Blue Frontier: Saving America's Living Seas

Blue Frontier: Saving America's Living Seas

by David Helvarg

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Overview

Blue Frontier: Saving America's Living Seas by David Helvarg

A fascinating account of America's oceans and ocean politics, Blue Frontier explores the impact of history, commerce, and policy on marine life — and by extension all life on earth. From the legacy of navy-funded research and development since World War II to the current newsworthy topics such as beach closures, collapsing fish stocks, killer algae, hurricanes, and oil spills, Blue Frontier takes readers on an adventure-filled tour of America's last great wilderness range.

Despite today's wide-open development along our coasts and in offshore waters, Blue Frontier argues that sensible policies can still halt the onslaught of industrial destruction. An impassioned call for a new approach to ocean stewardship, Blue Frontier is essential reading for anyone interested in saving our maritime culture and heritage.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805071351
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/01/2002
Edition description: REV
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.48(w) x 8.36(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

David Helvarg is a long-time ocean enthusiast whose reporting on the oceans goes back to the 1970s when he wrote an award-winning series of articles on the rush to develop deep sea mining. Since then he has produced dozens of articles and television documentary reports on a range of ocean topics, from off-shore drilling to Navy SEALs to high seas drift nets, as well as profiles of important figures in ocean exploration, which have appeared in Smithsonian, Audubon, Men's Journal, Dive Travel, The San Francisco Examiner, San Diego Union, and on The McNeil-Leherer News Hour, PBS's Green Means, Geraldo Rivera's Now It Can Be Told, The Discovery Channel and A&E. A scuba diver and bodysurfer, Helvarg has written about his experiences diving Australia's Great Barrier Reef, riding a whale shark, and swimming with wild dolphins. He has shot and produced videos from an underwater habitat in the Florida Keys, aboard various ships of war, and on an offshore oil platform near Santa Barbara. In pursuit of stories he has also tagged blue sharks, caught freshwater sawfish, visited nuclear protesters on an island off the coast of Korea, bodysurfed in war-torn El Salvador, and been shipwrecked in Mexico. A contributing editor on NPR's Marketplace, Helvarg delivers a regular radio column on ocean economics.

Read an Excerpt

The Last Fish?
We meet Scotty Doyle by the Staten Island Ferry Terminal at 3:45 on a cold, dark drizzling morning. He introduces us to Tommy Graham, a short, swarthy New Yorker. Scotty is taller with curly gray hair under a bill cap, thin frame glasses, and green eyes. He also wears the bulky shape of a Kevlar vest under his shirt and black shell jacket and carries a 10-millimeter automatic, marking him as a fed. He is a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Enforcement Agent, but don't call him a fish cop. He doesn't like that. Tommy, in his worn khaki uniform is with New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

We approach the Fulton Fish Market across misty, rain-slick streets. The fish market used to be heavily mobbed up until Rudolph Giuliani, New York's mayor at the time, set up some controls. There's a mobile white inspection booth set on a corner where dozens of tractor-trailer rigs, box-refer trucks, and vans are parked waiting below the FDR Drive, within stone's throw of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River. Company names are written on their sides: Tico Transport, Ameri-Cana, F&B Mussels, Ecuadorian Line.

Trucks coming from different locations used to have to pay kickbacks to different mob families in order to get their product offloaded. With city inspectors checking manifests, the kickbacks declined. Of course, that has little to do with how much of the billion dollars a year of fish moving through the market is contraband.

"We usually target specific dealerships with CIs [confidential informants]. Word goes fast when we show up," Scott explains. "We or state guys like Tommy will try and getdown here two or three times a week. Of course we could be here every night and still stay busy."

"Me and [NMFS agent] Jimmy MacDonald on Long Island try and cover the tristate area, including the three airports," he continues. "We're looking for black-market lobster, bluefin tuna [that can sell in Japan for $30 a pound], that sort of thing. We recently caught two fish at JFK. They were out of North Carolina and worth about $60,000."

Scott suddenly stops next to a puddle reflecting squiggly light from a nearby lamppost. "You ever seen Guys and Dolls?" he asks, grinning. "It's exciting like that with the wet streets, the fresh rainy air, the hi-lows unloading and all the characters around here."

I look around as we walk into the market. The streets are full of hardworking men and freshly killed fish--boxes, crates, handtrucks, and forklifts full of fish and half the guys carrying wooden handled metal hooks over their shoulders or in loops by their hips. There are open displays of big tile fish, king mackerel, and yellowtail flounder the size of serving trays, boxes marked Wisconsin farm sturgeon, farm-raised striped bass and Tilapia, along with baskets of clams and scallops, small red mullet, and yellowtail snappers in fading colors of red, yellow, sky blue, and green. A couple of guys cover crates of crabs with a blue tarp. There's fresh and frozen squid and Scott and Tommy and the dealers are acting friendly, greeting each other with tense nods and smiles.

"Want to keep it professional, never let it get personal," Scott mumbles. Tommy stops and checks the paperwork on some haddock and pulls out a gauge to check some lobsters for size, measuring from the back of the eye to the beginning of the carapace. A short old man in a torn cotton sweatshirt is introduced as Herbie. "How ya doin. Nice to meet ya'. S'cuse me, but right now I've got a lot of stuff to do," he says in a gravelly voice.

"Herbie's company does $68 million in annual business," Scott tells me, as the old man wanders into a narrow cubicle marked M. Slavin & Sons. The company was one of five wholesalers charged with buying illegally caught fish.
We pass 100-pound halibut from Maine on display outside other narrow streetside fish stalls, including that of M. V. Perretti Corp., another of the five accused wholesalers. In December 1998 a New Jersey fisherman, Ronald Ingold, pleaded guilty to illegally taking and selling PCB-contaminated waters under the George Washington Bridge off Manhattan. In court a year later, assistant U.S. attorney Joseph DeMarco claimed Perretti bought nearly 100,000 pounds of this tainted fish from Ingold and other fishermen.

"Everyone knows me here. If we want to do undercover work we bring someone from outside," Scott explains. A bone-chilling cold has set in between the iced fish and drifts of rain. Forklift derbies are going on under FDR Drive. I ask a dealer about some odd-looking red fish. "They're silkies out of Brazil, a kind of snapper," he tells me. There are also piles of dead parrot fish, their colors, so dazzling when you see them munching coral among the runner reefs, are now faded to a dull algal green. "The West Indians buy them," the dealer tells me. "They go for $2.70 a pound."
Lieutenant Tim Duffy joins us, a friendly squared-jawed cop with erect posture and a clipped military-style mustache. We pass Pickle Barrel--Seafood, a company recently fined $80,000 for dealing in unreported fish. A young guy pushes a handtruck past the DEC cops, singing "You must have been an ugly ass baby, cause baby look at you now." They smile coolly.

Big groupers are on display, possibly imports. All but the smallest groupers have been fished out of Florida and the Caribbean. We pass a 50-pound bulbous-headed Louisiana buffalo fish, tagged clams, and Florida Jacks. There's a big tuna, a yellowtail out of Vietnam, and bunches of New Zealand clams and greenshell mussels. More snapper and small Atlantic swordfish, each maybe 80 pounds before their heads and tails were removed. Twenty years ago they averaged more than 260 pounds, but the longline fishing fleets, both U.S. and European, fished out all the big ones and began taking immature fish too young to breed.

We enter a shed-covered area called the Tin Building, where I spot a big swordfish, about 250 pounds. "That's the way they should all be," Scott says. I admire a big-eye tuna, which looks like a fat torpedo. The dealer has laid it flat on one fin. Since it was caught its skin has not touched a deck or floor. The Japanese buyers do not like bruised flesh. "This one's 158 pounds, worth about $550," the dealer tells me. "It's from Ecuador."

Tommy thinks he found some bags of undersized clams and pulls out a 1-inch gauge. If they slip through they are illegal, but these prove to be legit, if just barely.

As the two state cops are checking the clams, Scott back and scans nearby stands to see if anyone is trying to move anything out of sight. A dealer strikes up a short conversation with him about the recent bombing of Kosovo. "That's what's called a distraction strategy," Scott says wryly after the guy moves on.

"See, they're fine," the dealer with the clams says with a grin. "You know me. I'm here 44 years."

"You're due." Scott replies, the hard cop.

We pass some Australian yellowtail, some octopus and live crabs, sea urchin roe and skate wings, catfish and grunts, whiting, and butterfish. Still, the Fulton Fish Market is tiny compared to others like Tokyo's Tsukiji. What they all have in common is globalization, the creation of a world market for anything indigenous to the sea. The urchin caught in California, Maine, or Alaska one morning could have its gonads removed and served in a Tokyo nightspot the next evening. A bluefin tuna caught off Louisiana will definitely end up in Tsukiji, as will most black cod (sable) caught off the West Coast. A white abalone from California could be the centerpiece of a $450 dinner in Hong Kong, which is why there are only about 2000 of this extinction-bound species of sea snail left in the ocean. Giant geoduck clams caught in Puget Sound have been smuggled into Canada for shipment to Asia, just as polluted "black clams" have been smuggled from Mexico into the United States for sale in East Los Angeles. Things from the oceans once considered useless or inedible like baby eels, skates, dogfish, horseshoe crabs, and sea urchins all now have their markets.

The global fish trade is also keeping many Americans ignorant about happening in their own waters. People who order fish and chips in Boston may not realize that the white fish they eat is pollack from the Bering Sea off Alaska instead of overfished New England cod. The blue crab ordered in Baltimore may come not from nearby Chesapeake Bay but Indonesia, where the pickers work for $15 a week. An expensive salmon served at a fine restaurant in New York or Los Angeles could be from a fish farm in Chile or Norway. Pacific Northwest salmon that once spawned by the millions are slowly going extinct--river by dammed, logged, and diverted river. Atlantic salmon that once returned to Maine's rivers by the hundreds of thousands recently have declined to about 30 adults. But when those salmon were proposed for inclusion on the federal endangered species list (which would restrict economic activities that threaten the fish), Governor Angus King called it a betrayal, arguing that Maine's native salmon can easily be replaced by farm fish from the state's booming aquaculture industry.

We pass by Joseph H. Carter, Inc., a dealership that three weeks later will be hit with a $1.72 million fine for selling 1.25 million pounds of black-market fish including endangered New England cod. A Gloucester, Massachusetts, trawler, the St. Mary, will be seized and other trawlers fined.

By now it's 6 A.M. and the market's beginning to clear out. It won't be active again until after midnight. As we head back to our cars Scott dumps some old coffee and a cardboard cup down a storm drain. Tommy and Tim give him a weird look.

"Of all the fish caught in the U.S., how much is being taken illegally, and how is that figure incorporated into the st the government uses when it decides if a species is overfished?" I ask our federal litterbug.

"The number of illegal fish is never going to be counted in the estimates," Scott replies. "Not with industry making all the rules."

It is a complaint I'll hear repeated often by enforcement agents, scientists, environmentalists, even a number of fishermen who recognize that the present system of industry-dominated management is broken, probably beyond repair, and that a new approach has to be taken if America's sealife is to survive.

"People say we're 40 percent overfished but we're 60 percent not," Andy Rosenberg, a top official at NMFS, argues when I suggest that the system's not working. Six months later his agency has raised the figure to 43 percent overfished. Along with the 230 commercial species whose fishing status NMFS is able to rate, they admit there are another 674 species whose status is unknown to them.

While managing fisheries one species at a time may help in tracking commercial landings, it provides no basis for understanding the complexity of saltwater ecosystems and how the removal of one type of marine animal can impact others. What is known is that, in the middle of a global extinction crisis, the world's aquatic species are going extinct at a rate five times faster than land animals.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Thrashed1
1Fool's Gold11
2From Sea to Shining Sea31
3Oceanographers and Admirals49
4Quarrel on the Littoral65
5Oil and Water83
6A Rising Tide103
7Paradise with an Ocean View123
8Flushing the Coast145
9The Last Fish?165
10Drowning in Red Tape187
11Sanctuaries in the Sea209
12The Seaweed Rebellion229
Notes and References251
Bibliography275
Index283

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