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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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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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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Ebola Treatment Center in Congo Reopens After Attack 

An Ebola treatment center located at the epicenter of the current outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has resumed operations after it was attacked last month, the country’s health ministry said Saturday.

The center run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the district of Katwa was set on fire Feb. 24 by unknown attackers, forcing staff to evacuate patients.

It reopened Saturday, the ministry said in a statement.

“For now it is managed by the ministry in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF,” it said, referring to the U.N. children’s fund.

Aid workers have faced mistrust in some areas as they seek to contain the Ebola outbreak, which has become the most severe in Congo’s history. The WHO has said the distrust is fueled by false rumors about treatments and preference for traditional medicine. 

Another MSF center in Butembo was also attacked in late February but reopened a week later. 

MSF has pulled out from the area since the two attacks and has not said when it might resume medical activities. 

The current Ebola epidemic, first declared last August, is believed to have killed at least 561 people so far and infected over 300 more.

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US, China Face Off Over 5G in Cambodia

For techies and phone geeks, Digital Cambodia 2019 was the place to be.

More than a dozen high school students clustered at the booth for Cellcard, Cambodia’s leading mobile operator. Under the booth’s 5G sign, they played video games on their phones.

Hak Kimheng, a ninth grade student in Phnom Penh, said his mom bought him a Samsung smartphone a few months ago, when he moved to the capital city from nearby Kandal province to live with his uncle while attending school. Like moms everywhere, she thought the smartphone would help her stay in touch with her son.

But smartphones being smartphones and kids being kids, Hak Kimheng, 16, has used it to set up an account on Facebook, Cambodia’s favorite social media platform. He’s also downloaded Khmer Academy, a tutoring app filled with math, physics and chemistry lessons.

And for one hour a day, Hak Kimheng watches soccer on the YouTube app he downloaded. While it’s better than nothing, the internet connection is “slow … and the video image is not clear,” he said.  “I want it to be faster. … It’ll be good to have 5G.”

Not far from the Cellcard booth, Cambodian government officials, ASEAN telecom and IT ministers, businesspeople, telecom and tech company representatives gathered for the opening ceremonies of Digital Cambodia 2019. The event, which ran from March 15 to March 17, attracted more than 100 speakers from throughout Southeast Asia, high level officials, businesspeople, researchers and telecom company representatives.

The discussions focused on 5G, which, with speeds as much as 100 times faster than 4G, will mean better soccer viewing for Hak Kimheng and faster connections for all users. But 5G will also be central to a world of smart cities filled with smart homes and offices replete with devices connected to the “internet of things” humming along amid torrents of personal, business and official data.

‘A milestone year’

David Li, CEO of Cambodian operations for the Chinese company, Huawei, which is facing challenges over security from the U.S., spoke first, promising to “help Cambodia obtain better digital technology to improve social productivity and national economy.”

Government ministers, one from finance and economy and one from posts and telecommunication, listened as Li continued, pointing out that Huawei Technologies Cambodia launched in 1999. “We have been operating 2G, 3G, 4G, and now we’re heading toward 5G,” he said.

“Currently we are the only industry vendor that can provide the intertwined 5G system. I believe this year 2019 will be a milestone year for 5G in Cambodia,” Li said.

While this next generation of mobile networks will take years to roll out, the U.S. and China are in a race over whose technology will set the standards for 5G networks, something which will have immediate commercial value and carry longer term strategic implications for developing the dominant platform for 6G.

Citing concern that Huawei is, like all Chinese companies, linked to the Beijing government, the U.S. has been urging allies not to let Huawei build their 5G networks. But in countries like Thailand, which is Cambodia’s neighbor and a U.S. ally, Huawei is building and testing a 5G network because authorities said its low cost trumped U.S. pressure.

Huawei has long maintained it doesn’t provide back doors for the Chinese government, pointing out the lack of evidence to support the allegations, according to Bloomberg.

William Carter, deputy director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said earlier this month that any country doing business with Huawei on 5G will have to deal with the risk of Chinese influence.

“And the question will be to what extent is that concern enough to overcome the price advantage and the service advantages and the integrated financing advantages doing business with Huawei,” he said.

Rich market

As more private businesses and government services move toward cashless payment and online data access, Cambodia is emerging as a rich market for 5G telecoms. Approximately 13.6 million people, or 82 percent of Cambodians, use the internet, and about 7 million use Facebook, the number of mobile subscriptions is around 19.5 million by January 2019, or 120 percent penetration, according to the Ministry of Posts.

Sok Puthyvuth, secretary of state at the posts and telecommunication told VOA Khmer that Cambodia is eager for 5G, urging private companies, including mobile operators and internet companies, “to make 5G available across the country.”

Thomas Hundt, CEO of Smart Axiata, one of Cambodia’s mobile telecommunications operators, told VOA Khmer only that the company is preparing for a 5G rollout, because users’ data consumption is overwhelming the 4.5G network. “We see an immediate need to come out with the next evolution of technology … at some point this year.”

Cellcard CEO Ian Watson, said the company is targeting a commercial launch of 5G services in the second quarter of 2019.

Tram IvTek, Cambodia’s minister of Posts and Telecommunications said at the opening ceremony of Digital Cambodia that the government “is strongly committed to connecting the country and to ensure the benefits of ICT (information and communications technology) reach the remotest corners as well as the most vulnerable communities” by 2020.

Aun Pornmoniroth, minister of economy and finance in a March 12 workshop on Cambodia’s digital economy, suggested it will take “five to 10 years or more to set up a complete digital economy and turn Cambodia’s economy into a technological leader.”

Meas Po, undersecretary of state at Ministry of Post, said the government has yet to decide which company it will partner with for building the 5G infrastructure but it has not ruled out Huawei or other Chinese companies. “In our country, we have our protective system, in other countries, they have theirs. We don’t allow anyone to just freely hack our data.”

Protecting privacy

Smart Axiata’s Hundt said his company wanted to a partner that would “guarantee to us that the equipment is solid and sound [and] our users’ data is safeguarded and the network is fully secured from cyber-security perspectives.”

Nguon Somaly, who earned a master’s degree in law and technology at Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia, has written extensively on data privacy in Cambodia. She contends Cambodian social media users don’t have the data privacy concerns of users in the U.S. and Europe.

“Cambodian youths don’t really care about privacy [on social media], but people in [the] EU are concerned about their data privacy,” said Somaly, referring to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which restricts how personal data is collected and handled.

“That is money and it can be analyzed and generate income,” Somaly said. “China is not a free country and privacy is not their priority. Their priority is to generate business opportunities and income.”

Xu Ning, a reporter with VOA’s Mandarin Service, contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

 

 

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US Uses Obscure Agency to Target Chinese Foreign Investments

For decades, it was virtually unknown outside a small circle of investors, corporate lawyers and government officials. 

 

But in recent years, the small interagency body known as the Committee for Investment in the United States has grown in prominence, propelled by a U.S. desire to use it as an instrument of national security and foreign policy. 

 

This week, the panel made headlines after it reportedly directed Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech to divest itself of Grindr, a popular gay dating app, because of concern the user data it collects could be used to blackmail military and intelligence personnel. 

 

Operating out of the Treasury Department, the nine-member CFIUS (pronounced Cy-fius) reviews foreign investments in U.S. businesses to determine whether they pose a national security threat.  

Notification was voluntary

 

Until last year, notifying the panel about such investments was voluntary, something Kunlun and California-based Grindr took advantage of when they closed a deal in 2016.  

 

But given growing U.S. concern about Chinese companies with ties to Beijing buying businesses in sensitive U.S. industries, the committee’s rare intervention to undo the deal was hardly a surprise, said Harry Broadman, a former CFIUS member.   

 

“I think anyone who was surprised by the decision really didn’t understand the legislative history, legislative landscape and the politics” of CFIUS, said Broadman, who is now a partner and chair of the emerging markets practice at consulting firm Berkley Research Group. 

 

The action by CFIUS is the latest in a series aimed at Chinese companies investing in the U.S. tech sector and comes as the Trump administration wages a global campaign against  telecom giant Huawei Technologies and remains locked in a trade dispute with Beijing. The U.S. says the state-linked company could gain access to critical telecom infrastructure and is urging allies to bar it from participating in their new 5G networks.   

While the administration has yet to formulate a policy on Huawei, the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment, the latest CFIUS action underscores how the U.S. is increasingly turning to the body to restrict Chinese investments across a broad swath of U.S. technology companies.  

 

“CFIUS is one of the few tools that the government has that can be used on a case-by-case basis to try to untangle [a] web of dependencies and solve potential national security issues, and the government has become increasingly willing to use that tool more aggressively,” said Joshua Gruenspecht, an attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Washington, who represents companies before the committee. 

 

CFIUS’s history has long been intertwined with politics and periodic public backlash against foreign investment in the U.S.  

 

OPEC investments

In 1975 it was congressional concern over the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) investments in U.S. stocks and bonds that led President Gerald Ford to set up the committee through an executive order. It was tasked with monitoring the impact of foreign investment in the United States but had little other authority.  

 

In the years that followed, backlash against foreign acquisitions of certain U.S. firms led Congress to beef up the agency.  

 

In 1988, spurred in part by a Japanese attempt to buy a U.S. semiconductor firm, Congress enshrined CFIUS in law, granting the president the authority to block mergers and acquisitions that threatened national security.  

 

In 2007, outrage over CFIUS’s decision to approve the sale of management operations of six key U.S. ports to a Dubai port operator led Congress to pass new legislation, broadening the definition of national security and requiring greater scrutiny by CFIUS of certain types of foreign direct investment, according to the Congressional Research Service.  

 

But by far the biggest change to how CFIUS reviews and approves foreign transactions came last summer when Congress passed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018. 

 

Slated to be fully implemented in 2020, the new law vastly expanded CFIUS’s jurisdiction and authority, requiring foreign companies that take even a non-controlling stake in a sensitive U.S. business to get the committee’s clearance.  

 

While the new law did not mention China by name, concern about Chinese investments and national security dominated the debate that led to its enactment. 

 

“There is no mistake that both the congressional intent and the executive intent has a clear eye on the role of China in the transactions,” Broadman said. 

Threats to ‘technological superiority’

 

Under interim rules issued by the Treasury Department last fall, investments in U.S. businesses that develop and manufacture “critical technologies” in one or more of 27 designated industries are now subject to review by CFIUS. Most of the covered technologies are already subject to U.S. export controls. The designated industries are sectors where foreign investment “threatens to undermine U.S. technological superiority that is critical to U.S. national security,” according to the Treasury Department. They range from semiconductor machinery to aircraft manufacturing.  

 

The new regulations mean that foreign companies seeking to invest in any of these technologies and industries must notify CFIUS at least 45 days prior to closing a deal. CFIUS will then have 30 days to clear the deal, propose a conditional approval or reject it outright. If parties to a transaction do not withdraw in response to CFIUS’s concerns, the president will be given 15 days to block it.   

To date, U.S. presidents have blocked five deals — four of them involving Chinese companies. One was blocked by the late President George H.W. Bush in 1990, two by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and 2016, and two by President Donald Trump. 

 

The number is deceptively small. A far greater number of deals are simply withdrawn by parties after they don’t get timely clearance or CFIUS opens a formal investigation. According to the Treasury Department, of the 942 notices of transactions filed with CFIUS between 2009 and 2016, 107 were withdrawn during the review or after an investigation.  

 

In recent years, CFIUS has reviewed between 200 and 250 cases per year, according to Gruenspecht. But the number is likely to exceed 2,000 a year under the new CFIUS regime, he added.  

 

The tighter scrutiny has raised questions about whether the new law strikes the right balance between encouraging foreign investment and protecting national security.  

 

“I think the short answer is it’s too early to tell,” Gruenspecht said. However, he added, if the new law “becomes a recipe for taking foreign investment off the table for whole realms of new emerging technology, that crosses a lot of boundaries.” 

Concern in Europe

The U.S. is not the only country toughening screening measures for foreign investment. In December, the European Union proposed a new regulation for members to adopt “CFIUS-like” foreign investment review processes. 

Gruenspecht said that while foreign investors are not  “thrilled” about the additional CFIUS scrutiny, “a lot of Western nations are also saying, actually, ‘We totally understand the rational behind CFIUS and we’re looking to implement our own internal versions of CFIUS ourselves.’ ”

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