Sunday, March 7, 2010

The End of the Line

“Turn your television on right this second!”
I tend to take my Dads advice, he’s generally pretty spot-on. I also tend to not watch very much TV, except for in this instance. End of the Line had its terrestrial premiere last night on Channel 4 and it was an eye opener – a documentary heralded as “An Inconvenient Truth for the oceans” it shines a light on the plight of our marine environment and just what we are doing to it. Destroying it.
If humans continue pulling fish out of the oceans for consumption at our current rates, BY 2048 THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT bar plankton, algae and worms. 1.2 billion humans on this planet depend on fish as the key source of protein in their diets, and furthermore in terms of not only impact upon humans, fish poo has been shown to actively absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. No more fish=no more fish poo=more CO2 and accelerated global warming and ocean acidification. These kinds of facts scare me.
Humanities current capacity for fishing far exceeds the amount of fish in the oceans. Four fold. Some more scary facts: Illegal fishing is worth $50 billion per year effectively making every other fish on your plate stolen, and of all the fish caught every year, approximately 7 billion tons (1/10 of the total world catch) goes back overboard dead because it’s by-catch. Harvesting wild fish from our oceans has become a highly industrialised, military-esque operation, hunting down every fish in the ocean until there are none left. Annually, the number of long lines laid could circle the planet 550 times, whilst the mouth of the largest purse seiner net would easily accommodate 13 747’s. It’s not really a fair fight. Many fish stocks, such as Atlantic Cod, have crashed beyond retrieval whilst others like Blue Fin Tuna are critically endangered. That doesn’t stop them showing up on menus, but can you imagine the out cry if a restaurant advertised Orang-utan steaks or fillet of White Rhino? It’s really no different.
There are solutions however, which if pressed into mass action could push that ominous 2048 date back a bit: Only buy sustainably sourced seafood bearing the Marine Stewardship Council mark or that caught in Alaska, one of the most sensitively and well managed fisheries out there. Don’t buy farmed fish because it’s a bag of crap; it takes 5kg of “other” fish to produce 1kg of salmon. That just doesn’t add up.
Pressure politicians to listen to fisheries scientists when setting catch limits; or better still to push for the creation of marine protected areas. If all of the money spent on subsidising the fishing industry was redirected to maintaining marine protected areas then they would be protecting 30% of the worlds’ oceans rather than the current 0.6%.
I’m not saying stop eating fish, perhaps just go about it in a different way, armed with a bit of knowledge and some realistic facts. I plan on catching a lot of what I eat this summer, and when I do buy fish, checking the source. I urge you to do the same.

Photography: Various shots from Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo Japan. This is the largest fish market on the planet and the venue for the infamous Tuna Auctions. I hit the place at 5am to get a realistic view of what goes down there.
Below that, Blue Basque boats in the harbour at Mundaka, Northern Spain, and some rusty old trawlers at dock in Portland, Victoria, Australia.

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