Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

UC blogs

Avoid 'race to the bottom' in seafood sustainability

Fisheries need to improve sustainable practices before doing business on global seafood market. (Simon Bush/photo)

As the global demand for seafood booms, major food retailers are promising that soon all of the fresh, frozen, farmed and wild seafood that they sell will come from sustainable sources. However, finding such sustainable sources to satisfy the global appetite for seafood is easier said than done.

While many of the sustainability standards have been met by commercial fisheries in the developed world, a major challenge exists in fisheries overseen by developing nations, which account for about half of all seafood entering the international market. Unfortunately, only 7 percent of the fisheries that have been fully certified by the Marine Stewardship Council for meeting sustainability standards are developing-nation fisheries.

An alternative mechanism for achieving both sustainability and increased seafood supply has been developed in the form of Fishery Improvement Projects, which aim to get fisheries on a path to sustainability and potentially certification by the MSC.

These improvement projects are partnerships between fishermen and firms up and down the international seafood supply chain. They are designed to offer developing-country fisheries access to the lucrative international export market in exchange for promises to improve sustainable fishing practices.

“It is hoped that the projects will protect marine life and ecosystems in areas where local and national governments have not acted to oversee sustainable practices, while also satisfying the demand for sustainable seafood,” said Gabriel Sampson, UC Davis graduate student and lead author of the study.

In many cases, however, the fisheries are obtaining access to the international seafood markets without following through to make the required improvements in sustainability. 

In a May 1 policy forum titled “Secure Sustainable Seafood from Developing Countries” in the journal Science, Sampson and colleagues conclude that Fishery Improvement Projects need to be fine tuned to ensure that fisheries are delivering on their promises for sustainability improvements. The related abstract and podcast are available online.

Such sustainable fishery management reforms should include data collection and ongoing monitoring, strengthening harvest and access rights to the resources, limits on the catch, and instituting traceability throughout the supply chain, the researchers say.

They predict that if access to the fisheries is not better regulated, the current efforts by retailers to secure sustainable, wild-caught seafood could stimulate a “race to fish,” and those fisheries with full sustainability certification could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage compared to the fisheries that have been fast-tracked into the international market without having first made sustainability improvements.

And that could trigger a “race to the bottom” in terms of sustainable seafood fishing practices, they say.

“The retailers and organizations involved with managing fishery improvement projects need to insist on progress toward reforms from the fishery as a condition for purchasing seafood from that fishery,” said James Sanchirico, a faculty member with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Experiment Station, UC Davis professor and associate director of the UC Davis Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute.

“This would likely lead to more durable conservation and greater assurance for consumers that marketing claims of ‘sustainable' seafood are valid,” he said.

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 3:11 PM

Mild winter gave agricultural pests a head start in 2015

Fuller rose beetles emerged and laid eggs throughout winter 2014-15. Usually their development is slowed by cold winter weather.
San Joaquin Valley farmers are facing an unusually high pest population this spring due to the milder than normal winter, and rapidly warming spring conditions, says a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources entomologist.

“I've never seen this happen before in the 25 years I've been working on citrus entomology,” said Beth Grafton-Cardwell, UC ANR Cooperative Extension citrus entomology specialist. “One pest control adviser who's been in the business for 50 years told me this is the first time he's seen weather conditions this extreme.”

In a normal valley winter, temperatures dip into the low 20-30s for weeks at a time. But this past winter, average daily temperatures were above the developmental threshold for many insects. Insects continued to reproduce and grow throughout the winter instead of hibernating.

“All winter long, we had fuller rose beetles emerging and laying eggs, which usually doesn't happen,” Grafton-Cardwell said. “California red scale, citricola scale, citrus peelminer and Asian citrus psyllid were active through the winter and are all requiring treatment weeks before they normally would.”

David Haviland, UC ANR Cooperative Extension entomology advisor in Kern County, said he has received numerous calls about legions of army cutworm moths.

“People are wondering why there are so many moths buzzing around their porch lights. That's nature for you,” Haviland said. “While many people might be frustrated by the moths, I like to think that there are a lot of happy birds out there with well-fed babies.”

Haviland said the farmers he works with are finding that the warmer-than-usual winter and early spring has sped up development of a wide assortment of insects, including navel orangeworm, beet armyworm and vine mealybug.

“Insects are part of a complex ecosystem. Every year, the factors change,” Haviland said. “This year, we have a very dry winter and a warm spring. In some cases, that plays to the advantage of pests. And sometimes the weather conditions are better for the beneficial insects.”

An initiative to manage endemic and invasive pests and diseases is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 1:15 PM

King Fire provides learning opportunities

Rubicon River, El Dorado National Forest

Over a dozen UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) California Naturalists, fire ecology experts, wildlife biologists, resource managers, educators, and artists met at UC Berkeley's Blodgett Forest Research Station and the adjacent El Dorado National Forest April 23 and 24, and not one of them complained about the much-needed deluge of rain and intermittent hail that soaked the group. The weekend's ambitious goal? To dive deeply into a UC California Naturalist Program and California Fire Science Consortium advanced training workshop on the subject of wildfire effects on Sierran mixed conifer forests.

With the 2014 El Dorado National Forest's King Fire as a case study, a mix of lectures, field studies, art, field journaling techniques, and Native American story telling were used to examine land management practices that influence fire behavior and explore how the landscape recovers from fire. UC ANR Cooperative Extension Central Sierra's forestry advisor Susie Kocher and community education specialist Kim Ingram organized and facilitated the workshop.

King Fire soil burn severity map

Blodgett Forest, situated on the Georgetown Divide in El Dorado County, was donated to the University of California in 1933 to provide a research site and practical demonstrations of forestry for students, forest industry, and the public. The adjacent El Dorado National Forest is home to the notorious September-October 2014 King Fire that burned 97,000 acres of forest, including 63,000 acres of public land. Aided by low relative humidity and wind, the fire spread quickly up the steep Rubicon River and surrounding subwatersheds. According to the incident report, approximately 46 percent of the burn area burned at a high and moderate soil burn severity, consuming all organic duff on the soil surface along with leaves and needles on standing live vegetation.

Workshop participants were treated to a lecture and field studies of basic fire ecology concepts by Scott Stephens, professor of fire science at UC Berkeley. Stephens lectured in class, and later demonstrated on a number of wet, lush forested treatment plots in the field, topics ranging from fire policy, fuels management options and objectives, and carbon sequestration to fire suppression consequences, fire behavior and severity, soil stability, and post-fire forest structure.  Stephens is a researcher with the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP), a long-term collaborative research project investigating how forest fuels thinning impacts fire behavior, fire risk, wildlife, forest health, and water. Fire is a vital to maintaining healthy California forests and ecosystems and Stephens's work demonstrates that both prescribed fire and its mechanical thinning replacements can successfully change forest structure and fuel loads, resulting in potential overall improvement of forest health. He finds that treated forest stands are more resistant and resilient to high-intensity wildfire and that these treatments have minor to negligible negative impacts on birds and small mammals, understory plant diversity, exotic plant invasions, and insect attack. Current and future research is in part focused on the impact and feasibility of treatments across the landscape.

Also joining participants was Sheila Whitmore from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Whitmore is the assistant project leader on SNAMP's owl team, which studies how fuel reduction treatments affect California spotted owl survival, forest occupancy, and reproductive success. The California spotted owl is one of three sub-species of spotted owls and the only spotted owl that has not yet been placed on the endangered species list, although its population is widely thought to be declining. Late in the evening, accompanied by Whimore, three nocturnal field technicians, and armed with tools of the trade like bird call whistles and flashlights, participants quietly slogged deep into the forest along the 22-mile system of El Dorado Irrigation District canals, listening for the territorial four-note hoot of the California spotted owl. While the crew eventually found one female owl on the night hike, the owl team has just started surveying breeding territories this spring and are uncertain how and if the owls will be impacted by the King Fire. Modeling efforts and a radio telemetry study seek answers to questions about demography, habitat, individual range size, and foraging preferences, given different levels of severity in burned forests.

Day two of the workshop, under warm sunshine, began with a discussion of Native American fire ecology and traditional stories shared by Kimberly Shiningstar Petree. Petree is a Tumelay Nissenan Miwok, the cultural preservation officer for her tribe, and the founder of the Cosumnes Culture and Waterways, a non-profit dedicated to promoting, preserving, and stewarding Indigenous Culture and waterways of their land. As told by a descendant of the first stewards of the area's forests and a carrier of an ancient oral tradition, the fire stories that Petree shared with the group were both relevant to today's fire management practices, and moving, setting a positive tone for the rest of the day.

Patricia Trimble, El Dorado National Forest's Georgetown district ranger, and Laurie Wigham, illustrator, painter and art teacher, accompanied participants on field activities. Trimble took participants on a road-based tour of the King Fire, demonstrating the effects of low, moderate and severe fire on the landscape. She shared information on consequences of long-term fire suppression, fire impacts, Forest Service strategies for protecting cultural resources, forest replanting and erosion abatement efforts, National Environmental Policy Act regulations, and public perception of fire. More than seven months after the fire, the Forest Service has just opened the burn back up to the public, and the public was out in force mushroom hunting, fishing, and cutting firewood within the high severity areas of the King Fire.

Wigham thoughtfully braided art and field journaling techniques seamlessly into the stops along the way. She shared inexpensive and novel ways to document the landscape in a group or individual setting at difference scales. She offered low-tech tricks to help participants deepen their ability to absorb dense and technical information, observe nature closely and scientifically, and to connect with feelings about a place and time in nature.

Lectures, field study, art, field journaling techniques, knowledge sharing, and Native American story telling: supported by a solid framework of current science topics and research results, they all had their place in this advanced training workshop. Each individual piece of the fire ecology workshop was enriching and informative, and forced participants to move deeper and more thoughtfully into their understanding of the dense topic than they might on their own. The regeneration of the El Dorado National Forest after the King Fire will undoubtedly provide inspiration, research, and education opportunities far into the future.

The UC California Naturalist Program uses a science curriculum, hands-on learning and service to inspire stewardship of the state's natural resources. The public and UC-certified Naturalists alike may sign up for future California Naturalist Advanced Trainings here.

Posted on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 9:05 AM

Jack’s back in the second children’s chapter book from a UC ANR farm advisor

Author Rachael Freeman Long, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor.
Families creating summer reading lists for the children will want to include Valley of Fire, the second installment of the fun and educational Black Rock Desert trilogy written by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension farm advisor Rachael Long.

The story centers on 10-year-old Jack's return to the Black Rock Range for a summer of swimming, gold hunting and hanging out with the wildlife friends he made in the first book: Sonny the coyote and Pinta the pallid bat. But peace is soon shattered by the howls of ferocious wolves, a sudden illness in the family, and the plight of Jack's uncle, who is knocked unconscious by two ruthless cattle rustlers.

Jack and his animal pals have no choice but to embark on a perilous trek to rescue Uncle Ray from armed and dangerous criminals, and make sure justice is served.

Jack exhibits maturity and good judgement – packing a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter to keep him and the animals sustained through the ordeal. He is crafty, finding a safe haven on top of a large bolder when threatened by the pack of wolves. He is resolute, hiking for hours in rough conditions, tracking clues, and carefully tending to the injuries of a raven harmed by the rustlers. Children will be so captivated with the adventure, they will not realize they are learning.

The book is subtly laced with natural history and animal biology. Sonny the coyote is “like a large dog, but lean and strong with tan-colored fur, long skinny legs and a big busy tail.” He helps Jack track the bad guys with his sense of smell and eats ripe berries off bushes with his teeth, “his lips curled back to avoid the thorns.”

Valley of Fire is the second book in Long's Black Rock Desert trilogy.
Pinta has pink wings folded against her golden-beige fur. Readers learn she uses echolocation to see in the dark and sprays an odorous gas when threatened. Jack's curiosity adds facts about bats to the book. “Pinta, doesn't your blood rush to your head and make you dizzy when you're hanging upside down?” he asks. “Doesn't your blood rush to your feet when you stand up?” she replies.

The environment is an important part of the narrative.

“The streambed they followed was wide and sandy at first, but slowly began to narrow and became more gravely as they steadily made their way up the mountain,” Long wrote. “The landscape also changed when they increased in elevation and the temperature cooled, with buck brush, bunch grasses, and oak trees replacing the dominant sagebrush found in the desert below.”

The first book in the Black Rock Desert trilogy, Gold Fever, was published in 2012, but the stories go back much farther. During long commutes, Long would tell her toddler son about Jack's adventures. Her son is now 18. Long's personal affinity for bats made Pinta an indispensable part of the story.  

As a UC ANR farm advisor, Long researches bats' contribution to agriculture. She recently studied the economic value contributed by bats in terms of pest control in walnut orchards. For a typical 80-acre orchard producing 136 tons of walnuts per year, she estimated that bats protect about 6 percent of the crop yield, or $29,700 worth of walnuts per season at the current price of $1.65 per pound.

Long also authored the UC publication Songbird, Bat and Owl Boxes, which outlines methods for integrating nest boxes with farm management, provides details on construction and maintenance of nesting boxes, and provides information on other sources of reliable bat information. The publication includes plans for building a wildlife nesting house.

Her children's books, Valley of Fire and Gold Fever, are available for $11.99 each from Tate Publishing. The books can also be published on Amazon.com. The final book in the series will be published in 2016.

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 11:29 AM

Hackathon movement connects consumers to food

Undergrad Constantine Spyrou and nutritionist Sara Schaefer (both UC Davis) developed an app matching meds to foods. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

On a Friday evening in a San Francisco conference room, food and technology leaders – including nutrition expert Carl Keen, a UC Davis professor affiliated with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Experiment Station – spoke to a mixed audience on the need for innovation in adapting populations across the world to changing food systems.

In the crowd, one inspired undergraduate student from UC Davis thumbed together some notes on his phone. The next day he stood in front of everyone at the event – more than 250 in all – and pitched his newly formed idea for a nutrition app.

It drew a small team: a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a UC Davis nutritionist and a UC Berkeley student. Over the next 40 hours they developed a software application that matches safe foods to patient medications. With the final presentations Sunday evening, the judges announced the winners.

Their project, called Took that? Eat this., won first place at the 2015 Food Hackathon. They now have sponsors and are developing their idea into a real consumer product. They are also flying out to the World Expo in Milan, Italy, in September – the first devoted to food and where an even larger food-themed hackathon will take place.  

(Food Hackathon from FounderLY on Vimeo

Breaking down the silos 

“It's powerful how much happens in such a short period of time,” says Bob Adams, innovation adviser for the UC Davis World Food Center and a mentor for the hackathon teams. “It was a great experience for all the UC Davis students who participated, because they don't normally interact in projects with students from other programs.”

With nearly 9,000 total hours spent in developing the 18 different projects, the hackathon was declared by the organizers a success and a testament to the power of crowd sourcing.

A group of passionate techies, foodies, scholars, investors and entrepreneurs shut in a room for two days pushed them like never before to apply their diverse expertise toward tackling some of the biggest problems facing food and ag. 

Winning team members celebrate with organizer Tim West. Left to right: Spyrou; Cindy Ma; Sonja Sulcer; West. (Clara Wetzel photo)

A university connecting ag and nutrition 

Research and industry leaders are looking to this model as one way to seed California's innovation ecosystem across the state's agricultural horizons. As another example, Mars, Inc., which co-sponsored the hackathon, is investing in a new type of university-industry partnership with UC Davis and the World Food Center by establishing the Innovation Institute for Food and Health.

“All of us win from these new and needed collective investments in innovation in food, agriculture and health,” writes Mars chief scientist Harold Schmitz in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, also a Mars chief scientist and a UC Davis fellow, sees innovative food technology projects like those crafted at the hackathon as this decade's biggest investment arena.

“The next, larger human generation will face food challenges ranging from climate change and water stress to growing demands for upmarket foods,” he wrote in a LinkedIn article. “But from what I saw at the hackathon, the next generation is on it.” 


See the original story by the UC Davis World Food Center.

Posted on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 12:41 PM

Next 5 stories | Last story

Webmaster Email: jewarnert@ucanr.edu