This entry is a follow up to yesterdays’ entry on overfishing which you can read here if you missed it. What can be done about it? It turns out there are solutions to overfishing. There is hope if courageous action is taken soon. (All quotes are from The End of The Line by Charles Clover.)
1. Subsidies and economic incentives as discussed yesterday for the fishing industry need to be curbed worldwide. “The bottom line is that there are just too many fisherman, and fishing technology gets better every year.”
2. Since Iceland began selling fisherman portions of the quota, they are thinking differently now. Like during the westward expansion when the American prairie belonged to everyone and no one, it was just a race to see who could get the most from that herd of buffalo. If you didn’t do it, someone else would. It was about the quantity of the take. Once the prairie started getting fenced off in shares, the freewheeling days of the cowboy were over. Stewardship of the land began, and the owners cared about quality more than quantity, for they wanted to take care of their share for the long run. You become interested in efficiency and what is best for the land. When this idea is transferred to the ocean like it was in Iceland, “Fisherman who fish for maximum economic efficiency fish less, burn less fuel, and drag up the bottom less as part of the bargain.” “If people have property rights they look after them.” The world’s “most stable and sustainable fisheries… are now run on this basis.” By selling rights to a part of the quota, suddenly fisherman have a financial interest in conservation. “In the 1880’s they invented barbed wire and divided up the ranges. Now everybody accepts that’s the way it is. Nobody likes to see the death of a cowboy. Nobody will think it should be any other way with the sea in twenty years time.”
3. Citizens own the sea not fisherman. Politicians need to buy votes from the citizens instead of the fisherman. “You can get popular with a million voters by declaring a reserve, and be unpopular with 500,” says Bill Ballintine who has been extremely successful setting up “no take” zones in New Zealand. This idea needs to sweep the planet. He likens this project to women getting the vote – unpopular initially and first accepted in remote places – but once established, a hundred years later, no one can comprehend why they even had to struggle for it, because it was so obvious and natural. Fish egg production on a healthy marine reserve is much greater than in the sea outside. His marine reserves are now tourist destinations because they are thriving and teaming with life that wasn’t there when they started. Where there was no kelp, now 25 years later there is kelp teaming with a vast variety of fish, along with a plethora of snorkelers, scuba divers, and a few glass bottom boats. To conserve enough sea for fish production, we would need to allocate 20% of the ocean as marine reserves where no fishing can take place. If the sea were extensively used, you would need a “no take” bay for every one used. Also some “no take” areas would be required on the high seas in migration hot spots for large fishes. There is copious evidence that marine reserves do improve fishing. Where scientific fisheries management has failed almost everywhere (either because of prediction failures or deaf politicians), protecting a percentage of the sea for its own sake everyone seems to understand and can agree on. A commitment to create “no take” zones has been signed by 180 nations at the Johannesburg summit of 2002. But this is not a done deal yet at all, because it is the fisherman that are kicking up a fuss. It strikes me they are a minority that has had their heyday to do as they wished, which has gotten us into this pickle. The fishing industry is about the same size as the lawn mower industry after all, and has had a lot of say for a long time. Besides they will be blessed by this plan in the end as well.
4. Remarkably, a major transnational fish packing company (Unilever) realized that it was not in their interest that seafood was being fished unsustainably. They partnered with a conservation group (World Wildlife Fund) to set standards of certification for sustainable catch. The firm asked all of its suppliers to “confirm that their fish was legally caught and that they were not involved in species threatened with extinction.” Now ten years later, World Wildlife Fund and Unilever have withdrawn, leaving their brainchild, the now independent Marine Stewardship Council up and running. Fifteen fisheries carry the MSC ecolabel. If all the fisheries awaiting certification are approved, 6% of the world’s fish supplies will be sustainably fished. Worldwide, some 32% of the supply of white fish, and 42% of wild-caught salmon, and 18% of lobster carry the MSC label. The MSC has done a breakthrough deal with WalMart to begin within five years. MSC champions also include Whole Foods and Safeway. And remarkably, while you may not want to eat the breading or the bun, McDonald’s fish filet is sustainably caught, but they are just too cheap to buy the advertising rights to flaunt the ecolabel. As more and more people and corporations wield their economic power to buy sustainable fish, there will be more market incentive to fish sustainably. And I am encouraged to see private industry take this kind of lead, when government agencies were only chasing their tail.
5. The world eating fish less wastefully caught would go a long way to solving the problem. Education is required to teach consumers how to choose fish that is sustainably caught. Part of education and consumer choice needs to stem from adequate labeling as well so we know what the fish is, and where and how it was caught, so we can make intelligent choices, once we understand what they are. The citizenry needs to be active in the process of saving the oceans. It is all of ours to do together.
“The fisherman of the future isn’t going to be measured by the fish he does catch, but by the fish he doesn’t catch.”
“We have on offer two futures. One requires difficult, active choices starting now. If we don’t take those choices, the other future will happen…”