18 February 2006

Political action needed to save fishery says expert

Check Mark Hume's piece in the Globe on the need for political action, not more science to save the world's ocean fisheries.

Hume quotes Daniel Pauly, a leading researcher on fisheries issues and director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia.
Through analyzing global fishery statistics, he found that the peak happened in parts of the world between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s. The timing was tied to the spread of industrial fishing.

Once what he calls "peak fish" was reached, the total haul of fish globally began to shrink, despite increased fishing effort and increasingly effective technologies.


Dr. Pauly said governments must step in because the fishing industry -- with a primary interest in short-term economic gain, not long-term sustainability of fish stocks -- has not shown any ability to restrain itself.

"The industry is ready to commit suicide at any time. It's an industry that needs to be reined in for its own good."

Dr. Pauly said that illegal catches are common, and he accused most governments of catering to the interests of industry over the needs of citizens.

He said governments need to reduce excess fishing capacity and enforce sustainable fishing levels.

"Public policy must be downsizing the industry to a level that allows for sustained catch and stocks to rebound," he said.
While self-described experts, including people like Gus Etchegary, rail against "foreigners" the reality is that the fishery is in crisis globally and only strong political action that takes a long-term view can work.

Among Pauly's big ideas: stop fishing. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one.

Check to see how quickly people like Etchegary embrace that radical concept. There are no fish, so stop fishing. Newly appointed federal fish minister Loyola Hearn has already mused publicly about a limited commercial cod fishery on the north-east coast of Newfoundland, a stock which biomass is hovering at as little as 170, 000 metric tonnes.

In the meantime, local politicians continue to push for something called custodial management as the solution to the local problems. Well, as noted here on many occasions, custodial management is an international legal nonsense and, as many suspect, is likely really just cover for increased fish catches by Newfoundland and Labrador interests.

That looks like more of the short-term thinking Pauley criticizes, but to be sure, it reflects the short-term thinking that has gone into most public fisheries policy coming from Newfoundland and Labrador over the past half century.

It's not like other experts - genuine experts - haven't pointed to the problems in the marine ecosystem caused by continued overfishing both domestic and foreign. Ken Frank of the Bedford Institute in Halifax co-authored an article in the journal Science that proposes one possible reason why cod have not recovered in the North Atlantic in the last decade. Frank argues that the changes across five trophic levels in the ocean caused by decimation of a top-level predator, namely cod, have so altered the ecosystem that cod may not recover.

Pit that against the "Evil Spaniards and Demonic Portugese" theory or the "Blame Canada" thesis so common in public comment across Newfoundland and Labrador see which one is intrinsically more convincing.