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How Fish Get from the Sea to Your Plate

Some afternoons, after lunching on a mess of ahi furikake or fried ahi belly at Nico’s, the big fish restaurant down on Pier 38, I like to walk across the street and amble down the docks and survey the ragtag fleet of fishing boats tied up along the wharf.

Like many old sailors, I’m drawn to the waterfront. I like to listen to the Filipino and Indonesian and Micronesian crews joke and tell fish stories in the open stern houses of the boats. I like the hubbub of lading and cleaning and repair work as the boats prepare for their next trip. And I like the ceremony of mooring and unmooring, the dull shudder of the diesel as a boat springs out on a forward spring and heads off to sea, the wordless passing of lines along the quay as a returning boat ghosts into a berth. The working waterfront has always seemed to me a world unto itself, and a brief stroll along the wharf inevitably puts me in mind of older, simpler times.

But Hawaii’s fishing industry isn’t just a nostalgic relic of the past. It’s still a surprisingly important sector of the local economy, selling more than 23 million pounds of fish in 2010 with a total value over $87 million. More than half of the swordfish and nearly 80 percent of the bigeye tuna landed in the U.S. last year were caught by Hawaii-based boats. The industry directly employs hundreds of fishermen and indirectly supports a vast economy of chandleries, mechanics, electronics companies, boat yards, ice houses, and fishmongers. So, although few people visit the commercial harbors at Pier 38, or Kewalo Basin, or Wailoa Sampan Basin on Hawaii Island, Hawaii’s fisheries play a signature role in how we live here. But they’re also under increasing threat from environmental factors, economic pressures, and regulatory changes. To understand what those threats mean for Hawaii’s fishing industry, you have to know a little bit about its past and the institutions that guide its future.

Hawaii Fisheries
Hawaii loves its fish. We famously eat more seafood than any other state— more than nine ounces per person per week, twice the national average. And, although we import more than 60 percent of our seafood, that’s well below the mainland average of nearly 90 percent. This is a reflection of the vigor of our fishing industry. Hawaii fishermen bring in an astonishingly diverse catch, including nearshore fish, such as akule, opelu and uhu; bottomfish, such as opakapaka, onaga and hapuupuu; and most importantly, pelagics, such as mahimahi, opah and ono. But the most valuable catch are swordfish, yellow fin tuna, and especially, bigeye tuna. These fish are so prized that most of the other pelagic fish brought to market are just incidental, albeit profitable, by-catch for the swordfish and bigeye fishermen. Bigeye tuna, the source of the best quality sashimi-grade ahi, often wholesales for more than $10 a pound. This mix of high value fish makes the tiny local fishing industry a national powerhouse. Although the port of Honolulu only ranked 33rd in the country for the total tonnage of fish landed last year, by value, it was the tenth largest port in the nation.

Such a big, diverse catch means there’s a wide variety of fishing boats in Hawaii. Nearshore fish are caught from skiffs and Whalers and every kind of pleasure boat. Reef fish are even caught by spearfishermen towing kayaks behind them. In the bottomfishery, fishermen mostly use poles or handlines or electric reels, and work from open, trailerable boats with big, powerful outboard engines. Many of the boats in the commercial bottomfishery are based on Maui, which is close to the better fishing grounds. But the most economically important of the fishing boats in Hawaii is a fleet of about 130 longliners based out of Pier 38 in Honolulu Harbor and out of Wailoa Sampan Basin in Hilo Harbor. These low-slung, steel-hulled boats range from 64 feet to 100 feet, by regulation the largest they can get. They’re lumbering, full-displacement boats that cruise at only seven or eight knots. Because Hawaii is a fresh fish market, that means the boats have a limited range; they rarely stray beyond a 1,200-mile radius of the Islands so they can get their catch back to port while it’s still fresh. The fishermen will tell you that’s still a lot of ocean to cover.

Sean Martin, one of the major players in the Hawaiian fishing industry, puts it this way: “If you were to go 1,000 miles north, you’d be half-way to Kodiak. If you go 1,000 miles west, you’re two-thirds of the way to Midway. If you go a 1,000 miles south, you’re down in Palmyra. And if you go a 1,000 miles east, you’re half-way to the mainland. That’s the range of the longline fishery.”

Martin has been at the center of Hawaii’s fishing industry for 35 years. At 21, he already owned his own boat, a 64-foot aku boat called Finback that he operated out of Crescent City, California, pole-fishing for albacore up and down the West Coast. Aku fishing is one of the most exciting commercial fisheries for a young man. The fishermen use long fishing poles with unbaited, barbless hooks at the end of a short length of line. They chum the waters with live bait, then stand in the transom, dipping their hooks into the school of frenzied albacore or skipjack, flipping the big fish over their shoulders onto the deck behind them. Sometimes they catch hundreds in a day.

“There’s nothing more fun,” Martin says. “When you’re in your teens and twenties and you get to go around and do that, it’s not like work at all.”

But the California fisheries at the time were looking less and less viable for a boat like Finback. Then, in 1979, Hawaii Tuna Packers, a subsidiary of BumbleBee, sponsored a one-year experiment to test the viability of an albacore fishery in the North-West Hawaiian Islands. That looked like an opportunity to Martin, so he and Finback joined a fleet of 20 fishing boats and a specially rigged refrigerator boat that served as a mother ship and they all headed west in a flotilla.

“We left Crescent City on April 1 and basically fished two-thirds of the way to Japan.”

Martin and the rest of the experimental fleet spent the summer trolling for albacore in the NWHI, periodically transferring their catch to the mother ship so they wouldn’t have to return to port. At the end of the season, Martin brought Finback down to Honolulu, and after spending the winter buying new gear and rerigging the boat, he joined the small longline fleet at Kewalo Basin.

“I started longlining in 1981 and have been involved in the longline fleet ever
since,” he says.

Today, Martin and his partner, John Cook, own six longliners, ranging from
the 65-foot Finback, Martin’s first boat, to the 100-foot XXX, one of the newest boats in the fleet. Martin and Cook also own POP Marine Supplies, the main chandlery for the longline fleet, and Hawaiian Ice, which supplies ice for most of the fishing boats, and Cook is part owner of Nico’s, the seafood restaurant. In addition, Martin serves as president of the Hawaii Longliners Association and is the past chairman of the powerful Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. Few people know more than Martin about longlining in Hawaii.

“Longlining was developed in Hawaii before World War II,” Martin says. “It was called flag-line fishing back then, but it’s really the same fishery, though some people might argue it’s not. The fishery was suspended during the war, because most of the fishermen at that time were of Japanese ancestry and were prohibited from going to sea. After the war, it kind of revitalized again. Most of the boats back then were small sampan boats that fished within fifty miles of the Islands. There was a pretty good-sized fleet that operated out of Hilo and was supported by Suisan, the fish auction down there, and there was the fishery here on Oahu. I think the Honolulu fish auction, the United Fishing Agency, started maybe in 1951.”

The longline fishery hadn’t changed much when Martin arrived in the 1980s. Although it had absorbed a few California boats, like Finback, the size of the longline fleet remained fairly stable at 30 to 35 boats. But to ambitious fishermen like Martin, the Hawaii fishery looked like it had real growth opportunities.
That was largely because of changes in technology. “What happened,” Martin says, “was we heard about some different methodologies being used in the Atlantic, so I went to a fishing industry show in New Orleans and saw this new technology. Rather than use what we used to call ‘traditional rope line’, they used heavy-guage monofilament wound up on a big drum like you can see on all these boats out here now. I bought one of these systems and brought it back and put it on Finback and it turned out to be quite efficient and effective.”

Normally, fishermen are notoriously conservative, even superstitious, about change, but the new gear was basically a no-brainer, Martin says. “It took less talent to be effective and you could carry more gear and catch as much or, aruably, more fish than before. So we started importing that gear and providing it to people who were interested. That’s kind of how we built POP. That was in 1984, and I think, by 1988 or 1989, all the boats had changed, with the exception of one or two, to the more modern gear.”

At that time, the thriving Hawaii fishery was contrasted by fisheries on the mainland that were overfished and under growing regulatory pressure. In the Northeast, the cod fishery and lobster fisheries seemed on the verge of collapse. In the Mid-Atlantic, the crab and oyster industries, and even the menhaden fishery, once the largest in the country, suffered from radically shrinking catches. In the Gulf of Mexico, price wars that erupted between local boats and those owned by Vietnamese immigrants began to put pressure on the economic viability of the shrimping industry.

“Back then,” Martin says, “the longliners used to always operate out of Kewalo Basin, and one day 22 boats from the Gulf of Mexico showed up. They came in a big caravan, traveling across the Pacific from Panama. They were all Vietnamese immigrants who had been displaced by the Vietnam War and settled on the Gulf Coast. They had been longlining there for yellowfin, so it was a different fishery than ours, but they used similar gear, and I think some of the Vietnamese guys realized there was an opportunity out here, so they got together and said, ‘Go west.’ That was a kind of the explosion in the industry.”

It didn’t take long for that explosion to start having effects on how the longline fleet interacted with other fishermen, Martin says.

“When the longline fishery was relatively small—30 or 35 boats—we all sort of did our thing. But when all these new boats started showing up, there was significant conflict between different gear users. There were ‘shots fired’, I guess you might say. Then, Bill Paley, who was chairman of DLNR at the time, and was on the Fishery Management Council, brokered an agreement—at that time it was called a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, later on it became regulation—to keep the fleets separated. So, in order to preserve some opportunity for the small boat guys, we entered into a regime where there were some areas nearshore where longline boats couldn’t fish. Right now, there are still closed areas close to the Islands—50-75 miles, depending on where you’re at—where longline fishing is prohibited. That was really put in place not for any scientific reason, but for keeping the fleets separate.”

By 1991, Martin says, additional regulations began to affect the longline fishery. “As the fleet grew, there was significant concern that the growth was going to get out of hand. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, commonly known as Wespac, is the regulatory body with responsibility outside of state waters—from 12 miles to 200 miles, in theory, but it’s actually from 12 miles out to wherever boats fish. They began putting into effect management regimes to limit new entrants getting into the fishery, as well as other regulations, like vessel-size limits and those kinds of things. They started that process in 1991, and by 1994 there was a pretty comprehensive limited entry program for the longline fishery in Hawaii so it couldn’t grow unfettered. Today, there are only 164 permits in the fishery, and have been since 1994; so that kind of stopped the growth. But, although all 164 permits are owned; they’re not all used. They’re freely transferable, so there’s been some changes over the years. Somebody gets out, retires, maybe their boat sinks, whatever. Maybe they sell their permit and somebody comes in and fills the void. Traditionally, there’s been about 130 boats, plus or minus, active in the fishery for the last 20 years.”

Environmental Regulation
Despite this apparent stability, fishing in Hawaii has always been a tumultuous business. In recent years, most of the upheaval in the longline fishery has been because of changes in environmental regulations, particularly rules stemming from the Marine Mammals Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. These new laws have forced fishermen—historically the cowboys of the sea—to behave more and more like shepherds. And more and more, that has put the fate of the fishery into the hands of scientists and bureaucrats.

It started with the birds. Longliners, particularly the so-called shallow-set fishery that targets swordfish (swordfish boats need the same permit as the bigeye boats, but use slightly different gear), used to catch hundreds of albatross each year. As the fishermen baited their hooks and tossed them over the stern, the big birds would swoop in and snatch the bait, often getting snagged by the hook. Because albatross are considered endangered species under the ESA, beginning in 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which regulates the fishing industry, required the longliners to develop new techniques to reduce the mortality rate for albatross and other seabirds.

The changes that the longliners came up with have been remarkably effective and are visible to anyone who looks at the fleet. On most types of fishing boats, the stern is left clear to accommodate the fishing gear. Trawlers deploy their booms and nets from the stern. Trollers have their outriggers there. On aku boats, the stern is kept open to leave room for the fishermen at the transom and to accommodate the big fish holds and live bait wells. But on the Hawaii longliner, the stern is often conspicuously occupied by a low house built of steel or tarpaulin-covered metal tubing. Frequently, the roof of this house is encumbered with hundreds of small buoys that are used to float the line when it’s deployed at sea. They give the longliners a cluttered, yard-sale look in port.

The actual work on a longliner usually takes place amidships. The big drum of monofilament line is stowed here. As crew bait the hooks and snap the long leaders on the line, a machine called a line thrower pulls the line off the drum and sends it arcing over the side of the boat. The leaders are spaced 200 feet apart and the line comes off the line thrower a little faster than the boat’s cruising speed so the baited hook has time to sink in the water before it’s passed by the stern of the boat. That’s what keeps the albatrosses from getting at the bait, and what gives the Hawaii longline fishing boat its particular profile.

Probably the most high-profile ecological problem for the longliners has been the sea turtle. Much like the albatross, turtles—mostly leatherbacks and loggerheads—used to target the longliner’s bait and sometimes swallow the hook or become entangled in the line. Before the turtles could be brought on deck, they were often badly injured and many were believed to die after they were released. As a result, NMFS forced the longliners to make more changes in how they fished. They were required to change their bait from squid to bait fish, like sonma or mackerel, because bait fish was more difficult for the turtles to eat than squid. They were also required to change tackle to big circle hooks, because the turtles had small mouths and were less likely to bite a big hook, and the circle hook is less likely to snag.

But the biggest change was a limit set on the number of “interactions” the fleet could have with turtles. To minimize turtle mortality, the NMFS instituted a rule that required the entire longline fishery to shut down for the remainder of the year once the fleet hooked or seriously injured either 17 loggerheads or 16 leatherbacks. In 2006, they reached 17 interactions with loggerheads by March 20, and the fishery closed for the rest of the year. (In 2011, they reached 16 leatherback interactions by November 18, but the fishery was given a reprieve by a new rule that allowed Hawaii longliners to use the quota from U.S. territories, like American Samoa, Guam, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. More on this later.) In both case, the fishery was shut down for the rest of the year. Not surprisingly, these new regulations were highly unpopular with the fishermen, who always believed the scientists estimates for turtle mortality were too high, and their estimates for the turtle population were too low.

To ensure the compliance of the industry, NMFS created an observer program for the longline fishery, a first of its kind in the country. Since 2008, 100 percent of the swordfish boats—the so-called “shallow-set fishery”—have carried a NOAA observer. In the deep-set tuna fishery, there are observers on 20 percent of the boats. The observers aren’t enforcement officers; they’re there to gather data on the fishery—for example, the size, species, and quantity of fish caught—and to keep track of turtle interactions and issues related to the Marine Mammals Protection Act. By law, the fishing boat owners are required to provide accommodations for the observers. But the longliners are small boats; they generally go out with just a captain and a crew of five or six, and many owners resent the intrusion of the observers. Nevertheless, the longliners are quick to point out that, since the program was introduced six years ago, turtle interactions have plummeted almost 90 percent. As a result, three years ago NMFS proposed raising the limits on turtle interactions.

“We haven’t approached those numbers in years,” Martin says. “Not in interactions, let alone mortality.”

Science and the fishery
Perhaps the most important artifact of the observer program has been the trove of longliner catch data. Fishery managers in other regions often have other sources of stock data. On the East Coast, for example, NOAA has its own trawlers and can conduct independent sampling to assess the stock abundance and size. (Fishermen in the Northeast, though, frequently disagree with their assessments, complaining that scientists use different gear and fishing methods than professional fishermen, so their catch data is incompatible with real world conditions.) But for Hawaii waters, observer data are sometimes the only data available to fisheries managers.

One of the main uses of the observer data has been to help researchers assess the health of the fish stocks for the Hawaii longline fishery and bottomfish fishery. These data are equivocal. For example, fishermen say the average size of the fish caught has remained fairly stable (albeit in slight decline,) which might indicate that the fishery isn’t over-harvesting the larger fish. That’s important because fish have to reach a certain age before they can reproduce. Large fish also have lower natural mortality rates—they’re less likely to be eaten by other fish, for example. But other data suggest the total population of fish is shrinking. Catch-per-unit-effort, or CPUE, has been slowly declining for many years. That means, for every thousand hooks set by the longliners, each year they catch a little fewer bigeye and swordfish.

It’s hard to know what to make of this conflicting data. Jon Brodziak, director of stock assessment at NMFS, points out that there’s also a lot of natural variability in a complex ecosystem like the marine fishery. “The ocean changes every year,” he says. “Productivity is up and down. The climate system is fluxuating. We have El Nino years, and we’ve got La Nina years, we’ve got mid- range years for environmental conditions.” Fishermen often point to this natural variability as the real cause of stock declines. Even as lobster stocks plummeted in the Northeast, for example, many lobstermen insisted it was a normal fluctuation in population. Fishermen in general are suspicious of scientific data of the fisheries.

Partly, that’s because of the abstract and contingent nature of science. For example, most of the stock assessment methods rely on statistical modeling, a process many fisherman find arcane. By looking at how catch-rates change through time, scientists create a sort of proxy for a direct count of fish, which, of course, is impossible. “If standardized,” Brodziak says, “the catch-rate is an observation, with error, of the relative abundance. But, in this process, you also have to account for changes in the fishery through time. Those changes might include spatial effects—where you fish; they may include changes in fishing gear or the deployment of fishing gear: and they may include other factors, like which species you’re targeting. If you’re looking, say, at billfish species in the Hawaii longline fishery, we know most of the captains aren’t targeting billfish. They’re targeting bigeye tuna or yellow-fin tuna, or perhaps swordfish for the shallow- set fishery. For the most part, they’re not targeting striped marlin, but that sampling is still providing us with information on the relative abundance and change in abundance of striped marlin through time.”

One recent example of how scientist use fishery observer data is an intriguing paper by Jeffery Polovina, a researcher and assistant director at NOAA’s Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center. By looking at data like catch-rates, catch effort (the number of hooks set, for example), and changes in the size and types of fish caught, Polovina tried to quantify the effect of the longline fishery on the pelagic ecosystem.

“We’ve been using the 15 years of observer data from the deep-set long-line fishery,” Polovina says, “and we’ve seen a real change in the species composition and the size structure of the catch. All the real top predators of the ecosystem— the marlins, the tunas, the sharks—have been declining in relative abundance, as indicated by catch-rates. The catch-rates have gone down 2 percent to 7 percent per year over the last 15 years. And what’s been coming up in catch-rates are non-commercial fish, like lancetfish and snake mackerel, plus a few commercial species, like mahimahi and escolar and pomfret.” In fact, lancetfish and snake mackerel now account for more than 30 percent of the total longline catch. There’s no market for them, though; fishermen toss them back in the sea.

Fishermen like to say that the average size of the tuna and swordfish they catch has remained in the 75-pound to 90-pound range for the last decade or so. That may not comport exactly with other observations—observer data show them slight decline—but, like most NOAA scientists, Polovina doesn’t think the industry’s current fishing levels are bringing the fishery close to collapse. “Of course,” he says, “it’s sort of like predicting the stock market collapse: It’s always easier in hind-sight; sometimes you just can’t see it until after it happens. But I don’t think the pelagic ecosystem is on the verge of a collapse. There are limits on the catch. They may be too high, but they are starting to rachet down the amount of effort in the harvest, at least for some key species, and that impacts fishing effort for the whole ecosystem. That’s a positive development. Likewise, in the bottom-fish fishery, there’s an annual catch limit also. That’s at least putting a stop to rising fishing mortality levels. If needed, we have the potential to reduce that.”

What concerns Polovina, though, is how the impact from longlining dovetails with broader ecological issues. “We’re facing a combination of top-down pressure from fishing,” he says, “and, going forward, bottom-up pressure from climate change, which we think reduces the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. That means the pelagic ecosystem is facing stress. And for now, we’re only measuring it or seeing it from the catch data. There may be other things that are changing that we’re not even seeing. Maybe other species are changing—squid or gelatinous organisms that we’re not able to monitor—so there may be bigger effects than what we see now just looking at the longline catch.”

When Polivina presented this information to , the fishermen were unimpressed. They pointed out that, even if the catch-rates for bigeye and swordfish are declining, the market price for these fish is rising fast enough to keep pace. The longliners are also in the unique position that much of their “by- catch”—the mahimahi, opah, and pomfret—also brings good prices in the marketplace.

Environmental criticisms
For Patricia Tummons, publisher and editor of the well-regarded environmental newsletter Environment Hawaii, this kind of industry insouciance is galling. Tummons’ coverage of the fisheries frequently gives lie to what she perceives as Wespac’s disingenuousness. One of the claims of the longliners, for example, is that, despite rumors otherwise, almost all the bigeye sold at the Honolulu fish auction is consumed domestically. In particular, they say that, although some tuna is shipped to mainland and Canadian markets, less than 1 percent is exported to Japan.

“People have this idea that the fish go to Japan,” says Sean Martin. “Really, Japan comes to us. That’s what I tell people. If you think about it, Japan comes to us in the form of tourism. Besides, Japan is a very competitive market, worldwide. There are however many planes a day coming into Narita or Haneda or anywhere else that are capable of carrying fish, so significant amounts of fish from other countries are coming into Japan. They don’t need Hawaii.”

But Tummons doesn’t buy it. In an editorial in the May, 2012, issue of Environment Hawaii, she writes: “The notion that the longliners practice subsistence fishing and that they sell 99 percent of the catch locally, foregoing the lucrative markets in Asia and the U.S. mainland—well, they make for a good story, but no one who has seen the frenetic bidding at the Honolulu fish auction, with Japanese buyers on the phone to their Japanese clients, would give it credence.”

Tummons also scoffs at what she sees as the audacity of longliners to boast about the reduction in turtle and bird interactions, pointing out in her June, 2012 newsletter that these conservation measures were enacted because of lawsuits brought by environmental organizations. For example, she notes that Paul Dalzell, chief scientist for Wespac, still doesn’t believe the longline fishery ever posed a serious threat to the turtle population, and yet Wespac still wants to take credit for the changes in longline operations that were put in place to protect the turtles.

For his part, Dalzell echoes Martin and other fishery members, describing Hawaii’s longline fishery as being at the forefront of marine conservation: first in the country to enact an observer program, an early adoptee of ecosystem-based vs. species-based conservation plans, and, of course, a major player in the conservation of sea turtles and seabirds. All true, perhaps, but according to Tummons, all after the fact.

More recently, Tummons has criticized the fishery and NMFS, which Tummons sees as a little too cozy with Wespac and longliners response to new regulations on the incidental taking of false killer whales by the deep-set fishery. These proposed rules, which could close as much as 150,000 square miles of ocean to longliners once two false killer whales are seriously injured, are another example of conflict between marine scientists and fishermen. Cetacean scientists believe false killer whales in the longliner fishing areas are under grave threat. Fishermen and NMFS aren’t convinced; they want to see more studies.

Similarly, Tummons points to a change in regulations that allows Hawaii longliners to sidestep their quota of 2,200 metric tons of bigeye by paying U.S. territories, such as Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, to cede their fishing quota to Hawaii boats. That’s how the Hawaii longline fleet continued fishing in 2012, despite reaching its limit in November. According to the Hawaii fishermen, this is just an exchange of U.S. fish among U.S. jurisdictions, but the truth is a little more complex. In fact, because these U.S. territories are considered Small Island Developing Countries by international law, they don’t necessarily have a firm quota. And, by Tummons’ calculation, the whole arrangement is just a ploy to avoid complying with international agreements.

But Tummons most vociferous complaints have been against the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Council and the way it conducts business. Wespac is one of eight regional fishery management councils created in 1976 by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. These regional councils are supposed to provide “science-based” fisheries management recommendations to the Department of Commerce. Ultimately, the Secretary of Commerce must sign off on any new policy or regulation; but in practice, regional fisheries councils like Wespac play a major role in the nation’s marine fisheries policy. For environmentalists, this has always been seen as the fox guarding the hen house. By design, most of the members of the regional fisheries councils are fishermen or tied to the fishing industry. Almost inevitably, this leads to an apparent conflict of interest. Since the principal tools of fishery management and marine conservation involve reducing allowable catches, limiting access to fisheries, or cutting fishery effort, fishermen stand to lose money—at least in the short-term—whenever science says a particular fishery is in danger. Environmentalists point out that fishery management councils have resisted new regulations even as the country’s fisheries declined.

Tummons has been particularly scathing in her criticism of Wespac executive director Kitty Simmons, whom Tummons believes has repeated violated federal XXX. She has accused Simmons and other Wespac executives of failure to fully account for expenses—the fisheries management councils are funded largely through federal taxes— spending lavishly on travel and entertainment, and running the council like a personal fiefdom, holding unannounced, closed-door meetings and promoting her own agenda rather than what’s good for the fishery. In a scathing 2012 editorial in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Tummons stated directly, “It’s time for Kitty to go.”

Sean Martin, former council chair, allows that Kitty Simmons is sometimes controversial: “Kitty is a lightning rod,” he says. “But I will say Kitty is very much an advocate for fisheries. That’s her job. And you could make the argument that that’s National Marine Fishery Service’s job too, but they have other pressures that they have to accommodate.”

Martin also believes that environmentalists overestimate the power of Wespac. “People have this idea that the fishery council is the power in fishery regulation, but that’s not really true; they just advise. And there are proposed amendments that are rejected—that the Fishery Service doesn’t agree with, that didn’t meet some criteria or something—and it’s ‘thank you for your advice, but no thanks.’ But if you look at the council’s record and what they’ve done over the last 25 years or so that I’ve been involved with it, in many ways it’s so far ahead of other regions and councils. The Hawaii longline fishery was the first limited entry program in the U.S. for a pelagic fishery. We were the first ones to have what’s called VMS—vessel monitoring systems—which means there’s a transponder that tracks the boats, so Big Brother is always watching.”

Environmentalists, of course, point out that Wespac resisted the implementation of most of these programs.

The international threat
And yet, all the focus on Wespac and the NMFS and the Hawaii longliners may be misguided. That’s because the bigeye tuna fishery isn’t really regulated on the local or national level; by treaty, it’s regulated by international bodies like the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, based in La Jolla, California, and especially the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission, based in Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia. The jurisdictions of these two bodies are basically split down the middle of the Pacific, at 140 degrees longitude, and Hawaii longliners fish in both. As a practical matter, though, the main action on the international front happens far in the West Pacific. That’s not only because the WCPFC is based there, but because that’s where most of the bigeye fishing mortality happens. Hawaii longliners, it turns out, contribute comparatively little to the total catch of bigeye. Last year, even with the added allotment from the Guam fishery, Hawaii longliners only caught 3,500  metric tons of bigeye. In contrast, the purse seine fishery in the Western Pacific— mostly giant, multi-million-dollar industrial boats from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia (and, it should be pointed out, the United States)—sucked up over 120,000 metric tons of bigeye.

The remarkable thing is that bigeye isn’t even the target fish of the Western Pacific purse seine fishery. The purse seiners are mainly after skipjack, which congregate under FADs, or fish aggregation devices, and the purse seiners scoop by the millions in enormous nets. The problem is that juvenile bigeye also congregate under the FADs, and they also get scooped up. The bigeye aren’t even really marketable for the purse seiners; they’re basically by-catch. “The purse seiners are supposed to be regulated by effort and FAD sets,” says Wespac’s Dalzell, “but the catch hasn’t come down. The annual reduction in FAD sets just hasn’t been effective.”

U.S. representatives at the recent meeting of the WCPFC in Cairns, Australia, hoped regulatory changes would shift more responsibility for the reduction in bigeye mortality to the purse seiners in the Western Pacific, but the results were disappointing, Dalzell says. “That’s because the U.S. longline fishery, which is the Hawaii fishery, is going to have to take a 10 percent cut over a four-year time period. For us, we see no conservation benefit from that. Other longline fisheries are also taking cuts, but the Japanese fishery’s cut, for example, is pretty much a paper cut. They’re cut from nearly 20,000 metric tons to about 17,000 metric tons; but their fishery only caught about 12,000 tons last year, so they’re figured as reductions even though they’re already fishing well below that level. Indonesia’s limit is three times its recorded average. And last year, Korea went well over its limit, whereas the U.S. has been assiduous in closing its fishery before it reaches its limits. So, the problem for bigeye won’t be solved until there are major reductions in the catch of juveniles in the purse seine fishery.”

Of course, down on Pier 38, none of these controversies change the natural rhythms of the fishing boats.

Gone fishing
Pete Grillo has been fishing in Hawaii for 12 years. He came to Hawaii from the fishery on the Northeast Coast where was captain of a dragger boat, but became disillusioned with fishery regulators there, and moved to Hawaii and joined the longline fleet, first as a deckhand, then as a captain and owner. He talks about the challenges facing the modern captain.

“It’s certainly different than the old days,” he says, “when a captain depended on a thermometer and dash of luck. Today, a captain needs to be a little more tech-savvy. It’s knowing how to read and interpret the satellite water data that we get. Also, having the capacity to pay attention to the details: am I catching enough every day to stay here? Am I seeing many fish in this area or that area? Would a small move benefit me or should I take a day off and travel to another spot. There’s a lot of decision-making and analyzing your daily statistics.”

But fishing is still a back-breaking profession. “As in any business,” Grillo says, “some people want to and will work harder that others. Other people don’t want to sacrifice sleep for production. Some of us will sacrifice just about all the sleep we can for more production. On my boat, a normal workday is 18 to 20 hours. It’s about six hours to set the gear and 12 or 13 hours to haul the gear. Some of the other boats might run a four-man crew on the deck; as a captain, I like to run a five- or a six-man crew, plus the captain. That way I can let guys rotate out and get some sleep while still keeping the operation going. That way, everybody will get their four or five hours off a day to sleep, but at different times of the day. Guys will rotate in and out and get naps, kind of like they’re doing the swing-shift. But operations are running 18 to 20 hours a day.”

But in the end, it pays for a fisherman to remember that sea is always in command. Grillo describes a fishing trip from four or five years ago:

“We were way out beyond the Northwest Island chain, about 800 miles above the Leeward Islands. There was a big storm coming through, but we were on some really good fish, catching 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of fish a day—nice, beautiful quality fish. At the time, there were maybe 25-foot to 30-foot seas— maybe for a couple days, 30-foot-plus—and it was blowing 50 knots to 60 knots for well over a week. A lot of the guys out there were just drifting, chugging into the weather. Me, coming from the Northeast, I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad. After all, it’s still 70 degrees out here.’ So, we just kept fishing. But one night, in the height of the storm, it had been blowing 60 knots plus all day and all night, and we were hauling gear back up, coming up into the weather, when we took a really big wave over the side of the boat. I was in bed at the time and it knocked me out of my bunk. I got back up and looked out and the guys were still hauling the gear, everybody was safe, everything was still intact, the boat was still moving ahead, so I went back to sleep. The next morning, I let the guys get off the deck and have a little breakfast before we got back to setting our gear again, and I went up on the bow to look for birds or fish in the water, and saw the port bow rail was bent in about foot or so.”
“It’s amazing what the ocean can do to your boat, even the biggest of boats.”

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My story on Mars analogs is up at Smithsonian Air & Space magazine.

Check it out: http://www.airspacemag.com/space/mars-fakers-180964343/

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My latest in Smithsonian Air & Space

TMT: Big Glass and the Changing Focus of Astronomy

http://www.airspacemag.com/space/big-astronomy-how-built-180960364/

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Thanks Freakonomics

You can listen to Freakonomics radio’s delightful piece on the value of handwriting vs keyboarding (as well as yours truly opining about shorthand) on their latest podcast: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/who-needs-handwriting/

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Tasty Mutants: The History of the Triploid Oyster

Check out my latest at The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/todays-oysters-are-mutants/380858/

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How to Write 225 Words per Minute–With a Pen

In which I combine the 19th Century technology of Gregg shorthand with the 21st Century technology of a smartpen.

See my story at “The Atlantic Monthly”

 

 

 

 

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Hibiscus and the Ghosts of Hawaii Past

hibiscus-mdThe other day, I was scrolling absently through the abstracts in a recent issue of Pacific Science, when a paper by Hiroshi Kudoh made me do a double-take. Its subject was the typically modest question of modern evolutionary biology: how to explain the loss of seed buoyancy in Hibiscus glaber, a species of hibiscus found in the subtropical Ogasawara Islands, a Japanese owned archipelago about 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo. The paper compares H. glaber with H. tiliaceus, its pan-tropic progenitor, and finds that the air spaces in the seeds of H. glaber are smaller than those in the seeds of H. tiliaceus. Kudoh et al. attribute this to a shift in habitat as H. glaber moved inland. Presumably, seed buoyancy becomes less valuable the farther a plant gets from the sea.

But it wasn’t the paper’s science that got my attention. It was the title of the paper: “Loss of Seed Buoyancy in Hibiscus glaber on the Oceanic Bonin Islands.”

The Bonin Islands–another name for the Ogasawara Islands–share a largely forgotten connection with Hawaii, one that has fascinated me since I chanced upon fragmentary memoir of the lonely archipelago. Here it is, in brief:

Although the Bonin Islands are well served with the basic necessities of life–abundant fish, arable soil, reliable sources of water–they were situated far from traditional sailing routes in the Pacific. Consequently, even though they were claimed at various times by Spanish, English and American explorers, and apparently visited by a Japanese expeditionary force as early as 1670, the islands had no permanent inhabitants until well into the 19th Century–just the occasional shipwrecked sailor anxiously awaiting rescue. The word “bonin,” in fact, is an archaic version of “bunin”, meaning “no people,” or “uninhabited.”

That changed in 1830, when a group of colonists arrived by sloop from Honolulu. Honolulu was already common port of call for whalers, and apparently,there was quite a bit of talk among the sailors and merchants about the “newly discovered islands” ever since the uninhabited archipelago was claimed by the British explorer Captain Beechey three years earlier. With the support of the British Consul to Hawaii,  a group of Western adventurers, included two Americans, a Dane, and a man variously listed as Italian or Croatian, set sail for Bonin in early May, arriving a month later. Most accounts of the Bonin Islands add, almost as an afterthought, that these Westerners were accompanied by as many as 25 Native Hawaiians, or Kanaka, including seven women. These 30 to 35 settlers, (accounts vary as to the exact number), along with an assortment of castaways and beachcombers who joined them over the next two or three decades, became the progenitors of what ethnologists call the Bonin Islanders. Their story is an interesting one.

Much of what we know about the settlers and their heirs comes from The History of the Bonin Islanders, an account by Lionel Cholmondelely, the Anglican chaplain to the British Embassy in Tokyo, who visited the islands sixteen times between 1894 and 1922. According to Cholmondeley, the longtime leader of the Bonin colony was a former American sailor named Nathaniel Savory. Savory, who, despite his nationality, spent most of his early life working on British ships, apparent became stranded in Honolulu, in 1829, after being injured in a shipboard accident. While recovering from surgery, he joined in with a group of Westerners that were trying to get the British consul to support an expedition to the newly discovered islands. Surprisingly, the Consul agreed–maybe because of Bonin’s strategic location close to the then mysterious country of Japan–and helped provide for and provision a ship.

Once they arrived, there were conflicts between the colonists. The ostensible leader of the group, Matteo Mazzaro, the Italian (or Croat) fought with Savory. There were arguments about property and leadership and personal conflicts as well. Nevertheless, Mazzaro remained the titular leader of the colony for several years. But when Mazzaro died in 1848, Savory married his widow, and became the undisputed leader of the Islanders until his death in 1874 at the age of 80. Much of the history of the island is tied up in his interactions with the ships that visited the port, especially the incursions by pirates and marauding crews of some whalers. There also continued to be conflict among the islanders themselves.

But the biggest challenge for the original Bonin Islanders and their descendants came with the arrival of Japanese colonists, beginning with a failed expedition in 1861, and followed by a more successful waves of settlers starting in 1875. Japan’s claim on the islands was tenuous, but dated back more than 200 years. Nevertheless, their proximity made them much more likely colonizers than Spain or England, both of which may have had prior claim to the islands. In time, the growing number of Japanese settlers would swamp the small population of Bonin Islanders. Eventually, the Bonin Islands were subsumed into the Japanese Empire (despite a visit from Commodore Perry, who even bought a stretch of land along the harbor to help insure American title) and the Islanders were made citizens of Japan.Gradually, they intermarried with the Japanese population, and, bit by bit, the culture and language of the Bonin Islanders changed. But it’s fascinating to reflect on the little we now know about it.

First, in this polyglot group of early settlers, Native Hawaiians predominated. As a consequence, the Bonin Islander culture seems to have had a distinctly Hawaiian flavor, including a taste for lei and a kind of local version of hula. Maybe more interesting is the lingua franca of the Islands, a kind of English dominated pidgin that shared a lot of the features of Hawaiian pidgin. That may also be partly because of the predominance of the descendants of Savory, who, like the early missionaries in Hawaii, was a New Englander. Finally, it’s intriguing to find that the Hawaii connection didn’t end with Bonin’s colonization. There seems to have been a steady (well, as steady as the Age of Sail allowed) correspondence between the two archipelagos. In fact, Mazzaro made at least two separate trips back to Honolulu to try to secure more support from the English Consul, and at least two more Native Hawaiians made the trip to Bonin. Savory also maintained contact with some of the merchants in Hawaii. (He also kept of a lengthy and fascinating correspondence with his relatives in New England.)

The tail end of the Bonin story is also fascinating. Bonin would play an important role in WWII. At the outset of the war, the Japanese removed all the Bonin Islanders back to Japan and fortified the Islands as a supply base. In fact, the larger geographic entity, the Ogasawara Islands, include the famous Iwo Jima. When George Bush was shot down as a Navy pilot, it was within sight of Chichi-jima, the largest of the Bonin Islands, which was also the site of one of the most notorious Japanese prisoner of war camps. War crimes trials, after the war, led to the hanging of several Japanese officers on Chichi-jima.

Amazingly, though, many of the Bonin Islanders were rounded up after the war and returned to Bonin, which, like many Pacific Islands post WWII, fell under the administration of the U.S. Navy. This was a kind of hey-day for the Bonin Islanders, who, for the first time in nearly a century, once again predominated in the local population. It was a time of interest, among ethnographers and linguists, in their unique heritage. But it wouldn’t last.

In 1963, without consulting the Bonin Islanders, the Navy restored ownership of the archipelago to Japan. Not surprisingly, many of the former inhabitants and their children began to return. Quickly, the population of ethnic Japanese once again overwhelmed that of the Bonin Islanders, and, over the ensuing five decades, the unique island language and culture has begun to vanish. Travelers say you can still find a few of the old-timers who, despite the dilutions of intermarriage and the dominance of Japanese culture, still maintain a bit of their peculiar, and ever so slightly Hawaiian, heritage. Just not for much longer.

 

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Remembering Where You Are

om_fullIn a fascinating post on smithsonianmag.com last week, Joseph Stromberg explores a company called what3words and its quixotic attempt to replace the old system of geometric coordinates with simple, three-word phrases. For example, I’m writing this post at my lunch hour, from the outdoor sitting area of an office building in downtown Honolulu. If you type the building’s address, 1000 Bishop Street, into the what3words search box, you’ll find I’m at safe.buck.measures. Actually, since the the what3words system divides the earth up into small, three-by-three-meter squares, my precise location is shiny.martini.posting.

This system, as what3words CEO and founder Chris Sheldrick points out, is more accurate that traditional postal addresses, which, after all, only apply to a relatively small portion of the earth. what3words system is global. It’s also more memorable than the traditional numeric system of latitude and longitude. Later today, for example, I’m headed over to the Hawaii State Capitol at sweeten.caps.tinkle.  That’s a hell of a lot succinct than 21.307598 N, 157.8574443 W.

The what3words system works because it contains a prodigious number of “addresses.” By using a vocabulary of 40,000 English words (according to Stromberg, it’s also been “translated” into Russian, Swedish and Spanish) it encompasses more than 57 million combinations of three-word phrases. The geeks at what3word have created an algorithm that associates each of these unique combinations to a specific three-by-three meter square on the surface of the earth. That allows a mindbogglingly detailed tabulation of global locations.

But does it make sense? In effect, Sheldrick and his cronies have discarded one of the most useful tools ever invented: the base-10 number system. The combination of ten symbols (representing the values 0-9) and a positional system (where the left most digit represents units, the one to its right, 10s, and the one to its right, 100s etc.) we can quickly write any particular value. For example, the number that we write as “245” represents two 100s, four 10s, and five units. We don’t have to learn a special word for 245; it’s implicit in our number system.

what3words replaces the simple base-10 system with a monstrous base-40,000 system. Granted, each word in a what3word “address” is a memorable three-digit number, but each digit could be one of 40,000 values instead of the the ten values (and symbols) used in base-10 counting. A three-digit number in base-10 represents 1,000 possible combinations (ten 100s times ten 10s times 10 units.) Moreover, the positional writing system is a simple cypher, comprehensible to almost anyone. In contrast, the three-digit number of the what3words system represents 64 million combinations (the 57 million figure applies if you don’t use any of the 40,000 digits twice in the same number.) So, the system may be precise, but it’s also more than the normal human brain can absorb. The consequence is that each of those 57 million numbers is a surd. It contains no information at all.

I’m reminded of “Funes the Memorious”, Jorges Borges’ disturbing story about Ireneo Funes, a young boy with a perfect memory. One of the inevitable consequences of a perfect memory, in Borges’ mock essay, is an infallible sense of perception. After all, memory for normal people is as much a matter of subtraction as addition. We reduce our perceptions to generalities to accommodate our limited vocabulary for specifics. Our memories require a noun and a few adjectives; Funes, with a limitless memory, has no use for generalities. Every recollection is infinitely detailed.

Borges writes: “We, at one glance, can perceive three glasses on a table; Funes, all the leaves and tendrils and fruit that make up a grape vine. He knew by heart the forms of the southern clouds at dawn on the 30th of April, 1882, and could compare them in his memory with the mottled streaks on a book in Spanish binding he had only seen once, and with the outlines of the foam raised by an oar in the Rio Negro the night before the Quebracho uprising.”

Out of this inconceivable memory (not unlike the memory of the computer that generates what3words’ random three-word combinations,) Funes invents a new and pointless system of numbering. As Borges explains it, “His first stimulus was, I think, his discomfort at the fact that the famous thirty-three gauchos of Uruguayan history should require two signs and two words, in place of a single word and a single sign. He then applied this absurd principle to the other numbers. In place of seven thousand thirteen, he would say (for example) Maximo Perez; in place of seven thousand fourteen, The Railroad; other numbers were Luis Melian Lanfinur, Olimar, sulphur, the reins, the whale, the gas, the caldron, Napoleon, Agustin de Vedia. In place of five hundred he would say nine.”

Funes’ system of numbers is exactly like that of what3words–except there is no one with a perfect memory to contain the what3words numbers. Absent that vessel, these three-word addresses are pointless. Even the eye-blurring eight-digit lat/long of the Hawaii State Capitol has some meaning for those who grasp the principles of the system. It’s 21 degrees and change north of the equator and nearly 158 west of Greenwich, England. In other words, the numbers of the lat/long system convey information. Sheldrick’s words are meaningless, at least for humans.

The irony, of course, is that they’re useful, nonetheless. They really do offer a viable shorthand for the geography of this planet, and could actually serve a real commercial purpose. But there’s something inelegant in such an unwieldy system. I wonder, if it makes no sense, is it a system at all. Borge’s protagonist shares a similar sentiment after hearing Funes describe his monstrous numbering system.  “I tried to explain to him that this rhapsody of incoherent terms was precisely the opposite of a system of numbers. … Funes did not understand me or refused to understand me.”

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Smithsonian’s Pacific Origins

SmithsonianI’ve always been a binge reader. Sometimes people mistake that for erudition, but if you pay close attention to my ranting, you’ll notice I repeat myself a lot. Not that I say the same things over and over (although my wife may disagree), but I definitely quote the same people with distressing frequency. That’s because, when I decide I like a particular writer, I read everything that writer ever wrote.

By the time I was 10 years old, I had read all the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe and committed to memory every insipid line of his poetry. By 12, I read all the short fiction of Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. By 14, all the lyrical nonsense of Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson. The usual bibliography of a young boy, in other words. As an adult, my tastes have been maybe a little more eclectic, but no less monomaniacal. In school, I underwent sequential obsessions with Lawrence Durrell, Samuel Beckett, Peter Mattheissen, Milan Kundera, Jorge Luis Borges, and Roddy Doyle.

But my biggest obsessions have always been nonfiction. While in school, I discovered essayists like Steven Jay Gould, Lewis Thomas, and Loren Eisley. I gorged myself on the grandees of the New Yorker, E. B. White, Joseph Mitchell and John McPhee. And it’s not just individual authors that pinion me; my bookshelves are knotted with clusters of books on surprisingly few, if diverse, themes. There are dozens of books on sailing and the maritime arts. I have a library of dictionaries and grammars in foreign languages I barely speak. I seem drawn to revisionist histories of single subjects: cod, coffee, poison, lobsters etc. And every trip I’ve ever taken has apparently encumbered me with a new manual of birds or flowers or insects. In short, the obsessions of my old age are no less limited than those of my youth.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that, after reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea, The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”, I immediately went out and got “Sea of Glory, America’s Voyage of Discovery”, his epic description of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, a four-year odyssey involving six ships, hundreds of sailors, and a squadron of botanists, geologists, linguists and cartographers. The Ex Ex, as it came to be called, also turned out to be the last voyage of discovery completed entirely under sail.

The goals of the Ex Ex were ambitious ones. They were to confirm the existence of the continent of Antarctica, which neither Cook nor Tasman ever got close enough to see, due to the threat of sea ice and bad weather. They were to chart and explore the great Northwest coast of North American, the Columbia River basin, and the islands of Fiji, all crucial to the continued commercial success of the country’s far-flung whaling and sealing fleets. Most importantly, the Ex Ex was to serve as symbol of America’s growing power as an industrial and scientific nation.

But this 19th Century voyage of discovery was in many ways benighted. The leader of the expedition, Lt. Charles Wilkes, who in many ways seemed like the ideal captain for such an enterprise–a meticulous and inventive cartographer and apparently a beloved mentor to his young crew–turned out to be an insecure and paranoid martinet. The Ex Ex had barely left the country before the sailors and scientists began to lament his leadership. As was the custom for these kinds of voyages, most of the crew kept official journals, which they had to surrender at the end of the expedition. These diaries are catalogs of hate for the young Lt. Wilkes, and an obsessive tabulation of his perceived (and all too real) sins. This virulent loathing would later play a large part in obscuring the success of the expedition.

And yet, the Ex Ex was an astonishingly successful expedition. In addition to discovering Antarctica, the Ex Ex mapped hundreds of miles of coastline and charted the shipwreck-strewn islands of Fiji. Many of the maps created by Wilkes and his crew were still in use at the outbreak of World War II. Maybe most important, the scientists of the Ex Ex collected hundreds of barrels of cultural artifacts, biological specimens, and scientific observations. They conducted some of the earliest ethnological studies of the peoples of the Pacific, and visited and charted dozens of previously unknown islands. The Ex Ex put an American stamp on the largest ocean on the planet, setting the stage for the country’s quiet colonization of the Pacific Basin.

But perhaps the most fascinating part of the story happened after their return. Wilkes and his crew became embroiled in a string of lawsuits and courts martial that threatened to overshadow the discoveries of the expedition. Indeed, who among us have ever heard of Charles Wilkes. And yet, the accomplishments of the Ex Ex were, in many ways, more substantial than those of the earlier Lewis and Clark Expedition.

But Wilkes, for all his flaws as a captain and a leader, proved a much better self-promoter and a politician. In the years following the return of the Ex Ex, he jealously guarded the collections of the expedition, even to the point of perjuring himself in court to maintain control. And here’s the kicker: In 1843, five years after the Ex Ex set sail from Norfolk, custody for the collections of the expedition was awarded to the new National Institution for the Promotion of Science, with Wilkes at the helm. The National Institution was a kind of political end-around the ongoing arguments about what the country should do with a half-million dollar (about $11 million in today’s dollars) bequest to the nation from a wealthy Englishman named James Smithson. Ultimately, the National Institution and the thousands of artifacts, biological collections, and ethnographic materials from the Ex Ex would become the Smithsonian Institution.

So it’s not too far-fetched to say that the seeds for the greatest museum complex in the world weren’t planted in the country’s dismal capital, but in the wide expanse of the Pacific.

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C-MORE Images

Radiolarians and foraminifera. Taken by Angel White, OSU

Radiolarians and foraminifera.
Taken by Angel White, OSU

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the father of microscopy, famously discovered that even clean, fresh water teemed with what he called animicules. “Some of these,” he wrote, “are so exceedingly small that millions of millions might be contained in a single drop of water.”

It was a revelation that astonished and delighted van Leeuwenhoek in the 17th Century, and it’s no less delightful and astonishing today.

This evening, I was browsing through the image library at C-MORE, the Center for Microbial Oceanography, Research and Education, and came upon a marvelous collection of microscopy images that gives a hint to the remarkable diversity of the microscopic “animicules” that populate the ocean. They range from phytoplankton, like diatoms, coccolithophores and cyanobacteria, to more complex organisms, like radiolarians, foraminifera and copepods. And in their miniscule diversity, they almost defy belief. Some, like the radiolarians and foraminifera, seem like star bursts in an exploding universe. Others, like the coccolithophores, resemble strange, Rube Goldberg machines. geary

Such a scrapbook of images goes a long way toward justifying the work at C-MORE, a consortium of research institutions that are trying to survey the biodiversity of the oceans and understand what the diversity means for the rest of the world. I spoke with the founder and director, David Karl, for a Hawaii Business story about research programs at the University of Hawaii. Like van Leeuwenhoek, he marveled at the diversity of microscopic life. “In any drop of sea water, there’s a million microbes,” he said. “Micro-organisms dominate this planet.”

Glancing through these images, it’s clear that it will take generations to understand that domination.

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