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Friday Fishy News - March 30


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Crocodile fossil hunt is big fish story

By Dan Vergano

USA Today

March 25


A walk into the high desert of Oregon has netted an amateur paleontologist a heck of a fish story, and perhaps some unexpected insight into a Native American totem animal.

"That morning, what I saw was a skull weathered out of a hillside," says Andrew Bland of the North American Research Group (NARG), a hobbyists' group looking for fossils last year on a rancher's land in eastern Oregon's Crook County. "I followed it up the hillside and saw there was a lot of it. Then I got excited."

Digging into the hillside over a day and a half, the team uncovered almost half of a six to eight-foot long crocodile, Thalattosuchia, which lived more than 160 million years ago during the Jurassic era. Remarkably, the croc had a fish tail (although its exact shape remains in contention), which along with the needle teeth found in the skull must have made it swift predator at sea. The creature most likely made its living in what is today the South China Sea, and continental drift carried the rock encasing the fossil to Oregon tens of millions of years ago, according to University of Oregon geologist, William Orr.

Anyone who thinks fossil collecting is easy should bear in mind that Bland spent the next six months air-blasting rock away from the fossil to reveal all its jumbled pieces. The team hopes to show the "Crook County croc" at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro, Ore., where NARG regularly meets, after a two-year study of the fossil remains at the University of Iowa. "Interesting that in a desert environment you can find marine fossils, but there it was," Bland says.

Most intriguing, the initial restoration of the fossil croc bears a striking resemblance to a mythic animal of some Native American tribes, the Kiowa, Sioux, Pomo of northern California and others, says Adrienne Mayor, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, author of Fossil Legends of the First Americans. A University of Oregon artist's depiction of the crocodile greatly resembles the Kiowa artist Silverhorn's 1891-94 sketch of a water monster with scales, a long narrow head with needle teeth and a forked fish-tail drawn to illustrate water serpent legends, Mayor says. The Pomo Indians described a fish-tailed, needle-toothed water monster called Bagil, as well.

"Obviously, Native Americans who found remarkable fossils didn't just ignore them," Mayor says. "Naturally they speculated about (fossils.) They organized special trips to fossil sites and tried to imagine how the creatures lived and died. Their fossil stories were not formal science, but they contained insights based on keen observation of evidence. Some of their ideas, even though they were expressed in myths, anticipated modern scientific theories about extinction."

Mayor occupies a fascinating niche in paleontology, examining links between fossils and ancient myths. In previous work she examined how fossil finds in ancient Greece may have contributed to the notion of Zeus slaying ancient Titans with lightning bolts.

"I do believe that Adrienne Mayor is on to something here," says of California State Parks archaeologist E. Breck Parkman, by e-mail. "As she has noted in her earlier work, there is a good possibility that earlier people observed the fossils of odd and extinct creatures and then went on to interpret those creatures in their mythologies. An example is found in North Asia, where Native peoples of Siberia apparently observed the remains of mammoths eroding from the ground and then created stories of great underground creatures that lived during mythological times."

A very similar dragon-creature is described from northeastern California, Parkman adds. The Ajumawi people have a legend of a big serpent-like creature with fish tail and elk antlers, similar to Bagil.

"Antlers or horns are common in Native American depictions of sacred or mysterious creatures," Mayor notes.

Parkman also notes at Serpent Cave, in Baja California, "there are beautiful cave paintings of big serpent-like figures sporting deer antlers and fish tails. In British Columbia, in the Stein River Valley, there are rock paintings of alligator-like creatures sporting fish tails. Rock art depictions of alligator-like creatures also occur elsewhere in the U.S., including Utah, Arizona, and Ohio."

One skeptic about a mythology connection, however, is Bland, who well remembers how much work it took to unearth his find. "It's always possible, but it's hard to imagine someone finding something complete enough to get a good idea of appearance just walking by." Marine fossils that travel by plate tectonic thousands of miles in particular often arrive jumbled, he says, and typically take a lot of work to expose. "Just looking for fossils is a voyage of discovery every time we go out there. You have to be aware something like this may be out there. And you have to get lucky."

Deceptive advertising lands fish shop in hot water

ABC South East NSW

March 27

Inspectors on the New South Wales south coast are cracking down on fish shops that try to palm off cheap imported seafood as the more expensive Australian varieties.

A Moruya retailer has been fined $7,500 on 10 counts of ripping off consumers.

The court has ordered Boby's Best Seafoods to pay the fines after being prosecuted by the State Food Authority on charges that included misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to advertising and selling fish.

Charges included selling overseas-farmed prawns as Australian King prawns, passing off basa as perch, selling tilapia fillets as high quality bream and claiming local south coast scallops were "Tasmanian".

The magistrate cited the seriousness of the offences, noting that people had a right to know what they were buying.

China's hunger for reef fish threatens stocks

CNN.com - originally Reuters

March 25

Turquoise fish with red dots stare at hungry tourists from a tank at a restaurant in Hong Kong, the capital of the world's live reef fish industry, a lucrative trade devastating reefs across the Pacific Ocean.

Considered a delicacy, demand for coral fish has exploded in line with China's booming economy and some species such as the humphead wrasse are already endangered.

"You may not be able to eat it in 4 to 5 years, whatever money you pay. This is the favorite among people from mainland China," said a fish merchant, who gave his name only as Chen.

Restaurant fish tanks in Hong Kong are filled with exotic fish species gathered from all around Southeast Asia, Australia and even remote Pacific islands, such as Fiji and Vanuatu.

With the marine stock already exhausted in nearby waters, Hong Kong traders are reaching far and wide for increasingly rare fish such as groupers, snappers and humphead wrasse, spreading the unsustainable fishing habit across the Pacific.

"Basically it's been like a vacuum cleaner across the region," said Andy Cornish, director for conservation at the WWF Hong Kong. "Reefs near Hong Kong were depleted decades ago, and the trade has moved further and further away to source fish."

Biologists say reef fish are highly vulnerable to overfishing as they need 5-10 years before reaching breeding age, and the trade is difficult to manage because the fishing is mostly on a small scale, done by rural communities.

"Demand for many reef fishes is just too high ... Wild populations will continue to decline, if nothing is done because the fisheries are typically unmanged," said Yvonne Sadovy, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong.

"China is where the demand for live reef fish is particularly heavy, and where it is also expected to grow ... A lot of the reef fish that come into Hong Kong are re-exported into China," said the marine biologist.

Early this month, the IUCN World Conservation Union issued a warning that 20 species of grouper --- a delicacy often served at Chinese banquets -- were threatened with extinction unless conservation measures were introduced.

Marine ghost town

Large parts of reefs in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are becoming void of marine life as a result of overfishing and the use of cyanide to catch fish alive.

Though illegal, many fishermen use cyanide, an exceptionally damaging and wasteful way to catch the fish, which hide amongst the coral, marine experts say.

The divers squirt the toxin in the reef to stun the fish. But that kills most other marine life, including coral. Only about a quarter survive to make it to restaurants, experts say.

"We did two days of wild diving far from any civilization. Not a single fish was to be seen, not one," Charles Frew told Reuters after a trip to near Leyte in the Philippines last month.

"I was shocked, more than anything ... It's got strong currents, beautiful blue water. There are some bits of nice coral. But there's nothing," said the director of Asiatic Marine, a company specializing in marine surveys and underwater filming.

While many live fish arrive in planes, many also come in on specially designed vessels. Hong Kong traders travel through thousands of islands in Indonesia, Malaysia or the Philippines, collecting the prized fish alive from local fishermen.

Humphead wrasse, also known as Napoleon wrasse, commands as much as $200 a kilo. A blue adult can reach more than two meters and weigh 200 kg (440 lb).

"That's a lot of money for a fisherman," said George Woodman, a director of conservation group Teng Hoi. "You can get a lot of people to move for that money ... The search is very big."

Asked how wide spread cyanide was, Reinhard Renneberg, chemistry professor from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said: "I believe almost all big, undamaged fish are caught with cyanide."

"Cyanide in fish is no longer harmful for people ... It would be nice, if you could say you'd get big health problems, if you eat this fish," said Renneberg, who has developed a testing device for cyanide in live fish.

Slow response

An official from the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said it had no plans to check cyanide in imported fish, which could help stem cyanide use.

But it took the first step in December to manage the trade in a reef fish by requiring import licenses for humphead wrasse, the only coral fish listed as potentially threatened by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

"This is really a test case," said Cornish from WWF. "If all the countries like the Philippines or Indonesia start developing a management plan for that species, that would be fantastic."

In December, Manila arrested about 30 Chinese fishermen suspected of poaching. Their ship Hoi Wan was carrying more than 300 live humphead wrasse consigned for Hong Kong.

Cheung Chisun, a senior Hong Kong official in charge of endangered species, said thousands of humphead wrasse had arrived in Hong Kong since December, mostly from Indonesia, though more than half were re-exported to mainland China.

Humphead wrasse still appears on menus in some restaurants in Hong Kong, though fish traders say it is increasingly rare and getting smaller.

Asked about endangered species, fish restaurant manager Gu Chao Fan told Reuters: "You have to book a week in advance. There are not many these days."

Metal concerns for fish off Esperance


March 27

Residents of Esperance already worried about lead poisoning from rain water tanks have now been warned not to eat seafood caught off the West Australian port.

People in the southern town have been undergoing blood tests and having their rain water tanks tested since discovering this month that 4,000 mystery bird deaths around the town were probably caused by lead poisoning.

High lead and nickel levels have been found near the port but the WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) says the levels of most serious concern have been found at the port.

DEC Environmental Management director Robert Atkins says further away from the port the levels were well below safety guidelines.

"I don't believe there is a risk from those areas," Mr Atkins told reporters in Perth.

However, testing of a few marine sediment samples had revealed nickel and lead levels nearly 130 times those considered safe, he said.

"Within the port are there are certainly levels that are well above investigation levels ... but there is not a direct human exposure pathway within the port because that is a closed area that people don't come into contact with."

Mr Atkins said residents had been warned to avoid it until the Department of Fisheries had conducted further tests.

"All we know is that in the sediments there were high levels of nickel and lead and you need to do some samplings of fish stocks to see whether that has got into the food chain."

The Esperance Port Authority earlier this month suspended the movement of lead carbonate from Magellan Metals in and out of the port until the source of bird deaths was identified.

Residents of the town want a permanent ban but Magellan Metals is considering shipping its lead carbonate in sealed steel containers, or turning the carbonate into pellets or bricks.

Mr Atkins said the DEC has told the Port to urgently carry out a comprehensive sampling program to determine the full extent of contamination.

"The lead and nickel contamination in the sediment is most likely to have arisen from drainage off the port wharf area, and the loading facility, because it is right next to those," he said.

The DEC has warned that any breaches of the Environmental Protection Act may lead to enforcement action.

Mr Atkins said penalties for breaches of the Act ranged from fines of a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars.

EC plan to ban the dumping of fish at sea is ‘impractical’

By Graeme Smith

The Herald - UK

March 29

Plans by the European Commission to ban fishermen from discarding young undersized fish have been dismissed as "grandstanding and impractical" by the Scottish fleet.

The fishermen say while they support the aim of reducing discards - dumping unwanted fish overboard - implementing an unenforcable ban is not the way forward.

The commission says discard rates in European fisheries vary from negligible in some small-scale coastal fisheries, to 70-90% of the catches in some trawl fisheries.

Scottish fishermen say the latter does not relate to them because conservation efforts by the fleet have reduced discards to under 5%.

The EC plan is to adopt a progressive fishery-by-fishery discard ban and the setting of standards for maximum acceptable by-catch.

"This will provide an incentive to industry to devise ways to meeting the by-catch targets, rather than through series of measures to regulate landing," said Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs.

"In short, the incentive would be for fishers to take from the sea only what can be marketed.

"The debate on achieving these aims will continue till the end of 2007 and the first proposed measures could be tabled in 2008.

"Discarding is wrong because it represents a waste of precious marine resources. It makes no ecological, economic or ethical sense. The sooner we bring this wasteful practice to an end, the better for fish stocks, the marine environment and the fishing industry."

However, Mike Park, executive chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association, said: "This is a grandstanding statement. Scottish fishermen are now more intent on trying to deliver things which have meaning - like looking at real time closures and at greater selectivity measures.

"The first thing banning discards does is to legitimise the landing of undersized fish and I am not sure that is compatible with where the commission wants to go.

"We should be trying to build a suite of measures which protect undersized fish, protects the juveniles."

Meanwhile, some west coast fishermen could be signing on as unemployed from this morning because of the Scottish Executive's order to ban scallop fishing in the Firth of Lorne.

That was the warning sounded last night by fishermen's leaders after they had unsuccessfully lobbied Holyrood's Environment Committee yesterday to oppose the order, which will shortly come into force covering the large area of water around Oban and Mull.

Ministers are convinced that the order is necessary because of European environmental directives and the damage caused by dredging for scallops.

120 rare breed fish returned to natural habitat Tubbtaha Reefs

By Barbara Mae Dacanay

gulfnews.com - Philippines

March 25

Manila: Government and private groups returned 120 mamengs, a rare fish breed, to their natural habitat three months after they were recovered by authorities from illegal Chinese fishermen, a newspaper said.

The fish, also called Napoleon wrass, were released at the Tubbtaha Reefs off Palawan in southwestern Philippines.

"They were placed inside aerated tubs while they were transferred for nine hours from a fish nursery in Puerto Princesa to Tubbataha," said The Star. More mamengs will be transferred to their natural habitat, said Tubbataha marine park chief Angelique Songco, adding that environmentalists rejoiced at efforts to return the mamengs back to their home.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Fisheries Bureau Director Malcolm Sarmiento were behind efforts in nursing to health 351 wrasses and 1,307 giant groupers that were confiscated from a Hong Kong-registered ship, Fly Hoi Wan, which was seized for illegal fishing in December.

About 350 mamengs recovered health during three months of stay in a fish nursery at Puerto Princesa Bay. They were taken care of by six fisheries students who volunteered free labor.

Attorney Asis Perez, a prosecutor, called for the release of all the mamengs to safe waters at once instead of being brought to a court trial in Puerto Princesa, where they would be used as evidence against the arrested Chinese fishermen. The scarce Napoleon wrasse, the world's largest reef fish, could grow as big as a sofa. A predatory fish, it is hunted, caught, and sold at restaurants at P5,000 (Dh360) per kilogram.


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