More bad news for world fisheries


in Canada, Politics, Science, The environment

Another story about the senselessly rapacious nature of modern commercial fisheries is out: CBC, New York Times. This, at least, is an area where skeptical environmentalists of the Bjorn Lomborg ilk are dead wrong. To quote from the fish paper (PDF):

Unlike agriculture, where investments in technology and capital can increase long-term yields, the process of technological development in fishing can, in the absence of regulation, only lead to a more rapid depletion of the resource. Fishing can only remain renewable when exploitation does not exceed regeneration.That balance must be at the core of any sensible fisheries policy, such as those that are emerging in Iceland and New Zealand. The comparative barrenness of the North Sea and the Grand Bank shows that this balance has not been respected – even when the states in question are the richest, most technologically capable, and most scientifically advanced in the world.

Dr. Daniel Pauly, of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Fisheries Centre, equates this process of fishing outwards to a hole being burned through a piece of paper. At the centre are the now depleted waters of Europe and much of the Atlantic. Two thirds of Europe’s commercial fish stocks are already outside their biological safety limits, according to Clover, while cod stocks have collapsed from Canada to Sweden. The flames have now reached the coasts of Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand, Africa, and elsewhere. They have reached into trenches and onto sea-mounts previously inaccessible to fishermen.

This process is concealed by a system of world trade that keeps kitchens and restaurants throughout the developed world supplied with fish, many of which come from thousands of kilometers away. This both perpetuates the process of fishing outwards and conceals the fact that it is happening. (4)

The specific articles above are about some of the species discussed in Charles Clover’s excellent and informative book: The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat: roundnose grenadier, onion-eye grenadier, blue hake, spiny eel and spinytail skate. All have been driven to a level of critical endangerment in less than 20 years.

It should be obvious that this is not a trivial matter. Fish is a critical source of protein in much of the developing world. Evidence from West Africa, in particular, indicates that as industrial fisheries deplete wild fish stocks, rates of malnourishment, protein starvation, and related ailments all increase in parallel. This is a humanitarian disaster that is being openly and obviously manufactured. Moreover, there is no uncertainty about what is happening. Rigorous scientific assessments, like those of the Sea Around Us Project present an extensive and alarming body of evidence that world fisheries are in trouble and that, at present, nothing effective is being done about it.

I’d like to believe that most of us won’t live to see most of the world’s major fish stocks critically depleted but, if that is to be the case, we need to start doing dramatically better than we are now. As many of these articles suggest, the creation and vigorous enforcement of marine protected areas would be a good start.

PS. The linked version of the fish paper is the one submitted for publication in Marine Policy and ultimately rejected. It’s very general for a journal article, but I meant it to be accessible to almost everyone. I am looking for another journal to which I can submit it, probably after it has been edited again.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan January 5, 2006 at 7:27 pm

Another article on bottom trawling is here, complete with illustrations. From the BBC.

Anonymous January 5, 2006 at 10:16 pm

I’m surprised you didn’t quote Mr. Sumaila ;)


B April 11, 2006 at 11:28 pm

By Marty McConnell

Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light?

You’re not safe.
Nothing stands between you and victim status
but whatever has kept you whole thus far.
Your father can’t save you. Your lover. The government. Police. Suburbia. Fear.
And your God. He’s in his Heaven meditating on free will

When I was seven, I learned about nuclear war.
That night, I sat my five year old sister down to share with her facts that had been so long withheld.
I’m telling you this now:
“There will always be men unafraid to die and take you with them.
Men play football with pneumonia, broken ribs, hairline fractures to the spine that threaten to leave them paralysed.
They volunteer for wars over oil and pride: take up guns against enemies and innocents alike for a government that ignores their votes at will.

Women have sacrificed their bodies for uncounted centuries: in childbirth, for love, for country, for God
Dressed as men to fight those same tainted wars, dressed as whores to survive.
She too will make you a matyr to her end.

Question: If a man can disable a flight staff with a pair of blunt tweezers, does he need the tweezers?
And yet scissors are confinscated, nail clippers pitched, laptops rattled and opened
While tubes of hair gell containing enough liquid C4 to take down a fleet of DC9’s pass unexamined.

Warplanes drop food boxes onto ground littred with landmines.
This is not a new world.

When have you been entirely safe?
When have you: woman, person of colour, queer, small man, rich man, walked these streets entirely untouchable?
A man tracked my movements from 1990 until he was jailed in 1995.
I lived in Dust Plains, Illinois. Where so much nothing ever happens, the teenagers go to Park Ridge for kicks.
And yet it bred John Wayne Gacy, who ate boys’ corpses for breakfast.
And it spawned Steven Josephao, who when he was finally arrested possesed hand drawn blueprints of the houses of forty seven girls in the four surrounding suburbs and had only recently been fired from his job as a subsitute teacher.

There are children in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in Simprini Green, Chicago who’ve known less than three nights in their lives without gunfire or bombs dropping.
Without real and imminent threat to their lives.
This is not a new world.
Look at your hands, are they red like mine?”

. August 21, 2007 at 3:02 pm

It seems that Charles Clover’s excellent book “The End of the Line” is being made into a documentary film.

. October 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm

An Australian fishing furore
Huge sucking sound
A giant trawler is stranded in port

Sep 22nd 2012 | SYDNEY | from the print edition

TASMANIA’S robust history of green attempts to save the wilderness has taken a new turn. It has veered offshore, with controversial results. On September 19th the federal Labor government rushed legislation through parliament banning for two years a huge Dutch vessel from trawling in Australian waters. The government’s critics accuse it of ditching science for populism and harming the country’s gold-plated investment reputation.

The “supertrawler” was about to embark on a fishing venture between Seafish Tasmania and Parlevliet & Van der Plas of the Netherlands. The Australian outfit had fished for several years under quotas awarded by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. At 143 metres (470 feet) the Abel Tasman was to be the biggest vessel ever to fish in Australian waters. Size offers advantages over smaller vessels: vast holds that allow longer spells at sea and better-quality catches for sale.

The authority awarded Seafish Tasmania a quota of nearly 18,000 tonnes for mackerel and redbait, about half the annual quota reserved for those species in waters stretching around southern Australia. The overall quota is limited to less than a tenth of this vast area’s stock. The Abel Tasman’s catch was destined for Africa. But last month, before the ship had caught a single mackerel, environmentalists and recreational fishers mounted a protest in hundreds of small boats off Hobart, Tasmania’s capital. They claimed that the “giant ocean vacuum cleaner” would devastate marine life. A social-media campaign went viral.

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