U.S. Law Restricting Trade in Rare Species Under Fire
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The Lacey Act is among the oldest wildlife protection laws in the country. It was designed at the turn of the 20th century to regulate the trade of rare animals across state lines. In 2008, lawmakers changed the act to give plants the same protection as animals. Gibson Guitars was the first offender caught with illegally logged wood and now, some lawmakers are rethinking the statute. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with the Environmental Intelligence Agency’s Andrea Johnson. (06:00)
Social Sciences Necessary to Spur Environmental Action
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It’s often assumed that advances in science and technology are key to helping the environment. But a new study by Bob Fri, a visiting scholar at Resources for the Future, suggests that social sciences are just as important. Fri tells host Bruce Gellerman that social sciences are critical to getting people to change habits and adopt new technology. (05:50)
Fishy Labels For Seafood/ Jessica Ilyse Kurn
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Popular retailers like Target, Costco and Walmart have started to sell fish labeled as certified sustainable. But there’s disagreement on what these labels mean. In the first piece of our series Go Fish: Striving for Sustainability, Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Kurn investigates what is sustainable fish. (09:00)
Protecting Pacific Salmon/ Ashley Ahearn
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Researchers are testing Pacific salmon for evidence of a virus that’s killed millions of farmed salmon in Europe, Chile and the east coast of North America. As EarthFix’s Ashley Ahearn reports, they want to know if the virus is present and what the dangers are to wild fish. (05:30)
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Performing under the aliases Cyril the Sorcerer and the Resourcerer, CJ May is a “recycling magician,” turning trash into compost and blowing up incandescent light bulbs. His unique vision offers entertaining but subtle lessons on the four R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink. He spoke with host Bruce Gellerman. (05:20)
Befriending An Octopus/ Steve Curwood
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Octopuses may have small brains, but scientists believe they are intelligent creatures with distinct personalities. Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood and environmental writer Sy Montgomery went behind the exhibits at the New England Aquarium and wrapped their arms around Octavia, a giant Pacific octopus. (14:30)
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Andrea Johnson, Bob Fri, CJ May, Sy Montgomery, Bob Murphy
REPORTERS: Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Ashley Ahearn, Steve Curwood
GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. There's a proposal to amend the nation’s oldest environmental protection law. It would reduce the first time fine for importing illegal trees from half a million dollars to 250.
JOHNSON: There are a lot of people wondering if we are going to weaken one of the most universally recognized environmental statutes we've passed. The world is watching the U.S. right now.
GELLERMAN: Also - sustainably caught fish catches on. Consumers like it. Supermarkets like it. And fishermen say it'll protect their future.
WILLIAMS: We’ve seen it happen time and time again - this boom-bust fishing - where you over fish, the fishery collapses and then it takes years and years and years to rebuild. It can’t be a free for all, there’s just not enough there.
GELLERMAN: We begin a special series we call 'Go Fish.' These stories and a lot more this week, on Living on Earth. Stay with us!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. The Lacey Act is our nation’s oldest wildlife protection law. President McKinley signed it into law back in 1900 to regulate the trade of rare animals across state lines. Over the years the Lacey Act has been amended many times, and in 2008 it became a federal crime to trade in illegally harvested plants.
That includes exotic and endangered hardwood trees. A year after the Lacey Act was amended to include these forest products, armed U.S. Marshals made their first bust under the new statue. It was at the factory of the legendary Tennessee-based Gibson Guitar Company. The raid was ridiculed by the Tea Party, which called it government regulation run amok, and it gave voice to this protest song:
[MUSIC: The government cave-in to Gibson guitar, and automatic weapons it was so bizarre. I didn’t believe they would go that far, they were up to no good… [Keep Your Hands Off Our Wood, An Original Song for Gibson Guitar (©2011 Steve Bryant]]
GELLERMAN: But in Madagascar, which has largely been deforested, musicians also took to the stage and held a concert rally to protest illegal logging.
A rosewood tree is cut down inside Masoala National Park, Madagascar (2009). (Toby Smith/Environmental Investigation Agency)
[MUSIC: Razia Said Concert for Masoala Rain Forest - 2011]
GELLERMAN: Madagascar's hardwoods come under the Lacey Act, and the Justice Department charges that's where Gibson Guitar got illegal wood for their instruments. Now, two Tennessee lawmakers have introduced a bill to amend the law and shield Gibson from prosecution. Andrea Johnson has been probing the guitar company case – she's Director of Forest Campaigns for the non-profit group The Environmental Investigation Agency.
JOHNSON: We were invited in 2009 by the National Park Service of Madagascar. There had been a huge influx of illegal loggers. We went on the ground; we looked at the situation. We, then, traced the trade - we looked at where is this stuff going because nobody in Madagascar is building their houses out of ebony and rosewood. This is one of the poorest countries on earth, and 100 percent of the illegal wood that is coming out of those national parks is for the export trade.
GELLERMAN: Did it come here? Did it go to Tennessee? Did it go to the Gibson Company?
JOHNSON: Well, we looked at these trade flows and we found that some of this wood is going to China, and we also found that there is a stream that goes through Europe to Tennessee to Gibson Guitars.
GELLERMAN: Well, we should say that the president of Gibson Guitar adamantly denies the allegations, and in fact, he says he’s not even against the Lacey Act.
JOHNSON: Yes. This is true. This is what he has taken to saying in public - that he doesn’t oppose the Lacey Act, that it’s a good law, it just needs to be fixed. And, you know, it’s an interesting concept that when you are investigated under a law, your response - instead of going through the due process that the American justice system affords you to prove your innocence - you instead "fix" the law so that you, presumably, would not be subject to it again.
You know, it’s been a surreal few months. This is, in many ways, an example of an environmental problem that we have found a somewhat successful approach for. There have been good studies showing that illegal logging has decreased by almost a quarter in the last decade.
GELLERMAN: Well, there’s a Tennessee Democrat and a Tennessee Republican who have introduced a bill that would change the Lacey Act.
JOHNSON: The bill that has been introduced - it’s called the Relief Act - we call this the ‘Relief for Illegal Loggers Act’ - you know, the bill is a response to a huge outcry on the part of the music industry, and not only sort of instrument makers, but individual musicians.
GELLERMAN: So, how do they want to change the law?
JOHNSON: The law would do a few things. One of the changes it would make would be to exempt products that were manufactured or wood that was imported prior to the passage of the 2008 amendment. That’s a particular concern for the music industry.
GELLERMAN: So, everything before 2008 that was imported would be exempt - grandfathered in.
Rosewood logs awaiting export in 2009 from northeastern Madagascar, a hotbed of illegal logging. (Toby Smith/Environmental Investigation Agency)
JOHNSON: It would grandfather in wood from before 2008. Then, it would dramatically reduce the penalties for first time offenders to only 250 dollars. Right now, if the government can knowingly prove that a company imported illegal timber, they can receive fines up to half a million dollars and even jail time.
GELLERMAN: Then this would set the limit at 250 dollars.
JOHNSON: $250 dollars, it’s like a speeding ticket, you know? And fourth, this bill would prevent basically any seizure and confiscation of goods, even if they’ve been proved to be stolen by the government.
GELLERMAN: So the government couldn’t come in and seize and confiscate illegal wood.
JOHNSON: No. It essentially eliminates, in practice, the economic incentives to care about your sourcing because the government no longer would be able to take your products. Even if it could prove that they were contraband.
I mean, I’m a forester myself - I work in the tropics. I believe in, I believe in cutting trees. I think it can protect forests if done right, but the way that forestry is being done in Peru and Indonesia, in Russia, in so many places, is robbing these countries and the communities that live in them of these natural resources, because it’s being done in a way that doesn’t leave any of the benefit in the country itself.
You know, it’s a crime and it’s a shame, and the world is watching the U.S. right now. There are a lot of people wondering if we are going to weaken one of the most universally recognized environmental statutes we’ve passed in the last decade.
GELLERMAN: We’ve been talking about the Lacey Act with Andrea Johnson. She’s Director of Forest Campaigns for Environmental Investigation Agency - it’s a non-profit environmental group. Andrea Johnson, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
- Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz’s editorial “Repeal the Lacey Act? Hell no, Make It Stronger”:
- Musician Razia Said helped organize a concert to publicize illegal logging of rainforests in Madagascar
- The Environmental Investigation Agency is a non-profit watchdog group that looks at environmental crime
[MUSIC: Johnson: The Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from The White Album (EMI Records 2010)]
GELLERMAN: Typically, we turn to science and technology to help solve our tough environmental problems. But turning these solutions into things we actually use, well, that takes something more. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has just released a report that explores what else is needed to make a renewable energy future possible and practical.
Bob Fri is director of the project and a visiting scholar at Resources for the Future. I met him at a workshop at the Academy to learn what that missing ingredient is.
FRI: There's a big difference between a really cool idea and one that a lot of people use. Getting the technology and science right is the next to last step in the process. The last step is to get the technology to diffuse through the economy at a large enough scale that it makes a difference. And that raises a bunch of questions that are more in the province of social sciences than they are in physical and engineering sciences.
GELLERMAN: So, we’re talking about social science - we’re talking about anthropology, sociology…
FRI: Behavioral economics, psychology - the whole lot. The whole range of them, yeah.
GELLERMAN: How do we apply what they do to what we need in terms of getting people to use alternative energy resources?
FRI: Just to give you an example: one of the big problems is what’s called the ‘energy efficiency paradox.’ There are all these studies that show that any sensible, rational person would go out and buy all kinds of energy efficiency devices because they would save you money, yet it doesn’t happen. And the reason that it doesn’t happen is that there are other values at play and other reasons for individual and household behavior. It’s just too much trouble to build in a new heating and air conditioning system in your house even though the economics look great.
GELLERMAN: You know, it’s interesting you say this because I was just researching getting solar photovoltaics put on the roof of my house. So I had a couple of analyses done and it makes incredible economic sense for me to do it. Over 20 years I can save 25, maybe $27,000 dollars. Understanding the analysis and the process is really hard, and I know this stuff.
FRI: That’s right, and I’ve had the same experience with other folks - other friends of mine - that are equally sophisticated that have to fight their way through the system - even though they understand it - to make it happen. And you’re just not going to get adoption that way. Another example is, as you know, there’s this big debate about fracking - fracturing technology and the shale gas, right?
And, that’s… and there are a lot of scientific questions, but a key question is that this technology means that you move in an industrial process that is going to stay in a location forever. It’s not just drill a well and go away. You’ve gotta keep dong it. So it’s this on-going industrial process, which creates a cultural problem - culture in conflict with the in- place culture. So you actually need people like anthropologists to understand. So the social sciences just, I think, have a lot to contribute.
GELLERMAN: But when you speak to engineer-types, do they say ‘ah, that social science stuff, that’s mushy-gushy,’ and when you speak to the social science types do they say ‘oh, that’s hard-nosed, that’s formulaic, that’s number crunching?'
FRI: Yes, and yes - are the short answers to your question! And so how do you deal with that? Well, you’ve gotta prove to the engineer types that if you apply social science to the technologies that they’re interested in seeing deployed and they will be more successful as a result, over time you’ll overcome that opposition. And, the case of the social scientists, if you can say ‘look, look in the energy field. I can formulate a more interesting research question than the one you are working on today,’ then you will influence them. But it takes a lot of work to prove yourself in both communities, and so it will take time.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, you’ve gotta bridge cultural gaps.
FRI: Absolutely. Yes.
GELLERMAN: You know, in terms of bridging the gap, sometimes you build it and then they do come. I’m thinking of 'Cash for Clunkers.' Tremendous program - I mean, people couldn’t trade in their old cars fast enough. An, then you have some technologies like geothermal and wind power as highly controversial, and people are fighting tooth and nail against it.
FRI: That’s right - and for it. And in the case of ‘Cash for Clunkers’ - that one was pretty easy to understand. And I suspect the auto dealers who were administering that program, early on, figured out that they had to make it easy for the customer. But you know, when a bunch of windmills show up in your backyard, and if you haven’t been talked to about it in advance, you’re likely to have a much more adverse reaction, and in part, because you feel helpless and you can’t do anything about it.
GELLERMAN: Can social sciences then smooth the process between either acceptance or rejection? I mean, make it less painful, less confrontational?
FRI: Yeah, it can. I think in the case of siting new energy facilities, there actually are some social scientists who are very good - if you start early enough in the process - they're very good at getting the stakeholders together and, if not getting a total consensus from everybody, at least deescalating the conflict to the point where a reasonable solution can be put in place.
GELLERMAN: Well, a lot at stake here though.
FRI: Ultimately yeah. Quite a lot. It’s one thing to invest a lot of money in doing the basic research and coming up with these cool, new technologies, but unless they diffuse through the economy at a scale that makes a difference, it doesn’t make a difference.
GELLERMAN: Mr. Fri, thank you very much. I really appreciate you taking the time for me.
FRI: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.
[MUSIC: Bill Laswell/Roots Tonic “Employees Must Wash Their Hands” from Bill Laswell Meets Roots Tonic (ROIR 2006)]
GELLERMAN: Bob Fri is the director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ project on the Alternative Energy Future.
GELLERMAN: Just ahead: eco-conscious food labels. Do they help or confuse consumers? Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: The Jazz Crusaders “Cathy The Cooker” from Lighthouse 68 (Blue Note Records 2004 Reissue)]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. With Black Friday just around the corner, stores are gearing up to satisfy our seemingly insatiable appetite for flat screen TVs, surround sound stereos, and fish. You might have noticed lately that Target, Walmart, and many big supermarket chains have been offering what they promise is certified sustainable seafood, but buyer, beware.
Today we launch a new series: Go Fish: Striving for Sustainability, and we join Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Kurn as she investigates the pledges that stores have made.
KURN: Walk down the aisles of virtually any grocery store today and you’ll notice the many symbols on each package. There’s USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Certified Humane. So-called ‘eco-labels’ are everywhere - even on fresh fish.
GOVANNI: Anytime you see this seal or you see this one that says "Certified Sustainable," you’ll know that the fishing was done responsibly.
KURN: That’s Barbara Govanni. She works behind the seafood counter at the Shaw’s grocery store in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Shaw’s is one of the largest grocery chains in New England and along with other big name stores like Walmart, Target and Big Y, Shaw's has pledged to carry seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Govanni points to the fish glistening on ice behind the glass case. There’s Alaskan halibut, and Wild Sockeye Salmon, both flagged with a Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC, sign. The MSC’s Kerry Coughlin says the label means that each fish can be traced back to a certified sustainable fishery.
COUGHLIN: We are the world’s leading global standard for sustainability in seafood.
KURN: The symbol is blue, with a white outline of a fish that looks like a check mark - a sign of green approval. There are several eco-labels for seafood, the most common you’ll see are 'dolphin-safe' labels. Coughlin says the MSC label means that the fish were caught in a way that’s not damaging the marine ecosystem.
COUGHLIN: It’s also harvested in a way that is not depleting the fish stock, where the fish stock is maintaining or even regenerating to ensure that there’s plenty of fish for this and future generations.
KURN: This is important. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says 70% of the world’s fisheries are either fully exploited or on their way to depletion. So if we want to dine on fish and chips, or crab cakes, we have to figure out a way to protect the stocks. The MSC takes the business angle.
COUGHLIN: We’re a voluntary, market-driven concept and that’s the beauty of it. Fisheries are motivated to make changes because suppliers like Walmart, like Costco, like Whole Foods are saying, “we’re not going to be purchasing seafood anymore that isn’t from a certified sustainable fishery.”
Fishermen fill totes with 70 pounds of crab to unload onto the docks. (Photo: Raphaella Bennin)
KURN: Coughlin says their plan is to bring the whole market to bear on this - right back to the fishermen.
[SOUND OF FACTORY IN NEW BEDFORD]
KURN: Men like Jon Williams. We meet in his busy fish factory in New Bedford, Mass, on the aptly-named Herman Melville Blvd. He’s the owner of the Atlantic Red Crab Company, the largest crab company on the East Coast. It catches 5 million pounds each year, all certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
KURN: Williams leads me through his factory out to the docks where men are unloading crab from the Krystal James, a large fishing boat just back from sea.
WILLIAMS: You’re probably going to see more crab right now then you’ve ever seen in your life in one spot.
[SOUND OF A BOAT BEING UNLOADED BY A CRANE]
KURN: A towering crane sits on the front half of the boat. It hauls crab from the hold to the docks, 60 to 70 pounds at a time. It takes 5 hours to unload the 75,000-pound catch from the Krystle James.
[SOUNDS OF CRANE UNLOADING CRAB CATCH]
KURN: To win the MSC certification, Williams had to meet three main criteria. He had to prove that his operation was not overexploiting the red crab or damaging their habitat; he had to limit the dolphins, turtles, and other fish species caught by accident, and obey all laws, local, national and international - like restricted fishing zones. He says the hardest thing to prove was that crabs weren’t getting smaller overtime.
Jon Williams tells Jessica Kurn how he cooks up crab. (Photo: Raphaella Bennin)
WILLIAMS: That would be an alarming trend - if over the years we still catch the 4 million pounds of crab every year, but the size goes down every single year, that’s not sustainable. And that’s for our own protection, we don’t want to start fishing on smaller crab either.
KURN: We clamber down off the boat and head to a corner of the factory where Kayla Schmidt is poking and prodding crabs to get some measurements. She’s from the National Marine Fisheries Service. It's a federal agency responsible for the stewardship of the U.S. marine ecosystem. Schmidt picks out 100 crabs at random from the boat.
SCHMIDT: We sex them out, we measure them, document them all; get the weight…just to get a better sense of the size crab, where they’re coming from - to get the stock assessment.
KURN: So far, the data show the crab fishery is resilient and plentiful. Williams says it took eight years to get his MSC certification, but it doesn’t seem to get him a higher price at the store.
WILLIAMS: It really shouldn’t. I don’t think that a fishery should capitalize on the fact that they’re sustainable and then gouge the consumer as a result of it. I just think that it’s been able to put us on more shelves that we wouldn’t otherwise be on.
KURN: But many fishermen have discovered that fishing sustainably isn’t just to get into more supermarkets, it’s also important for an enduring business.
WILLIAMS: I mean, we’ve seen it happen time and time and time again - this boom-bust fishing, where you over fish, and then the fishery collapses, then it takes years and years and years to rebuild. It can’t be a free for all, there’s just not enough there.
[SOUND OF CRANE OFFLOADING CRAB FROM THE BOAT IN THE BACKGROUND]
KURN: The Marine Stewardship Council’s label is supposed to make it easier for the consumer to know which fish to buy. With labeled fish, eco-conscious shoppers won’t have carry around a wallet full of seafood guides, or do the research themselves. But some scientists say this simplification deceives the consumer. Jennifer Jacquet is a research scientist at the University of British Columbia. She finds the MSC’s method suspect.
JACQUET: They seem to be more, if anything, a fisheries improvement project, where they try to co-opt fisheries into this program and then they say that their goal is to raise standards over time. But that’s not how they marketed themselves to the consumer. To the consumer they’ve sold this idea that this is the best environmental choice - you are eating something that is guilt free.
University of British Columbia’s researcher Jennifer Jacquet. (Jennifer Jacquet)
KURN: Jacquet and her colleagues say that fisheries in decline should not be certified until their stocks have recovered. And she gives an example: when the MSC says 9 out of 10 of their fisheries are sustainable that could misleading.
JACQUET: I’d say ok which are the 9 and they might say rock lobster in Mexico, and herring in Norway. And ok, well which one is the one out of 10 that isn’t doing well? It might be pollock or it might be hake off of British Columbia.
KURN: In other words, big fisheries covering a large area that Jacquet and other scientists consider in decline. The key here is scale - tonnage of fish caught. But consumers don’t want to stop eating popular fish like cod, salmon and hake, so Jacquet says the MSC has two choices.
JACQUET: They could work hard to turn around these big fisheries and that would take a lot of time. And they wouldn’t have enough certified fish to feed the consumer demand. Or they could just certify those big fisheries as they are and perhaps hope - fingers crossed - that they would turn around at some point.
KURN: She says it would be better to give consumers a different message.
JACQUET: Eat less seafood, eat lower on the marine food web. And those are fish like sardines, herring, mackerel. The things lower on the food web, more resilient to over-fishing, faster turn around, shorter life span.
[AMBIENCE FROM SHAW'S GROCERY STORE]
KURN: Back at the Shaw’s grocery store, Barbara Govanni wraps up some fish for a customer. She says that her clientele seem interested in this new campaign.
GOVANNI: It’s not necessarily something they think about - food on the table is what they’re thinking about, but when you put it right in their face: “look we’ve done this in a humane and sustainable way,” they think about it, and then they come back. So it brings questions if nothing else.
A sign outside Shaw’s grocery store explaining their commitment to sustainable fish. (Photo: Raphaella Bennin)
KURN: And consumers' questions spur discussion and debate, creating a groundswell of awareness. Critics say at the end of the day, the seafood eco-labels help, but they aren’t a get out of jail free card. Perhaps the key is, as Jennifer Jacquet advises, eat lower on the seafood chain - and that can taste good as well.
WILLIAMS: I think my favorite is just a traditional crabmeat roll. You just take cooked crabmeat with a little bit of mayonnaise and put it in a roll and just heat it. I mean I like the claws; I never get tired of crab.
KURN: And Jon Williams says he’ll keep his fishery sustainable so we won’t have to get tired of crab either. For Living on Earth I’m Jessica Ilyse Kurn.
[MUSIC: Lightnin Hopkins “Fishin Clothes” from Fishin Clothes – The Jewel Recordings 1965 – 1969 (Jewel R ecords 2005)]
GELLERMAN: Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus leaves fish gasping for air. In some cases the virus kills 100 percent of the fish. I.S.A. has infected fish farmed in Europe, Chile and the east coast of North America.
Scientists believed I.S.A. might have been infecting wild salmon on the west coast too, but Canadian government officials found the tests they did in British Columbia inconclusive. Now researchers in nearby Washington State are trying to make sure their fish stay disease free. Ashley Ahearn of the public radio project Earthfix has our report.
AHEARN: Infectious Salmon Anemia is a multi-million dollar potential problem. But right now, it’s just that: a potential problem. Bruce Stewart, a biologist with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Council.
STEWART: The tests are so sensitive that you can pick up small copies of this virus and the test is prone to false positives. You think you have a positive, but it’s not, so something else is triggering it.
Tissue samples from the spleen and kidney are collected for analysis back at Bruce Stewart's lab in Olympia, Washington. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn)
AHEARN: The type of testing that was done on the samples taken from wild salmon in British Columbia is called a “molecular-based assay.” This test looks at the genome or snippets of the genome of the virus, and then tries to match that with existing samples of the virus from past outbreaks – like the ones that happened in Chile and Norway in recent years.
Canadian officials questioned the quality of the wild salmon samples, and said they’ve done extensive testing for I.S.A. in their farmed salmon and all tests have come back negative. So no one knows for sure if the virus is in Northwestern waters, but that doesn’t mean scientists and governmental officials are going to stop looking.
The key to confirming the I.S.A. findings is getting a live sample of the virus in the lab, so scientists can study its intact genome. That’s part of why Bruce Stewart is here at the Muckleshoot tribal hatchery.
[SOUNDS OF HATCHERY]
AHEARN: The creek behind the hatchery churns with Coho salmon, just returning from two years in the open ocean. While at sea, these hatchery fish have been exposed to the same viruses as wild salmon, so they’re a good representation of what might be out there. Hatchery workers net the salmon from the creek, their dappled red bodies flopping around madly.
[SOUND OF KILLING SALMON]
AHERN: A quick thwack on the head with a wooden baton and the salmon lies still. Then hatchery workers cut the eggs out of its belly. Semen from the males is mixed with the eggs taken from the females and then set aside to incubate.
During this process 60 of these fish are set aside for Bruce Stewart. He’s hunched over a long table sticking a syringe into the abdomen of the female Cohos and sucking out a clear liquid.
STEWART: So, what I’m doing is taking out ovarian fluid from each one of these females. We know that ovarian fluid is a highly sensitive fluid for viruses - the one’s we’re looking for.
AHEARN: Stewart has been collecting samples like this, along with bits of kidney and spleen, at hatcheries around Puget Sound since the late '80s. Tribal, federal and state departments test between 35 and 40,000 fish around the region each year looking for all kinds of viruses and bacteria.
Stewart says the testing will need to be ramped up because the standard tests he and his colleagues do aren’t designed to pick up I.S.A. That means that the virus could already be here. It just might not have been detected.
STEWART: Could it be a non-virulent form that has been here for years, not causing any problems? That’s definitely a possibility.
AHEARN: Wild salmon have been shown to be less vulnerable to the I.S.A. virus, but they can carry it. Basically, viruses aren’t stupid. They know not to kill their host if there’s not another host nearby. So in the wild, scientists believe I.S.A. tends to stay non-lethal.
But if that virus makes its way into, say, a pen of farmed Atlantic salmon, well, that’d be like Thanksgiving dinner. With all those potential hosts, the virus can mutate out of survival mode and into kill mode, as it did in some north Atlantic salmon farms. Jim Winton is the chief of fish health research at the U.S. Geological Survey in Seattle.
WINTON: This group of viruses has the ability to adapt to other species and stocks and to become more dangerous. And so, one thing we really need to know is if this virus is present in the West, how dangerous is it currently and how dangerous could it become for wild stock?
AHEARN: The only way to find that out is to get that Holy Grail sample: the intact genome of the virus. Winton could then expose Pacific salmon in his lab and see how they might react. That would give him some idea about what this virus might be doing to wild fish in the open ocean. It would also tell him where this virus came from.
WINTON: We don’t know all of the methods by which viruses can move around the globe, but as global trade increases, as aquaculture increases, there are going to be more cases of this sort of finding. Also, our detection technologies are getting better and we’re looking in places we didn’t used to look.
AHEARN: The Washington Fish Growers Association has expressed concern, but said that no I.S.A. virus has been detected in their sampling. If I.S.A. shows up in samples like the ones Bruce Stewart collected at the Muckleshoot Hatchery, then fish farmers will most likely heighten their existing I.S.A. testing and try to develop a vaccine.
But there’s not much that can be done to protect wild fish from the virus or prevent it from transferring to penned fish. The lab results won’t be ready for over a month. Until then, officials are gearing up for more surveillance of farmed, hatchery and wild salmon in these waters. I’m Ashley Ahearn in Seattle.
GELLERMAN: Our story about testing for the deadly Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus comes to us from EarthFix. It's a public-media project that explores the environment of the Pacific Northwest.
[MUSIC: “Manfred Mann’s Earth Band “Salmon Fishing” from Odds And Sods (Cohesion/Ditto Music 2005)]
GELLERMAN: Wouldn’t it be great if you could make all that plastic, waste paper and all those dead batteries you have piling up just magically disappear? Well, with just a few waves of his wand, CJ May can do the trick. And he’s got a lot more like that one up his sleeve. CJ May is a certified magician. He practices the Green Arts as the Coordinator of Recycling at Yale University and the magical Arts as Cyril the Sorcerer.
MAY: Both magic and recycling take one thing and make it into something else. Magicians take things and make things into something else all the time - an egg into a dove - but recycling takes old paper, old cans and bottles - stuff that people generally don’t want anymore - and turns it into something that they do. Here’s an opportunity to use one thing to support the other, and to do it in a way, that, instead of forcing it down someone else’s throat, is actually, if I do it well, delighting them and helping them chose a better course for the planet and for themselves.
GELLERMAN: So, you’ve got recycling up your sleeve. What other illusions do you use in your act?
MAY: Well, it’s fun because we’re entering a new era of ‘resourcery’. And in order to enter a new era of resourcery, we really have to say goodbye to the old era, and I hold up an icon - Edison’s incandescent light bulb. For most of us - your age and my age - this is a sign of intelligence, innovation - it’s a sign of the 20th century. The incandescent light bulb turned back the night - it brought light into darkness. Unfortunately, it’s also horribly outdated; it’s extremely inefficient.
GELLERMAN: So, how do you work that into a magic trick?
CJ May (a.k.a. the Resourcerer) combines his two passions: magic and recycling. (Photo: Mia Malafronte)
MAY: Well, I hold up the light bulb, and then I say, “So, we’re entering a new era where we need to use our resources wisely. So let us say goodbye to that old era - to that old inefficient technology.” And then the bulb, which I’m holding not directly, but through a bag, explodes. And that generally gets people’s attention.
GELLERMAN: I know one of the illusions you perform is called the ‘Trash Can Chop Cup.’ Am I right?
MAY: Yeah, that’s actually one of the few I can take credit for. Most of the magic that I perform is standard magic that any magician might know or buy, but they never thought to put it together in terms of recycling education. And so I have a small trashcan, and I show the trashcan empty and I put different items in and say, ‘What happens if we don’t recycle this paper? What happens if we don’t recycle this mercury battery?’ I put it in the trashcan and then I turn the trashcan over. The items have vanished and ashes come out.
And the reason we have that, and specifically in Connecticut, is Connecticut is a state where we burn our trash. We do generate some electricity from burning trash in Connecticut, but a lot of items such as metal and glass certainly shouldn’t be burned at all, because they don’t produce any electricity.
GELLERMAN: Well, I was thinking of the old adage of a magician, you know - the hand is quicker than the eye. But unfortunately, because a lot people just toss stuff away, they’re not looking to the future. How do you get people to look to the future?
MAY: There’s a lot of different ways to do it. Some of them aren’t magical, but actually one of the big magical things is money. For homeowners, the recycling professionals have found that one of the single best ways to get a suburban household to start recycling is to charge them for removing trash and to make the removal of recycling free.
GELLERMAN: Boy, I tell you, I’m not a magician, but when I compost - which I just started doing it in my house - it makes the garbage disappear! The stuff I have to bring to the curb is - like - one tenth of what it was before.
MAY: Well, I’ve got some good statistics on that. The EPA says that our trash is between 30 and 40 percent organics. So, if you look in the average American’s trashcan, you’re going to see a lot of food waste, you’re going to see cut flowers, you’re going to see leaves, and none of that stuff should go into the trash. All of that really is magical. All of that can be made into new stuff again.
And I enjoy actually doing one particular trick with that - I talk about composting. We started a composting program at Yale for our food waste, and I talk about how you can take all the food waste, and I throw it into this bin, close the lid - snap-o, presto change-o- and now that’s turned into dirt and I can pour the dirt out.
But dirt by itself isn’t any good, because why would you want dirt? I close the lid again and open it up and flowers grow out. And that’s a delight in trying to show them quickly, because the composting process is quite long, and you’ve experienced that with your own garden. But if we can show them in this sort of split second change what they can accomplish, then we’re helping that educational process.
GELLERMAN: So, CJ, what is it about a magic show that can change people’s behavior - you know, abracadabra?
MAY: One of them certainly is just the - gee, wow, whiz factor of a magic show can get people’s attention and that it will retain the message - whatever’s conveyed afterwards - in their mind. The second thing is that magic such as taking an old newspaper or taking an old piece of foil and making it into a new aluminum can, points out directly by its action what you can do.
And if what we, as magicians - green magicians - can convey the wonder in our world, and the wonder of what every single member of the audience can do by recycling, then I think we’re doing a good job and we’re helping all of us see the magic that we have everyday all around us.
GELLERMAN: Well CJ, it was a lot of fun talking with you.
MAY: Thank you so much, it was a joy to talk with you as well.
GELLERMAN: CJ May is coordinator of recycling at Yale University. When he performs his magic, he’s Cyril the Sorcerer or the Resourcer-er.
[MUSIC: Brooklyn Funk Essentials “Magick Karpet Ride” from In the Buzzbag (Doublemoon Records 1998)]
GELLERMAN: Tell me, O Octopus, I begs. Is those things arms, or is they legs?
Coming up - a story that we're sure will grab you. Stay tuned to Living on Earth!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; Gilman Ordway - for coverage of conservation and environmental change, and the Sierra Club, helping city-bound kids explore and enjoy wild places they'll later strive to protect. Online at sierraclub.org/livingonearth. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Gabor Szabo “Breezin” from High Contrast (UMG Records 1971)]
GELLERMAN: It's Living On Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman.
[SOUNDS OUTSIDE OF THE NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM, SEA BIRD AND CAR SOUNDS]
GELLERMAN: On an unseasonably warm November day, Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood visited the New England Aquarium. There he met up with environmental writer Sy Montgomery, who has a new best friend.
CURWOOD: Now, Sy Montgomery, you’ve written a lot about really smart animals, in fact, you had one live with you; his name was Christopher Hogwood, he was a pig. And then when you went to the Amazon, you met these pink dolphins. I think maybe you fell in love with one of the pink dolphins, too.
MONTGOMERY: Oh, I think I fell in love with all of the pink dolphins, Steve!
CURWOOD: (laughs) And of course, there are the Golden Moon Bears that you tracked down in Southeast Asia, all very smart. And today we’re at the New England Aquarium to meet another very smart animal, you tell us. And that would be a …
MONTGOMERY: A Giant Pacific Octopus.
Living on Earth's Steve Curwood with author Sy Montgomery.
CURWOOD: Uh, octopus? Just one though?
MONTGOMERY: Yes. The problem is, if you put two together, they tend to eat each other.
CURWOOD: And more than one octopus … do you say octopuses, octopi, octope, what do you do?
MONTGOMERY: Unfortunately, it’s now octopuses. It’s because the plural - octopi - did not go with the origin of the word octopus, and so it’s supposed to be octopuses.
CURWOOD: Huh. So, who are we going to meet today, Sy?
MONTGOMERY: We are going to meet a Giant Pacific Octopus named Octavia.
CURWOOD: Octavia. And this isn’t, of course, your first time encountering these animals.
Octavia rises out of her tank. (Photo: Tony LaCasse)
MONTGOMERY: Well, no. I got to know Octavia’s predecessor, whose name was Athena. I visited her three times. Athena, when we first met, it was the most amazing thing. She started coiling up from her exhibit - her arms started coming out and I plunged my arms into the 57-degree water, which is actually very cold, and immediately we were just embracing each other. Her suckers were all over me. I was petting her beautiful head, and I would notice that her skin would turn light colored right underneath my touch.
CURWOOD: No way.
MONTGOMERY: And I knew that that’s the sign of a contented octopus. An unhappy, angry octopus turns red and gets all pimply. But she was showing her contentment and letting me touch her head. And after the encounter, which went on for awhile, I was told by the wonderful folks at the New England Aquarium, they said, ‘this is very unusual for an octopus to let someone - a stranger like you - touch her head.’ So we had an immediate bond.
But I just met Octavia last Friday, and just from my short encounter with her, I can tell you she’s very, very different from her predecessor, who was very different from her predecessor, who was different from his predecessor. They all are quite distinctive, just like we are, which is so surprising. These are, I think, the most surprising creatures, because unlike us, they are completely without any bones - they are so unrelated to us in anyway - and yet, you can have a meaningful interaction with them. And that just blows my mind. I think you’re going to love this.
Many arms and a couple of hands. (Photo: Tony LaCasse)
CURWOOD: Okay, well, let’s go inside.
[WALKING SFX - DOOR OPENING]
CURWOOD: We head inside the aquarium, past the information desk, and up some stairs. We go behind the labyrinth of exhibits and into a room full of tanks.
[MUSIC: Yellowdubmarine “Octopus’s Garden” from Abbey Dub (Gold Lion records 2011)]
CURWOOD: This is a favorite place of staff biologist Bill Murphy. So, Bill Murphy, this is your tank. This is your octopus. This is your world here.
MURPHY: Yes it is. So, come on back. This is the octopus tank right over here with the lid on it.
CURWOOD: Now, let's see, scientifically this is known as a cephalopod, in other words, a head and foot type of thing?
MURPHY: Yes, correct.
CURWOOD: But, there are no bones in this. It’s completely invertebrate.
MURPHY: Yes, the only hard part of it is its beak.
CURWOOD: Which is kind of like what?
MURPHY: It’s kind of like a parrot’s beak.
CURWOOD: Yeah? So what’s really unusual about octopuses aside from the fact that they have eight arms, which we don’t and the fact that they don’t have any bones and we do… they’re smart though, like us, I’m told.
MURPHY: Yes, they’re very intelligent. They’re also very curious, which also leads to, I would say, partly, their intelligence.
CURWOOD: So, just how smart is an octopus?
MURPHY: Well, they can open locked boxes, which we do here at the aquarium. They can open pill bottles, they can turn valves, they can turn knobs, they can crawl through a tube to get to food - if they see food on the other side of the tank they’ll try and go towards it. There’s been an experience that I’ve heard about where if an octopus knows how to do a puzzle and opened the box before, and another octopus is right next to it and does not, the other octopus will actually watch the one octopus who knows how to do it open it and then learn it immediately. So, they can observe and then learn.
CURWOOD: Now, if the two octopuses are together observing, what about the risk of getting eaten by the other octopus?
MURPHY: They were separated. They were in different tanks, so they could see each other but they couldn’t get to each other.
CURWOOD: Ah, Okay. Sy, you told me that octopuses don’t really get along with each other very well.
MONTGOMERY: Yeah, that's kind of too bad. It’s one reason why I don’t think any aquarium has yet bred them in captivity, because they tend to eat each other.
CURWOOD: Yeah, what is this about octopuses not liking each other?
MURPHY: I think it’s just more of also the aggressiveness of their attitude. When you're you’re living on own, fighting to survive, adding another octopus in there competing for the same source is just not a good thing.
CURWOOD: Ok, so how do they reproduce if they don’t get along?
MURPHY: That comes at a time in their life - they reach a lifecycle where they’re ready to reproduce - the females are ready to lay eggs and mate, the males have reached their maturity and they're ready to mate and then move on. And the male still has to appease the female. He still has to do his dance, and she still has to accept him for them to mate, and then for them to move on, and then she’ll lay her eggs, and spend the rest of her life’s energy making sure those eggs stay safe and protected and hatch.
CURWOOD: So, she doesn’t live long after she lays eggs.
MURPHY: Correct. So, once they lay eggs once, that’s it for them.
CURWOOD: So, an octopus will have how many young?
MURPHY: Thousands. They lay strands of eggs that look like grains of rice and they’ll have probably easily a thousand eggs, if not more. And most of them will hatch, but it’s also the law of the wild - you lay a lot and produce a lot of offspring, but only a few will survive due to predators and food.
MONTGOMERY: How would you describe how Octavia differs from all the others, since every one is an individual?
MURPHY: She’s a little more picky. She came to us probably a little bit older than what we normally get our octopuses, because the one before her, Athena, died unexpectedly. So we got one from the wild - from a collector - that we talk to a lot. So she’s straight from the wild, and a little bit larger and more used to the wild of nature than other ones are.
MONTGOMERY: How much do you think she weighs and how big do you think she is?
MURPHY: Ah, she’s probably about 40 pounds. And if we stand her up, she’s probably about four and a half feet. She still has another year and a half - I’d say- to grow.
CURWOOD: Wow. Alright. And Bill, I guess you’re the one really to take us to meet her, anything that I should say or do?
MURPHY: Roll up your sleeves; take off your watch. We always joke that they’re very sticky fingers so they could probably slip off a ring or a watch without you realizing it, but also, we don’t want anything sharp on ourselves that would hurt them.
MONTGOMERY: I was wondering if there is anything that she would like to have as a gift, and I brought in two shells and a rock for you to inspect to see if that was something she might enjoy or if it would be safe. Would you be willing to look at it?
MURPHY: I'll take a look at them, but it’d be up to her whether she enjoys them or not.
CURWOOD: Alright, well, now’s the moment. Do we get to meet her?
MURPHY: Yes, you do! Step right over this way…
[MUSIC: Yellowdubmarine “Octopus’s Garden” from Abbey Dub (Gold Lion records 2011)]
MURPHY: This is our volunteer, Wilson, he’s been with us for many, many, many, many years!
MONTGOMERY: Look her beautiful arm is out!
MURPHY: And there she is.
MONTGOMERY: Oh let's touch her! Can I touch her?
MURPHY: Go for it!
MONTGOMERY: Hi, darlin’. Oh, man, stick your hand up here. Oh my god, this is great!
CURWOOD: Very sticky!
MONTGOMERY: She’s very excited about … these delicious capelin, yum! And, there they are going right down into her mouth! Oh, she’s beautiful!
MONTGOMERY: I’ve got three arms on me.
CURWOOD: She’s grabbing a hold, here.
MONTGOMERY: Do you feel the suckers?
CURWOOD: Yup, feel the suckers…
MONTGOMERY: She’s tasting you with these, as well as feeling you!
CURWOOD: She can control each one of these suckers individually! Wow! So, she’d be amazing playing the piano - can you imagine?
MONTGOMERY: Oh! Now, her beak is right in the middle there, and that’s where you don't really want your hand to be. Oh, she’s got me! Hear those suckers coming out?
[SOUNDS OF OCTOPUS SUCKERS]
MONTGOMERY: Look at you! She’s so big.
CURWOOD: Oh my god.
MONTGOMERY: Isn’t this amazing?
CURWOOD: So, what do you think? She’s recognizing you again?
MONTGOMERY: Well, I just saw her Friday, but I really think that she’s being much more affectionate because she’s with Wilson, and she feels like a friend of Wilson's is a friend of mine. Hear the suckers coming off?
CURWOOD: Yeah. Now this color she is right now - she’s very red - does that mean she’s happy?
MENASHI: Red is very normal and they kind of stay this way. They kind of get more flashes of darker reds and whites when they’re aggressive.
MONTGOMERY: And she’s all over me now! I've got one, two … both of my hands and my forearms are covered, but look, there’s the beak, right where all of her arms come together - that’s where her mouth is.
CURWOOD: Uh huh. Are all of the fish gone? Look at that - woah!
MONTGOMERY: I’m going to come home covered with hickeys!
MURPHY: It’s amazing, if you feel how firm their arms are? Amazing that’s just all muscle - that's so solid it feels just like a steel cable, but it's just muscle. It shows you how strong they can be.
(Photo: Tony LaCasse)
MONTGOMERY: This is great! Her tentacles are coming just as fast as you can take them off! She’s really enjoying this. This is lovely. Do you think she’d want my rock? Here sweetheart, would you like this? Here’s a nice rock. It’s from New Hampshire. She’s holding onto it - she’s investigating it. Well, she's not as interested in the rock. Look at the difference between touching the rock and touching me. She can get so much more interesting information out of touching me than touching the rock, I think.
CURWOOD: You know, Sy, I think you are probably more interesting than a rock.
MONTGOMERY: (Laughs) So glad to hear! I bet you say that to all the girls!
MONTGOMERY: There she goes. She’s got the rock. Opp! She’s dropping the rock. She doesn’t care about the rock. Cares about my hand, though - look at this! Here darlin’. Now, watch this: here comes the fish - she’s holding it with her sucker, and what she’ll do is she'll pass it if she wants to eat it. She’ll pass it from sucker to sucker to sucker as it goes into her mouth, but she may just want to play or not want to do anything with it. Right now, she seems more interested in interacting with us than eating the capelin. Oh, god, look at how - she’s coming - she’s coming out of her exhibit!
MENASHI: She knows where the food comes from so grabbing the food bowl and trying to take it.
MONTGOMERY: But she's not even hungry, she’s just doing it for fun, isn’t she? Oh, she’s wonderful! Just wonderful. This is so different from the first encounter that I had with her.
[SOUNDS OF SUCTION]
CURWOOD: Now, here’s a creature that’s smart, sentient and looks nothing at all like us.
MONTGOMERY: In fact, when she touches you with those suckers, she is knowing your skin, and probably your bones, and probably your blood and your muscle in a way that no other animal will ever know you. That’s what she’s knowing when she touches you. And look how white she’s going now - right under my touch. So, she feels very calm. I feel calm too.
[MUSIC: Gary Burton: “Dance Of The Octopus” from For Hamp, Red, Bags, And Cal (Concord Records 2001)]
CURWOOD: So, I guess our time is up with Octavia.
MONTGOMERY: Wow! Was that the greatest thing ever?
MENASHI: And now my hand is frozen, too.
MONTGOMERY: Oh boy, you know, I didn’t even notice how cold it was.
CURWOOD: Wow! So, if an octopus is this smart, what other animals that are out there could be this smart - that we don’t think of as being sentient and having personality and memories and all these things?
MURPHY: It’s a very good question. The ocean is a very undiscovered world and there’s a lot of animals out there we don’t even know about - there's a lot of animals that we know they're there, but they don’t know anything about them. Who knows what else is actually out there for the ocean?
CURWOOD: Bill Murphy from the New England Aquarium, Sy Montgomery… thank you both for being with me today, and Octavia. Octavia will you say something? (Silence). I guess she’s taking a nap after having lunch. Thank you both.
MURPHY: No problem, thank you.
MONTGOMERY: Our pleasure!
- Sy Montgomery’s article “Deep Intellect” in Orion Magazine
- Sy Montgomery blogs about Octavia and our visit to the New England Aquarium on Orion’s website
- New England Aquarium’s Giant Pacific Octopus page
[MUSIC: Gary Burton: “Dance Of The Octopus” from For Hamp, Red, Bags, And Cal (Concord Records 2001)]
GELLERMAN: Steve Curwood with New England Aquarium marine biologist Bill Murphy, volunteer Wilson Menashi, writer Sy Montgomery, and Octavia the Octopus.
Sy Montgomery’s article “Deep Intellect – Inside the Mind of the Octopus” is in the current issue of Orion magazine. You can grab some links and photos on our web site - LOE dot org.
[MUSIC: Gary Burton: “Dance Of The Octopus” from For Hamp, Red, Bags, And Cal (Concord Records 2001)]
GELLERMAN: On the next Living on Earth: one way to deal with aggressive, invasive species - eat them!
IRONS: Carp’s a four-letter word. And people think carp and they think of Grandpa’s carp. I’ve eaten it several times - it’s very good, really one of the best tasting fish products maybe in the world.
GELLERMAN: Taking a bite out of Asian carp, next time on Living on Earth.
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, and Ike Sriskanderajah, with help from Sarah Calkins, Gabriela Romanow and Sammy Sousa. Our interns are Raphaella Bennin and Jack Rodolico. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime at LOE dot org – and while you're online, check out our sister program, Planet Harmony. Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at my planet harmony dot com. And don’t forget to check out the Living on Earth facebook page. It’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And you can follow us on Twitter - at livingonearth, that's one word. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!
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