Mass extinction may replace big fish with little fish — again

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When big fish that dominate the seas suddenly disappear, small fish take over—and stay on top for hundreds of millions of years. At least, that’s what happened after a mass extinction some 359 million years ago. Thanks to overfishing, scientists worry it could be happening again.

That grim prediction comes from a new study in Science analyzing the effects of something called the Hangenberg Event—the closing chapter of the fourth of those five mass extinctions you’re always hearing about—which blotted out 97% of vertebrate species.

Up until that point, a diverse cast of gigantic fishes — many the size of school buses — ruled the seas, gobbling up small fish. After the mass die-off, though some big fish lingered, nearly all eventually died out. The creatures that repopulated the seas instead were much tinier than before, many of them shorter than a ballpoint pen. For another 40 million years, these little guys overran the oceans…

…Analyzing more than 1,200 fossils from before and after the Hangenberg Event…researchers concluded that natural selection was solely responsible — a finding that has ominous implications for how humans are warping ecosystems today…

Humans are now doing something unsettlingly similar…Many of the 80 million tonnes of wild-caught fish…we eat each year are the big ones—cod, tuna, halibut, to name a few. Others that don’t show up on your sushi menu — sharks and rays, for instance — often die tangled in nets meant for other species.

“The point is that losses of this magnitude take millions of years to recover from and alter ecosystems long-term no matter how the deaths occurred,” says Professor Lauren Sallan.

Growing up subsistence fishing along the sluthern New England coast, I find overfishing, malfishing, contemptible and stupid. One of those illnesses only capable of solution by international compact and regulation. Abhorrent, of course, to the anarchy of what passes for Congress, lately.

Yes, I can survive on anchovies instead of sea bass steaks. But, why should the choices made by greedy corporate fishmongers govern the choices remaining to consumers like me?

Dumb crook of the day

A 25-year-old man who applied for a job at a Michigan sheriff’s department was arrested after a background check revealed he was wanted in Kentucky on sexual assault charges, officials said on Friday.

John Wesley Rose was arrested and will return to Kentucky, where he is wanted on six counts of sexual abuse, sodomy and rape, said Paula Bridges, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office…

He was arrested on Tuesday after a background check showed the outstanding warrant from Madison County, Kentucky from March, the sheriff’s department said in a statement. The warrant had not been entered into the national database when Rose initially applied for an officer position in September.

The sheriff’s office asked Rose to return to complete paperwork and finalize the employment application, and at that time arrested him without incident

Anyone else remember Clem Kadiddlehopper? He wasn’t a crook; but, he surely was dumb.

Justice officials fear nation’s biggest wiretap operation may not be legal

illegal wiretaps

Federal drug agents have built a massive wiretapping operation in the Los Angeles suburbs, secretly intercepting tens of thousands of Americans’ phone calls and text messages to monitor drug traffickers across the United States despite objections from Justice Department lawyers who fear the practice may not be legal.

Nearly all of that surveillance was authorized by a single state court judge in Riverside County, who last year signed off on almost five times as many wiretaps as any other judge in the United States. The judge’s orders allowed investigators — usually from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — to intercept more than 2 million conversations involving 44,000 people

The eavesdropping is aimed at dismantling the drug rings that have turned Los Angeles’ eastern suburbs into what the DEA says is the nation’s busiest shipping corridor for heroin and methamphetamine. Riverside wiretaps are supposed to be tied to crime within the county, but investigators have relied on them to make arrests and seize shipments of cash and drugs as far away as New York and Virginia, sometimes concealing the surveillance in the process.

The surveillance has raised concerns among Justice Department lawyers in Los Angeles, who have mostly refused to use the results in federal court because they have concluded the state court’s eavesdropping orders are unlikely to withstand a legal challenge, current and former Justice officials said.

“It was made very clear to the agents that if you’re going to go the state route, then best wishes, good luck and all that, but that case isn’t coming to federal court,” a former Justice Department lawyer said. The lawyer and other officials described the situation on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the department’s internal deliberations…

The old “my hands are clean” defense.

Wiretaps — which allow the police to secretly monitor Americans’ communications — are among the most intrusive types of searches the police can conduct, and federal law imposes strict limits on when and how they can be used. The law requires that police use wiretaps only after they have run out of other tools to build a case.

In Riverside, the authorities’ use of that last-ditch tool quadrupled over the past four years. Last year alone, Riverside County prosecutors and a local judge approved 624 wiretaps…

Former county DA, Paul Zellerbach said the taps yielded significant arrests and seizures. And they paid other dividends. “We liked it because in these difficult economic times, my budget was being cut, and that was a way to somewhat supplement funding for my office…”

But if the taps also produce arrests, they are difficult to find.

Prosecutors seldom make use of state-court wiretaps in the federal courts around Los Angeles. And defense lawyers in Riverside said they only rarely encounter cases with disclosed wiretaps in state court. The county’s public defenders handle 40,000 criminal cases a year; no more than five involve disclosed wiretaps, said Steve Harmon, the head of that office.

In most businesses these practices would fall under the heading of corruption and fraud. Because there are DEA agents, local coppers involved, all our Constitution gets is a wink-and-a-nod. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU are cranking up their efforts to reintroduce legitimate procedures to the policing bodies concerned. That they must do so is further evidence of just how low a priority integrity has become in American justice.

RTFA for beaucoup details, examples of corruption that passes for executive creativity in the Riverside County justice system.