Thursday, November 20, 2014

Got Barotrauma? Watch This.

Barotrauma is what happens to deep water Puget Sound rockfish when are caught and brought to the surface: gases in their swim bladder expand causing their stomachs and eyes to bulge. So what? They’re endangered-- you’re not supposed to catch them. And throwing them back with barotrauma means they most likely will die. We don’t want them to die; we want them to recover from the brink of depletion.

To that end, the federal government last week laid another layer of long-overdue regulatory protection for three species of endangered Puget Sound rockfish — yelloweye, canary and boccacio— by designating about a thousand square miles of deep-water and nearshore habitat as habitat critical for their recovery. Thanks go to the Center For Biological Diversity for pushing the feds after the initial ESA designation in 2010.

According to the Center, the rule  identifies activities that might affect critical habitat, including near-shore development and in-water construction, dredging and material disposal, pollution and runoff, cable laying and hydrokinetic projects, kelp harvest, fisheries, and activities that lead to global climate change and acidification. Those projects would require federal consultations and cannot be harmful to any habitat or life stage of the listed rockfish— deep water adult, larval dispersal in the Sound’s surface microlayer, young-of-the-year rearing in the nearshore. Much of the protected habitat overlaps critical habitats already designated for killer whale and salmon recovery; however, the protected habitats of the three rockfish are similar to other rockfish and protected them as well.

On the fishing and harvest side, the state’s conservation efforts have finally made it unlawful to fish for, retain or possess rockfish in all of Puget Sound and Hood Canal and westward to Low Point in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That’s great but hard to enforce when rockfish are caught as incidental catch while fishing for salmon and other bottomfish like lingcod and halibut— and suffer from barotrauma when brought to the surface.

There are instructions, advice and pictures on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife site, Protecting Washington’s Rockfish describing fishing methods and equipment to reduce bycatch and death by barotrauma. ( “DO NOT VENT! Puncturing the fish’s stomach, swim bladder or other bulging organs is NOT recommended and can cause serious injury or introduce infection.  This practice can lead to death.”)

Isn’t it amazing how torturous solutions have to be to correct situations we humans create? Here’s Kevin Lollar’s news video from the other coast showing some devices that can save the lives of fish suffering from barotrauma. The simple art of saving fish  In a longer form, WDFW entertains with, Is Barotrauma Keeping You Up? Try Getting Down with Recompression!

(Disclosure: In an earlier life, I installed septic systems on marginal soil and caught many, many rockfish. I consider my current interest in sewage treatment and rockfish recovery small acts of penance.)

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bring Out Your Dead

I thought about Ebola early last month flying at 35,000 feet with a plane full of people I didn’t know. Liberian Thomas Duncan had entered this country by air, took ill with what was diagnosed as Ebola in Dallas, was eventually quarantined and treated, and died. Makes one look around and want to see what all the coughing is about in the seat three rows back.

Over the last two months I’ve followed the news enough to know that protocols are now in place domestically to afford crucial early detection, that Ebola detected early and treated need not be fatal, that doctors and nurses on the front line of treating Ebola are among the bravest people in the world, and that politicians who ignore medical science by closing our borders and imposing mandatory quarantine requirements deserve all the ridicule that can be heaped upon them for their medieval ignorance. ( Bring out your dead )

The Ebola epidemic is serious business and it’s no longer a West Africa disease alone, not when we are in a global economy. Richard Preston’s scary and informative article in The New Yorker ( The Ebola Wars  ) raises the disturbing prospect of various strains of a rapidly evolving Ebola virus that may take as yet-unknown deadly forms.

Despite early missteps, the Center for Disease Control and hospitals have established and trained in equipment and quarantine protocols. Like the veterans we just honored and the armed forces we spend billions of dollars on, first-line doctors and nurses deserve the very best in equipment and training. After all, as Paul Farmer says in the London Review of Books, ( Diary  ) the US “has the staff, stuff, space and systems” to contain any epidemic within its borders.

I wondered after reading Preston and Farmer whether I would have the courage to comfort Ebola patients, even given the proper equipment and training— and I have to say, I don’t know if I would. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to treat Ebola patients in the hospitals of West African nations. Now that the initial panic in the US has passed with the successful treatment of Dallas nurses and New York City doctor Craig Spencer, the news cycle moves our comfort level farther and farther away from the Ground Zero of Ebola in West Africa.

But Ebola and scores of infectious disease outbreaks that risk becoming pandemics won’t simply go away. “Understaffed and undersupplied, front-line health worker in West Africa have good reason to be afraid,” Paul Farmer writes. “We who aim to help them, though better equipped, are afraid too.”

Here in the US, we still argue about affording medical “staff, stuff, space and systems” to all our citizens. Maybe I’m not ready to go to the front line but I’ll share our “staff, stuff, space and systems” with all Americans, West Africans and the people of the world. We're not dead yet.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Chief Business of the American People...

“The chief business of the American people is business.” That’s Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and the quote came to mind right after Hallowe’en when the Christmas (we say ‘Christmas’) decorations began appearing in stores and Black Friday special offers started filling the inbox.

At about the same time, the Republican Party said the American people provided them with some sort of mandate by rejecting the President’s leadership and giving them a Congressional majority and a chance (again) to govern. We’ll wait to see which Republican Party shows up to govern when it comes to immigration reform, climate change, health care and the Islamic State. Or will it be abortion, gay marriage and the right to open carry?

People always say the economy is a primary concern when voting for candidates and issues but who really faults the President’s leadership in our recovery from the economic disaster he inherited upon taking office? The disgruntled are those who wanted to see real change in financial reform and the banks and brokerage houses punished; those folks remain embittered at the President. Democratic incumbents and candidates never rallied around the chant, “It’s the economy, stupid,” tacitly conceding that maybe we weren’t better off today than we were two years ago.  We didn’t see the financial system reformed; we didn’t see tax reform. What we saw was employment and the stock market recovering, wages stagnant, the gap between rich and poor widen. But did people really want “real” change?

After all, this is a capitalist country and “The chief business of the American people is business.” It’s a relentless business: the bizarre coupling of “holiday” (holy day) with “retail” has become an established norm and hawked in the vocabulary of words like “special” and “savings” and “exclusive”-- nonsense, of course, like restaurants that serve “breakfast” all day. Hallowe’en is a big retail holiday; people don’t buy gifts for Thanksgiving, it only makes sense to begin the business of selling holiday gifts right after Hallowe’en.

The church bazaars and holiday craft sales gear up in November and I like those. I think the advertising efforts of the big box stores, Amazon and online spamming are distasteful. But that’s business, isn’t it? What feels so distastefully wrong when experiencing the barrage of every special retail holiday message year round is the lie that all of the American people can fully take part in the business of America. You still drink the Kool Aid that says everyone could become a millionaire? Sure, everyone can and will participate as consumers but more and more people are excluded from doing business as Americans because of their education, immigration status and race. That’s not the way it always was in this country; that’s the way it is now and that is the real sadness of the broken dream of failing to move towards “real change.”

Ring those retail holiday bells; they toll for thee.

--Mike Sato

Monday, November 10, 2014

All The News That Fits, They Print

Best wishes to reporter Christopher Dunagan who last month ended 37 years of reporting at the Kitsap Sun. Chris says he will continuing writing his periodic Watching Our Water Ways blog  but for those of us who have followed and worked with environmental “beat” reporters, we’ll miss the deep knowledge and perspective a seasoned reporter like Chris brought to his writing.

Chris’ “retirement” leaves John Dodge at The Olympian as pretty much the last man standing among the beat reporters who can remember writing stories about the early days of the Shoreline Management Act, the state Model Toxics Control Act, secondary sewage treatment and the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority. John has moved to feature writing, and the consolidation of newsrooms at The Olympian and The News Tribune of Tacoma has left both papers without any environmental coverage to speak of.

Makes it tough to be an aggregator of Salish Sea environmental news when the coverage gets noticeably thinner.

Today’s environmental reporters like Craig Welch and Lynda Mapes at The Seattle Times are much more selective in to what they report on and work hard on larger, feature stories like climate change and Elwha River restoration. Gary Chittim at KING5, another seasoned reporter, covers stories with a wider feature angle. “Beat” reporting on Sound-wide issues is left to reporters like Ashley Ahearn at KUOW/EarthFix and Bellamy Pailthorp at KPLU who still cover meetings and hearings and press conferences while champing at the bit to do feature reporting. It’s rare to see consistent local environmental news coverage but the Skagit Valley Herald affords reporter Kimberly Cauvel the time and space to cover local issues as a “beat.” Noah Haglund and Bill Sheets sometimes do what might be considered environmental stories at The (Everett) Herald; meanwhile, after the retirement of the tireless John Stark, environmental stories shrank away at the Bellingham Herald.

I guess I still miss the powerhouse duo of Robert McClure and Lisa Stiffler (and before them Rob Taylor) at the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where online, Joel Connelly is still able, sometimes, to rock the establishment’s boat when it comes to Victoria sewage.

Of course, media animals will always flock to cover coal train and coal port protest stories, oil train and oil tanker stories, ocean acidification and oyster industry stories, and salmon and killer whale stories but the more day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year kinds of stories about nearshore development, restoration funding, pollution enforcement, citizen engagement and just plain poop, both regional and local, that a reporter like Chris Dunagan provided can only be done on a “beat,” paid for by one’s employer publication. And they’ll pay for that kind of coverage if they think environmental stories sell papers.

Perhaps the business model is the reason why we don’t see more environmental news coverage: publishers and editors don’t think they sell newspapers. Environmental news coverage in the McClatchy-owned papers (The Olympian, The News Tribune of Tacoma and the Bellingham Herald) is sadly lacking; it’s flaccid at the Sound Publishing-owned The (Everett) Herald but better at the Peninsula Daily News; and it’s too early to tell at the Scripps-owned Kitsap Sun.

So we should be thankful that it makes business sense to the Seattle Times to invest in the amount and kind of environmental coverage they get from their reporters. And kudos to the Skagit Valley Herald for its local beat coverage. We can thank the competition between public radio stations for the continued environmental coverage. And there’s always Gary Chittim at KING to try to talk into doing an environmental story.

At the Vancouver Sun and at the Victoria Times-Colonist, it’s heartening to have long-time reporters Larry Pynn and Bill Cleverly, respectively, pounding away on the environment beat.

Thinking about the quantify and quality of news coverage in Puget Sound inevitably leads to thinking about who owns the print media in Puget Sound. Sound Publishing owns, in addition to the Everett and Peninsula daily newspapers, 34 weekly newspapers and numerous monthly publications in Puget Sound. Sound Publishing is a subsidiary of Black Press Group, a privately-held media company based in Vancouver BC with ownership of Canadian publications. (Principal David Black is also seeking to build an oil refinery at Kitimat.) Black Press Group also owns the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and other island publications.

Like the family farm, the days of the family-owned newspaper are quickly passing.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My First World Series

(PHOTO: Library of Congress)
At the end of the World Series game on October 8, 1956, between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra leaped into the arms of pitcher Don Larsen to celebrate Larsen’s pitching a perfect game in defeating the Dodgers 2-0. For those who are not baseball fans, a ‘perfect game’ is one where a pitcher completes a full game without allowing any player of the opposing team to reach first base by a base hit, base on balls, error, or any other means. Only 23 perfect games have been thrown in regular season play, and none had never been done before 1956 in a World Series game; it hasn’t been done since.

Today’s opening of World Series play brings to mind my first World Series in 1956 growing up in Hawaii. Games on ‘the mainland’ were televised on a one-day delayed basis since game films had to be flown in to local stations. News that Don Larsen had pitched a perfect game sparked my father to hunt down and borrow a used television set from the mercantile division of the company where he worked and invite his shop workers over for beer and to watch the game.

Everyone gathered at my grandmother’s house and began watching but the black and white set’s picture grew darker and darker and went to black. Amidst groans and beer, the set was turned off, then back on and the picture returned before again growing darker and fading to black. “It’s the tube,” someone said, and the solution became to turn the set off when it went to black and to vigorously fan the tubes to cool them, then turn the set back on.

I’d like to say that I recall the thrill of watching the final pitch and seeing Yogi race out and leap into Don’s arms but honestly, I don’t remember any of the baseball game but can see my father with a smile on his face, fanning away at the television set.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Beating The Oil and Tanker Combine By Eating Chocolate (Ship) Brownies

Good folks at the San Juan County Fair Safe Shipping booth are selling brownies in four flavors, including Bakken Shale Brownies with Caramel Crude.  Funds raised this week and weekend go to spreading the message of Safe Shipping in the Salish Sea.

San Juan Islanders For Safe Shipping write: “Our goal is to raise awareness of the increasing number of proposed terminal projects that will increase vessel traffic and multiply the risk of oil spills in the waterways just outside our front doors -- the waters that wash up on our favorite beaches. We are especially concerned about increases in tanker traffic transporting crude oil -- crude oil spills are the most damaging and most difficult to cleanup. 

“The specific target of our action at the County Fair is the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project -- poised to increase the number of tankers seven-fold per month. We islanders need to talk to Canada and let them know we won't let that happen without them putting the safest of precautions in place. Right now, Canada is not capable of effectively cleaning up an oil spill, and that is just not acceptable to us -- especially when we stand to lose nearly 80% of our county's economy should such a disaster happen. And for what? 50 permanent jobs for Canadians and hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to Kinder Morgan....”

OK, maybe it’ll take more than eating brownies but all that we do to save our Salish Sea should at least include brownies. Eat on!

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

State Extends Comment Period For Changes To Nearshore Fish Protection Rule

August 12, 2014
Contact: Amy Carey, Sound Action, (206) 745-2441

State Extends Comment Period For Changes To Nearshore Fish Protection Rule

After repeated refusals to extend a 30-day comment period, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reversed itself after last Friday’s public hearing by extending its comment period to September 15 on major revisions to the primary state regulations specifically protecting critical nearshore habitats and at-risk fish species.

The decision followed public testimony before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on the department’s proposed rulemaking for the state Hydraulic Code which is intended to protect fish and fish habitat from in-water development impacts of bulkheads, groins, piers and marinas. The Code was established to ensure no net-loss of the state’s critical nearshore habitats.

Prior to announcing its extension of the comment period, WDFW insisted that an extension would make little difference because of the complexity of the code revisions. “[E]xtending the comment period an additional 30 days will not provide those who are relatively new to the hydraulic code an opportunity to gain a more clear understanding of the intricacies of this package,” WDFW wrote earlier and reiterated at the start of Friday’s public hearing.

Sound Action’s executive director Amy Carey thanked the department for extending the comment deadline and acknowledged the complexity of the approximately 400 pages of documents, including 150 pages of proposed rule language.  “The point, however, is that the Hydraulic Code is the state’s primary tool for Puget Sound nearshore habitat protection and the public must always be given appropriate opportunity for involvement in the development of important environmental regulations,” said Carey.

“Although the documents may be somewhat technical in nature, we have a intelligent public throughout the region that cares about the health of Puget Sound and the proposed revisions to this code. Shutting them out by only offering a 30-day comment period was a poor decision and we comment the department for taking corrective action" said Carey.

Sound Action will be working with its membership and partners in the environmental community in the upcoming month to resolve areas of concern in the proposed rulemaking language.

Some major issues include:

·      Maintain the current definition of “protection of fish life” that clearly specifies prevention of loss or injury to fish or shellfish and protection of the habitat that supports fish and shellfish populations rather than changing to language defining “protection” as merely “avoiding or minimizing impacts through mitigation.”

·      Strengthen a definition of “no net loss” by making clear that it means there shall not be a net loss of fish life or loss to the productive capacity of fish and shellfish habitat or functions.

·      Maintain statutory requirements by eliminating use of “may,” “if possible,” and “when possible,” and make clear requirements for both department and applicant actions.

·      Add protective provisions for macroalgae, which is used by herring for spawning and by juvenile lingcod, rockfish and salmonids for refuge and as supporting habitat for important prey species.

·      Strengthen forage fish protections by including protections for potential spawning areas that have never been surveyed  and by including provisions to protect adult fish from construction impacts during spawning and pre-spawning activity. Currently less than 30 percent of Puget Sound shorelines have even been inventoried by WDFW which results in a forage fish protection gap.    

·      Strengthen protections against all shoreline armoring impacts by requiring engineer’s report documenting need in all single family bulkhead proposals and by requiring that least impact techniques be used.

These and other recommendations are included in Sound Action’s comment letter to WDFW.

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