November 8, 2006
An article in a recent local paper had me thinking it was early April Fool’s. The story was too absurd to be taken seriously, but the longer I read, the more incredulous I became. “World fisheries face extinction by 2042,” read the headline. The incredible truth began to hammer home.The article spelled out in basic newspeak that the end of global fisheries would occur in about 35 years because ocean ecosystems the world over are crashing. Unless something is done soon, the oceans will no longer support commercially viable fish populations.The article warned that if you like fish sticks, fresh salmon, fresh cod, fresh shellfish, or fresh anything from the sea, you had better enjoy them now. The future is dim for a vital food source on which much of the human population depends.After reading this dire news, I wondered if anyone else cared, if anyone else eats fresh fish or feels a kinship with the oceans that cover the majority of our Earth. Then I read another article about Iceland reopening its ocean boundaries to commercial whaling.”How can this be?” I asked myself, trying to avoid my typical doom-and-gloom response to yet another global catastrophe. We may heat up the entire earth, exterminate thousands of species, pollute our groundwater, kill off our trees, decimate our pollinating insects, and murder each other, but surely we’re not going to kill the oceans!I Googled “global fisheries,” and from what I found, that’s exactly what we’re doing. By greedily scooping up ever more fish with enormous nets, the fishing industry is so altering the ecological balance of the oceans that a domino effect is rippling through marine communities.One of the first signs of trouble was the early 1990s crash of the once-great Canadian cod stock. The very fish that drew Vikings to North America and attracted Europeans to the New World became a morbid, global cautionary tale against fisheries mismanagement.One website reported that the staggering growth of commercial fishing over the past 40 years “has resulted in over fishing and wasteful, destructive fishing practices worldwide which now threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people who are vitally dependent on fishing for food and livelihoods.”Why hasn’t this reached the mainstream media? I wondered. Why is Brad and Angelina’s baby and other ridiculous media gossip more newsworthy than the decimation of one of the chief food sources in the world?!Reading on, I discovered that seven out of ten (69 percent) of the oceans’ commercially targeted marine fish stocks have been fished beyond ecologically safe limits, and that one-quarter of the planet’s biological diversity is in danger of extinction within the next 30 years as the marine food web becomes compromised.Doing without fish is improbable given that fish provide roughly 40 percent of the protein consumed by nearly two-thirds of the world’s population. Greenpeace reports that “over a billion people throughout Asia depend on fish and seafood as their major source of animal protein.”I don’t know what shocked me most, news of the impending collapse or the complacent attitude of the media, world governments, and the people. For a story of stunning international significance, and one that will impact the whole of humanity, the matter has received little attention.That’s why action needs to be taken by appeals to the U.S. government and to the U.N. Tell your congressmen that healthy oceans and carefully regulated fishing are vital to human survival. Tell them to pressure regional fisheries management councils to avoid the massive waste of fish that indiscriminate scoop nets extract with ruthless, industrial efficiency.Support Greenpeace in its efforts to lobby world governments to protect fisheries and the ecosystems on which they depend. Google “fisheries crisis” and click on the Greenpeace website. It is loaded with information and ideas geared toward sustainable fishing, the conservation of the oceans, and a sane approach to human welfare through mandatory respect for the life-giving waters of the earth.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.