How to save the world’s fisheries
I can’t stand these posed trophy pictures, the certificate of victory in a test of skill with nature’s best. The photos never show the large boat, the fish-detecting sonar, the inventors, factories and industries’ huge resources that backed and preceded this one-sided contest. Think of all this against one poor fish and the macho moment shrivels to one of bullies flexing.
I’m sure sport fishing is fun. All the ingredients are there: expensive toys, beer, companionship, wild seascapes, the illusion of risk, and some incredibly powerful beasts fighting for their lives. What I can’t understand is the need to kill the fish for that damn trophy photo.
Show some compassion and respect for the animal that is giving you your thrills and let it go. Fish like that leave a hole in the sea when you take them home to show off your power. Mercy is perhaps the greatest power anyone has, to let something go and know that it lives because of you.
One might think that the sport fishing industry, which is selling the experience of fishing and not the fish itself, would be all for catch and release and marine conservation areas. Without fish to catch there is no sport to experience.
Strangely, the sport fishing industry is the leading force fighting marine reserves. Some captains still push keeping the fish for trophy and meat, since both eke significant processing fees from the client. We never seem to grasp the long-term effects of our immediate actions.
While marine reserves that ban fishing would close off small parts of the ocean, they are a huge benefit to surrounding fisheries. In 1962 security concerns closed the waters around Cape Canaveral, creating a marine reserve. Now waters around this reserve provide large numbers of record-sized trophy fish, more than in all the rest of Florida’s waters combined.
Lobstermen in western Australia are clamoring for larger reserves. They’ve seen large harvests as lobsters spill out of the reserves. These sanctuaries act as natural hatcheries and are money in the bank for fishermen.
Commercial fishermen seem less resistant to marine reserves, since they’ve been around longer and can see that the world’s fish are disappearing and with it their livelihoods. The average weight of North Atlantic swordfish has dropped to 90 pounds from 266 pounds in 1963. We are now catching female swordfish before they are mature enough to reproduce. That’s a recipe for disaster! Over 70 percent of the world’s commercially fished species are over harvested.
Rich nations (in Europe and Asia, as well as the United States) heavily subsidize their fishing fleets, as there aren’t enough fish left to support them. North Atlantic fleets are subsidized with about $3.5 billion. We are paying to irreparably damage the seas!
For example, cod stocks may never be able to recover. Juvenile cod are eaten by herring and mackerel, and they need a large presence of adult cod (which eat herring and mackerel) to survive. There are so few adult cod left that enough juveniles will never get a chance to grow.
As rich nations deplete their own fishing grounds, they are using the leverage of large debts to encourage poor nations to open their waters to our surplus boats. Our subsidized fleets then decimate these fishing stocks by overfishing, again.
The result? For some paltry short-term gains, these poor nations lose sustainable fish stocks worth billions of dollars.
The local fishing communities who often fish by hand in wooden boats find fewer and fewer fish, are driven into greater poverty, and suffer serious impacts to their food supplies. There’s an example of the global economy and global “free” trade at its finest.
Senegal, on the West Coast of Africa, in particular is suffering from European trawlers. Argentina is losing its hake fishery, which if better managed could have benefited their economy by as much as $5 billion.
One idea to protect fish and fishermen is the “individual fishing quota,” in which fishermen get a transferable fixed percentage of the scientifically determined sustainable harvest.
If the fisheries recover, the total harvest and therefore their share would grow – a powerful incentive for supporting conservation.
IFQs would also prevent the current mass derbies where all the boats rush out and try to catch as many fish as possible on the first day of the season before the fleet’s yearly quota is reached. Fishermen could fish at their own pace all year round and avoid bad weather, wasting fish, etc.
A worry with IFQs is how they would be distributed. A few large commercial corporations could end up “owning the sea” at the expense of the smaller boats. Funds for IFQs are in the budget. With careful design, fish stocks and fishing communities may survive, at least in our waters.
For countries like Senegal and Mauritius, the European, Asian and North American countries such as the United States will have to change their policies to be seen as responsible international players, as opposed to plunderers.
Even though we in the mountains live thousands of miles from the sea, we can help the oceans recover.
As an informed consumer and citizen you can choose. I always vote for people who show some concern and compassion for the environment that sustains us. By choosing to consume environmentally sustainable products, you prod capitalism in the right direction.
For a good and bad list of fish to eat check out http://www.environmentaldefense.org/sustainablefishing.
Some highlights for when you’re perusing the two for one specials this off season:
GOOD: Alaskan halibut, Mahi Mahi, oysters, wild Alaskan salmon, striped bass.
BAD: cod, grouper, Atlantic halibut, rockfish, snapper, farmed Salmon, shark, swordfish, bluefin tuna.
Alan Braunholtz, raft guide and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily.