Engineered to extinction?

We watched the last in the series of the BBC South Pacific programme tonight which was talking about conservation. It’s been an amazing series – some of the volcanic islands are incredible and I’d love to see the coral up close.

There was the discussion on global warming – most islands are no more than 5m above sea level, and CO2 may ultimately ravage the fish populations by harming the development of plankton. The most visually terrifying part though was the footage of purse seine fishing where an enormous net is laid like a fence around an entire school of tuna. At the bottom of the net are rings with a rope through which is winched tight. This closes the “purse” and every single fish in the school is caught.

Menhaden_fishing_-_purse_seine_boats

In the example they showed, a ship from Papau New Guinea caught 150 tonnes of tuna in one purse – every single individual fish in the school. They go on to show a Spanish vessel fishing nearby with a net six times the size – yes, this is the same Spain that has no more tuna in its own waters due to overfishing.

I was aware of the damage that both fish farms (in Scotland the salmon farms are destroying areas of the north coast) and trawlers can do (er, no cod in the North Sea any more) so I try to buy line caught wild fish when I can and felt content that I was pro-consumer choice.. But until you see how advanced the fishing techniques have become it’s hard to understand just how close we are coming to wiping out fish all together. As a technical person I can see how this happens – engineers like I challenge after all – but I really don’t want to make the process so effective that we fish to extinction.

So what to do? Well, as we know from the Tragedy of the Commons while the upside is felt by the individual but the downside felt by the group it’s impossible to self regulate. A small number of well-intentioned shoppers buying sustainable, line-caught fish cannot prevent the trawlers making money where they can.

Let’s support international co-operation on marine reserves at least – something that exists on land in the form of national parks, etc. but not in the same way at sea. They provide a safe area for fish to breed and help depleted stocks to recover. I just gave $50 to Greenpeace, you should too.

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