Kiwiyarns Knits

A blog about New Zealand yarns, knitting and life


Will that be fins with your tuna?

If you are one of the lovely people who have been reading my blog for over a year, you will know that I have deep concerns about the sustainability of the ocean’s health, and with it, its inhabitants.

Today I’d like to talk about sharks.

Why does does the future of sharks concern me?  My main issue is that sharks are being killed mostly as bycatch.  Their lives are being wasted, the health of the ocean compromised simply because fishing companies have not come up with a better way to catch only the fish they are targeting.  So many sharks (and rays) are being killed as bycatch that today around 25% of all sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.   To ban shark finning is one thing, but if sharks continue to be caught as bycatch, have we done any good?

Sharks were not on my list to talk about at the time I was researching for my next post on Sustain the Sea.  They did not hit high on my radar because I did not know about the issues surrounding them.  I was going to talk about tuna,  until I stumbled across some very revealing information during my research that indicates a strong connection between sharks and tuna.

I figure that many people do know about the concerns around sharks and why fishing companies should be acting more responsibly in the way they harvest from the ocean.  If you do want a quick update, have a look at this info sheet from the New Zealand Shark Alliance.  It addresses New Zealand concerns around sharks in particular, but these issues are not just limited to New Zealand.  Some of you may be wondering why I’m addressing this issue when it seems the party is already over – lots of countries are banning shark finning, including New Zealand right?  Well… read on and find out more.

To rewind  to the point where my interest in sharks began:  I came across this short video.  It’s a fascinating presentation from a researcher for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, an organisation that appears to be making very genuine efforts to introduce sustainable practices into the tuna fishing industry.

What I did not know until I started this research is that certain species of fish love to aggregate under large floating objects. This includes tuna and some species of shark.  The fishing industry has capitalised on this trait and created Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs).  FADs assist in the capture of up to 40% of the world’s tuna take.  Unfortunately, not only are sharks taken by the nets that then come along to scoop up the tuna, but they are also ensnared in the netted structures that hold these FADs in place.  The conservative kill rate for accidental entanglement is estimated at between 500,000 to one million sharks in the Indian ocean alone (see link for more information).

This infographic from the ISS Foundation is a stark illustration of how many sharks are killed from tuna fishing around the world.

It’s not just FADs that catch sharks though.  The Shark Trust provides a comprehensive outline of how commercial fishing practices ensnare enormous amounts of bycatch, in which sharks are included.  It is estimated in a recent report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (a study involving the collaboration of over 300 experts from 64 nations) that over 100,000,000 sharks (that’s 100 million) are killed every year.  Because of this extensive slaughter,  25% of shark and ray species are now threatened with extinction due to overfishing.  Tuna fishing is strongly implicated as one of the main reasons why sharks are caught.

The question pounding in my head after reading the research I have linked to you was:  how do we stop the accidental capture of sharks?  Unfortunately due to the lucrative returns that can be obtained from the sale of shark fins, and from what I can see (and I hope I am wrong), no penalties exist for capturing sharks, this bycatch is not unwelcomed by fishing companies.  There is therefore not a lot of incentive not to catch sharks.   Preventing sharks from being finned alive at sea is one thing, but if we can prevent them from being captured at all, isn’t that a better solution?  It also occurs to me that banning the sale of fins is not going to prevent the sharks from being captured in the first place, and then dumped back into the ocean dead, or brought to shore as the case may be, unless more accurate methods of fishing are employed.

In addition to their fins, sharks are also used in other ways.  Have a look here and here to see how we use shark products in everyday life.

I used to think tuna with its “dolphin friendly” logo was a good thing, and it made me feel okay about buying it.  Not any more.  Perhaps we should be looking for tins of tuna with “shark friendly” on them as well?

The good news is that a lot of research is being made made to reduce bycatch.  Also have a good look at the ISS website in particular to find what resolutions have been made in relation to tuna fishing.  This link will take you to the Summary of Resolutions taken by participating companies.  Those fishing companies are to be applauded for joining the organisation and introducing these moves.  I notice only one New Zealand fishing company on that list.

Will I be eating tuna in future?  The answer is still no.  Not until I know for certain that tuna stocks are being managed sustainably, and that my serve of tuna does not come with a figurative side of shark.  And in addition to avoiding shark fin soup, I will also be looking more closely at things I buy for bywords for shark product.

In tribute to the shark, watch out for tomorrow’s free pattern release of my salute to the shark:  Selachimorpha.


Please note that the thoughts above are my personal “key” conclusions, and I have not attempted to comprehensively address the issues – it would take a much longer article than what I have written!




A visit to the beach is always restful.

The beach

Pebbles crunch pleasingly under foot.  The sea sighs a gentle song, breathing slow waves of sound.

wavesSeabirds call.  The air smells pleasantly of fresh seaweed, washed up on the beach after a recent storm.


There are  interesting things to look at, each creature or feature a thing of wonder.

The beauty of nature.

The power of the sea and nature to slowly shape and carve.

The intricate details.


Sea life


shell patterns

Rock holes

Shaped by the sea




I feel the week’s stress and tension washed away with the waves and the breeze.

The perfect way to start the weekend.




All rivers run to the sea

“Where does the water in the drains go to mum?” asked my youngest boy one day. It was raining, and he was watching the water run down the channels on the side of the road.  We were on our way to school when he came up with that question, so we had a brief conversation about the difference between stormwater and household waste water, and how the water that ran down the drains on the road went into the storm water system and straight into the streams and sea.

I showed him the stormwater catchpit at his school, which has a great plaque next to it:

Stormwater sump

It also gave me an opportunity to teach him how it important it was that rubbish and chemical pollution didn’t get washed into those drains, because it all ended up in the sea, polluting it and killing and harming aquatic life.

Remembering this conversation prompted me to look at exploring another way to give back to the sea:  by ensuring that our water is as clean as possible before it gets to the sea.  It’s true that not every river runs to the sea, but the vast majority of them do.

Here are just a few of the simple things that can be done to sustain the sea.  I thought I’d share them here because I didn’t know about some of these until recently, and others I thought didn’t make much difference until I tried, and then saw how much it was needed.

  • Don’t wash detergents (eg car or driveway washing) or pour chemicals down stormwater inlets. The detergents and/or chemicals will wash down the drain and straight into the streams and sea, where they will kill both freshwater and marine life.  Instead, take your car to a car wash where the water can go to a treatment plant, and take unwanted chemicals to safe disposal centres.
  • Pick up that discarded can, plastic bag or plastic bottle sitting in the gutter (quite problematic on rubbish collection days around here), and put it in the rubbish.  It will stop it from being washed into the stormwater system and onwards to the sea.  I am so thankful that we don’t have the situation here like in Hong Kong for example, where swimming in the sea meant the unavoidable experience of plastic bags brushing against your legs like a swarm of jellyfish.
  • Engage in a beach cleaning day.  I am always surprised at how many bags of rubbish get picked up, even from beaches that look clean.  The less junk in the sea, the less potential to harm marine life and leach pollution.
  • Plant more plants and have less non-porous surfaces (eg. concrete) around the home.  This acts as a natural ‘sink’ to prevent excess pollutants entering the storm water system during heavy rain.

Ultimately, everything we do ends up affecting the health of the sea (read on below to see why I say this).  If we can help to nurture the sea from the land, that would be something wouldn’t it?

Here are a couple of links to more information:

Natural Resources Defence Council – Water

Preventing Water Pollution from your home

As I delved into this topic, I also learned of a new thing I hadn’t been aware of until this week:  Ocean acidification.  Why is it important?  I urge you to watch this short video. To put it lightly, the message is critical.  I feel very concerned that I hadn’t known about this before.  Why aren’t there more news articles about this?

Then questions started to form in my head.  How can the ocean become acidic? Isn’t it alkaline given it’s salty?  And how does the addition of carbon dioxide to sea water make acid?  Fortunately, I found all the answers: here and here and here are a few links to helpful information if you want to read them (just google ‘ocean acidification’ and you’ll find more).

The essential points are that the ocean absorbs a huge amount of the carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere (between 25 – 50% depending on the sources you read).  We used to think this was a good thing, until scientists recently realised that when carbon dioxide dissolves into sea water, it forms carbonic acid, locking up calcium that is needed by marine life to form their shells.  This chemical reaction also lowers the pH balance of the sea, which is now 30% less alkaline than it should be (hence, acidification).  The more acidic sea water is already starting to dissolve the shells of sea creatures and prevent their effective reproduction as the lower pH damages and kills the young.  If we think of all the marine life that has a shell – from coral, to the tiniest plankton and krill (that form the essential food base of so many fish and sea mammals), to the crabs, oysters and shellfish that we all like to eat, the implications to the food chain and balance of life in the ocean are immense. Predictions are that in 40 years, the sea could have become so acidic that coral reefs will cease to exist and mass extinctions will occur.

Don’t we have a solution? I wondered.  Indeed, there is – use less fossil fuels, as we all know.  I also read some interesting research that indicates that fish play an important part in the re-calcification of the sea.  Apparently, all bony fish excrete calcium carbonate pellets as a by-product of “drinking” sea water.  When excreted, these calcium carbonate pellets dissolve, putting calcium back in the sea.  This is yet another reason why we should be leaving more fish in the sea.

Indeed, all “rivers” run to the sea, and I am ever more convinced, as I delve into how we can sustain the sea, that it is critical to do more than we ever have thought necessary to do.

Watch out for the Tidal hat tomorrow.

Tidal hat


Giving back.

Today, I am proud to announce the launch of a free pattern collection called “Sustain the Sea”.

Sustain the Sea

I have been thinking hard about how I can meaningfully support faster change in the direction of truly sustainable fishing.

You remember how I got very upset over reading the article on the state of the ocean?  

The level of upset has increased now that I have been doing a bit of reading to understand more.  It has motivated me to need to do more than just not buy seafood.

I spent ages writing and rewriting this post about the motivations behind this collection, but in the end, I decided that it would get too bogged down in detail and probably end up sounding  ‘preachy’ if I tried to explain too much in this one post.  How does one tell the story of the entire ocean in one post?  It’s not possible.

So I’m going to tell you one fact which I have learned now, and leave it at that for the time being:

85% of the world’s fisheries are over-fished or fished to full capacity

– The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Read the full report here.

And I’ll let the collection tell more of the story of the sea as I release the patterns over the next few weeks and months.

I could of course, have left things at financially supporting organisations such as Greenpeace, Forest & Bird, the World Wildlife Fund, Australian Marine Conservation Society and many other similar organisations who do good work in pointing out just how much is broken and encouraging change in the right direction.  I do actually already sponsor one of those organisations, just in case you are wondering.

However, I believe it’s no longer enough to pay some money, think you’ve done your bit, and continue life as normal.  I think the facts show that this is not enough.

This pattern collection is something tangible that I can do for the sea.  It’s a way of inviting knitters to join me:  by knitting the free patterns, and in so doing learning more about the health of our oceans, it may provide food for thought towards what an individual can do in a meaningful way to contribute to the health of the sea and truly sustainable ways of harvesting from it.

Why will my patterns be free?  This is a grassroots movement.  The patterns have been designed to aid to individual empowerment.  I do not wish to financially benefit from, nor necessarily align this campaign to any one organisation.  Asking for money also prevents those who might not/cannot pay for the pattern from using it and missing out on an opportunity for involvement.

By making my patterns free, the energy generated from this pattern will go to where it is meant to go – individuals doing something demonstrable to show support for responsible and sustainable fishing; encouraging individuals to think about and hopefully causing some personal action to begin pushing the fishing industry faster in the right direction through their informed shopping choices.  It’s not just about New Zealand, and I encourage you to find out more about fishing issues in your area.   It was heartening to read the comments from my last post about this issue, so my patterns are my gift to you to use as your personal tool for promoting change if you so wish.  

I hope that over time, by the process of contributing to enhanced awareness of the issues that are already being pointed out by experts, my gift to the Sea will be that more people care, and by caring, do something to sustain the sea, from which so much good comes.  More information about this will be provided in each pattern release.

I believe it’s up to all of us, every single one, to use the power of our wallets, minds and actions to promote change and actively demand sustainability and responsibility towards the sea.  Ultimately, it is the compounded effect of thousands of individual voices and actions that end up producing the most powerful result.

The first pattern from this collection will be launched tomorrow.  Watch out for the Orange Roughy Mitts!

Orange roughy mitts