Archive for August, 2010

Arctic Melt 2010

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

The planet just had its warmest January through July period on record – and this despite the cooling effects of La Nina in the Pacific, not to mention the snow blizzard in Washington, D.C. last winter.

The Arctic had an extraordinarily warm spring, with temperatures as much as 6 degrees C above average, the warmest on record (adequate temperature records go back to 1948). The ice cover is now the second lowest it has been since ice records began to be kept in 1979. Though the northern Northwast Passage is not completely open, there is still time, for a month of melting still lies ahead in the lower Arctic.

Ice cover in the Arctic at the end of July 2010. The northern Northwest Passage is almost completely free of ice. (

This is the 14th consecutive year of above average Arctic ice melt. Each year the ice starts to melt a little earlier, and then the increased extent of open water absorbs more heat instead of reflecting it back the way ice does. So the melt season then lasts a little longer. The melt season has extended an average of 6.4 days per decade over the past three decades: 20 days longer in just 28 years.

All this spurs on Canadian efforts to develop the Arctic as the irresistible Northwest Passage gets ever closer. This week, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, on his annual summer trip into the Arctic, announced the development of the airport at Churchill in northern Manitoba, on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay – anticipating that it will become the airport hub to serve Canada’s north.

Prime Minister Harper in Churchill to announce the expansion of the airport there (

Then Harper announced that Cambridge Bay in Nunavut will become the home of the planned Canadian High Arctic Research Station – and Cambridge Bay is (perhaps you guessed it) the major community nearest to the entry to the Northwest Passage.

Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, a community of about 10,000 that is now likely to grow considerably.(

And so the drumbeat continues. The Arctic ice cover continues to melt at unexpected rates each summer, changing Arctic ecosystems in the process, with predicted but uncertain impact on global climate and on ocean currents. And the impending opening of the Northwest Passage forces coastal Arctic countries to press their sovereignty concerns with far greater energy and effectiveness than they do in trying to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of global warming.

What is Canada doing to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate global warming? Nothing. The Government will not initiate any stricter regulations than those that exist in the US, and the current US Congress will initiate nothing.

Now, sovereignty issues, and economic issues concerning who owns the Northwest Passage – that’s quite different. All the players are taking initiatives.

Are we really so short sighted? Not for a second.

But our leaders are.

Prime Minister Harper (grey pants) standing on an iceberg during his Arctic tour annonces that: We must continue to exercise our sovereignty while strengthening the safety and security of Canadians living in our High Arctic (Canadain Press)

Eating Fish Raw

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Do you eat fish raw?

If you do, there is probably no harm, and probably more nutrition in it – provided that you are careful.

There isn’t a whole lot of sea food that someone, somewhere doesn’t eat raw. Of course pretty well everyone eats raw fish as sushi, and I don’t think anyone cooks oysters. But we also eat raw scallops, abalone, conch, clams, sea urchins eggs, caviar, and octopus (sometimes with their tentacles still writhing).

Raw oysters, fine sauces. Gulf of Mexico oysters are still not cleared for human consumption, but perhaps they will be soon. (

The Inuit have eaten raw seal and whale pretty well forever. In March of 2009, Canada’s Governor General made headlines when she ate some raw seal heart at an Inuit community festival.

Perhaps most spectacular is the Dutch love of young herring that arrive fresh and fat each year around the beginning of June. The first day of the catch is called Vlaggetjesdag, which means ‘flag day’ – unlike the flag days of most countries, it celebrates the arrival of the herring, and Dutch around the world do what they can to join in on their feast.

The herring are about 6 inches or 15 cm long. They are very rich in Omega-3 fat. They are gutted, their heads are cut off, and they may be lightly salted. Then it’s your head up, holding the fish by its tail, sliding the fish gradually into your mouth, and biting off whatever you think you chew or swallow. Hmmm. Very nutritious and beloved by all, but I suspect it helps to grow up with the practice.

Dutch treat - eating fresh, fat herring (

The real thing (

Perhaps we should ask what’s the point of cooking any of it? If the fish, or other sea food, is clean and fresh, there is little danger in eating it. But there may be parasites to deal with, and bacteria grow quickly on anything dead and aging.

Parasites are usually fairly obvious – just pick them out if you see any. Usually they are not harmful anyway, for they usually just pass on through you. Cooking kills parasites, though, and is a reason for cooking. Freezing also kills them, and even the best sushi chefs freeze salmon, which is very susceptible to parasite infections, before serving it up. Fresh water fish, like trout and bass, have lots of parasites, and eating them raw is never a good idea. But occasionally someone who eats sushi – eg raw salmon – gets a tapeworm which usually grows to 8 or more feet in length before it the host finally feels lousy enough to get medical help. A rare event, but it happens.

Parasites of marine fish. Photographs of the real thing may wreck your appetite. (

The other main problem is the bacteria which accumulate if the fish isn’t fresh or has been handled a lot. Refrigeration is not sufficient, as anyone who has kept fish in a fridge too long knows all too well. Cooking again solves the problem, though the taste of an aging dead fish leaves something to be desired.

Best bet if you are fishing for fish to eat raw? Make sure you are fishing in an ocean, bleed and gut the fish when you catch it, and put it in a bag of ice to take home with you if you don’t want to eat it on the spot.

Best bet if you don’t catch it yourself? Any farmed fish from US, Norway, Britain, Canada, Japan – the standards are high, and there should be no parasites.

For myself, I’ll still cook it.

Seared Pacific halibut, smothered with stuffed olives, red peppers and oregano (