Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The End of the Line

If today's rate of overfishing continues, there will be no more fish for commercial fishing by 2048; and there'll be no more seafood for us to eat. 90% of the fish in the sea have already been caught. That's the opinion of the scientists in this sobering movie, based on the book The End of the Line: How Over-fishing is Changing the World and What We Eat, by Charles Clover.

The opening salvo of this British movie concerned the collapse of the cod fishery in Canada, and many of the scientists interviewed were from Canada. It presented the situation with bluefin tuna as indicative of what's happening in fisheries today - repeating the disaster seen in cod.

Scientists have calculated that to stop the decline in bluefin the catch should be limited to 15M tons; to allow it to recover, the catch limit should be set at 10. In recent EU meetings, the limit was set at 29, and estimates for the real catch (including all the illegal catches) are 61M. The prognosis for this species is chilling.

The decline of bluefin tuna is similar to that seen in other species. This has only been realized since about 2002, because consistent overstatement of fish catches from China misled scientists into thinking that despite local declines, overall worldwide catches were actually rising. Dr. Pauly of University of British Columbia was the one who showed the Chinese data must be wrong and worldwide catches were declining, despite ever more sophisticated technology.

The movie's web site provides more information and offers three action steps:

Ask Before You Buy:

Eat only sustainable seafood. The movie points out that farmed fish is not the solution - it takes 5 pounds of anchovies ground into fishmeal for one pound of salmon. Buying farmed fish merely increases the load on less popular fish, needed at the lower ends of the food chain.

Greenpeace handed out flyers at the end of the movie, with a Redlist of fish you should not be purchasing, in grocery stores or restaurants:
  • Atlantic cod
  • Atlantic haddock (scrod)
  • Atlantic halibut
  • Atlantic salmon (farmed)
  • Atlantic sea scallops
  • Chilean seabass
  • Greendland halibut (turbot)
  • Hard shell clams (Arctic surf clams)
  • New Zealand hoki (blue grenadier)
  • Orange roughy
  • Sharks
  • Skates and rays
  • Swordfish
  • Tropical shrimps and prawns
  • Tuna -- bluefin, yellowfin, bigeye
Be sure to ask wherever you buy fish where the fish is from. Educate sellers about how much consumers care.

Tell Politicians

Make sure politicians know that there is a large part of the electorate who cares - not just the vocal fisher community and mighty fish corporations who press them so hard. The movie stated that Mitsubishi, the largest provider of bluefin tuna, had actually been increasing their catch significantly and freezing the fish. The conjecture was that these frozen bluefin would be extremely valuable to Mitsubishi when the last bluefin was caught.

Join the campaign for marine protected areas and responsible fishing

This message went full circle with the plea of this year's TED Prize winner Sylvia Earle, documented in an earlier post. The biggest idea to emerge from the brainstorming lunch around helping fulfil Sylvia's wishes was to advocate for creating protected areas in the oceans. This movie estimates that it would cost 12-14B annually to create reserves in about 20-30% of the ocean. This compares with 15-30B currently spent annually on fishing subsidies. Creating these reserves would create jobs to protect them.

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