Massive School of Anchovies Storms San Diego Surf
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Surfers paddle through a huge anchovy school offshore of La Jolla, California, on July 8.
April 25, 2012 -
Whole Foods, the Texas-based natural foods supermarket, no longer carries fish considered to be unsustainable. The Whole Foods ban includes fish that is either overfished or caught in a harmful way, according to their website. The popular Atlantic Halibut made the list, though the company will still sell Atlantic cod that is caught by hook and line or gillnets. "Stewardship of the ocean is so important to our customers and to us," David Pilat, the global seafood buyer for Whole Foods told the New York Times. "We're not necessarily here to tell fishermen how to fish, but on a species like Atlantic cod, we are out there actively saying, 'For Whole Foods Market to buy your cod, the rating has to be favorable.'" Here's a look at the list of fish that the superstore no longer sells and why.
Octopus Whole Foods uses ratings set by the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The ratings are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat.
Imported Wild Shrimp "At Whole Foods Market, we've been saying that our mission is to sell only wild-caught fish that has been responsibly caught. For a few years now, we've used color-coded sustainability ratings, from green (best choice) to red (avoid), to help you make an informed choice. Now we're putting our mackerel where our mouth is: To support greater abundance in our oceans, we're no longer carrying red-rated wild-caught seafood!" the company wrote on its blog.
Tuna (from specific areas and catch methods rated "red") On their website, Whole Foods says that they stopped selling "species that were extremely depleted in the oceans, such as orange roughy, shark and bluefin tuna" years ago. The company uses the sustainability ratings of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Rockfish According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "In recent years, reduced fishing has allowed many rockfish populations to recover from low levels. Gear concerns remain, however -- trawl-caught rockfish should still be avoided."
Swordfish Some of the gear used to fish swordfish "accidentally catches sea turtles, seabirds and sharks," according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Skate Wing Skates are in the overfished category. Most are also caught with bottom trawls, which result in high levels of accidental catch.
Sturgeon According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, "Sturgeon farmed in the U.S. is a good alternative to most wild sturgeon, whose populations have seriously declined due to overfishing for sturgeon eggs (caviar)."
Tautog Also known as black fish, Tautog are considered a "vulnerable" species. They are found close to shore on hard-bottom habitats, occasionally entering brackish water.
Trawl-Caught Atlantic Cod Fishermen often catch cod with bottom trawl, large nets that skim across the seafloor. Trawling, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "damages marine habitats and produces bycatch."
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Turbot A cousin of Pacific halibut, turbot are a right-eyed flatfish -- as they develop, their left eye migrates across the top of the skull toward the other eye on the right side. Turbot are yellowish or grayish-brown on top and paler on their underside.
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"It's just fish, fish, fish!"
David Checkley studies fish for a living, and even he was at a loss for words when trying to describe swimming with millions of anchovies off the coast of San Diego Tuesday (July 8).
The school of fish measured about 50 feet (15 meters) wide and 325 feet (100 m) long, and could have contained anywhere from 1 million to 100 million fish, he said.
No one knows why the anchovies came so close to shore, Checkley said. The fish typically prefer cool water, and San Diego's surf hit 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius). Anchovy eat small zooplankton, and Checkley said it's unlikely they were searching for food close to shore. The sheer size of the group also means the fish would have quickly gobbled through any food, he added. [Photos: The Freakiest-Looking Fish]
"Schools like this exist throughout the region, but I don't know why they butted up right against the surf," he said. "A school this size and this immensity, it's rather difficult to know why."
Checkley, a professor in the integrative oceanography division at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, was one of several Scripps scientists who jumped in the surf and swam with the anchovies on Tuesday.
"I haven't seen this in my 30-odd years here, and it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," Checkley said.
The surprise schooling also caught the attention of curious surfers, along with seals and sharks, who feasted on the silvery fish.
The Northern anchovy school was the largest group of anchovies ever seen offshore of La Jolla in the last 30 years, as far as scientists can determine. However, researchers with NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla are also checking their archives for pictures of similar surfing anchovies.
The fish swam north by Tuesday evening and have since mostly disappeared.
Anchovies may be making more coastal visits because California's anchovy population, which has been low for the past 20 years, is finally on the rise, thanks to cooling ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. A natural climate phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is swinging much of the Pacific toward colder temperatures, which the anchovy prefer. "They like a cool regime," Checkley said. "The population is on the way up right now."
In May, a school of anchovies turned up in Southern California's Marina del Ray. But the stopover had tragic results. The anchovies suffocated for lack of oxygen after becoming trapped in the harbor.
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