The Corner

The Herring Red Herring

A perennial red herring of Gulf-oil-spill alarmists is the evil long-term side-effects of oil. There may be such effects, but they are far from proven. A case in point is the herring fishery of Prince William Sound, supposedly still decimated 20 years later by the Exxon Valdez spill. Virtually every media outlet, in recent days, cites this without qualification as the penultimate example of what can go wrong over decades in the Gulf.

Except, surprise!, it isn’t that simple. The Prince William Sound herring crop initially met expectations for a few years after the fishery was closed because of oil. It subsequently collapsed. This may have happened because the oil had hit during spawning season and killed off a year’s class of fish. But a number of peer-reviewed papers have suggested other causes — disease as well as competition from other fish, including salmon (a predator on herring), which had been artificially stocked in the area around the same time — that might have kept the long-term numbers down.

More recently, a happier theory has emerged to account for the persistently low population of herring, a keystone forage species upon which other species depend. It seems that humpback whales, once occasional visitors to the sound, have taken up permanent year-round residence. Jan Straley, a marine-biology professor at the University of Alaska, says the year-round visitors — a recovering but still endangered species — are primarily eating herring.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, researcher Ron Heintz modeled the the impact of all these new whales numbering perhaps 100:

“Heintz’s model gave a range of how much herring the whales might be eating — 1.5 to 4 gigajoules per day — the caloric equivalent of 600 to 2,200 Big Macs. That translates to a lot of herring, somewhere between 2,200 metric and 13,000 metric tons over the winter and a significant portion of the estimated total.

“The whales were able to consume somewhere between 10 and 66 percent of that prespawning biomass,” Heintz said. “Another way to look at that is that the last commercial fishery in Prince William Sound was about 3,500 metric tons, so the whales are clearly capable of consuming a biomass that would be in the ballpark of a commercial fishery in Prince William Sound.””

Leaving aside the image of 2,200 Big Macs comprised of herring, it’s pretty clear that long-term effects are complicated — something you’re not going to hear from agenda-driven environmentalists trying to pass laws, or reporters trying to win prizes. The real problems of the Gulf are long-term — take a look at my oil-spill retrospective over on the homepage.    

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More