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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

February 4, 1994

Air Date: February 4, 1994

SEGMENTS

New England's Fisheries Crisis / Jennifer Ludden

Jennifer Ludden of member station WBUR in Boston reports on new federal measures to protect New England fishing stocks by placing heavy restrictions on some commercial harvests. Haddock and cod populations off New England have declined drastically in recent years, threatening a livelihood that was once a cornerstone of the New England economy. (05:52)

Fed Advisor Says Restrictions Don't Go Far Enough

Host Steve Curwood talks to Vaughn Anthony, chief science advisor to the Northeast region of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Despite the outcry by local fishermen over the new harvest restrictions, Anthony thinks the rules may be “too little too late” to save haddock and cod stocks. (04:39)

Call for Comments

Steve puts out the call for listeners to dial our new 800 number (1-800-218-9988), and samples some of the responses to last week's show. (01:40)

What's Ahead for Fisheries Policy

Steve discusses the fate of the fishing industry with Douglas Hall, assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. Government aid, although limited, should help the industry switch to other fish species or more plentiful reserves. But Hall says the United States Government is in no shape to provide the kind of overall coverage that Canada is providing to their own out-of-work fishermen. (04:12)

Trouble in the Hatcheries? / Alan Siporin

Alan Siporin of KLCC in Seattle examines the puzzling drop in returns of salmon to Pacific Northwest hatcheries. Shrinking habitat has been pushing many species of wild salmon to the brink of extinction. Now, salmon bred in hatcheries are dwindling as well. Some blame the drop on temporary weather conditions. But some biologists say the disappearance of wild salmon threatens the healthy gene pool that hatchery salmon must draw upon to survive. (05:14)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Pye Chamberlain, Paula Dobbyn, Bebe Krouse, Jennifer Ludden,
Alan Siporin
GUESTS: Vaughn Anthony, Douglas Hall
COMMENTATOR:

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Off the coast of New England, one of history's most productive fisheries is nearly all fished out. The government is imposing drastic restrictions, but some say it's already too late.

ANTHONY: Your haddock stock from the 30s and the 40s and the 50s averaged out about 150,000 tons of spawners out there. We've got less than 10 now. There are so few fish out there that it's not, there's not really a fishery left at all.

CURWOOD: Washington isn't offering much help to the effected fishing communities. And that's left some fishing boat operators feeling betrayed.

SHIMATARO: We paid our taxes. Now respect us, give us something back. That's all we want. Let us fish, or if you don't want us to fish, subsidize us.

CURWOOD: Also trouble for salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest, on Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news. the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant released four to five times more radiation than previously reported. That's according to Dr. Alexander Sich, an American nuclear engineer who spent 18 months studying the meltdown of the plant's reactor. Contrary to earlier Soviet claims, Sich says the plant burned out of control for 10 days. He says higher than reported radiation releases could explain many health problems in the area.

SICH: I'm suggesting that this question should be reopened to determine whether there is a direct link between my findings and the increase in the rise of childhood thyroid cancers.

NUNLEY: Sich says his research also calls into question the China Syndrome theory that a core meltdown would burn a hole through the floor of a reactor building, contaminating groundwater and causing a catastrophic steam explosion.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt says he remains committed to reforming grazing and mining practices in the western US. The assurance comes after the ouster of Jim Baca, who headed the Bureau of Land Management and was point man for the reforms. Babbitt said Baca's resignation was due to differences in management style, but Baca and his proposed increases in fees for grazing and mining on public lands had faced growing criticism from western politicians who believe the reforms would hurt the region's economy.

Congress is starting to choose sides over the Clinton Administration's plan to rewrite the Clean Water Act. The Administration wants to change the 1972 law by further restricting discharges of toxic chemicals, especially chlorine. But in an effort to save state and local governments money, the plan would also eliminate some regulations scheduled to take effect under the current law. A proponent of an alternative plan says the Administration's proposal will still be too expensive. The Administration is also proposing changes to the controversial Superfund program intended to clean up hazardous waste sites. From Washington, Pye Chamberlayne reports.

CHAMBERLAYNE: The proposal tries to speed cleanups by cutting lawyers largely out of the process. Since the law was passed 13 years ago, $13 billion has been spent on Superfund. Three billion of that went to lawyers. They would mostly be replaced by arbitrators who would decide which company caused which pollution, and make it pay for a fair share of the cleanup. Under current law, a company that only pollutes a little can be required to pay for an entire cleanup. The plan would also increase taxes on insurance companies by $700 million a year to form a new cleanup fund. The plan is sure to be changed as it goes through Congress, a process that may take more than a year. Up to 14 committees may handle the Superfund revision. For Living on Earth, I'm Pye Chamberlayne in Washington

NUNLEY: Add colon cancer to the list of diseases linked to cigarette smoking. Two long-term studies of some 160,000 people found a direct relationship between the amount of smoking and the development of the cancer. The researchers believe smoking mutates specific genes linked to colon cancer. The studies also found that former smokers remain at risk.

This is Living on Earth.

Officials of 12 eastern states and the District of Columbia have voted to adopt tough California-style air emissions standards. From Washington, Paula Dobbyn reports.

DOBBYN: The proposal calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to mandate that all new cars sold in the region meet stringent tailpipe emissions standards similar to those already in effect in California. It also requires the aggressive marketing and development of electric cars. Of the 12 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, only New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Virginia oppose the plan. The EPA has 9 months to consider whether to adopt it or suggest alternatives. Supporters say the plan would help to reduce smog dramatically, but critics say the measure is unnecessary and costly. The American Automobile Manufacturers Association is concerned that having to install additional pollution-fighting equipment will add up to $1,000 to the sticker prices of new vehicles, and that electric cars are unfeasible at least in the short term. For Living on Earth, I'm Paula Dobbyn in Washington.

NUNLEY: Scientists thought the Pacific pocket mouse died out decades ago, but developers have discovered a lost colony of the tiny rodents on some valuable oceanfront property. The Federal government used emergency powers to put the mice on the Endangered Species List, and that's put a half billion dollar resort project on hold. From Dana Point, California, Bebe Krouse has more.

KROUSE: If developers have their way, a large swath of grassy California bluffs will soon be covered with a luxury hotel and nearly 400 homes. But not unless they can figure out a way to safely share the land with the last known colony of the Pacific pocket mouse. The site's developers offered to move the mice to a safer locale, away from humans and house cats. But scientists say the fledgling colony is too fragile to move, so the developers are preparing a habitat protection plan that must allow the mice to coexist with the resort. For Living on Earth, this is Bebe Krouse in Dana Point, California.

NUNLEY: That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

New England's Fisheries Crisis

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

The sacred cod at the Massachusetts State House, and Cape Cod, which juts out into the North Atlantic, both symbolize the importance of fishing in New England, where the cod, haddock, and flounder are what the locals call groundfish. But the groundfish stocks off New England and to the north, off Canada, are in serious trouble. Canada has virtually shut down its east coast fishery, paying some boat owners to stay in port while the stocks try to recover. On the American side, the fishing continues, although Washington recently announced severe restrictions on haddock fishing off New England. But there are serious questions as to whether those steps are enough to protect the fish or the fishing communities. From WBUR in Boston, Jennifer Ludden has our report.

LUDDEN: More than three centuries ago, European explorers discovered that the Atlantic waters off the North American coast, from New Jersey to Newfoundland, were teeming with cod, haddock, and flounder. These bottom-dwelling groundfish provided protein and profit for the New World and sustained generations of fishing families. But ever-larger fishing nets and boats with ever-advanced tracking technology have exerted a harsh toll. New England's groundfish population has steadily declined for decades. During the last 30 years, haddock spawning stock in George's Bank has plummeted from 160,000 metric tons to just 10,000 metric tons. Barry Gibson is with the New England Fishery Management Council.

GIBSON: Haddock, just a few years ago, amounted to almost a third of the catch of the total landings in New England, and somewhere around a third of the value. Haddock in 1993, it's estimated, is going to be less than 1% of the value and less than 1% of the landings in New England. That, as some scientists and some government people have suggested, makes this species economically extinct.

LUDDEN: The Fishery Management Council has spent the past three years developing a plan to revive haddock and other groundfish. The measures will cut in half the number of days fishermen can go to sea. Two boats can no longer pull a single large net between them, and most newcomers are barred from the industry. Few question the need for drastic action, yet Federal officials acknowledge the rules will further hurt fishing communities.

(Boat engine, sounds of fishing crew at work)

LUDDEN: Frank Cimataro walks the deck of his 86-foot Vido Sea, part of the shrinking commercial fleet on Gloucester, Massachusetts, the oldest and one of the most vibrant seaports in the US. Cimataro is pessimistic about the new regulations.

CIMATARO: The impact is going to be real hard, real bad. It's going to be a disaster for New England. You're going to see people lose their boats, lose their homes.

(Sounds of radio and radar scope, other equipment)

LUDDEN: As he flicks on the high-tech equipment that allows him to easily pinpoint fish, Cimataro admits over-fishing is a problem. Still, he believes the Federal government should share responsibility for this, since it promoted fishing in the past.

CIMATARO: That's how my dad built his first steel hull boat. The government gave him the money on a low-interest rate. Not just him, they did it to everybody. Here, he's the money. Build your boat, go fishing, go working. Now, you did that for us, we respected you, we paid our taxes. Now respect us. Give us something back. That's all we want. Let us fish, or if you don't want us to fish, subsidize us.

LUDDEN: But regulators like Barry Gibson of the Fishery Management Council shuns such demands for compensation.

GIBSON: It's like digging gold in your back yard. You know, if you go digging and you find some gold and you dig and you dig and you dig it all up and you sell it, and there's no more gold, well, you know, is that anybody's fault? What do you do then? I mean, should you be bailed out by the guy that sold you the shovel? You know, it's a very difficult thing.

LUDDEN: Commerce Secretary Ron Brown says he will seek $2-1/2 million in grants to help buffer the economic shock to communities who depend on fishing. But such a small amount may not accomplish much.

(Sounds of street traffic)

LUDDEN: In Gloucester, as elsewhere, the collapse of the fish stock has closed dozens of fish processing plants. It's also provoked an identity crisis in this place where Cod is the state fish. Chamber of Commerce Director Michael Pistello believes there may be some relief in developing markets for underutilized fish like mackerel and skate, but he doubts the social change in Gloucester can be reversed.

PISTELLO: I don't think that there are enough fish in the sea right now to bring the vitality back to this waterfront that it once had. So I think we need to definitely look at a diversity of use of the waterfront in some, maybe dramatic ways that we haven't looked at it before.

LUDDEN: Federal officials say the success of their new regulations depends on whether fishermen comply with the rules. To ensure they do, boats will have electronic transmitters, or magnetic cards to punch in and out when they go to sea, allowing regulators onshore to track the vessels. Officials admit the system smacks of government as Big Brother. But Richard Roe of the Commerce Department says it's crucial that groundfish not be depleted beyond the point of sustainability.

ROE: We don't know what those points are and probably never will. But it's a big ocean out there, and you can almost assume that at some point you'll get such a low population that fish have a hard time finding each other any more. And that's the point at which, you know, they could very easily go to extinction.

LUDDEN: At best, Roe says the new regulations will merely stop over-fishing. He says more restrictions will be needed to actually rebuild the stock to levels where fishing can again be a viable industry in New England. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Ludden in Boston.

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Fed Advisor Says Restrictions Don't Go Far Enough

CURWOOD: The Commerce Department's National Marine Fishery Service is responsible for monitoring and controlling fish stocks off US coasts. Vaughn Anthony is the Service's Chief Science Advisor for the Northeast region. He told us from his office in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, that there isn't much mystery about how the New England fishing stocks got into such terrible shape.

ANTHONY: It's very simple. The fishermen are removing about 60% of the groundfish annually from the ocean, and they should only remove 25 to 30% of the animals every year. They're catching too many fish on an annual basis.

CURWOOD: Are there other reasons, aside from over-fishing? What about temperature changes in the ocean, or pollution, or changes in the seal population?

ANTHONY: We've been pretty lucky with that so far. We have pollution problems, but most of them are close to shore. George's Bank is a long ways from shore; most of these populations are not hard against the shore. They're not very much affected by a variety of pollution problems. The temperature has changed over time, and it has had effects on some stocks, particularly shrimp and yellow-tailed flounder. But not so much cod and haddock and most of the stocks.

CURWOOD: Do you think that the management plan for groundfish is enough to restore the groundfishing stocks here in New England?

ANTHONY: Well, I think it would have been, certainly ten years ago. It's a question now whether it is for haddock. And even for cod. The haddock stock from the 30s and the 40s and the 50s averaged out about 150,000 tons of spawners out there and we've got less than 10 now. There are so few fish out there that it's not, there's not really a fishery left at all.

CURWOOD: But the government plan allows for the continued fishing of some haddock.

ANTHONY: Well, we can't help but take some haddock if you want to catch cod and other species. This is what's caused the recent problems, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has pushed hard to keep the catch of haddock as close to zero as possible.

CURWOOD: So haddock are headed for extinction. What about the cod?

ANTHONY: Well, cod are heading downwards very rapidly as well. And if we don't turn things around the next two to three years, we may see their demise as well. We've got our fingers crossed that we may get what we call a good year class produced this spring by the spawning population. We haven't seen a good year class come along now for three, four or five years. The yellow-tailed flounder is the other species of the big three here in New England, and it's, it's very bad as well.

CURWOOD: We've just heard Jennifer Ludden's report now on the details of the plan: the restriction on days, you can't have nets between boats any more. Do you think this plan will work?

ANTHONY: The Council for the first time is trying to address the problem in a direct way. In previous years, they've addressed the problem by looking at indirect measures, such as mesh sizes, sizes of fish caught, closed areas and so forth. Today, now, for the first time, the Council is looking at controlling directly fishing effort on the stock. My problem is, it's to little too late. The plan is a very gradual plan. It reduces fishing effort or attempts to by 10% a year over a 6-year period. And it's going to take 5 or 6 years to get to the point where the fishery is not over-fishing the resource any more.

CURWOOD: A lot of fishermen are now catching skates and dogfish. Is this a good idea, do you think?

ANTHONY: Oh, it certainly is. These stocks have been under-utilized for a long time. And there are other stocks that are under-utilized, too. We need to utilize everything we can find out there now to keep the fishermen employed as long as we can, until these stocks of groundfish recover.

CURWOOD: By the way, how does dogfish taste?

ANTHONY: It's an excellent product. It's a very white, flaky fish. Of course, it depends strongly on how it's handled, but it's one of the main fish and chips species in London.

CURWOOD: Thank you. Vaughn Anthony is the Chief Science Advisor for the Northeast region of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Thanks for joining us.

ANTHONY: You're welcome.

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(Music up and out)

Call for Comments

CURWOOD: Your comments and questions about the program are always welcome. Tell us what you think about the declining fisheries. Call 1-800-218-9988. That number again in a moment, after we listen to these comments about last week's report on Norway's efforts to win international approval for its hunt of minke whales.

CALLER: Concerning the whale harvest, we should be hunting those species that have populations that can be sustained with controlled hunting. We, too, have to listen to the people who are the scientists and who know what kind of shape these populations are in. I believe the Norwegian position is correct.

CALLER: I talked to a lot of Norwegians about the whaling problem, and most of them are in favor of whaling. But - and most of them used the same arguments that were on your show. Cold, hard logic and sustainable quotas and all that stuff. But what's wrong with being emotional about protecting the lives of those animals rather than being scientific about it? And I say that as a scientist, myself.

CURWOOD: The number for your comments is 1-800-218-9988. 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. You can also order transcripts and tapes for $10 each.

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(Music up and under)

What's Ahead for Fisheries Policy

CURWOOD: Years ago Federal laws based allowable fishing catches on what scientists deemed to be sustainable yields. But in 1976, the law was changed to allow economic and social factors to be considered as well. In other words, over-fishing was allowed if the alternative would put people out of work. The law also gave the fishing industry itself a strong voice in setting the legal limits. The 1976 law is up for reauthorization this year, and Douglas Hall, who is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, says the current standards need to be changed.

HALL: I think that there are occasions when we should take economic and social considerations into effect, but that should only be in terms of how quickly you phase in the regulations. In terms of the ongoing fishing effort, it should be low enough that we do not reduce the amount of the resource, and that is, that should be our objective in every fishery. And we should never allow fishing effort to exceed that level on an ongoing basis.

CURWOOD: The Commerce Department has allocated $2-1/2 million for New England communities hit by fishing restrictions. That's not very much compared to what's been offered to help the displaced loggers in the Pacific Northwest. What is this money going to be used for?

HALL: This money is really for planning grants and for some initial grants to fund some transition projects. To transition to under-utilized fisheries. We were considering several of the grants through the Economic Development Administration, for projects in some of these key fishing ports. That's only a small down payment on what is a very large problem.

CURWOOD: And will you go to the Congress and ask for the billions of dollars required here to take care of these displaced workers?

HALL: I think that what we're looking at is existing programs providing funds for transition for other industries. I don't think that right now, given the budget situation, that we can anticipate major new appropriations of funds for specific areas of the country where we have displaced workers.

CURWOOD: What about the Canadian approach? The Canadians have completely stopped the cod catch now around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. And they've bought out those fishermen for the next five years. Would that make sense for us in the Northeast? And for that matter, would it make sense for us in the Pacific Northwest, where the salmon fishery is under a lot of pressure?

HALL: The Canadian program costs approximately $1.7 billion. It is a very expensive proposition. We face a severe budget crisis. As we look around the country, we have a lot of competition for funding. And we have to be aware of what the budget realities are and what the demands are, and do the best that we can to meet these challenges. in the Northeast, they are not anxious to have direct payments made to them, but instead they would like to keep fishing and they're looking for help in transitioning into other fisheries.

CURWOOD: What about the Pacific Northwest?

HALL: In the Pacific Northwest there are different problems there. There's one group of salmon fishermen that are in the lower Columbia, and their fishery has been affected by the construction of eight dams in the Snake and Columbia Rivers. And the salmon recovery team for the three species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act has recommended that those fishermen be bought out, and that they be bought out by power revenues, because this is part of the mitigation for the impact that the power system has had on that ecosystem. There are other fisheries off of the Northwest: groundfish fisheries that are much healthier than off of the Northeast. It depends on the fishermen, which fishermen in the Northwest that you are referring to.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Doug Hall is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

HALL: I appreciate it.

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(Music up and out)

Trouble in the Hatcheries?

CURWOOD: In the Pacific Northwest, a recent study by the Wilderness Society found that 9 out of the 10 local salmon species are facing extinction. It's the latest snapshot of the decline that's been going on for years. In hopes of offsetting that decline, an extensive system of salmon hatcheries have been set up to stock many streams and support the region's fishing industry. But in the last year, hatchery salmon have also been disappearing at an alarming rate, and no one is exactly sure why. Alan Siporin of member station KLCC reports.

(Salmon hatchery water flowing)

SIPORIN: At the McKinsey salmon hatchery just west of the Cascade Mountains, water falls into 30 concrete ponds, each holding as many as 300,000 salmon. Electric netting protects the tiny fish from herons, minks, and raccoons. When the salmon are about a year old they'll be released and head down the McKinsey River and to the Willamette, then to the Columbia. From there they'll enter the Pacific Ocean and head north, spending three to four years off British Columbia and Alaska. Finally, they'll head back, retracing their route until they return to the hatchery. It's assumed that many won't make it. There are numerous obstacles to their survival. But this past year, hatcheries in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, have reported record low returns. Fish biologists say the intermittent ocean warming condition known as El Niño has made the last couple years worse than usual. McKinsey hatchery manager Dave Rogers says El Niño

ROGERS: What was happening is that, as these fish got out to the ocean there wasn't the nutrients in the feed to really get them going, and so a lot of them did not survive.

SIPORIN: That's more bad news for the region's fishing industry, which has become heavily dependent on hatchery fish. Currently, hatchery salmon account for 80% of the commercial catch. But some fish biologists say the El Niño effect could be short-lived. Bernie Bahn is the harvest manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

BAHN: These conditions come and go, and we just happen to be in, looks like, in some of the worst conditions we've experienced over the last many years. You ride it out. You wait - you wait till conditions moderate, 'cause they will.

SIPORIN: But many here are less optimistic, because they say there is more going on than a recurring El Niño.

SPAIN: That's really the straw that broke the camel's back.

SIPORIN: Glenn Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations says a lot of factors have contributed to salmon problems. For example, he says, hatchery fish are inherently less able to deal with changing conditions like those caused by El Niño.

SPAIN: Hatchery fish are not as adapted to ocean conditions. They don't survive as well. They don't breed as well. They are weakened stocks, basically.

SIPORIN: Spain says hatchery salmon have become dependent on hatchery conditions. these fish are released when they're one year old, affording them longer protection from predators and the elements. But that may also mean that the natural selection process is disrupted, leaving weaker fish to breed again, weakening the genetic pool. Spain says the health of hatchery salmon inevitably depends on the health of their original genetic source: the wild salmon. And the conditions affecting their survival have been deteriorating for years.

SPAIN: What we've got here is years and years of habitat loss, years and years of streams basically being eroded out or misused, and riparian areas completely damaged by onshore practices.

SIPORIN: Historically, declining runs of wild salmon have been dealt with by boosting production from hatcheries and cutting back on fishing. Now, however, with the hatchery production in decline, officials see increased fishing restrictions as the only way to ride out El Niño. There's even been talk of the Federal regulating agency, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, calling for a total ban on cohoe salmon fishing this season. Fish management officials say they know this will place severe hardships on fishermen. Glenn Spain says that's unfair.

SPAIN: Fishermen are biting the bullet. We've been biting the bullet for 10 years. We've lost 40,000 jobs as estimates in California alone. We're probably going to lose another several tens of thousands in Oregon and Washington. What I object to, and I think what almost every fisherman objects to, is being the only one out there who's regulated, when the cause is onshore.

SIPORIN: Spain says the Federal officials that manage the fishery don't even have the legal authority to address the habitat problems. He says they restrict fishing because that's just about all they can do. However, some help may be on the way. At the end of January, the Federal government designated parts of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho as critical habitat for the endangered Snake River salmon. The designation could sharply curtail logging, grazing, and irrigation, as well as fishing in those areas. This will also help other salmon stocks that use the same waterways. Habitat restoration takes time, however. Likely, more time than the passing of El Niño. And until conditions both offshore and upstream improve, the survival of wild and hatchery salmon may remain in jeopardy. For Living on Earth, this is Alan Siporin in Eugene, Oregon.

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(Music up and out)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team this week included Kim Motylewski, Chris Page, Jan Nunley, John Rudolph, Colleen Singer Coxe, and Jessika Bella Mura. Laurie Azaria is our engineer. She had help from Karen Given and Doug Haslom. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

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