SENSibility 7: Like Fish? Only 50 years left

Do you really like fish? I really like fish. I like fish and chips at Go Fish near Granville island. I used to devour sushi¬† (before a rare tropical bug caught in Indonesia basically destroyed my insides). I like salmon candy and the Kaisen seafood platter at En Restaurant on tenth avenue. I like Chilean Sea Bass baked on a bed of potatoes covered with white wine, garlic, tomatoes, olives and breadcrumbs. Does all that sound good? You’re damn right it is. And it could all be over real soon.

According to an article in the journal Science, there will be virtually nothing left to fish in the seas by the middle of this century. Fish stocks have collapsed in nearly one-third of the world’s sea fisheries, and the rate of decline is increasing. As Steve Palumbi, one of the scientists involved in the study, remarked: “Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood.”

While this prediction is not particularly new, the study argues that a big factor in fish stock depletion is biodiversity loss in key parts of the ocean habitat. This biodiversity loss is attributed to pollution, climate change, and destruction of habitat from (among other things) bottom trawling. To respond to this crisis, the study recommends that more zones of the world’s oceans be declared off limits to commercial fishing. This would allow fish stocks to regenerate (at least for those stocks capable of regenerating) and allow biodiversity to recover (which in turn would facilitate fish stock regeneration).

So is anyone listening? Apparently not. For example, in Europe politicians continue to ignore scientific recommendations to halt the North Sea Cod fishery. Another author of the study, Boris Worm, finds this amazing: “You have a scientific consensus and nothing moves. It’s a sad example, and what happened in Canada (with the North Sea Cod stocks) should be such a warning, because now it’s collapsed it’s not coming back.” And this is in Europe, where ecological awareness and enforcement capacities are relatively robust.

This makes me think that ocean parks and sanctuaries and no fishing zones may not be enough. These are all good things, and provided they are enforced and poachers are punished they could clearly make a difference. But maybe it is time to get back to local fisheries sourcing, and move away from the big manufacturing and freezing vessels and the global-scale fish distribution networks that work on massive economies of scale that exhaust the world’s fisheries. How to do that? How about a campaign to consume only rod and line caught fish, coupled with a call for a ban on fishing with nets? Yes, that is right. Every fish we eat has to be caught with a rod and line (or traditional fish-catching techniques using baskets and the like). This kind of fishing can only be done locally, small fishers would be the backbone of the fishing industry, and fishing tourism would thrive. Yes, fish would be expensive but as a result a lot less would be eaten and a lot more of it savoured. I would rather spend a lot for a rare sushi or seafood meal knowing that it would always be there, rather than seeing the frozen hake and chips in the supermarket and know that in 50 years there will not be any wild stocks left.

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