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Friday Fishy News - February 16


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Peckish fish key to reef health

By Leigh Dayton

The Australian

February 10

SCHOOLS of big plant-nibbling fish could protect the Great Barrier Reef from pollution and climate change ... as long as their numbers remain high.

Not only would the hard-working fish help maintain the resiliency of the reef, they'd help it recover from stresses such as runoff from land-based pollution, bleaching, overfishing, disease and severe storms.

"We can do things to help the reef recover, and one of the best things to do is protect the plant-eating fishes," said David Bellwood, a marine biologist with James Cook University in Townsville. Professor Bellwood and his colleagues based their claim on results from a three-year experiment conducted after a severe heating (bleaching) event in 1997 and 1998 that devastated coral reefs worldwide.

The team's results followed more sombre findings released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC experts predicted such coral-killing events will increase in frequency and intensity as the planet's average temperature rises from, most likely, 1.8C to 4C by 2100.

But the damage can be mitigated, the researchers claim in the journal Current Biology. They followed the recovery of a part of the Great Barrier Reef - in the Palm Island group - which is off limits to fishers.

The team - linked through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, based at JCU - fenced fish out of parts of the study area, allowing them to see what happened when fish were and were not present.

"The result was dramatic," said team leader Terry Hughes. "The coral cover virtually doubled where the fish had access, while the fenced-off areas became overgrown with slimy (algal) weed and the corals failed to recover."

Professor Bellwood says the good work isn't done by colourful fish such as the clownfish, star of Finding Nemo.

"Nemo's an attractive irrelevance, I'm afraid," claimed Professor Bellwood, noting the hard work was done by "unattractive brown things".

The team concluded that having "intact" fish populations would be vital to managing the ability of reefs to recover from the impacts of climate change and human activity.

Fish kill prompts title fears

The Warnambool Standard

February 14

Thousands of baby bream and other fish species have been killed in the Glenelg River.

It is unclear if the fish kill will influence the first round of the national bream fishing series scheduled for March 3.

The Environment Protection Authority Victoria was advised by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority of the incident on January 25.

EPA officers inspected the site the following day and took samples at various sites along the river including Pines Landing, Pritchard's, Battersby's, Forest Camp, Sapling Creek and Simpson's Landing.

Significant numbers of small fish were observed at a number of spots and samples indicated dissolved oxygen levels had reduced considerably following heavy rains.

In the couple of days before the fish kill report the south-west had received up to 75mm of rain.

EPA corporate communications Ruth Ward said yesterday that as a result of the rain a slug of poor water quality had moved slowly down the river reducing the oxygen levels and increased salinity

``There was no evidence to suggest any pollution incident had occurred and it appeared the most likely cause of the deaths was the poor water quality,'' she said.

``Monitoring undertaken following the incident, had shown the river's water quality was already on its way back and that the dissolved oxygen levels were returning to more normal levels,'' she said.

You know, both the fish and pot can be smoked

By Carl V. Natale

Maine Today - USA

February 9

The Lewiston Sun Journal has found an interesting incongruity in Maine's Justice system.

The short story is that an Otisfield property was raided because of marijuana plants growing there. At some point during the raid, an agent must have asked "Hey, is that a bass in your pond or are you just glad to see us?"

Yes, the marijuana farmer was also cultivating oversized bass in his pond. Which is apparently a bigger sin in Maine because the bass carried a $1,000 fine while the pot penalty was $250.

Aussies want to harness fish's abilities

Science Daily

February 13

Australian scientists believe a small fish may hold a cure for degenerative muscle diseases in humans, a report said.

Researchers at a Sydney medical institute have been studying the ability of zebrafish to keep producing new muscle fiber throughout their life.

Associate Professor Peter Currie of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. if his team can harness this ability in humans, they will be on the path to a cure for such diseases as muscular dystrophy and atrophy.

"We know that similar cells appear to be there in mammalia and human tissues," he said.

"Now the task for us is to try and work out the genes and the mechanism that control the greater ability of zebrafish to undergo this regenerative capacity and see if the same mechanisms can be unlocked in human tissues."

Bigger is better for fussy fish


February 14

London - Size matters in the science of sexual attraction - especially if you are a fish.

Scientists at the Universities of Exeter and Glasgow have found that female green swordtail fish mature more rapidly if they spot a male with a big tail.

Likewise young males retard their sexual development for several months if they spot a better-endowed male, waiting for there to be less competition in the mating game.

"This is the first evidence that a species adjusts its rate of sexual maturation in response to visual clues," Craig Walling of Exeter University's school of biosciences said.

"While our study focused on green swordtail fish, it seems unlikely that this attribute is limited to this one species," he added.

Green swordtail fish, a native of North and Central America, are named after the striking growth of the male's tail-fin which makes them look bigger and therefore more attractive to females which do not develop the sword-shaped tail fin.

Tiny Baltic Sprats cause Latvia-Russia Trade Row

By Ben Nimmo

Telugu Portal

February 10

For a fish that is only 16 cm long, the Baltic sprat has caused more than its fair share of trouble in recent months.

For centuries, this silvery relative of the herring - Latin name "Sprattus sprattus balticus" - has been viewed as a delicacy in the Baltic states. After the Soviet Union invaded the Baltics in 1940, smoked Riga sprats became famous from Vilnius to Vladivostok.

And despite the fact that the Baltics broke away from the moribund USSR in 1991, Riga sprats remained a byword in Russia for quality, delicacy and style.

But in recent months a dispute over health standards, and a resulting ban on sales of canned Latvian fish to Russia, have deeply troubled the once-lucrative industry.

"Last October the Russian authorities suddenly said that our products broke their standards. The Russian veterinary service suspended our licence, and all canned-fish imports from Latvia were banned," Arnolds Babris, chairman of Latvia's biggest sprat exporter Brivais Vilnis (BV), told DPA.

According to Russian officials, BV's sprats contained unacceptably high levels of the carcinogen benzopyrene, a byproduct of the smoking process. Russian law allows a maximum level of one microgram of benzopyrene per kilo of fish.

But EU norms set the limit at five times higher - leading some to question the Russian rules' scientific basis.

"Every state has the right to set its own norms... but we think that the level of one microgram per kilo is not convincingly justified scientifically," said Arnis Jurevics, public-health advisor to the Latvian ministry of agriculture.

Latvian producers say that Russia is currently expanding its own sprat production from its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad - and that the benzopyrene row is simply a cover for protectionism.

"We had analyses done on sprats smoked in Russia, and they didn't just break the Russian norm, they broke the EU one as well... The ban is purely economic, to protect their producers," Babris said.

The ban has already damaged Latvia's fish-exporting businesses. Russia has long been the single largest market for Latvian sprats, accounting for up to 40 per cent of BV's exports.

At present, BV's factory is running one shift a day, as opposed to the normal two, and its workforce has been cut from 800 to 500.

But moves are now afoot to bring the row to an end. This January, the Russian government lifted its ban on Latvian canned-fish imports, though neither BV nor Latvia's second-largest exporter, Gamma-A, have had their licences renewed.

A high-level bilateral working group has been formed to explore solutions to the problem, with recommendations expected in March.

And this week the head of Russia's chamber of commerce, former premier Yevgeniy Primakov, held talks with the sprat producers during a trade mission to Latvia.

Given Latvian sprats' strong brand in Russia, observers believe that the row will have little long-term impact on business.

But for Babris, at least, the "sprat spat" has proved that Russia is no longer a reliable market - and that any improvement in conditions there is likely to prove a red herring.

"Russia is unpredictable. We've always been careful to look for new markets, but the ban has been a stimulus to find more," he said.

"In Soviet times, 90 percent of our fish went to Russia. Last year it was 40 percent, and I'd prefer it if it were no more than 20," he added.


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