Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Failing Fishery Management: report and video illustrate excesses by EU and Japan

The logic is so simple: if you harvest from a finite resource without giving back then you will deplete it.

But combating that is the economic principal that requires the use of available resources to meet market demand and sustain business growth.

These are the concepts that fishery management has been wrestling with for decades - and it is becoming more and more apparent that economic interests win in the short term and the environment loses in the long term.

I have sited in past postings the European Union's inability to effectively manage its industrial fishing. It has failed to the extant that it moves from one species to another, harvesting until there effectively is no more in their territorial waters. And so they export their trade to other countries, fishing in the territorial waters of developing countries who are lured by the economic gains of providing fishing rights and/or fishing crews to prop up struggling economies - ultimately sacrificing their natural resources for short term gain.

A report recently published by the New Economics Foundation declares that the EU has now basically consumed all of its own fish and must look elsewhere to meet demand. The report says the EU has reached a "fish dependence day" and is now having to live off the rest of the world when it comes to seafood.

The report, Fish Dependence: The Increasing Reliance of the EU on Fish From Elsewhere, states,
"In a context of finite resources and growing populations, the current EU model is unsustainable. The EU's increasing fish dependence has implications for the fish stocks in other countries, which are also overfished, and for the communities that depend upon them."

It makes me recall the science fiction film, Independence Day, which portrays an attack on the earth by malevolent aliens that travel the galaxies, plundering all the natural resources of a victim planet before moving on to the next one. We don't need fictional aliens to see that that is exactly what is happening right now in our oceans.

Click here to download a copy of the report.

Also making the rounds of various online forums right now is a startling video from Alex Hofford, showing industrial shark fishing at its most graphic. In the Japanese city of Kesen-numa City,
blue sharks and salmon sharks are piled high like cord wood, awaiting processing which includes the removal of their fins and, in the case of the salmon sharks, their hearts. In watching the video I was struck by the methodical way in which the workers went about their business - with gentle musak playing in the background and visitors walking above.

Here are hundreds and hundreds of sharks - animals that, because of their low reproductive rates, can in no way withstand such massive harvesting - all being dispatched like cattle in a slaughterhouse. And to the Japanese, that is exactly what it is. This is something that many western pro-shark advocates fail to appreciate: to the Asian markets, seafood is food, no different than beef or poultry. The butchering of sharks to them is no different than the butchering of cattle or chickens.

But there is one crucial difference: cattle and poultry are breed and raised for consumption; the majority of seafood is not.

The Asian markets may not have developed sizable cattle and poultry operations, and they may never will. But if any society - Asian, European or otherwise - is going to respond to a growing market demand for seafood, then they must make a concerted commitment and effort in developing effective and environmentally-safe aquaculture while also radically changing open-water commercial fishing as we know it today. Unless capable of being successfully grown in an aquaculture environment, some commercial species will need to be severely restricted, if not off limits all together.

The EU report states, "There is only so much fishing that our oceans can sustain. So for fisheries policies to be sustainable, they need to acknowledge and respect the ecological limits of the marine ecosystems on which they depend."

The logic is simple. But the motivation to act in the face of a bleak future is apparently difficult.

Read more about the EU fisheries report in the Guardian.
See the shark fishery video at Alex Hofford Photography.

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