Daniel Pauly, of the UBC Fisheries Centre, has a sad but compelling article in The New Republic. The basic message is a familiar one: governments have allowed, and even encouraged, the wholesale destruction of marine fisheries by industrial fishing fleets. While they contribute less to GDP than hair salons, they have gained disproportionate power and given license to literally smash some of the world’s most productive and important ecosystems.
Pauly argues that we are reaching the end of the line:
The jig, however, is nearly up. In 1950, the newly constituted Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimated that, globally, we were catching about 20 million metric tons of fish (cod, mackerel, tuna, etc.) and invertebrates (lobster, squid, clams, etc.). That catch peaked at 90 million tons per year in the late 1980s, and it has been declining ever since. Much like Madoffâ€™s infamous operation, which required a constant influx of new investments to generate â€œrevenueâ€ for past investors, the global fishing-industrial complex has required a constant influx of new stocks to continue operation. Instead of restricting its catches so that fish can reproduce and maintain their populations, the industry has simply fished until a stock is depleted and then moved on to new or deeper waters, and to smaller and stranger fish. And, just as a Ponzi scheme will collapse once the pool of potential investors has been drained, so too will the fishing industry collapse as the oceans are drained of life.
He cites a study published in Science which argued that by 2048, all the world’s commercial fisheries will have collapsed, and will be producing less than 10% of what they were at their peaks.
Sometimes, it is utterly disgusting to see how humans behave. The fishers who are destroying their own future and a resource that could serve human needs indefinitely; the governments that are so happy to be corrupted in exchange for jobs and political support; the general public that is indifferent to the origin of the seafood they eat.
It’s all quite enough to feed the lingering feeling that seems pervasive in the modern world: that the emergence of humanity as Earth’s dominant species has largely been for the worse, and that the world might be better off without us.