Month: March 2019

Bait Crisis Could Take the Steam Out of Lobster This Summer

The boom times for the U.S. lobster industry are imperiled this year because of a shortage of a little fish that has been luring the crustaceans into traps for hundreds of years.

Members of the lobster business fear a looming bait crisis could disrupt the industry during a time when lobsters are as plentiful, valuable and in demand as ever. America’s lobster catch has climbed this decade, especially in Maine, but the fishery is dependent on herring — a schooling fish other fishermen seek in the Atlantic Ocean.

Federal regulators are imposing a steep cut in the herring fishery this year, and some areas of the East Coast are already restricted to fishing, months before the lobster season gets rolling. East Coast herring fishermen brought more than 200 million pounds of the fish to docks as recently as 2014, but this year’s catch will be limited to less than a fifth of that total.

The cut is leaving lobstermen, who have baited traps with herring for generations in Maine, scrambling for new bait sources and concerned about their ability to get lobster to customers who have come to expect easy availability in recent years.

“If you don’t have bait, you’re not going to fish. If the price of bait goes up, you’re not going to fish,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “We have to take the big picture, and make sure our communities continue to have viable fisheries.”

The cut in the herring quota stems from a scientific assessment of the fish’s population last year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The assessment found a below-average number of young herring are surviving in the ocean.

The loss of herring has sounded alarms among scientists and conservationists, because the fish also serve a critical role in the ocean food chain and they’re valuable as food for humans.

It’s unclear exactly what factors are causing young herring to fail to survive to maturity, said Jonathan Deroba, lead assessment scientist for herring with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. He said it’s “premature to predict the sky is falling,” though he added the herring population could be suffering from multiple stresses at once.

“We’d be foolish not to look at climate change. The abundance of haddock, which are egg predators. And fishing activity on Georges Bank disrupting herring,” Deroba said. Georges Bank is a key fishing area off New England.

Fishermen bring herring to shore mostly in Maine and Massachusetts, which are also the biggest lobster fishing states. Lobstermen also load traps with other kinds of bait, such as menhaden, and some herring is available in freezers, but fishermen said they’re concerned there won’t be enough to go around.

The New England Fishery Management Council is also considering herring catch quota for 2020 and 2021 later this year, and fishermen said they’re concerned the cuts could be maintained for those years. The loss of herring is also a heavy blow to the fishermen who harvest the species, said Jeff Kaelin, who works in government relations for Lund’s Fisheries, a herring harvester based in Cape May, New Jersey.

“It’s going to be tough on everyone,” Kaelin said, not just the people who catch the herring, but also “the lobstermen who depend on it for historic bait supply.”

The U.S. lobster fishery set an all-time record for value at docks in 2016, when the catch was worth more than $670 million. That was also the year the herring catch fell to its lowest point since 2002, though it was still more than 138 million pounds.

Lobsterman Jeffrey Peterson, who fishes out of the island town of Vinalhaven, Maine, said he’s sure he’ll be able to load his traps with bait this summer. He’s just concerned about how expensive it’ll be to do so.

“It’ll be around,” he said. “It’s just how much they gouge you for it.”

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Star Wars Fans March with Glowing Lightsabers for Earth Hour

Twelve years after the inaugural Earth Hour observance in Australia, countries around the world continue joining the grassroots gesture against manmade CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. This year in the Philippines, armed with lightsabers, fans of the movie Star Wars joined the world with a nod to a galaxy far, far away. Arash Arabasadi has more.

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Cameroon NGO Struggles to Protect Waters from Invasive Plants

The spread of invasive water hyacinths in and around Cameroon’s port city of Douala is causing problems for residents. The hyacinths’ stubborn growth hampers shipping, reduces fish catches, blocks streams and invades houses. But local NGOs are working to clean them up and artists are finding new uses for the hyacinths. Moki Edwin Kindzeka narrates this report by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu from Cameroon’s port city of Douala.

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German Train Car Arrives in New York for Auschwitz Exhibit

On a Sunday morning, a crane lowered a rusty remnant of the Holocaust onto tracks outside Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage — a vintage German train car like those used to transport men, women and children to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.

The windowless boxcar is among 700 Holocaust artifacts, most never before seen in the United States, which are being prepared for one of the largest exhibits ever on Auschwitz — a once ordinary Polish town called Oswiecim that the Nazis occupied and transformed into a human monstrosity.

The New York exhibit opens May 8, the day in 1945 when Germany surrendered and the camps were liberated.

German-made freight wagons like the one in the exhibit were used to deport people from their homes all around Europe. About 1 million Jews and nearly 100,000 others were gassed, shot, hanged or starved in Auschwitz out of a total of 6 million who perished in the Holocaust.

That fate awaited them after a long ride on the kind of train car that’s the centerpiece of the New York exhibit.

“There were 80 people squeezed into one wooden car, with no facilities, just a pail to urinate,” remembers Ray Kaner, a 92-year-old woman who still works as a Manhattan dental office manager. “You couldn’t lie down, so you had to sleep sitting, and it smelled.”

She and her sister had been forced to board the train in August 1944 in occupied Poland, after their parents died in the Lodz ghetto where Jews were held captive.

The Germans promised the sisters a better new life.

“We believed them, and we schlepped everything we could carry,” she said. “We still had great hope.”

Once in Auschwitz, “they took away whatever we carried,” and prisoners were beaten, stripped naked and heads shaved bald.

Titled “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” the upcoming exhibit will transport visitors into the grisly faceoff between perpetrators and victims.

On display will be concrete posts from an Auschwitz fence covered in barbed and electrified wires; a gas mask used by the SS; a desk belonging to Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoss; and a dagger and helmet used by Heinrich Himmler, the chief architect of Hitler’s “final solution.”

The collection of prisoners’ personal items includes a comb improvised from scrap metal; a trumpet one survivor used to save his life by entertaining his captors; and tickets for passage on the St. Louis, a ship of refugees whom the United States refused to accept, sending them back to Europe where some were killed by the Nazis.

The materials are on loan from about 20 institutions worldwide, plus private collections, curated by Robert Jan van Pelt, a leading Auschwitz authority, and other experts in conjunction with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland and Musealia, a Spanish company that organizes traveling shows.

The New York one will run through Jan. 3.

The eight-decade-old box car brought to New York on a cargo ship came from a German auction, in terrible condition. Van Pelt’s team bought it and restored it.

“The dark, smelly car represents that moment of transition from the world of the living that people understood and trusted to the radically alien world of the camps where the doors opened and families were separated forever,” said van Pelt, whose relatives in Amsterdam lived down the street from Anne Frank’s family.

“The Nazis wanted to wipe out every last Jew in the world,” and at the end of a train trip, “this is where the last goodbyes were said.”

The exhibit items all belonged to somebody — most now gone, either because they were murdered in camps or survived and have since died. Some people who inherited artifacts came forward with stories attached to them.

Thousands of survivors live in New York City, among the last who can offer personal testimony.

And that’s why the exhibit is important, said real estate developer Bruce Ratner, the chairman of the museum’s board of trustees.

“While we had all hoped after the Holocaust that the international community would come together to stop genocide, mass murder and ethnic cleansing, these crimes continue and there are more refugees today than at any time since the Second World War,” said Ratner. “So my hope for this exhibit is that it motivates all of us to make the connections between the world of the past and the world of the present, and to take a firm stand against hate.”

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Center in Havana Opens to Preserve Hemingway’s Legacy

U.S. donors and Cuban builders have completed one of the longest-running joint projects between the two countries at a low point in bilateral relations.

Officials from the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation and Cuba’s National Cultural Heritage Council cut the ribbon Saturday evening on a state-of-the-art, $1.2 million conservation center on the grounds of Ernest Hemingway’s stately home on a hill overlooking Havana.

 

The center, which has been under construction since 2016, contains modern technology for cleaning and preserving a multitude of artifacts from the home where Hemingway lived in the 1940s and 1950s.

 

When he died in 1961, the author left approximately 5,000 photos, 10,000 letters and perhaps thousands of margin notes in roughly 9,000 books at the property.

 

“The laboratory we’re inaugurating today is the only one in Cuba with this capacity and it will allow us to contribute to safeguarding the legacy of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba,” said Grisell Fraga, director of the Ernest Hemingway Museum.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, spoke at the ceremony and called it a sign of the potential for U.S.-Cuban cooperation despite rising tensions between the Communist government and the Trump administration.

 

McGovern, who met with President Miguel Diaz-Canel and other Cuban officials during his visit, said that despite tensions over Venezuela, a Cuban ally, he still believed respectful dialogue was the most productive way of dealing with Cuba’s government.

 

The Trump administration has said it is trying to get rid of socialism in Latin America.

 

 

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Some Conservative States Easing Access to Birth Control

Several Republican-led state legislatures are advocating for women to gain over-the-counter access to birth control in what they say is an effort to reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

State legislatures in Arkansas and Iowa, for example, are working on legislation that would allow women older than 18 the ability to receive birth control from a pharmacist rather than going first to a doctor for a prescription. The measures are seeing bipartisanship support in those states and come after similar laws have passed in nearly a dozen other states.

​Arkansas legislation

Arkansas state Representative Aaron Pilkington, a Republican, said he started working on the bill after seeing “about a 15 percent decrease of teen births” after other states passed similar legislation. Arkansas consistently has one of the highest birth rates among teenagers in the country.

Pilkington said support for the bill “in many ways, it’s very generational. … I find that a lot of younger people and women are really in favor of this, especially mothers.”

According to the Oral Contraceptive (OCs) Over the Counter (OTC) Working Group, a reproductive rights group, more than 100 countries, including Russia, much of South America and countries in Africa, allow access to birth control without a prescription. 

Women are required to get a doctor’s prescription to obtain and renew birth control in most of the U.S., much of Europe, Canada and Australia, according to the reproductive rights group.

Pilkington, who identifies as a “pro-life legislator,” said he brought the bill forward partly as an effort to counter unwanted pregnancies and abortions. The bill would require a doctor’s visit about every two years to renew the prescription.

Rural residents

Arkansas has a population of about 3 million people, a third of whom live in rural areas. Pilkington said the bill would likely benefit women who reside in rural areas or those who have moved to new cities and aren’t under a doctor’s care yet.

“A lot of times when they’re on the pill and they run out, they’ve gotta get a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor says, ‘I can’t see you for two months,’” he said. “Some people have to drive an hour and a half to see their PCP (primary care physician) or OB-GYN (obstetrician-gynecologist), so this makes a lot of sense.”

What Pilkington is proposing is not new. In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorsed the idea of making birth control available without a prescription. Today, at least 11 other states have passed legislation allowing for patients to go directly to the pharmacist, with some caveats.

In October, ahead of a tight midterm race, Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds raised a few eyebrows when she announced she would prioritize over-the-counter access to birth control in her state. Like Pilkington, she cited countering abortion as a main driver behind the proposed legislation. The bill closely models much of the language used in another Republican-sponsored bill In Utah that passed last year with unanimous support.

The planned Iowa legislation comes after the Republican-led state Legislature passed a bill in 2017 that rejected $3 million in federal funds for family-planning centers like Planned Parenthood.

The loss of federal funds forced Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides health care and contraception for women, to close four of its 12 clinics in the state.

Since then, Jamie Burch Elliott, public affairs manager of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa, said that anecdotal evidence shows that sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies have gone up.

“With family planning, it takes time to see the impacts, so there are long-term studies going on to really study the impact of this,” said Burch Elliott. “Right away, we saw STI (sexually transmitted infections) and STD (sexually transmitted diseases) rates go up, particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea. As far as unintended pregnancy rates, we are hearing that they are rising, although the data is not out yet.”

Pro-life pushback

So far the Iowa legislation has received some pushback, mostly from a few pro-life groups.

The Iowa Right to Life organization has remained neutral on the issue of birth control, but the Iowa Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the bishops of Iowa, and Iowans for LIFE, a nonprofit anti-abortion organization, have come out against the bill, citing concerns that birth control should not be administered without a visit to a physician.

Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for LIFE, also pointed out that oral contraception can be an “abortifacient [that] sometimes cause abortions,” challenging Reynolds’ motivation for introducing the bill.

On the other hand, Iowa family-planning organizations and Democratic legislators are mostly on board.

“Policywise, I think this is really good,” said Heather Matson, a state representative of a district located just outside the state capital, Des Moines. She appreciated that insurance will still cover birth control, but took issue with the age restriction, saying she would like to see an option for people younger than 18. “Is it exactly the bill that I would have written, if given the opportunity? Not exactly.”

While Matson represents one of the fastest-growing districts in the country, she pointed to the number of “health care deserts” in rural Iowa, where a shortage of OB-GYNs is leading to the closure of some maternity wards.

Like Planned Parenthood’s Burch Elliott, Matson agreed that this bill would be just one step in providing more access to birth control for women in rural parts of the state.

“Even before Planned Parenthood was defunded, there wasn’t great access to birth control in Iowa to begin with,” Burch Elliott said. “Having said that, [this bill] is not a solution. Pharmacists are never going to be a replacement for Planned Parenthood, for example, where you’ll get STI and STD screenings, and any other cancer screenings or other preventive care that you might need.”

Regardless of whether the bills pass in Des Moines or Little Rock, Arkansas Representative Pilkington expects other states to follow suit.

“As the times have changed and you have a lot of conservative states like Tennessee, Arkansas, Utah (pass this legislation), I think it makes it way less of a partisan issue” and more of a good governance issue, he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other states kind of pushing this as well. Especially when they see the success that other states are having with this.”

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New Exhibit Commemorates 50 Years of Gay Rights Movement

A groundbreaking new exhibit at the Newseum in Washington marks the 50th anniversary of a police raid on a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, and highlights key moments in the modern gay rights movement in America that many believe was born out of that historic event. For some members of the LGBTQ community, the exhibit is deeply personal. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

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Neonatal Cuddlers Help Babies Get a Good Start

The environment in a neonatal intensive care unit can be overwhelming, as staff care for infants who are ill or were born premature. Many exhausted parents and loved ones can’t be with their newborns around the clock, but at one Long Beach, Calif., hospital, trained volunteers are stepping in to help. Known as NICU cuddlers, they give infants the human touch that is so vital to every baby. For VOA, Angelina Bagdasaryan visited the hospital and has this story, narrated by Anna Rice.

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Eiffel Tower, Other Sites Go Dark for Earth Hour 

The Eiffel Tower was plunged into darkness late on Saturday as the city of Paris switched off the lights on its best-known tourist attraction to mark this 

year’s Earth Hour. 

The 13th annual edition of the global event, organized by environmental group World Wildlife Fund to push for action on climate change and other man-made threats to the planet, called for nearly 200 major landmarks around the world to be unplugged at 8:30 p.m. local time.

They included New York’s Empire State Building, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil and the Sydney Opera House.

Ahead of the Eiffel Tower shutdown, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Junior Environment Minister Brune Poirson appeared at the foot of the 130-year-old edifice for a public discussion on global warming and declining biodiversity. 

Earth Hour has grown steadily since the first event in 2007 and is now marked in more than 180 countries and territories, according to its organizers.

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World Turns Off Lights for Earth Hour 

The Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Sydney Opera House, the Brandenburg Gate, the Acropolis and many more iconic landmarks went dark at 8:30 p.m. local time, Saturday night, for Earth Hour, an annual call for local action on climate change.

Earth Hour is the brain child of the World Wildlife Fund.

“By going dark for Earth Hour, we can show steadfast commitment to protecting our families, our communities and our planet from the dangerous effects of a warming world,” said Lou Leonard, WWF senior vice president, climate and energy. “The rising demand for energy, food and water means this problem is only going to worsen, unless we act now.”

Individuals and companies around the world participated in the hour-long demonstration to show their support for the fight against climate change and the conservation of the natural world.

WWF said Earth’s “rich biodiversity, the vast web of life that connects the health of oceans, rivers and forests to the prosperity of communities and nations, is threatened.”

The fund also reports that wildlife populations monitored by WWF “have experienced an average decline of 60 percent in less than a single person’s lifetime, and many unique and precious species are at risk of vanishing forever.”

“We have to ask ourselves what we’re willing to do after the lights come back on,” Leonard said. “If we embrace bold solutions, we still have time to stabilize the climate and safeguard our communities and the diverse wildlife, ecosystems and natural resources that sustain us all.”

“We are the first generation to know we are destroying the world,” WWF said. “And we could be the last that can do anything about it.”

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