Environmental snapshots on bees, driftnets and foam-plastic waste in North County

Environmental snapshots on bees, driftnets and foam-plastic waste in North County
Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — At Encinitas Bee Company, James McDonald and two of his adult sons, Emmet and Conor, work hard to keep bees alive and well. Specifically, they relocate active hives and swarms of bees from people’s properties to farms and beekeeping establishments. In swarming season, which for domestic bees runs from March through September, Encinitas Bee Company might relocate 20 colonies a week.

Bees swarm when they are looking for a new home, McDonald said, which serves the purpose of spreading DNA and easing congestion within an existing hive. He explained that the queen bee, who has been starved so that she can fly, will take off with about half the colony to find a new home. The rest of the bees remain at the old hive, where a new queen will emerge.

To protect these complex creatures that play a major role in pollination — which is vital for a healthy food supply — McDonald urges people to hire companies that do live removals. Other than rare circumstances when it’s dangerous to remove bees, he said there’s no reason to poison and kill bees that have made an unwanted presence.

Furthermore, people can protect bees by refraining from using neonicotinoid pesticides in their yards. Studies show that neonicotinoids, which are banned in Encinitas’ city parks, have contributed to bee-colony decline by killing bees directly, adversely impacting their reproduction and throwing off their ability to navigate and smell.

For the health of pollinators, pets, children and adults, McDonald urges individuals and HOAs to adopt organic pest-control alternatives across the board, including refraining from using Roundup and other glysophate-based products, which are also banned in Encinitas parks.

He referred to the Dutch saying: “Fertilizer is good for the father and bad for the sons.” In other words, what may protect a plant now can lead to long-term issues for the plants that are later grown in that soil. The chemicals introduced can have negative effects on other creatures, humans and bees included, McDonald said.

McDonald, who grew up in Encinitas but lived in Ireland for many years — the influence of which infuses his speech — has such a passion for bees that he invites any individual or organization to contact him with questions or public-speaking requests.

Encinitas Environmental Commission Chairman James Wang jokingly and admiringly calls McDonald “a bit of a bee evangelist.”

Legislation pending to ban driftnets off California shores

Oceana refers to them as “walls of death.” Drift gillnets are dropped deep below the ocean surface and stretch up to a mile wide. As they set overnight, the nets intended to catch swordfish and thresher sharks entangle and often kill dolphins, other sharks and various species of fish. Whales, sea turtles and other species have also been victims, although improvements have been made in the gear in recent years to protect them.

According to data gathered by the National Marine Fisheries Service West Coast Region Observer Program during the 2016–2017 drift gillnet fishing season in California, only about one-quarter of the observed catch was swordfish and thresher shark. While the fishermen also kept most of the tuna, bonito and opah caught during the 160 sets observed, all 18 of the entangled dolphins were tossed back dead, and 51 sharks were accidentally killed.

San Diego and Los Angeles are two of the main ports of operation for the swordfish drift gillnet fishery in California. Drift gillnets have already been banned off most of the United States coastline, including the entire Atlantic seaboard.

The California Senate voted 32-0 on May 30 on a bill that will transition the industry away from drift gillnets to fishing gear that targets swordfish with much less bycatch. Senate Bill 1017 would end drift gillnet use in state waters by 2023, compensate fishermen for their net gear and permits, and offer financial incentives for fishermen to make the switch more quickly.

There is also a push on the federal level to phase out the California driftnets, led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) through the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act. In addition, a companion bill in the U.S. House has been initiated.

Ashley Blacow, Pacific policy and communications manager for Oceana, said, “Given that California is usually a leader in sustainability, it’s surprising that this fishing practice is still allowed off state shores.”

Blacow is enthusiastic about the possibilities that deep-set buoy gear provides the industry. With this method, a fishing line containing one to three baited hooks is dropped down to the depths where swordfish feed, which is deeper than where most other species seek food. When there’s a bite on the hook, the buoy on the surface moves, alerting the fishermen. The gear typically consists of up to 10 lines that fishermen monitor in real time.

According to data from a seven-year study of commercial and experimental deep-set buoy gear trials off California shores led by the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research, fishing with buoy gear resulted in a catch that was 83 percent swordfish, 12 percent bigeye thresher shark and 98 percent marketable. Non-marketable species, like blue shark and two elephant seals, were released alive.

Blacow also pointed to increased revenues, stating, “Last year, drift gillnet vessels targeting swordfish made $52,000 per vessel and those vessels targeting swordfish with deep-set buoy gear made $81,000 per vessel. These figures illustrate that deep-set buoy gear is a profitable way to catch swordfish while safeguarding marine wildlife.”

 Encinitas to ban more foam plastics?

Encinitas might expand its ban of single-use expanded polystyrene products (commonly known by the trademarked name Styrofoam), like clamshell containers for to-go food and packing peanuts.

Currently, Encinitas prohibits expanded polystyrene in restaurants and other places that prepare food, such as supermarkets.

But the Encinitas Environmental Commission, by a unanimous vote on April 12, wants the city to widen the ban to include the retail sale of foam-plastic products like food ware, packing materials, ice chests and beach toys.

That recommendation has been forwarded to City Council for consideration. It’s unclear when the council will deliberate on it.

According to the Environmental Commission’s report, expanded polystyrene is petroleum-based, carcinogenic, not cost-effective to recycle and “does not decompose for hundreds of years.” Marine animals and birds mistake pieces of it for food and ingest them. The report also states that because of the foam plastic’s “long life,” it will eventually be transported downstream by wind and water and find its way to the ocean.

James Wang, the commission chairman, hopes the council will approve the policy and that the expanded ordinance would “set a precedent for other cities, the county and the state to follow.” He explained that many environmental regulations, like bans on plastic bags, start with one city’s efforts and then spread.

Other municipalities that have banned expanded-polystyrene products in some capacity in both food service and retail include New York City, Santa Cruz, Imperial Beach and Solana Beach.

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