Fishing and restraint


in Economics, Rants, Science, The environment

Colourful leaves, botanical garden

Research being done off Lundy Island, in the United Kingdom, shows how quickly some marine ecosystems can begin to recover when fishing is discontinued. A five year old marine protected zone has resulted in the lobster population increasing sevenfold, as well as benefits to other species. This is consistent with the kind of larger scale recoveries that took place during the world wars, when the need for merchant ships and the dangers of war prevented most fishing fleets from operating.

It makes a person wonder what would be involved in producing a genuinely sustainable national fishery (trying to do the same in the open ocean is probably impossible for the foreseeable future, given the sheer number of unapologetically rapacious national fleets). One idea that comes to mind is this:

  1. Ban all imports. This will ensure that all fish being sold were caught under the sustainable approach.
  2. Restrict all fishing equipment (except safety equipment) to that which was available at the height of the age of sail. That means no diesel engines, no fish aggregating buoys, no satellite navigation, etc.
  3. Set catch quotas at a level where marine ecosystems as a whole remains vibrant and robust.

This would make fish dramatically more expensive, probably reducing consumption considerably. Arguably, it would actually increase employment in the industry. It would also make the industry rather more interesting to those both within and without it. Fishing from wooden tall ships has a lot more aesthetic appeal and romance than smashing the ocean floor and stripping the sea with freezer trawlers.

Of course, the above is supremely unlikely to ever happen. The question, then, is whether we will ever be able to come up with a mechanism that provides society with fish in an ethical and sustainable way, or whether we will keep plundering the resource, earning poorer and poorer catches, until we must be satisfied with whatever worms and jellyfish remain.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

. July 16, 2008 at 11:54 am
. July 16, 2008 at 11:56 am

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Litty July 16, 2008 at 3:16 pm

That picture is pretty psychadelic.

Litty July 16, 2008 at 3:19 pm

With #3 in place, why do you need #2?

Sarah July 16, 2008 at 9:18 pm

2 sounds like a recipe for disaster involving high risks for those working on the fishing boats and maybe for others at sea if they get lost & ram into them.
1 & 3 make more sense, but I’m doubtful about how well banning things works, particularly when those things traditionally arrive on boats (ie. fish are easy to smuggle).

Milan July 16, 2008 at 9:53 pm

2 sounds like a recipe for disaster involving high risks for those working on the fishing boats and maybe for others at sea if they get lost & ram into them.

I have my doubts about this. Were sailing ships frequently ramming one another? It is also worth remembering that this fishing would mostly be happening close to shore – no refrigeration, etc.

Milan July 16, 2008 at 9:56 pm

I bet the new ships would also employ a lot more people, in more pleasant jobs. The same would be true of the shipyards that would need to build the vessels.

. July 17, 2008 at 12:45 am

Overfishing, Rising Fuel Costs, and Subsidies

Category: New Research
Posted on: July 16, 2008 7:56 AM, by Jennifer L. Jacquet

Rob July 17, 2008 at 4:50 am

In-shore fishing makes collisions more likely, because you have a greater density of boats in a smaller area. More than that, in-shore fishing with sail boats is not particularly safe: on one stormy night sometime in the late eighteenth century, the village along the coast from the Scots fishing port my mum grew up in lost about a third of its adult male population. Also, sailing doesn’t restrict you to in-shore fishing: fisherman out of Bristol were supposedly fishing the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in the fifteenth century, and presumably pickling their catch. What would do it would be the size of boats presumably.

Milan July 17, 2008 at 9:17 am

Modern safety equipment could make things a lot safer. This could include weather reports, ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore radios, transponders for the mutual location of ships, search and rescue teams, etc.

Crossing the Atlantic for cod may have been worthwhile at some point, but Atlantic fisheries are now badly depleted. Would people sail from Canada to the west coast of Africa / Antarctica, etc?

Anon July 17, 2008 at 11:35 am

With #3 in place, why do you need #2?

Restricting gear is necessary, since the main problem of fishing is technological. Once you cross the threshold where you are taking more than the ecosystem can provide, more capital and more technology just mean faster ecological destruction and more immediate unprofitability.

Anon July 17, 2008 at 11:37 am

I’m doubtful about how well banning things works, particularly when those things traditionally arrive on boats (ie. fish are easy to smuggle).

Make it a crime to sell any species of fish that cannot be caught in Canadian waters. That would do a lot to deter smuggling.

. July 22, 2008 at 4:31 pm

After describing the town and its denizens, the author explains how Gloucester ran out of fish, especially Atlantic cod. The decline of this once-abundant species was partly caused by the success of the schooner-based fishery, which, even though it relied on wind power, harvested enough to reduce the stock. Bottom trawlers dealt the coup de grâce.

. January 13, 2009 at 2:23 pm

A special report on the sea
Plenty more fish in the sea?

Dec 30th 2008
From The Economist print edition
No longer: technology has made the elusive and inexhaustible into easy prey

““Our analysis”, said the authors, Ransom Myers and Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Canada, “suggests that the global ocean has lost more than 90% of large predatory fishes.” These are the ones, cod, groupers, salmon, tuna and so on, that everyone likes to eat.

An even gloomier assessment came in an article by 14 academics in Science in 2006. The accelerating erosion of biodiversity, often associated with overfishing, presaged a “global collapse” to the point, in 2048, where all species currently fished would be gone, they said.”

. August 13, 2009 at 11:11 am

Greenpeace in anti-trawling move

Greenpeace has begun sinking boulders in EU-protected cod fishing grounds to prevent what it says are destructive forms of fishing in the area.
The environmental group says it will drop 180 boulders off the Swedish and Danish coasts to prevent fishing boats from dragging nets along the sea bed.
Greenpeace says the bottom-trawling fishing method destroys both the sea bed and the marine environment.

. September 8, 2010 at 11:20 am

Fisheries biology
War dividend
The second world war led to a boom in North Sea fish numbers

Aug 19th 2010

“The information they worked with was collected by Britain’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from a region known as Buchan, off the north-eastern coast of Scotland, between 1928 and 1958. During the war British trawlers continued to plough the waves of the eastern Atlantic, between Britain and Iceland, but more or less stopped fishing in the North Sea, which was nearer Germany and thus much riskier. The reports reveal that fishing activity in the Buchan region dropped from 300,000 hours a year in 1938 to practically zero after the war started in 1939. The fish species in question, however, migrate between these two areas, so the question was how much the reduction of fishing effort in part of their range would affect their numbers.

As they reveal in Naturwissenschaften, Dr Beare and his colleagues found that populations of all age groups of all three species declined steadily between 1928 and 1939. There was a particularly steep fall—over 80%—in the number of two-year-old haddock. During the war, though, most of the populations rebounded, with older fish showing the biggest increase. The number of ten-year-old haddock, for example, went up nearly twelvefold during the six years the conflict lasted, though year-old haddock actually declined by 50%. The team propose the theory that such yearlings are truly, in this case, the exception that proves the rule. Such small fry are prey, and as the number of older, predatory fish increased, yearling haddock suffered disproportionately.”

. October 5, 2010 at 4:40 pm

” Most of the fishing-related damage is caused by trawlers, which tow big sacklike nets behind them. Trawlers seem designed for the purpose of damaging submarine cables. Various types of hardware are attached to the nets. In some cases, these are otter boards, which act something like rudders to push the net’s mouth open. When bottom fish such as halibut are the target, a massive bar is placed across the front of the net with heavy tickler chains dangling from it; these flail against the bottom, stirring up the fish so they will rise up into the maw of the net.

Mere impact can be enough to wreck a cable, if it puts a leak in the insulation. Frequently, though, a net or anchor will snag a cable. If the ship is small and the cable is big, the cable may survive the encounter. There is a type of cable, used up until the advent of optical fiber, called 21-quad, which consists of 21 four-bundle pairs of cable and a coaxial line. It is 15 centimeters in diameter, and a single meter of it weighs 46 kilograms. If a passing ship should happen to catch such a cable with its anchor, it will follow a very simple procedure: abandon it and go buy a new anchor.

But modern cables are much smaller and lighter – a mere 0.85 kg per meter for the unarmored, deep-sea portions of the FLAG cable – and the ships most apt to snag them, trawlers, are getting bigger and more powerful. Now that fishermen have massacred most of the fish in shallower water, they are moving out deeper. Formerly, cable was plowed into the bottom in water shallower than 1,000 meters, which kept it away from the trawlers. Because of recent changes in fishing practices, the figure has been boosted to 2,000 meters. But this means that the old cables are still vulnerable. “

. October 24, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Loving the Chambered Nautilus to Death

Rising demand for the creature’s lustrous shell may end up eradicating an animal that grows slowly and needs 15 years or more to reach sexual maturity, scientists say.

. July 9, 2016 at 2:15 am

Global fish production approaching sustainable limit, UN warns

Around 90% of the world’s stocks are now fully or overfished and production is set to increase further by 2025, according to report from UN’s food body

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