Archive for September, 2009

Actually Eating Jellyfish

Monday, September 28th, 2009

(Michael Berrill,

When I reserved this domain name several years ago, I thought the idea of eating jellyfish was absurd. Jellyfish are about 98% water – if one washes up in the intertidal, it dries in the sun in a few hours to a thin layer of scum. Not a mouth watering image.

It turns out that jellyfish have been eaten for a long time in Asia – and that they can be purchased from Thai and Chinese specialty markets around the world, including the US and Canada. The 2% of a jellyfish that isn’t water is all protein – but that surely is small return.

This has growing importance because of the huge schools of jellyfish that have increasingly accumulated each year around the world’s coastlines over the past few decades. Where overfishing occurs, especially in combination with areas where rivers dump excessive nutrients into coastal waters, ultimately depleting oxygen levels, jellyfish thrive. They don’t need much oxygen, and they can become the top predators in the ecosystem.

Eating them begins to look more and more like an idea whose time has come.

Jellyfish is usually sold already well dehydrated – it then just needs to be soaked overnight, rinsed, dried some more, and then shredded to add to salads or mixed with vegetables. One recipe just calls for lightly grilling the dried pieces – well seasoned of course, for straight jellyfish has little – no? – taste.

Grilled jellyfish (

Grilled jellyfish (

Not all species have a market, but many of the larger species have potential. The cannonball jellyfish, Stomolophus meleagris, quite common along the Florida and Gulf of Mexico coasts, is a good example – some are now caught, dried and shipped to China and Japan. Who knew?

Cannonball jellyfish (

Cannonball jellyfish (

For some recipes, check

Jellyfish chips with your beer?

(Not) Eating Shrimp

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

(Michael Berrill

Do you eat shrimp?

Few tastes are finer than that of freshly cooked shrimp. But shrimp are expensive to buy, and therefore valuable to fish for, or to farm. And because of their value, in many places a lot of damage is done in the process.

Where they are trawled up from the sea bottom where they aggregate, the trawls may do immense damage to the bottom ecosystems, and everything else caught by the trawls is thrown back as as dead or damaged bycatch. Sometimes 90% of the catch is bycatch, discarded because its value is too little, or because there is no market for it, or because the fishing vessel is licensed to catch shrimp only. The bycatch in global fisheries is staggering – it could be as high as 30% of the total catch – and the most wasteful fishery of all is shrimp trawling.

Shrimp farming might seem to be the solution, but shrimp farms have replaced mangroves in many tropical regions, and we now know just how valuable mangroves are as nurseries for juvenile fish, habitat for shrimp, and protection of coastlines from storm damage. Yet in many places, mangroves have been largely eliminated to make space for shrimp ponds. In the short term, the ponds seem just too valuable. In the long term, they have done more immense damage.

Shrimp farms well buffered by mangroves are a partial solution, for eliminating the farms is not a likely outcome. Strict regulations on bottom trawling help, for trawling can be controlled, even if it can’t be eliminated.

Even better is watching carefully what shrimp you eat. Large tiger shrimp? Avoid them. Farmed shrimp? If they come from mangrove regions, avoid them until mangroves are properly protected.

Instead, try the cold water shrimp – like the Oregon pink shrimp, and the North Atlantic or northern shrimp, with the lovely name of Pandalus borealis. They are smaller, but they are sweet, and they are really quite wonderful, particularly when lightly sauteed.

Both of these shrimp are recommended by two of the most helpful organizations involved in certifying which fish species are being fished sustainably, and which should be avoided. It’s worth checking either site to see what other species you ought to avoid, and which you should look for:

The Marine Stewardship Council –
Seafood Watch –

And it’s worth taking the list along with you to supermarkets and restaurants, and insist on buying or eating only species that have been certified as coming from sustainable fisheries.

The Cove – a real impact

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

(Michael Berrill,

The slaughter of dolphins at Taiji has been stopped, at least for this past week, and international criticism, in response to the film The Cove, has certainly been the main reason. Some of the details, along with a clip from Rick O’Barry’s film, are found at .

This is excellent news.

Continued scrutiny of course will be needed to ensure that the slaughter does not start up again.  But the effort of a small group of very committed people has actually had an impact, and this is surely reassuring to all of us:  something that some of us do, somewhere in the world, that is clearly wrong and unethical can be stopped by shining a strong spotlight on it, perhaps with bravery and confrontation, but without violence.

Still, the high concentration of mercury in the dolphins hasn’t been addressed, or even admitted, and further action to curtail the sale of dolphin meat in Japan will be necessary to protect public health. I wonder what effects high levels of mercury have on the brains and behavior of the dolphins, but we are a long way from being concerned about dolphin public health.

Though the dolphin slaughter at Taiji has at least temporarily been curtailed, the capture of live dolphins for sale around the world for leaping performances at aquaria has not changed.  Once captured, the dolphins are ripped from their community and remain the rest of their lives in small pools of water where they leap so beautifully into the air,  impressing the visiting tourists who know so little about what has actually happened to each dolphin they see performing.

The Cove – what impact will this film have?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

(Michael Berrill.

The Cove deserves its awards. Will it achieve its goals?

These appear to be the facts: At Tiaji, In Japan, schools  of dolphins have been herded into a small cove where no one can see what goes on, and each year around 23,000 have been slaughtered. Before a slaughter, a number of bottle-nosed dolphins are captured for the live performance trade, and shipped all over the world. A live animal is worth $150,000, a dead one $600. Dolphin meat has been sold around Japan as whale meat. It is also highly contaminated by bioconcentrated mercury. Most Japanese have no idea that the slaughter is occurring, that they may be eating dolphins, or that the meat is contaminated with unsafe levels of mercury. The slaughter is sanctioned by the Japanese government, and defended by the Japanese at meetings of the International Whaling Commission.

The main arguments of the film are: Dolphins and porpoises are beautiful and intelligent. They should not be captured and used in parks to entertain people, and the slaughter of the rest of the animals is bloody, cruel, and indefensible. The Japanese fishermen and government authorities of course do not agree. The slaughter is kept secret probably because if the world knew about it, it would be shut down. The way to stop the slaughter then is to expose it, no matter the personal danger to the guerrilla team that succeeded in filming it.

Will the film have an impact? The slaughter is certainly a horrible event, and the filming team was both brave and ingenious. It’s hard to believe anyone in much of the world will be anything but shocked by what they see in the film.  But will the film be seen by those who are not already aware and concerned? Because there is some tension in the story, perhaps more will see the film. But will it be shown in Japan? That is certainly hard to expect – it has for instance been rejected for showing at the Tokyo Film Festival.  Instead, it will be necessary to take further action, ensuring especially that more people see it, that politicians see it,  that it reaches the highest levels possible. The new government in Japan will be less inclined to bend to any US pressure, but the rest of the world has leverage.

The filming of the slaughter was driven by Ric O’Barry, and his own biography is worth looking into. Among his comments: There are 2 kinds of people – activists and inactivists.  And: If we can’t stop this action in one little cove in Japan, then there really is no hope.

He makes a strong case.