Monday, June 4, 2007

Gwynne Dyer: World Fisheries Headed For Collapse

If anyone needs more things to worry about -- things that are clearly bigger than any of us, and possibly bigger than all of us -- here's a good one for you, from Gwynne Dyer in the Japan Times:
A major human food source — the principal source of protein for one-fifth of the human race — is going to collapse in the next generation unless drastic measures are taken.
Another sad fact that's been lost amid the GWOT, the war in Iraq, the looting of the American treasury, the shredding of our Constitution, and all the other things we tend to discuss here: we're well along the path to collapse already.
According to a report last year in "Nature," the scientific journal, 90 percent of the really big fish — tuna, marlin, swordfish and the like — are already gone, and the middle-size fish are following.

The codfish are gone on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, once the richest fishery in the world, and show little sign of recovery despite an absolute ban on cod-fishing for the past 15 years. They are declining rapidly in the North Sea, too. In the 1980s the annual catch was about 300,000 tons. The European Union quota for codfish was cut to 80,000 tons in 2005 — and EU fishermen only managed to catch two-thirds of that quota. Nevertheless, they will probably keep on fishing, with gradually reducing quotas, until the stock is completely eliminated.
It's not just a problem for the Canadians and the Europeans.
The problem is global. As human numbers have soared and fishing technologies have been industrialized, fishing has been mutated from the maritime equivalent of slash-and-burn agriculture to a process more like strip-mining. The schools of fish are located electronically, few individuals escape the huge nets, and no area of the ocean is left alone long enough for the stocks to recover.

"At this point, 29 percent of fish and seafood species have collapsed; that is, their catch has declined by 90 percent," explained professor Boris Worm of Dalhousie University late last year. "It is a very clear trend, and it is accelerating." If the trend continues, he predicted, all fish and seafood species that are fished commercially will collapse by 2048.
What has to be done? What can and will be done? According to Dyer:
The world's fishing fleet needs to be reduced by at least two-thirds, bottom-trawling must be banned outright, and widespread fishing moratoriums for endangered species and even for whole areas need to be imposed for periods of five or even 10 years.

Unfortunately, the minimum measures needed to prevent ecocide in the oceans would cause major short-term disruption and throw millions out of work, so they probably won't be taken. It will be much easier politically to ignore what is happening now and let the collapse happen later, on somebody else's watch.
Once again I find myself nodding in agreement, because that's what most of us tend to do when we run difficulty: make it somebody else's problem.

I don't always agree with Gwynne Dyer, but he usually makes a lot of sense. You can read more of his work here.