grounded in a tendency towards gender-blindness in the entire environmental movement. This gender-blindness means that sustainable seafood promoters think they can advise the public about seafood without considering the gender of consumers.  This completely fails seafood consumers of every gender, who are often eating seafood because a) they like the taste and/or b) they have been told ‘seafood is healthy’.

The tricky part is– how do people weigh the risks and benefits to their health or the risks of unsustainable fishing practices? If you’re interested in the fat or toxin content  in your seafood, you might have noticed that the original sustainable seafood recommendations didn’t come with great nutritional information. I certainly noticed. And over the years, sustainable seafood recommendations have increased the nutritional information available, and on some sites you can now rank seafood by sustainability rating, omega 3 content, and mercury content. Still, there are problems with sustainable seafood.

  1. A seafood gets labelled “unsustainable” and then people get so entrenched with the old research, or one study, that when fishing practices do change, consumers still won’t accept it. Women have higher brand loyalty, and so obviously this hurts the industry.
  2. Consumers have been pushed into choosing environmental sustainability over human health, because most people don’t really understand the risks and benefits of seafood nutrition. Women are often the controller of nutrition in the household and choose food more often based on nutrition. And that’s not a bad thing, but it means to me they need better information, because perceived risk impacts brand loyalty.
  3. Women’s grocery budgets are fixed depending on how many mouths they have to feed (and we can see how women’s incomes really vary by race). So it’s not fair to women to say, “You should only be buying wild PNW fish” and then try to guilt them into it based on sustainability standards, because the cost of the local products just doesn’t compare in the grocery store.

Still not convinced that gender matters in the seafood industry? Check out this research:

Top 5 Foods more likely ordered by women for dinner take-out (2014 GrubHub study)

1. Seaweed Salad – more than 62% more commonly ordered by women than men

2. Edamame – more than 57% more commonly ordered by women than men

3. Avocado Rolls – nearly 55% more commonly ordered by women than men

4. Shrimp Tempura Roll – more than 51% more commonly ordered by women than men

5. House Salad – more than 49% more commonly ordered by women than men

Do these items sound familiar? If you run a sushi restaurant, or cook a lot of seafood, you probably already have great reflections on the gender of your consumers (See? Gender analysis doesn’t have to be that difficult!). So next time you go for sushi, do a quick head count of how many women are in the room. And next time you’re standing at a seafood counter, listen to the questions women are asking, because I would love to hear your reflections and observations.


My first time

The first time I saw a gendered aspect to fisheries was during my time as a research assistant at the School for Field Studies (SFS). Our research base was in Puerto San Carlos, Baja California Sur. San Carlos is a small fishing town, the primary industry is seafood- blue crab, shark, rays, sardines, you name it.  It also has a cannery and fishmeal production. The cannery turns out small aluminum cans that you might find on a store shelf, and the fishmeal facility turns small fish and fish by-products into pellets, mostly for pig feed from what I remember. The cannery is a major source of employment for the residents but it is not without its problems- dumping waste into the local water is a commonly known one in the region. The consumption of sea turtle meat is also a chronic problem, and some innovative conservation scientists have dug into this issue for decades.  One innovative young scientist found that murals of sea turtles designed to support an environmental ethic were actually working to change the public’s opinions about sea turtles.

There was no hiding the cannery in town. When the big siren sounded, it meant a boat was coming in and workers needed to show up, no matter what time of day or night. And then you had only about an hour to breathe before the stench of cooking fish wafted your way (the school was so unfortunately downwind of the cannery). My first few weeks I was quite sensitive to the smell and gagged a lot at the stench, but that went away with time.

One day, we toured the cannery while it was operating. The smell was quite intense-there was an extra layer of bird poop on top of the cooked fish- because the birds hung around and picked up all the droppings on the docks. We donned face masks and hair nets, and were allowed to watch the workers on the assembly line. I was struck by the sight- most of the workers were women! There were a few men working the big cooking vats, but I really hadn’t been expecting to see so many women. It made sense, though- a lot of the men worked on the boats, and when they came in to rest, many women went to work at the factory. There weren’t a lot of other employment opportunities in town.

A bit later on, there was a protest in town. As I understand and remember it, there were foreign fishing vessels nearby and the fishing community wanted the local authority to step in. And when I went by the protest, I observed that the crowd was almost entirely men and there were no women present. It struck me that if the local fisheries were going to be impacted by more competition, then it could impact not only the employment of fishermen but also the employment of the women in the cannery. But where were the women? Why weren’t they participating in the protest? Why was their employment and participation in the local economy so invisible? I was infuriated, because I assumed nobody cared about the women’s jobs. Now, I’m sure that can’t be true, certainly the women cared about their jobs, but their participation just didn’t seem visible.

I never pursued these questions, but they influence me still. Where there is a crowd, a protest, a meeting- I look for the women. Are they present? Do they speak up? Are they listened to? Were they even invited? Do they want the same things as the men or do they have a different approach? I think these are great questions to start with. We need to make the invisible visible, and that starts by removing the scales from our eyes through our own observations and reflections.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again-a gender lens is not something we can “get” right away, because it is a fresh way of looking at the world that you may not have ever tried before. To put on a gender lens you have to dig into the nuance of age and socioeconomics and race. It takes time and effort for us to pull back the curtain–for  our eyes to adjust to the dim light that is currently shined on gender, and to understand that what we have been looking for all along is hidden in plain view. We were just too gender-blind to see it.

Environmental NGOs in Washington- are they gender balanced?

In recognition of Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action today, September 29th, I’ve pulled together a little survey looking at gender and the environment in my own state. I’m doing this because I’ve been curious about it for a few months now, but haven’t ever seen something like this done before. I did a quick survey of the apparent genders of the board members for the following environmental groups working primarily in Washington State. Where information was unavailable, for example, there are in-state staff but no in-state board, those organizations were included in one table but not the other.

NGO Board Men Women
Conservation Northwest 7 6
Puget Soundkeeper 13 5
WA Conservation Voters 9 7
WA Toxics Coalition 1 7
NW Straits Commission 10 3
Harbor Wild Watch 3 3
WA Environmental Council 10 12
NW Energy Coalition 7 7
Sound Action 3 3
Audubon 11 10
Mountains to Sound 42 15
The Nature Conservancy Washington 17 7
Total 133 85

85 out of 218 board members of local environmental NGOs are women. That’s 39% women. 7 chairs/presidents of the board were men and 2 were women.

NGO Staff Men Women
Conservation Northwest 11 10
Puget Soundkeeper 3 9
WA Conservation Voters 5 11
WA Toxics Coalition 0 6
NW Straits Commission 1 5
Harbor Wild Watch 1 5
WA Environmental Council 11 19
Environment Washington 2 0
NW Energy Coalition 4 6
Audubon 1 5
Mountains to Sound 10 8
The Nature Conservancy Washington 2 8
Surfrider Foundation 3 0
Total 54 92

92 out of 146 staff members of environmental NGOs are women. That’s 63% women. I also found that 7 executive directors were women and 4 executive directors were men.

Climate Justice means to me that people of all genders have equal opportunity to influence environmental policy and management. It’s pretty awesome that enviro NGO staff are heavily women, even in the leadership positions. But it appears there may be an imbalance as the boards are men heavy, yet the staff are women heavy- and it makes me wonder what else is going on, and what else we can do today and beyond this Day of Action.

Do these results surprise you? What’s your experience with men and women in environmental groups in Washington? Let’s chat. @Women_and_Fish


*I used the use of “he” and “she” to identify a person’s gender. Obviously my cursory analysis only includes 2 genders, but I did not find any staff bios with gender neutral pronouns. I’d love to do a more detailed survey, so please contribute to the list if you have additional information or NGOs to include.

Cigarettes: An obsession

You could say I’m obsessed with cigarettes. Litter, that is. I’ve been obsessed for two years now, and I’m still learning new things and trying new ideas.

In the summer of 2013, I met the most inspiring woman- Gillian Montgomery- at a Warm Current surf camp for kids and while talking about Surfrider initiatives, she told me cigarette butts are plastic. My mind was blown! I always excused cigarette littering because I thought they were biodegradable. Whenever I think about this moment, I remember that Big Tobacco excels at deception- the butts are brown like cardboard, and when they get wet, they just look like wet cotton tampons. Certainly they appear biodegradable. You fooled us once, BT, and then you fooled us twice!

Through the following fall and winter, I kept bringing up cigarette litter at Surfrider meetings, doing my research, and taking action, and in the summer of 2013 with 2 other committee members we launched “Hold On To Your Butts”. I met with Seattle Parks staff who agreed to install and maintain 2 cigarette butt receptacles at Alki. Our launch day to educate the public was documented by a local blog but didn’t quite get the attention I was looking for. It took another year to build momentum, and the program still hasn’t achieved even a side note in a big paper.

This year, I’m proud to share a few more accomplishments. I’ve worked with 3 student interns through UW who are doing excellent outreach, presented our program to other Surfrider chapters, we have sold 6 ash cans to local businesses, completed a “Walk of Shame”, and our chapter raised $1300 to donate 18 ash cans to West Seattle (6 to Parks, 12 to the Junction Association).

And yet as we achieve more accomplishments, I am hungry for more, for the program to grow out of its britches. I am hungry for someone else, many someone elses, to join this effort. I monitor local papers for our press releases, and yet, I still only see coverage on small blogs. What will I have to do to get the attention of someone at the Seattle Times? Dress up like a cigarette and roll around in the sand at Alki?

And I always have more questions- so I go online, do some Google Scholar research, and start asking people questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no big effort against Big Tobacco, no easy way to find validated answers to my questions. Even one of my most recent finds- that San Franciso spends $5 million/year on cigarette litter is hard to compare to Seattle when we haven’t done that study.

So here’s a few questions on my mind this week you may be able to help with: What is even the appeal with filters? Do smokers really like them or would they be interested in banning filtered cigarettes? (because the filters claim to fame was for health, yet they have not been proven to improve a smoker’s health outcomes) If we tax each pack in WA over $3, is any of that money going to litter prevention, education, or management? Is it worth going after that tax money to push for the government to provide receptacles? What do you know about all this?


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).



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.



ARMM Historical Background. Official website of Autonomous Regional Government of Muslim Mindanao. Accessed 1 March 2012.

Asian Development Bank (ADB). (2009) The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A regional overview.

Best Practices in Local Governance. (2010) Seaweed Farming (Bien Unido, Bohol). 31 Jan 2012.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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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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.


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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!


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.