The World is Their Pearl Oyster


Australian South Sea Pearling Industry is innovative, re-emergent and is embracing the rarity of Australian South Sea Pearls.

Over the weekend (12 November 2016) the Wall Street Journal ran the story on its website For Australia’s Pearl Farmers, the Wild Is Their Oyster.

The story (written by WSJ journalist Vera Sprothen) that charters the journey of the pearling industry over the past few years, and with a point of view that is both refreshing and rare, celebrates quality and rarity in favour of quantity and mass production:


The WSJ website also features a video that supplements the story above (click here to view it):

The video is high quality and augmented with footage from the recent National Geographic/Paspaley production “The Secret Life of Pearls.” Again it refreshingly provides some welcomed clarity with respect to an industry that isn’t well know. What is more it provides some astonishing truths about the industry in a global context:

Australia is the last place in the world where pearls are cultured in wild oysters. They are handpicked from the ocean floor by divers…”

In the last few years china has taken over the global market with cheap mass produced freshwater pearls. A single mussel, often cultivated in flooded rice paddies, can yield as many as 50 pearls, whereas a[n Australian] south sea oyster grows just one.”

Experts say that the quality of cheap pearls is proving every year. However, unlike [Australian] south sea pearls, the Chinese ones are irregularly shaped and bleached with chemicals to give them a white gloss.”

[I note that with respect to pearl quality and rarity, one chinese pearl jewellery producer points out in the video when referring to a pearl strand: “This is a big size south sea pearl from Australia. This is the perfect pearl. In every piece the colours match, the surface is very clean and the size is very big.

The video notes a sea-change in approaches by the Australian pearling industry.  The industry is innovating and branching out into the ability for consumers to feel the pearling experience, to bring the consumer closer even insofar as they can see the “grunt behind the glamour.”  The Australian Industry is also embracing their demonstrable sustainability, their harvest of wild oysters by hand, their gentle touch and minimal interaction with the environment and the harmony that is created between the pearl producer and the untamed waters of the Kimberley which is perfectly encapsulated in an Australian South Sea Pearl.

Personally I enjoyed the story. I look forward to the Australian South Sea Pearling Industry to continue to make their global mark.

“All the Glistens is not Gold”: In a World first Australian South Sea Pearls to undergo Assessment against the MSC Standard

 I note that they [the Australian Pearling Industry] are due for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification – which would certainly make Australian South Sea Pearls the ethical and responsible environmental choice … and make rare Australian pearls rarer still.



Thumbs Up for President Obama who Announces Plan to Protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay From Future Oil and Gas Drilling!!!


In a White house press release and video message posted online, President Obama announced his plan to designate Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing, exploration and drilling — an action that will safeguard waters that help provide 40 percent of USA’s wild-caught seafood, support a $2 billion annual fishing industry, and are vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities.

In a Press release by the white house…

President Obama designated the pristine waters of Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing.  This action safeguards one of the nation’s most productive fisheries and preserves an ecologically rich area of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska that is vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities.”

Using his executive powers Obama proclamated (see Youtube clip):

Under Authority granted me in Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 USC 1341(a), this withdrawal prevents consideration of this area for any oil or gas leasing for purposes of exploration, development or production.”

According to the Whitehouse Press release:

Bristol Bay is at the heart one of the world’s most valuable fisheries, helping to provide 40 percent of America’s wild-caught seafood and support a $2 billion annual fishing industry.  The beautiful and remote area is also an economic engine for tourism in Alaska, driving $100 million in recreational fishing and tourism activity every year. Bristol Bay hosts the largest runs of wild sockeye salmon in the world, and provides important habitat for many species, including the threatened Stellar’s eider, sea otters, seals, walruses, Beluga and Killer whales, and the endangered North Pacific Right Whale. 

Today’s decision to withdraw the area from all future oil and gas leasing extends indefinitely a temporary withdrawal that President Obama issued in 2010 and was set to expire in 2017.  This action builds on decades of local efforts to protect Bristol Bay from oil and gas development by Alaska Native tribes and organizations, as well as local seafood and tourism businesses that create jobs and strengthen Alaska and the nation’s economy. It also honors the legacy of Alaska residents like Harold ‘Harvey’ Samuelsen, a salmon fisherman who is legendary for his lifelong dedication to Bristol Bay and to creating economic opportunities for Alaska Native and rural communities.

The North Aleutian Basin Planning Area that includes Bristol Bay consists of approximately 32.5 million acres, a portion of which was leased in the mid-1980s but never developed due to litigation.  The previous Administration set in motion a new lease sale for 2011 that would have opened approximately 5.6 million acres – about one-fifth of the planning area – for drilling.

In 2010, President Obama temporarily withdrew the Bristol Bay area from oil and gas development, exercising his authority under section 12 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which gives the President authority to withdraw offshore areas from potential oil and gas leasing. President Eisenhower was the first to exercise the authority in 1960, withdrawing an area now included in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Since then, Presidents on both sides of the aisle have acted to withdraw areas of the Outer Continental Shelf from oil and gas leasing.

Under the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act of 1953, the Department of the Interior develops a new leasing program every five years for energy development in federal offshore waters.

The current Five Year Program for 2012–2017, which expires in August 2017, schedules 15 potential lease sales in six planning areas with the greatest resource potential, including more than 75 percent of the estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore waters.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is currently developing the 2017-2022 program, which includes opportunities for public comment.

Map Showing Area of Bristol bay, Alaska being protected by Obama's Proclamation (Source:

Map Showing Area of Bristol bay, Alaska being protected by Obama’s Proclamation (Source:

Culmination of Years of Campaigning by eNGOs, Fishers and other organisation

This Action by the US President must have come as GIGANTIC relief for a multitude of campaigners that have been working hard for years, trying to ensure the protection of this pristine wilderness area.

Bristol Bay Wilderness: (Source: Photo: Erin McKittrick)

Bristol Bay Wilderness: (Source: Photo: Erin McKittrick)

For more information about Bristol Bay

New Zealand to help Tonga develop a well-managed & sustainable deepwater line fishery


I just saw a wee snippet in Dive New Zealand:

The $2.7m NZ government-funded project draws expertise from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the South Pacific community, Tonga’s government and fishing industry. The aim is to develop a well-managed, sustainable line fishery for deepwater fish in Tonga’s Exclusive Economic Zone. 

This Tongan aid programme was first announced last month by NIWA in a press release:

New Zealand helps Tongan deepwater fisheries development

A programme to help Tonga maximise the economic benefits of commercial fishing has been launched in the country’s capital, Nuku’alofa.

Coinciding with a visit to Tonga by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, the $2.7m NZ government-funded project draws together expertise from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the Secretariat for the Pacific Community, Tonga’s government and fishing industry.

The aim is to develop a well-managed, sustainable line fishery for deepwater fish in Tonga’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Project leader and NIWA fisheries scientist Dr Stuart Hanchet said the project was funded by the NZ Aid Partnership Programme and partners will explore ways to maximise economic returns and develop new market opportunities.

“Biological sustainability and improved management are also key objectives,” Dr Hanchet said.

The project builds on the recently approved Tongan Deepwater Fisheries Management Plan by providing key information to support implementation of the plan.

Sustainable development in Tonga

The Agenda 21 website provides a good overview on sustainable development in Tonga:

The Agenda 21 was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Conference recommended that States consider preparing national reports and communicating the information therein to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) including, activities they undertake to implement Agenda 21, the obstacles and challenges they confront, and other environment and development issues they find relevant.

The Johannesburg Summit 2002 (the World Summit on Sustainable Development) organised by UN Commission on Sustainable Development focused on strategies for meeting challenges that best humanity going forward, including improving people’s lives and conserving our natural resources in a world that is growing in population, with ever-increasing demands for food, water, shelter, sanitation, energy, health services and economic security.

Also see: NZ announces “sustainable” development assistance for Tonga

Can Environmental Scientists be Environmental Advocates? Doesn’t the advocacy degrade the objectivity of the science?


I just learned that Daniel Pauly serves as a Director on the Oceana Board:

Dr. Daniel Pauly (The University of British Columbia)

Pauly is a renowned fisheries scientist. Since 1994, Pauly has been a professor at the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia. He currently serves as the principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at the Fisheries Centre, where his global, multi-year analyses of marine ecosystems has allowed him to reach startling and important conclusions, most critical among them that fish populations are declining rapidly all over the world.”

Some selected publications by Dr. Daniel Pauly

Dr. Daniel Pauly is Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us Project.   Source:

Dr. Daniel Pauly is Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us Project.

What’s my point?

Should I be surprised?  Where once science and advocacy were apart, increasingly over the last 20 years or so we’ve seen them conflate and even arguably fuse, Right? Is it just that times have changed?

It seems clear that environmental scientists like Daniel Pauly are no longer troubled by any real or perceived conflict of interest that active environmental advocacy brings, nor do they seem to be troubled by the erosion of the objectivity of the science that may either lend its support or not to a cause, when they are already advocating for a cause for which their science or technical information may be used… So why should I be troubled, these scientist/advocates don’t seem to be?

Well I think it is the question as to whether…  one is able to provide the best scientific and technical information, when one is advocating a position based on that information? What about future scientific and technical information? What about changes in information parameters?  Changes as a result of peer review? Methodological changes? What if results have to be re-worked? Re-computed? Re-interpreted?

I shouldn’t be shocked… floored… disappointed… But I am… I just can’t see how scientific and technical objectivity and environmental advocacy can reside effectively in the same professional?

Am I just being naive?

Leonardo DiCaprio gives Oceana $3 million USD for Shark Conservation


I just read in a note from Andrew Sharpless (CEO of Oceana) that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gave a $3 million dollar grant (to be spent over the course of 3 years) to Oceana for its work with marine conservation (and in particular its work with sharks, marine animals, and habitat in the Pacific and Arctic oceans):

I’m proud to announce that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation just awarded Oceana a grant of $3 million to aid our conservation efforts in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans [...] DiCaprio’s grant will support Oceana’s efforts to protect great white sharks, dolphins, whales and other marine animals from being caught (and potentially killed) as bycatch in gillnets and other unselective fishing gear. Additionally, the grant will help Oceana protect ecologically important ocean areas from the tip of Chile to the Gulf of Alaska from bottom trawling.

In a statement on the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation website Di Caprio said:

Protecting our planet’s oceans and the marine species that call it home is one of the most pressing sustainability crises facing humanity today and a moral imperative that we must acknowledge. It’s my hope that this grant will help Oceana continue the tremendous work that they do daily on behalf of our oceans.”

Screenshot of the Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation. Click to the Foundation website.

Screenshot of the Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation. Click to the Foundation website.

Walmart says it will begin accepting seafood certification programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council


I just read in the Guardian what I honestly thought might have occurred 4 months ago….

Walmart says it will begin accepting seafood certified programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council.”

Is it true? Have Walmart done an about turn on something they vilified just a year ago? Has Walmart just made an about face accepting the sustainability certification based on the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (COCRF)? I wasn’t sure I was reading correctly until my colleague sent me an email that with the dismissively cool subject title “Walmart accepts RFM standard” and an attached PDF of an article from Intrafish “Walmart: ASMI-backed program meets sourcing guidelines.” But the ‘coolness’ and lack of comment spoke volumes… We both have been following the intrigue and we both know the symbolism embedded in Walmart’s announcement.

So I don’t have to pinch myself… its true… here is some further evidence of its veracity:

On Thursday (23 January 2014) almost 4 months after acknowledging the kinks in its sustainable seafood sourcing policy at a US Senate hearing, Walmart’s Vice President of meat and seafood, David Baskin, announced that Walmart (the world’s largest retailer) had decided to expand its sustainable seafood policy (SSP) to include certification programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council. Prior to the revision of the SSP the the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) backed Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM)  certification programme was problematic for Walmart, who announced in 2013 that it would have to stop stocking Alaska seafood if it didn’t meet the MSC sustainable fisheries standard.

The progress towards Walmart’s sustainable seafood sourcing policy has been a slow one, with strong pressure being exerted by eNGOs who have undertaken to walk away from Walmart’s sustainability programme [NGOs push walmart to defy congress]. On the other hand, it is arguable that this call to defy congress, is nothing more than final push by the eNGOs who could see the recognition of the RFM by Walmart as inevitable after the United States General Services Administration (GSA) wrote MSC out of their sustainable sourcing policy in September 2013.

In an earlier post I quoted from a letter from GSA’s David Blue to US Senator Murkowski:

GSA’s believes that American managed fisheries do not require third-party certification to demonstrate responsible and sustainable practices.  GSA and HHS designed the Guidelines to make healthy choices more accessible and appealing.  We intended the Guideline’s citation of third-party certification organizations to serve as helpful examples for potential bidders, not as eliminating factors.  Our goal was to broaden choices, not to restrict options.”

In my mind this revision by GSA was the first indication that MSC’s prominent position as the principal market access gatekeeper was being eroded. The revision of the Walmart SSP goes further; by recognising the RFM programme as an acceptable third-party sustainable certification standard, it paves the way for viable market access alternatives to MSC.  In this way the revision of the SSP by Walmart has the potential to have far reaching effects for the sustainable certification of seafood worldwide. The initial effect of this announcement is that Walmart can continue to stock Alaska seafood in accordance with its SSP.

The revised policy provides for the inclusion of a management programme that accords with the Principles of Credible Sustainability Programs developed by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). It must be noted that acceptance by the TSC may be subject to a third party review. So acceptance is not assured. However, initially the Walmart SSP  stipulated that  all fresh and frozen, farmed and wild seafood suppliers to source from fisheries who are:

What are the short-term and long term effects?

Alaskan Airline's Wild Alaskan Salmon 737 - Note the Alaskan Fisheries Marketing Board Logo just below the Captain's side window.

Alaskan Airline’s Wild Alaskan Salmon 737 – Note the Alaskan Fisheries Marketing Board Logo just below the Captain’s side window. Source:

According to who quoted ASMI Communications Director, Tyson Fick:

The decision comes as vindication of Alaska’s seafood sustainability process. This isn’t just about salmon, it’s about RFM certified seafood like Pollock, cod, halibut, crab, and more.”

And Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich (chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard):

This is why I’m pleased that they have finally come full circle with a full reversal of their sustainability policies … to purchase Alaska seafood

So first hats off to Walmart!!!

Just like the ASMI they are trail blazing! And trail blazers are fabulous aren’t they?

Walmart deserve recognition as trail blazers because, not only did they soak up to the pressure; they had faith in seafood professionals who implement progress before PR, who put in the work to make sure their harvest is responsible and that their resource endurable. But mostly they deserve the trail blazer tag because of their acceptance of the RFM as a legitimate and acceptable seafood certification programme, even though the RFM is a sustainability programme that is outside environmental NGO sphere of influence. This is a move that cannot be under-estimated given that for the past decade environmental NGOs like WWF, have been (at least in fact) the self-imposed “what is sustainable and what is not sustainable” gate keepers. This position as market access gatekeepers has been a lucrative cashcow for a number of eNGOs who have built ticket clipping consultancy businesses around demonstrating sustainable sourcing. I am happy to see this position being abraded… I for one do not equate eNGOs with commercial consultancy.

In my opinion:

The acceptance of the RFM by Walmart is a step into the future… where primary producers will demonstrate the responsibility, the endurability and yes, the sustainability of their harvested resource, and where in consideration of the demonstration retailers will stock it and sell it to their customers…

This recognition of the Alaskan Responsible Fisheries (RFM) certification programme by Walmart is courageous, it will no doubt attract some flack from the media and eNGOs (who are no doubt very aware of the symbolism of the RFM recognition). But us netizens… as shoppers of sustainable seafood, as quid pro quo for Walmart’s bravado, should blaze a trail with our dollars and embrace Walmart’s purchasing policy.

Sadly I am unable to purchase seafood in Walmart today… But I am not based in the USA nor in a country with a Walmart. So please go give Walmart a pecuniary high five on my behalf… and have some salmon for dinner. ^^

Maui’s Dolphins: Rather than pointing fingers, let’s negotiate the polemic and point the way forward


I been following the Plight of the New Zealand Maui’s dolphin here at GfBf:


According to the Department of Conservation (DOC):

Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui)[is the world’s smallest dolphin and is found only on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. It is New Zealand’s rarest dolphin […] with a DOC-commissioned 2012 study estimated the Maui’s dolphin population to consist of 55 with a 95% confidence interval of between 48 to 69.”

For some the jury is still out on whether Maui’s dolphins constitutes a new species, a sub-species, or simply an extant population isolated from the other more common South Island Hector’s dolphins. For others that distinction is irrelevant.

In short the Maui’s dolphin is on the precipice of extinction. And worse still, in a country that prides itself on its effective, pro-active and precautionary environmental management.  Somehow the Maui’s dolphin has fallen through the cracks, and now it has got to the point that if something is not done… New Zealand will face the unthinkable…

Yet in this climate of catastrophe a maelstrom of accusations, finger pointing and emotive tit for tat is blocking any progress:

  • Cetacean scientists are blaming the fishermen who they say are 95% responsible for the decline;
  • The Government is concerned with the fusing of scientific evidence and eNGO advocacy and the lack of objective science;
  • The Media is publicly trying Taranaki fishermen and making claims that the Government is not doing enough;
  • The Government is countering with spatial closures of virtually the entire West Coast of the North Island; & lastly
  • The Fishermen who are wearing it all are claiming that they do not catch Maui’s dolphins and that the measures imposed by the Government are unduly arduous.

What a Cacophony!

In earlier pasts we have had a hard look at the science, have looked at the nature and extent of the interactions between Maui’s dolphins and fishing vessels and have looked at the records of Maui’s dolphin mortalities. None of this analysis has provided any clarity… Not really, all that it has really done is increased opacity and provided additional uncertainty to fuel debate.

There simply is no time for that, is there?

  • Sure Fishermen can wear some blame. They have interacted with dolphins, very occasionally. Unfortunately, risk is irreversibly linked to potential adverse outcomes… and the potential adverse outcome of one or two Maui’s dolphin mortalities in a population of 55 is very significant;
  • Sure the quality of the science is poor, and most of the scientific and technical personnel who should be providing objective advice to Government and Marine Managers are in bed with eNGOs advocating an end to fishing, marine mammal sanctuaries that comprise most of New Zealand’s coastal waters and other management measures;
  • Sure the Media’s coverage which is anti-fishermen, anti-Government and pro- scientific advocacy has skewed the debate and lead to national outrage and outpourings of emotion, this leads to more interest, and sells more papers;
  • Sure politicians are using the Maui’s debate to score political points, and the Government (which has the ability to impose a plethora of interventions) has instead dragged their feet, limiting management responses to spatial closures. This approach has had no effect on the population decline and has had a monumental adverse impact of the West Coast North Island Seafood Industry.

THIS FIASCO has created a culture of mistrust, which is the opposite of what is needed.

To save the Maui’s dolphin, we all need to sing from the same song sheet. We need to put aside egos, the point scoring. We have to stop saying “I am right way and your arewrong!”. We need to leave the science to the scientists, and the management to the managers. Personalities and perceptions of expertise have to be seen in context, and considered irrelevant outside that context … If Maui’s are to have a chance we have to do all of that and more.

Most of all we need to act … In unison

Hector’s dolphins have a unique rounded dorsal fin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The solution is clear!

I hate to be one of those people who rely on movies to provide relevant epistemology, but in my search to provide rationale for my belief that there must be a solution to the Maui’s dolphin cacophony, I seem to be unable to shake the image of the Merovingian on the Matrix Reloaded (2003) extolling his ‘one constant’ that there is:

“…One universal. It is the only real truth. Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect.”

But he may be right. If there is a problem there must be a solution.

A very well respected person from the Seafood Industry sent me a three pronged solution (below) that really must be shared. It is so simple, yet I am not surprised that such an ease of solution was overlooked, given the present status of the Maui’s dolphin fiasco:

  1. Get in there and intervene as soon as possible, and remove some animals from the wild for breeding
  2. Collaborate and objectively assess situation to find drivers of the decline and their solutions
  3. Negotiate the polemic… and meet the real objective which is to save the dolphins

1) Intervention

Maui’s dolphins are in trouble and the New Zealand Government is not doing enough to halt the trajectory towards their extinction.  Removing every fishing boat from the vicinity of Maui’s dolphin habitat will not halt the decline. It is past that now. It is time for intervention.

The plight of the Maui’s Dolphin is now no different from that of the Chatham Islands Black Robin (Petroica traversi), the American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) & Koala (Phascolarctos cinereu), which were all at one time also on the brink of extinction. For example the Californian Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) which had became extinct in the wild in 1987 had a population of just 22 individuals. It is estimated that there are now around 450 birds. So just as active intervention saved the black robin and the Californian condor from extinction, intervention is needed to save the Maui’s dolphin Just like what was done for the black robin and the kakapo (Strigops habroptila), some Maui’s dolphins need to be removed from the wild and breed to increase numbers (setting  aside genetic material for future should also be undertaken).

The Seafood Industry could lead this. After all the New Zealand Seafood industry has no shortage of innovative individuals who have the ‘get up and go’ that is needed to implement such an innovative initiative.

Maybe I am overly and naively optimistic… but I honestly believe that the New Zealand public and maybe even the Government (once they realise they are on a winner) would get in behind such a Seafood Industry lead initiative. The New Zealand public are good at getting behind good causes. Look at Peter Blake’s Red Socks (and he wasn’t saving a threatened species).

2) Find drivers behind the decline and the solutions

Despite what rhetoric is sold by the media, (risk aside) increased fishery observation, and mandatory reporting have demonstrated that fishing attributed mortalities are not the main threat to Maui’s dolphins, nor is fishing the primary threat to Maui’s survival. This much is clear.

So what is the main driver behind the decline? Is it environmental degradation of coastal waters? changes in the availability of their diet? disease? No-one knows for certain.

We need to get to the bottom of it.

We need to undertake an objective and independent expert review to establish the risks to the Maui’s dolphin population and to propose solutions.

The Government should drive this. They should cast the net as widely as they can, and seek expertise from wherever it can be found.  They should engage with interested parties from all corners of New Zealand, and seek international expertise.

3) Negotiate the polemic

For any assessment of the plight of Maui’s dolphins to be effective, it has to be based on the best available scientific/technical information. Assessment needs to be driven on facts and not emotion.

In order to make any progress and meet the undisputed objective (which is to save the dolphins) we need to assert interests and not positions.

Is pointing scoring, punishing, blaming and finger pointing meeting our objective, and saving the dolphins. You’d think with the amount of it going on that it is.

My last word is this…. Save the Dolphins