Thursday, March 18, 2010

One Fish, Two Fish, Will Plankton Be Our New Fish?

From shellfish to lowly tile fish to high-end & much-desired blue-fin tuna, United States fisherman have been accepting (however reluctantly), complying with and learning to co-exist with government restrictions, scrutiny and quotas for nearly as long as I can remember,
Beginning in my youth with pollution-driven restrictions on the clamming industry in Long Island's Great South Bay, to restrictive and industry & life-altering quotas imposed on tile fishing, (as i recall, the last species in the area to fall under quotas) in the 1990s, the subject of restricting catches has been one that I and countless others have been intimately familiar with, and in the short term, adversely affected by, for many decades.
In the long term, all involved must reasonably and eventually conclude that fishery restrictions are for the greater good of the health and welfare of the entire planet. But in the short term, it's heart-wrenching to lose your home or to be forced to stop doing a job that's entwined in your heritage and genetic make-up; to be unable to support your family, and to be forced to move from your hometown and everything you know because of the greater good.
But life changes and stuff happens and humans are adaptable. We have to roll with the punches and come back fighting even harder.
One of the most vocal and dramatic tile fisherman I encountered and interviewed back when the first quotas were imposed , a fellow referred to as "Iron Jack" for his fishing prowess, eventually dried his eyes, sobered up and went on to captain a tug boat in the New York City area. While the waters of New York City are in no way comparable to the splendorous seas off Montauk Point, where Iron Jack tile-fished, they are, none the less, simply at the other end of the long island (literally Long island, NY) on which Jack resided. Although he had to endure a long commute, he kept his home on Long Island's East End. In a perfect world, the outcome might have been better. But in the real world, it certainly might have been worse.
I myself have reacted emotionally to criticisms of commercial fishing. After dropping 20 bucks on the cute singing penguin movie, Happy Feet, I was outraged to find an anti-commercial fishing message tucked neatly inside the happy little story. That 20 bucks had, technically. come from commercial fishing, in the form of my late husband's social security. Along with our hard work, patience and determination, the commercial fishing industry had funded our married-with-children life on the East End rather nicely. Considering that the industry we were involved in had, although difficulty, come to terms and strict adherence with government restrictions, I found the added sting of an anti-fishing message wrapped in my 8-year-old's penguin movie irritating and personally offensive.
Until last night, I didn't know that our fisherman here in the United States are among the only fisherman who are playing fair regarding restrictions and quotas. Until last night, I had not realized that the European fishing industry and the Japanese fishing industry are largely thumbing their collective noses at conservation efforts that may or may not be able to save not only fish, but the seas themselves. Unlike a majority of our fisherman here in the U.S., foreign industries are casually and regularly breaking laws, thereby endangering the health of the planet and all of its inhabitants.
Last night, I watched the documentary, "The End of the Line," made in 2008 and based on the book by environmental journalist Charles Clovers.
Any and all responsible citizens of planet Earth MUST SEE and adsorb the facts of this movie, and IMMEDIATELY act accordingly.
First of all:
  • Our oceans comprise 70 % of the earth's surface
  • Scientists estimate that 90 % of large-species fish have already been depleted
  • As of 2003, 1/3 of all species were in a state of "collapse"
  • By the middle of this century, around 2048, all fish stocks that humans consume will be depleted, leaving oceans brimming with algae, plankton and worms. Naturally, water quality will seriously decline, as it already is in a serious downward spiral. The endpoint, coming in our lifetime(assuming we enjoy longevity) will be a"highly simplified ecosystem of mud and worms,"and that's a quote from a scientist in the movie.
  • Already, lobster populations are exploding in the north Atlantic around Canada because cod fish are all but a dead species. I never imagined, with the ever-present cod cake on the plate of my Catholic childhood, that cod fish would disappear from Atlantic waters. Cow-nosed rays are running wild in mid- and southern Atlantic waters, as a result of the lack of sharks and other predators. If you prefer a leathery ray to a succulent tuna steak or scallop, then you're in luck. But one can't escape that the swell in ray populations stands as testament to the looming death of our seas. Shrimp have become hyper plentiful in many areas, again because of the near-extinction of predators. Jelly fish are running more rampant than ever, closing beaches and serving as another signal in what should be world-wide alarm.
  • During a 2007 meeting of the European Union fisheries ministers, blue-fin tuna expert scientists, whom the world relies upon to set quotas, recommended that to simply avoid collapse of the species, only 15,000 tons be caught. A recommendation of 10,000 tons was made to rebuild and recover the blue-fin tuna species. Sit down for this one, the European Union ministers set the quota at 29.5 thousand - 2 times the amount of avoiding collapse, 3 times the amount to allow the species to recover. And they characterize us as "Ugly Americans." Holy cow-nosed ray!
  • The UK's own fishing minister, Ben Bradshaw, who served form 2003-07 (I guess he was booted after standing up) said of blue fin tuna,"It's species as endangered as the white rhinoceros and yet it's being hunted to extinction in the Mediterranean. It's being exploited at more than twice the levels it should be. Those countries who have over fished are not being forced to pay back what they have over fished. This is not a day in which the EU (European Union) has covered itself in glory." Another unidentified man commented that the quota was "a political quota, negotiating with biology and you just can't do that and expect the biology to survive."
  • In the year the 29.5 thousand ton quota was set by the EU, the Mediterranean blue fin industry, based in Malta and primarily comprised of Italian fisherman, ignored the quota and took 61,000 tons of blue-fin tuna, or 1/3 of the entire blue fin population. The Italian fleet uses planes to spot tuna, a practice outlawed for 10 years!

While watching this horror unfold, I kept thinking, "What about fish farming?" No dice there, either. Turns out fish farming consumes more fish than it produces. As one scientist put it,"You're converting fish from one species to another- you don't make more fish." On average,it takes 5 kilos of wild fish to produce 1 kilo of salmon. Of 100 million anchovies- a prime ingredient in fish and animal feed- caught world wide, 40 % are ground into fish and animal feed. Anchovies are fit for human consumption, relatively plentiful, and very nutritious.

Now here's the good news. As one scientist termed it, "It's not rocket science." We have the answers now, and we have to act now as part of the solution. Every one of us is part of the solution.

  • Ask if fish you're buying is sustainable
  • Tell your politicians to respect science and cut the fishing fleets and encourage other nations to set realistic quotas and enforce laws against their own fishing fleets.
  • Join the campaign to establish a world-wide network of marine-protected areas and responsible fishing. Establishing marine-protected areas will run into the billions of dollars, but isn't saving the planet worth it?
  • Look for the Marine Stewardship Council seal on fish products you buy. It ensures that fish come form a sustainable source. By 2011, Wal-Mart has promised to sell only Marine Stewardship Council fresh and frozen fish. WalMart sells 20,000 lbs of fresh fish per year!
  • Birdseye foods obtains 2/3 of its fish from sustainable sources.
  • Go to www.endoftheline. com for more information.

And finally, in January of 09, a paper in "Science" stated that it has been proven that fish droppings help the oceans absorb carbon dioxide, the first link between over-fishing and global warming.

What do you think? More importantly, what will you do? Be well & happy!

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