Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saving the Sweet Life: Dopamine drives the best the hardest

Saving the Sweet life

Iconically, the sweet life, aka the good life, is a radical condensation of all that is the best of the good, which is the best life has to offer. Saving the sweet life is the ultimate motivation for any member of our species, the highest need, beyond the need for any one aesthetic (beauty) or self-realization.

The last post implied the following: first, that the iconic sweet life may be souring. Second implication: this endangered icon and its constituents might yet be saved; and third, the ones who can save it, the elite or noble of the 21st century global culture, have already been selected for and need only accept their designated mission according to the behavioral code of noblesse oblige. The nobility are the elite, and the elite are the leaders. Leaders are responsible for showing the way. But not all selected have chosen to accept their calling.

Noblesse designates those who have the greatest access to the largest portion of the most valuable resources for most of the time. Access to more resources means more possibilities for realizing whatever it is one is striving for. In post industrial societies, the ones who strive with the greatest access to the most resources are the de facto nobility. Who specifically are the designated drivers of this mission? What are their obligations? How can they save the good life so that each of us might continue to hope to attain it?

Noblesse oblige mandates saving the sweet life. If you are among the elite, if you are living the good life or if you have ever even tasted of that sweetness, you are among the virtually elite and consequently obligated. You know what is good and (if you are healthy) you will inevitably strive to achieve or acquire it. So simple. Except now you must also preserve, restore, and sometimes create that best. Not so simple.

Speaking for those of us who live in the Central Coast/Santa Barbara area, the chosen stewards (perhaps many, given that we live here in Santa Barbara), can be identified as anyone who has ever tasted or produced a wine rated 95 or above by any of the apex raters of wine. These wines have been identified by the gold standard experts as the best of the best.

You consumers and producers of the best are the chosen ones. Each of you who has either produced or tasted a wine rated 95 or above from the wineries listed below is called upon by Evolution itself to become the steward who does the right thing by the environment. More about right in the next post.You have been selected for by both evolutionary and cultural processes to save the sweet life. Others have been also chosen, but the context of this blog is Santa Barbara and the framework is evolutionary aesthetics. The metrics of stewardship are 96 points or above.

As the alpha dopamine species, Homines sapientes necessarily are driven to attain or achieve the best, towards more, better, new or just plain different, but striving is the hallmark of the species and striving begets more striving. Dopamine drives, and dopamine is a runaway motivational system. Humans are programmed to never being satisfied. That is the way we are.

In the best cases, the ones living the good life right now strive to improve the world through good deeds, and they are notably successful. These elites lead and effect transformational changes. They change the world for the better. .Stewards are driven to do what is right and good and best for the future of the world as they understand best, and that inevitably involves doing right by the environment. Better means a more vibrant ecosystem. The fittest would include Al Gore, David Suzuki, and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, comprising individuals that act together to change the world

The strategic role of experts

While another biological mandate of most species is what can be called judgment, or evaluating one choice as better than another,  part of the specialization tendencies associated with the economic development of human societies is the emergence of experts who are the best judges of the best things and processes and outcomes. Experts are highly valued and in most cases, their judgments can be viewed as one very useful strategy for managing complexity. They are not flawless, they each have their own aesthetic, but they can be very useful.

Gold-standard wine critics/experts contribute to informed decision-making

Consuming the world's best food and drinking the world's best wines is one characteristic of living the good life, and which foods and wines are considerd best is continuously re-evaluated by a few experts-raters. This series of posts recommends using with monitorng the expertise of the following wine critics to indicate best quality in wines:

Robert Parker  from The Wine Advocate 
Wine Spectator magazine
Allen Meadows'

Quality is not everything, but without quality, nothing really matters

The above experts rate quality according to their individual or collective aesthetics. They do not consider ecology. That is my job. But for me, as author of Reward in the Cognitive Niche, quality is the gatekeeper and most important value in the equation of ecological sustainability optimization. The desired goal for this optimization is global pleasure, which is the sum of all the pleasures of all the individuals of all the species in all of the ecosystems that make up the global ecosystem at its most biodiverse. An indicator for global pleasure, or ecosystem vibrancy, is biodiversity. While not itself equal to any measure of quality, biodiversity is the palette from which great paintings may emerge.

The values input to the optimization process of ecological sustainability for Reward in the Cognitive Niche are: quality, diversity, individual aesthetics/ individual pleasure, and adaptability. This compares to the triple bottom line approach to ecological sustainability, which inputs the values of economics, society/community, and environment, in that order of valuation. In my equation, anything not of the highest quality is not evaluated or in the running for fittest.

My rationale for excluding social equity or economic issues is that in a global (more or less) free-market economy, cost-benefit calculations will definitionally, over time, work to optimize economic outcomes. The less fit will not survive.Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet work towards optimizing social outcomes. This is my rationale for using top quality as indicator of those who have been selected for stewardship. Knowing, appeciating and enjoying the sweet life, which is the best that all life has to offer, regardless of whether the constituents involve wealth or voluntary simplicity, are key to the intent to care for, which is the core of stewardship.

Does being a steward imply saving the sweet life? It does, and the reasons are suggested above. Since we are biologically driven to seek the best, we are also driven to create better and better as part of this search. The constituents of our creations are our responsibilities.

Anyone who consumes or produces wines rated 95 points or above is automatically mandated by the status of best/fittest to behave according to the code of noblesse oblige. In 2012 this code indicates saving the sweet life. Anyone currently producing or consuming the best wines and foods produced in the world today is a member of the elite class of humans selected as stewards of a vibrant global ecosystem. The elite leads, and others follow. The elite must do whatever they can to save the sweet life and show others what to do. This is incumbent on the privilege of being the best.

Some of the selected stewards with whom I am familiar through their outstanding wines are named here (in alphabetical order):

In the best cases, the ones living the good life right now  will improve the world through accepting the privilege of global stewardship  and the actions incumbent. The above list of producers in collaboration with their consumers can work together to save the sweet life.

Iconic of the Sweetlife

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Noblesse Oblige: Saving the Sweet Life

The Souring of the Sweet Life

Major themes running through all posts in this blog are 1)  We are eating our way down the food chain, substituting fatty,dyed, farmed Atlantic salmon for wild Chinook, the king of salmon; 2) The reason why this is happening is the loss of biodiversity, especially at top trophic levels. Apex predators, and top-trophic level  sea animals such as salmon, whales, most tuna species, Canadian cod,  as well as most of the great game fish, are all fished out. The new "game fish is the old trash fish (e.g., carp). Humans are driven to seek the best, and consequently, have fished out most of the highest level species. 3) The statistics on consumption of farmed salmon and other animals we see in 2012 dominating our foodscapes are science-based  indicators of  loss of quality of life for all. Two-thirds of salmon consumption in the years 2000 to 2004 consisted of farmed salmon. 4) As a species, achieving the best is the biological engine that drives those in developed/developing countries. For humans, wanting the best has resulted in fishing out and decimating apex predators in both land and sea environments, 4) Although our baselines for good and best shift over relatively short time-frames of one of two human generations, no one alive can say that farmed salmon tastes better than wild salmon nor that farmed salmon are healthier to eat nor that carp are more thrilling to catch than giant marlin.  5) The sweet life is losing many of the constituents and values compressed in that icon of the-best-life-possible. 6) Advocates of either Terrestrial Reforms  or Marine preservation, such as Permaculture, urban agriculture, Marine Protected Areas, No-take zones,  often focus narrowly and effectively but do not embody in their advocacy-ethics and programs acknowledgement of the intimate interconnections between what happens on land, in the air, and in the sea.

A recent global example: : The media coverage of the Fukushima Daichi meltdown celebrated the diverging of nuclear waste and radioactive trash from land into the ocean. Now an estimated 20 million tons of Fukushima trash is contaminating marine life wherever currents take that trash.

Biodiversity as Indicator of the Sweet life

As a reminder: an indicator is a compression of relevant but complex phenomena into a simple guide for engaged players as to what to do next. A useful indicator of the good life proposed in previous blogs is biodiversity. If biodiversity decreases, this indicates a loss of quality of life for all creatures at all trophic levels in food webs, but especially at top levels. The best are the smartest-fastest-strongest fish (to impose a human value scheme on fish). And the best at the marine trophic level system taste best to human consumers.

Connecting decision-making for high-end wine to loss or gain in marine biodiversity requires new energy to create insights to input into routine decision-making processes that always seek to optimize.. Since this blog seeks to make ecological decision-making easier and more rewarding for consumers, the next few posts will be devoted to making salient the connection between choosing among 95-point pinot noirs and saving the sweet life, which is made-up of such treasures as wild sturgeon caviar and uni, wild salmon and oysters to pair with top quality wine.

Previous posts have focused on changes in our food menus resulting from the fishing out of apex predators and premier top trophic level sea animals. The next few posts switch from the marine environment to the terrestrial, with a focus on Central Coast/Santa Barbara wine production. The major premise made for these posts is that given good information on which to base both consumption and production choices, every person will choose to optimize the outcomes of each decision by trading off the various input values, such as time, money, quality, environment, accessibility, etc. We are driven to get the biggest bang for our bucks, but how that bang is conceptualizes may change over time.

Our area--the Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast--is reputed for the soil, climate, and other environmental conditions that support great pinot noir. Our area attracts great wine-makers and dedicated producers, a population with the means to afford spendy wines and foods as part of their lifestyle.This population of  producers and consumers of the best drink can be conceptualized as  a U.S. style noblesse, which as we all know, is obligated to do the right thing by the fiefdom. The right thing was beautifully defined by the pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

Residents of Hawaii watching radioactive trash fro the meltdown of the Fukushima Daichi meltdown wash up on their sandy black beaches realize that the biotic community is the global ecosystem.

Proposal for Saving the Sweet life

Noblesse oblige means doing the right thing as a steward of a community.
The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française defines it thus:Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.(Figuratively) One must act in a fashion that conforms to one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned.The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term "suggests noble ancestry constrains to honorable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility". Being a noble meant that one had responsibilities to lead, manage and so on. One was not to simply spend one's time in idle pursuits. Wikipedia
The next few posts flesh out the proposal that online reporting by high-end Central Coast/Santa Barbara wineries that have produced 95 or above point wines as rated by globally respected wine critics can provide a model for saving the good-life.
"Noblesse oblige" is generally used to imply that with wealth, power and prestige come responsibilities. The phrase is sometimes used derisively, in the sense of condescending or hypocritical social responsibility.[1] In American English especially, the term is sometimes applied more broadly to suggest a general obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate.
 In ethical discussion, it is sometimes used to summarize a moral economy wherein privilege must be balanced by duty towards those who lack such privilege or who cannot perform such duty." Wikipedia

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Mother of all Soups and her Wicked Spawn

image from Origins of Life: Biochemical Evolution in the Primordial Soup  

The Best Ever Mother's Day Recipe 

the Soup of all Mothers

a drop of water, 
a pinch of methane, 
a little ammonia, 
hydrogen to taste. 
Add a bolt of lightning and  voilà ! Primordial Soup. 
Is Aquaculture the Wicked Spawn of Mother Ocean?

For life on earth, the ocean is the mother uber alles. In this May 13 Mother's Day post, third in the series on Rating the Raters of Sustainable Seafood, we celebrate Mother Ocean by addressing two salient issues  affecting our collective futures, both affecting significantly the evolutionary processes of sea life and possibly our own. One is the fishing down of high level predatory species, leading to important alterations at trophic levels of food webs,  and two:  industrial farming, meaning aquaculture today. Evolution is used here non-judgmentally as any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Since the target audience of this blog is a certain niche of reward-seeking consumers toward reward-seekers, frequent mention is made of dopamine, involved in most if not all reward-seeking behaviors. " Every type of reward that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain, and a variety of highly addictive drugs, including stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, act directly on the dopamine system."

Humans are biologically programmed to seek the best as the most rewarding, and like cream, the individuals and species that have risen over evolutionary time frames to the top of food webs and food chains best are also considered best by humans for food consumption and farming. 

The drive to attaining the best food has meant that the top-level fish are those most fished out as well as those most likely to be targeted as potential farmed species. Farming top-level species is not a slam-dunk, since many of these are carnivorous, wide-ranging, adapted to diversity and ill-suited to confining conditions. Regardless of suitability, migrators like salmon and sturgeon are both top-level preferences for farming.Aquaculture and mariculture are increasingly regarded as saviors for the menu effects of a global decline in wild fish.

While varied in aspects--savior, apparition, incubus, viable solution, inevitable bottom-line economic response to decline of natural fisheries, and target of criticism by environmental activists, aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of the world food economy, increasing by more than 10% per year. Over 100 million tons of wild fish are harvested annually, and most fisheries are considered unsustainable, meaning overfished.  Aquaculture now accounts for about half of all fish consumed in the world in 2012. More than seventy percent of this consumption is sourced in China, considered the motherland of aquaculture. This is worth noting also because China is to a large degree not transparent to environmental regulatory monitoring. Given that China is building about two coal plants a year, there is a strong possibility that emerging aquaculture ventures will depend on coal, which in turn affects climate change and more.

Worldwide, the main methods of raising sea organisms are raceways, ponds, throughways, closed recirculating system (RAS), and open ocean farming. Most aquacultural enterprises are monocultural, cultivating just one species.

Aquaculture has its fans and foes, but for purposes of this series of posts, which are framed by evolutionary aesthetics, aquaculture is examined in its aspect as the wicked stepdaughter of Mother Ocean.  The word wicked is used judgmentally and classically, which, as remarked in the post Born to Judge, is something we are biologically programmed to do in order to survive, mate, and reproduce successfully: wicked means here causing injury and harm, bad in principle or practice.

The two main classifications of aqaucultural activities are open ocean farming, called mariculture, and land-based aquaculture. Aquaculture in both venues can be described as the process of collecting fingerlings, fry or small individuals from fish stock then placing them into an environment where farmers have sufficient control to be able to harvest them. Worldwide, the main methods of raising sea organisms are those employing raceways, ponds, throughways, closed recirculating system (RAS), or open ocean farming, usually using cages or nets.  Increasingly farming of sealife is becoming high-intensity, energy-costly industrial farming, with the usual implications of industrial farming.
"The spawn (eggs) of a clownfish. The black spots are the eyes developing" Wikipedia
Aquaculture is a technology that has dates back perhaps 4000 years, with carp the first documented farm-raised fish, but age does not necessarily mean wisdom. Considered the state-of- the art aquaculture technology,  fully recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are considered the most sustainable by the alpha seafood raters seafood raters. For this reason Reward in the Cognitive Niche (RCN) selects RAS for closer examination.

Fish recruits today no longer need to be taken from the wild, though many are.  Water in RAS is recirculated. Waste is sometimes but not always re-purposed.  Chemicals are used to reduce disease and parasites. All inputs, processes, and outputs are closely monitored by computers and human interpreters. Aquaculture and humans appear to constitute an almost perfectly self-sustaining system. So what's wrong with that?

Appearances are often deceiving, especially in the 21st century of cosmetic wizardry, genetic engineering,  and photoshopping. Since this is still part of the series on rating the raters, the two issues addressed here are two possibly critical issues that the alpha raters do not address. While current raters do consider feed-to fish conversion rations, parasites, diseases, escapees, us of carcinogenic dyes and copious chemicals,  two  issues are so far not part of the raters' sustainability calculations: energy dependence on non-renewable resources and loss of biodiversity.

Energy Uses

Demmin RAS for white sturgeon

Abu Dhabi stuegeon farming technology

First issue, relevant for the future of not only fish but life as we know it is energy dependence of RAS on fossil fuels. RAS indicates a production process more informatively known as the swine barn,or farrow to finish concept: rearing large numbers of fish in a relatively small space. This is economically efficient from the profit perspective.

Most aquaculture facilities reguire energy for feeding processes, disposal of waste. prevention of disease and parasites, and water recirculation. Most (not all) fully recirculating aquaculture systems depend on coal or gas to power temperature and water recirculation, making them unsustainable from the energy perspective. There are exceptions, such as the cogeneration facilities used by Agroittica Lombarda, the largest producer of caviar from white sturgeon farms, and several Spanish sturgeon farms, which use cogeneration of energy as well as solar sourced-energy to power their sturgeon farms, as well as a few innovative others. But most late technology enterprises are energy pigs.

The embodied energy in aquaculture is a relatively new consideration for sustainability calculations: it takes into account the energy required to produce the chemicals and computers used in farming as well as the equipment, technologies, and even the education of technicians. This  fingerling to table concept is calculated using a life cycle analysis method. The impact of aquaculture through carbon emissions on climate change is yet to be quantified. The impact on biodiversity is only beginning to be assessed.

open ocean farming in cages on the Chinese island of Hainan.
According to a recent study using a life cycle assessment of shrimp cultivation using RAS and conventional flow-through farms. ,  there was a trade-off  in culture techniques among energy consumption, water use, and environmental impacts. "The RAS used 70% less water than the conventional system, while the electricity usage in RAS was 1.4 times that of the conventional flow-through system".  Humans have to evaluate the trade-offs when decidinfgwhich system is best for which goal.

In sum, data regarding energy use while not available could radically change a sustainability assessment for a specific aquaculture enterprise. Few facilities use renewable energy, and the trend is toward RAS's, which are energy-intensive and so far most rely on fossil fuels.

Loss of Quality of life: biodiversity as indicator of quality of life

The second issue, most important to this blog's stated purpose of preserving the highest quality of life for all living creatures, is the global loss of quality of life associated with industrial farming. Homo sapiens, as mentioned in previous posts, is the dopamine species. Dopamine drives humans towards attaining the best, but also, towards exploring other, whatever that may be. Sometimes this emerges as high risk activity, sometimes it is remarkably embodied in the great explorers, such as Marco Polo and T.E. Lawrence. Humans drive towards attaining the best willynilly. This post addresses some of the willynilly effects.

Reward in the Cognitive Niche rationalizes the use of biodiversity as an indicator of quality of life briefly for the following reasons. Biodiversity is the palette Evolution uses to paint a picture of the world; the total gene pool composed of all the genetic differences in all the individuals of all the species can be seen as all the possibilities for adaptation to any and all changes in the environment, whether climate change, ocean acidification, acid rain, flooding, warming, etc. While we may enjoy Picasso's blue period, probably some of that pleasure stems from the experience of how the colors and images characterize that time in Picasso's evolution as a painter and person and how those colors and images differ from those of other periods in his life. When the palette shrinks, so do the options for expressing difference, and arguably, so will the enjoyment. If all painters were limited to beige, we might become more sensitive to differences in beige, but our experience of vibrancy would be immeasurably reduced.

To understand better how loss of biodiversity affects humans at a daily level, take the loss of higher level predators from trophic levels. When the bluefin tuna are gone, when salmon are gone, no more swordfish, we start eating at lower trophic levels. This means eating squid or cobia or tilapia instead of salmon,  fried sardines instead of lobster. From previous posts, you may remember that the two emerging fisheries for California are Whelk and Hagfish. Hagfish are scavengers who eat the flesh of dead or weakened sea life. A previous post that featured hagfish revealed that hagfish recipes rely heavily on processing and spices to become palatable. Wild salmon taste deliciously of oceanic wonders easily prepared with only a touch of salt.

 Loss of quality of life for salmon as living creatures may be inferred from the loss in quality of taste, as well as from other changes in the lifestyles of farmed fish. For RCN all species should be valued for themselves, each has a place in its ecosystem, and all individuals in all species experience varying degrees of what humans call pleasure,  possibly according to how much consciousness that species has evolved.  Consciousness in species is seen here as a spectrum, and pleasure is seen at its simplest as a reinforcement of those activities that increase the likelihood of survival, mating, and reproduction. This is how Evolution hedges its bets, but with a loss in diversity, there is less to bet on.

 Salmon and sturgeon are used as indicator fish for farmed processes. Many naturally carnivorous farmed species such as salmon are increasingly fed vegetarian diets. This is a response to pressures by environmental groups protesting the inequality in the equation of creating farmed food from raw materials involving wild species as feed. Carnivorous fish, usually higher trophic level fish that may be predators, eat lower trophic level fish, that may be predators or may be hervivores or omnivores, eating whatever.Salmon historically diet on small schooling fish such as anchovies.The effect on the fish of switching diet to soybeans can be imagined to be challenging.

While there are too few studies to create an unassailable judgment, there is evidence that soya bean diets produces enteritis in farmed Atlantic salmon. Farmedalmon are notoriously fattier than wild. They contain high levels of many persistent chemical pollutants, including brominated compounds used as flame retardants and highly toxic pesticides such as DDT. "According to the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, farmed salmon are fed more antibiotics per pound of body weight than any other livestock animal in North America." Nutritionally, farmed fish provide less usable beneficial omega 3 fats than wild fish.

Farming in open systems probably degrades the environment. Much of the antibiotic dosages given to farmed salmon pass through the fish unabsorbed. The excreted drugs settle in sediments and other parts of the environment near the fish farm, where they impact many of the smaller life forms that are part of the complex local ecosystem. Such effects have not been well evaluated. Overuse of antibiotics also leads to more virulent, drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

Coastal communities where seafood farming occurs typically change the habitat for all species. The most notorious is the loss of mangrove habitats in areas where shrimp are farmed.

Open ocean farming risks escapees, which usually affects wild salmon. The sealice that prevail in intensive farming in open ocean cages impacts wild populations enormously. Studies suggest that sea lice from farms kill up to 95% of juvenile wild salmon that migrate past them.(Krkosek M, Lewis MA. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.). In 2004 I lived on Malcolm Island in British Columbia. When the market price of wild salmon was less than 1$ a pound, fishermen would dump their catches on specific individuals on the island, often in the middle of the night. We would spend hours picking lice off each salmon before transferring it to our freezers. No salmon came in clean of lice.

Other evidence for loss of quality

Connoisseurs of caviar judge the texture as well as variations in flavors of caviar from farmed sturgeon to be qualitatively lower than than of wild. Wild sturgeon have an enormous palette of foods, from live to dead fish form a huge range of food chains.Farmed sturgeon are packed into small spaces, usually in recycled water, eat the same food over time, don't exercise or experience variations in habitat, and the taste of both sturgeon and caviar reflect this loss in diversity of life style.

Genetic Modification

In the wild, species adapt to changes in the environment. In captivity, species are modified to fit human desires. When these gentically modified species escape from cages in open ocean farming, they breed with wild fish and affect the species' ability to survive, mate, and reproduce. Aquaculture compromises genetic diversity in several ways: it selects and genetically engineers species for speed of reproduction, rate of growth, immunity to disease and parasites. We have no idea of how this may affect the ability of fish to adapt to their environments when they escape from farms into the wild. Farming de-selects diversity in favor of controlled, unvarying characteristics.

"In the world of “survival of the fittest,” an organism must have the genetic resources that allow it to survive the immediate changes in its environment,and that allow the species to adapt to long-term changes around it. The only way to ensure this will happen is to make sure that the genetic choices in the population are large enough to have the greatest variety of attributes passed along to individuals to the next generation. The best way to ensure a large and healthy population with enough gene choices is to have sufficient habitat to support it." Department of Fish and Game

As a summary conclusion: The issues that emerge  and need to be addressed and included in all sustainability evaluations are:
1. loss of quality of life for humans and all other species and their habitats;
2. dependence on non-renewable fuels to power aquaculture operations
3. global effects of embodied energy use in aquaculture production (life cycle analysis)
4. lower genetic variation in farmed fish leading to loss of biodiversity and loss of quality of life
5. Lower genetic ability of wild fish to adapt to environmental changes through genetic pollution

Industrial aquaculture pond layout

aquaculture as incubus

 In the long term, a population with reduced genetic diversity will have lost evolutionary potential.Net: embodied energy and loss of biodiversity should be added to any valid rating for sustainable seafood.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Redefining Sustainability

Giant Tiger Prawn, considered  best among shrimp
The Paradox of the Prawns

SPOILER ALERT! All of the raters in the previous post are rated either good but with deep concerns or  really good but with deep concerns. No A- or F+-lists.

a little story: Once I had a heachache. So I took an aspirin. It got worse, so I took four aspirins.  Within a month I was taking four aspirins every four hours and still the headache persisted. It turns out I had a subderal hematoma the size of my  skullcap. The current seafood rating system has a lot in common with the four aspirin every four hours approach to the sustainability problem.

Brief recap of first posts in this series

This is the third post in the Reward in the Cognitive Niche ( RCN) series of ratings and raters of sustainable seafood most relevant to consumers of the Central Coast. As a reminder, those in the cognitive niche are rewarded with feelings of pleasure just for knowing what is true, for knowing that they know, and they are further rewarded for doing the right thing, according to the best information available. Win win win for knowing and doing what is right. This blog supports knowing what is the right thing and doing it, if right is referenced to the preservation of a beautiful, vibrant global cosystem. All in the name of enhanced global pleasure.

In the previous (second) post of this series  RCN compared sustainability ratings by the Alpha Seafood Raters for two animals: Market squid, which is California's top fishery both in biomass and value, and shrimp, which is the number-one-choice of consumers for seafood. Most raters recommend wild-caught Longfin squid as an excellent, sustainable choice choice, with Market squid rated either best choice or good alternative. Disclaimers state that insufficient data is currently available for trust-worthy ratings for squid. Shrimp is even more complicated. In this post RCN explains judgment of the alpha raters of sustainable seafood : "good or really good but both with deep concerns."

What are the Deep Concerns

As formidable an accomplishment as seafood ratings are, ratings by alpha raters reflect concerns with sustainability, which can be seen as an aspirin treatment. Do we really want to sustain dynamic processes  that can only lead to loss of quality of life, diminished vibrancy and resiliency of all ecosystems through declining biodiversity, and baselines shifting ever downwards?

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, the benchmark of the seafood-rating world, states
At Seafood Watch we help sustain wild, diverse and healthy ocean ecosystems that will exist long into the future. We do this by encouraging consumers and businesses to purchase seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment. When there is scientific uncertainty, we err on the side of conservation.
...Scientists estimate that we have removed as much as 90 percent of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and cod from the world's oceans. ..85 percent of the world's fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline.
...Aquaculture, or fish farming, could be a great solution to the ever-increasing pressures on our ocean resources. Today, half of our seafood comes from farms. But the ecological impact of fish farming depends on the species chosen, where the farm is located, and how they are raised.

...As a society, we can create sustainable aquaculture that limits habitat damage; prevents the spread of disease and non-native species; and minimizes the use of wild fish as feed.
The above is cautiously optimistic. But the 85 and 90 % figures reflect a trend, not an absolute state without dynamics. As such they can be misleading. Before the population of the world reached 7 billion, consumption habits removed 90 % of the top level predators from marine food webs. Add to this picture the fact that any well-researched data may  be outdated by the time it is peer-reviewed and published.

Second, the trend of developing nations such as China (which now dominates fish consumption) is towards eating more fish not less. Third, biological programs both drive our species towards acquiring the best  and forgetting the way it really was, a process called shifting baselines.

Not last is the major disconnect between supporters of sustainable ocean ecosystems and the terrestrial stewards such as permaculturists. Last but not least is the aquaculture and mariculture solution to the waning of the seaworld. More about aquaculture and quality of life in the next post.

The right hand gives and the left takes away

On the one hand, MBA's vision of sustainability can be seen as strategic specialization:
At Seafood Watch we help sustain wild, diverse and healthy ocean ecosystems that will exist long into the future. We do this by encouraging consumers and businesses to purchase seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment. When there is scientific uncertainty, we err on the side of conservation.
But on the other, none of the alpha raters (see previous post for a list) address the issues of diminishing biodiversity associated with industrial farming (which includes aquaculture and mariculture), or the state-of- the-art technologies in aquaculture (i.e., closed recirculating systems) that still depend on non-renewable, carbon dioxide-emitting energy sources such as coal. China is reported to be building two new coal plants a week. By 2030 Wired Science predicts that China's carbon dioxide emissions will reach 8 gigatons a year, which is equal to the entire world’s CO2 production today.

Only the Best

Rock shrimp and Black tiger shrimp are considered by many (not all) shrimp connoisseurs to be the best of the shrimp. Food attributes include mildly briny and sweet, firm, crunchy texture, buttery, moist taste as well as some uniquely shrimp-prawn attributes, all mouth-watering. (Although biologists distinguish true shrimp from true prawns RCN follows the protocol of most seafood raters of not differentiating prawns from shrimp in their ratings. Neither does RCN  refer to all freshwater species as prawns). While MBA rates prawns caught wild in U.S. waters as a good alternative,  MBA rates both farmed black tiger shrimp and wild-caught as absolutely to be avoided.

On the other hand, freshwater prawns farmed in the U.S. are rated best choice by MBA. Simultaneously, major retailers such as Target, working with the MBA, have discontinued entirely all farmed salmon stating that "salmon farms could hurt the environment through pollution, chemicals and parasites."  Since most research into industrial fish farming has been conducted on salmon, stewards might take Target's decision to eliminate farmed salmon as insight into the nature of industrial farming: fish crowding, disease, parasites, loss of muscles, loss of biodiversity, along with loss of other adaptations. Gourmets are faced with a dilemma: the historical-quality-best is not the clear ecological best. The emergent bests may be seriously flawed from an evolutionary aesthetics perspective, where best of the best is determined. The best have become the worst. What to do?

Try doing this

Maybe this would be a useful action: Fall on your sword. (While I mean this metaphorically, of course, a literal interpretation by the many could actually solve our seafood problem.) Remember Einstein's dictum: Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler.  Preserving and restoring the systems necessary to the quality of life we all aspire to is not going to be easy. No well-meaning raters can make vibrant global ecosystems an easily attainable goal. And as always, noblesse oblige. Stewards are the new global nobility, obligated to lead by doing the right thing. Each of us hoping to become stewardly can act accordingly.

A conservative, cautious guideline for consumers trying to make ecologically sound choices would be to avoid all imported wild shrimp and prawns, avoid all farm-raised imported shrimp and prawns, and stick with wild-caught Oregon and Northern shrimp and  maybe some U.S. farmed shrimp,which are rated sustainable in most seafood guides but which probably depend on non-renewable energy sources. Squid for the time being is considered sustainable though there is some uncertainty with this evaluation. Of course, if everyone were to follow this guideline there would be massively unwieldy pressure put on squid wild-caught Oregon fisheries. fisheries.

What consumers might do, however, is not simply avoid red-listed fish. Consumers can pro-actively exert pressure at the point of purchase: the fish markets or fish departments of their supermarkets. This militancy promotes a shared stewardship at the line where producers meet consumers. Consumers can contact the raters regarding confusing reporting. Only buy fish linked to information regarding sustainability. Genetically modified fish such as Australian farmed prawns should all be avoided using the precautionary rationale. Over fished fisheries should be avoided. Fisheries using methods that damage habitats (e.g., bottom trawling) and reduce the life quality of resident species should be avoided. Fish from farms that rely on non-renewable energy sources should be avoided. Ask your marketer which is which. Keep asking. Ask again to speak to the manager.

All sellers could be required by law to post current ratings for seafood. One possibility to simplify and avoid confusion would be to post any red rating by any of the 200 or more seafood raters for a specific fish with a brief explanation  e.g., rater and reason for red-list).  If no red listing is made by any rater then consider the fish a possible menu choice. This requires effort on the parts both of the market and the consumer. Sellers need to be informed of the rating status of their fish.

The red-list of Sustainability Issues:
  • energy use of closed recirculating systems
Americans consume more than 20 million barrels of oil per day, 65% of which are imported. 
  • loss of genetic diversity in farmed fish
    "Species are the most recognized and protected units of biodiversity. Yet, we tend to ignore the importance of genetic diversity that is fundamental to species survival, and to the continued evolution of new species. Almost certainly, unique genes have been lost from very many species that have experienced substantial declines with isolated populations and local extirpations. However, for most species of plants and animals, there have been few or no studies to document this trend. 
    Small, declining or isolated populations will suffer from two related genetic problems: inbreeding depression and loss of genetic variation. The former has implications for short-term survival. The latter may limit long-term persistence. "
  • loss of quality in farmed fish; loss of life-style quality for farmed fish; loss of taste and texture
  • contamination of wild-stocks through escapees, effluents, and parasites from open ocean farming
  • feed conversion ratio
  • unnatural feeding of plant-based food to carnivorous fish with unknown outcomes
"As for taste: flavor varies more in wild fish than in farmed, for wild Pacific fish differ more in their life histories and physiology and fat content than do Atlantics, which are genetically more alike and which all eat similar diets heavy on fish oil. Young Pacific chum, for instance, generally aren’t as fatty and tasty as Atlantics, while sockeye and chinooks with long or arduous spawning runs offer extraordinary flavor." Eating Well
Net, humans need to cherish seafood in the wild if they are to support global pleasure: top quality life-style for fish (wild life) and top quality food for consumers.

Re-defining Sustainability

In the case of Reward in the Cognitive Niche (RCN), sustainability is defined as vibrant, beautiful ecosystems (terrestrial,aerial, freshwater and marine) that will--now and in the future-- be restored, preserved and enhanced for the pleasure of all species. The distinctions among land air and sea are absent in this definition. Quality of life for all individuals of all species is emphasized. RCN uses biodiversity as the proxy indicator for quality of life of all species.

There are currently between 1.5 and 1.8 named species in the world. Estimates for total number of species including unnamed species range from 3 to 100 million. Each natural (not genetically engineered) individual of each species varies in his or her genome. If diversity decreases, so does quality of life. Humans need to address the causes of loss of diversity if they wish to support the highest possible quality of life.The best of the best over evolutionary time becomes the most beautiful.  Beauty is a salient value for this blog.
A 30-million-square-meter shrimp farm in Indonesia

Criterion for RCN

  • global pleasure: optimized value achieved by summing up the pleasures of all creatures programmed to survive and reproduce. The indicator proxy for global pleasure is biodiversity.
Recirculating Aquaculture Systems in Use/Recirculating Systems at Kent SeaTech, California, one of the largest recirculating systems in the world.


Tooby, John and Cosmides, Leda. 2001.  "Does Beauty Build Adapted Minds?" Retrieved from

"Indicators of Sustainability".  Retrieved from

"Assessment Methods. retrieved on May 2 from

Roheim, Cathy. 2009.  "An Evaluation of Sustainable Seafood Guides".  Marine Resource Economics. Volume 24.Retieved on May 4, 2012 from