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fishing

Economist: We are almost out of fish

According to this report by the Economist, we are almost out of fish.  It’s an industry that 200 million rely upon and 3 billion people rely on for food

The End of the Line

I took some time to watch The End of the Line (you can find it on Netflix) this afternoon.

Back in 2003, I posted about what happened to the Newfoundland cod fishery.  It’s worth reading again.

Christmas

Christmas for us started on the 23rd as we joined our good friends Gloria, Jerry, and Kristy for our traditional Christmas together.  It was a bit different this year because of Gloria’s cancer but it was a fun night of exchanging gifts and hanging out.  We gave some books (as is our tradition) but I gave Gloria a Sound Spa which should help her sleep while the boys gave her a plush blanket.

Because I like to make fun of Kristy, we gave her an Edmonton Oilers Snuggie.  Because most of Kristy’s life is dedicated to a) staying warm and b) the Edmonton Oilers, she liked it.

Christmas Eve had Wendy working all day.  This is the worst schedule she has ever had over a Christmas season and it hasn’t been a lot of fun for us as a family but that is the life of people working retail.  I worked part of the day and then headed home to spend the rest of the day with the boys.  We gave the boys two early gifts of some NHLPA hockey sticks so they could play some road hockey during the day. Of course it was freezing outside so instead of playing hockey, we just taped them up.  While she worked, we packed up the Mazda and headed out to Warman where we spent the evening at  Lee and Brittany’s place for a traditional Christmas supper of lasagna and fighting over who got the lasagna leftovers before opening gifts.

Lee is known to master such phrases as “less talking, more chewing” on Christmas Eve.  While he loves lasagna, he loves presents more.  In the past when Wendy was working, he would spend most of the day badmouthing Wendy and trying to convince Mark to open Christmas presents without his mom.  He takes this whole Christmas gift opening seriously.

Of the delay in eating turned costly when Oliver was playing with Tika (Lee and Brittany’s dog) and fell nose first into the edge of the carpet.  There was crying, rug burn, and blood all over the place.  While Oliver’s new shirt paid a steep cost, all was okay.  It wasn’t as if I didn’t expect blood, I just expected it over the lasagna.

Mark

Santa gave Mark a new HTC Desire C Android Smart phonewhile I got him a Fuji AV150 camera (and tripod).  I had created a Instagram, Foursquare, and upgraded his Flickr to a pro account on Sunday.  We made sure we had batteries, SD (and Micro SD) cards all ready to go.  Now we have to download some apps which will mean some quality time on Google Play today.  I gave him a 1932 Chevrolet Truck scale model to build, Oliver gave him some adventure and Star Wars blueprint books (and some Daytona 500 cologne).  He also got a graphic novel story of Canadians in WWII as well as a book on how to create his own graphic novel

In his stocking he found a new watch, a big bottle of the worst cologne known to man, Brut 33 (Wendy wept tears of pain when I showed her the bottle)  Mark also got some high quality headphones; both on the ear and in ear ones.  The less I have to listen to 90s rock, the better. 

Lee and Brittany gave him a Denver Broncos jersey with his name and number on it.  Thank goodness Tim Tebow was traded before the season started.  He was pretty excited with that.  Almost as excited as Tim Tebow gets about everything.

He also got a Starbucks travel mug and gift card from myself.  It’s a bit self-serving as he wanders down to The Lighthouse and takes me out for coffee.  To keep all of his special memories safe, we gave him a small chest to keep some of life’s momentos.

Oliver

All Oliver wanted was a pogo stick and I found him one from Santa on Amazon.com.  I gave him a toy F-22 Raptor jet.  I would have gotten his a F-35 toy but the price kept increasing until Stephen Harper told me not to get it for him.  Mark gave him a rescue play set, a puzzle from the dogs, an Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsaber, and an Optimus Prime Transformer that talks.  He is getting into hockey to I got him some mini hockey sticks and nets.

Lee and Brittany gave him a tricked out big wheel for Christmas.  I immediately thought of this.

Stewie Griffin's tricked out

What’s scary is that I think Oliver would think that was a good idea.

His favourite gift by far was a Power Ranger that transforms into something else.  He was quite jacked about it.  

Wendy

With the new iPod I gave Wendy for her birthday, I gave her a set of iHome speakers and some perfume.  We got her an electric griddle and skillet (she asked for them), a new popcorn maker (which she was really excited about).  Mark gave her a pink Zepco fishing rod which she was horrified of.  Lucky for Wendy, the fishing is horrible in our part of Last Mountain Lake.  We also got her some high quality over the ear and in-ear headphones.  If nothing else she will be able to tune us out for Christmas.  The dogs gave her some new knives and a kitchen scale.  Not sure where they got the money to get those.

Lee and Brittany gave her a gift card for Dutch Growers which made her day.  She’s out right now waiting for spring to hit.

Lee

I bought Lee a Leatherman Skeletool multitool and case.  Mark got him Red Dead Redemption for the PS3, while Oliver got him a George Reed collector’s edition figurine.  Lee and Mark got into an argument a couple of weeks ago where Mark called his uncle, “Uncle Glitter” which has kind of stuck.  Mark got him some glitter stickers for his new iPhone 5.    “Uncle Glitter” didn’t seem to appreciate his nephew’s gift that much.  

He tried to pull his knife on the Skeletool on Mark for bugging him but he couldn’t get it open.  Once he got it open, he cut himself.  

Wendy put together a great beer can chicken gift set of a roasting pan, rubs from Cabela’s, and a grilling recipe book.  I expect some good beer can chicken this summer.

Because Lee was so insistent on lasagna for supper, we gave him a MRE lasagna and a spork as well.  He can now have lasagna while camping.  I think that was his favourite gift.

Brittany

Brittany was given a nice fountain pen, two journals (one lined and one unlined), and an Indigo gift card.  Because both Lee and Brittany are getting new iPhones, we tossed in some iTunes cards as well.  Holding her Indigo gift card was Cooper the Bear which apparently has been a Sears mascot for years (a fact that I did not know).  It just seemed to work well for us.  Brittany is an english teacher and I just think an English teacher with a fountain pen is more intimidating.  It was either that or do what the NRA is suggesting and that is to give her a firearm.

Wendy gave Brittany a soapstone statue of a couple from Ten Thousand Villages which I really liked.  As much fun as it is to bug Lee, him and Brittany are a wonderful couple.

My Haul

I wasn’t expecting too much but Wendy and the boys did a lot of planning and looking for good deals.  Wendy gave me a trail GPS and a George Reed limited edition action figure, Oliver gave me a Toronto Blue Jays hat, Mark gave me Assasin’s Creed II and Red Dead Redemption.  I also got a Leatherman Skeletool.  To balance out my Tim Tebow action figure from last year, Wendy gave me a Peyton Manning action figure.  Lee and Brittany gave me a remote control helicopter.  It flies and crashes quite well around the house.    Also because I don’t smell enough like David Beckham, I was given some of his cologne.  Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.  To replace my old barbecue tools (that are showing some age), Wendy also got me a simple set of three barbecue tools which is all we really use.

The advantage to only periodically playing PS3 games is that I never own the new ones which means that Wendy can find me games for $10-$15 at Wal-Mart and it doesn’t matter since I haven’t played them.  

Perhaps the purchase the surprised me the most is that the boys gave me Neptune’s Inferno which is a book about the naval battles at Guadalcanal

I really had no more success than Lee in using my Leatherman today although no blood was spilled.

The photos can all be found here.

Today is being spent around the house setting up things, doing some reading, and then having a more traditional Christmas dinner.  I had hoped to get get down to work but for the second day in a row, someone has swiped our power cords to the car which is frozen solid in this cold.  We had planned to take a long walk downtown today with Mark’s new camera but as the song says, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.  Hopefully your Christmas is a good one and you are enjoying the time with family and friends as well.

Swimming with some wild dolphins

Albacore fishing off the Santa Cruz coast, when a pod of dolphins showed up. via

Sea Bites

The politics of the fisheries

A great column about how politics and not science dictates fishery policies

As cod collapsed we discovered crab, a valuable and harvester-friendly resource that should have sustained us for decades. Now, we are in danger of having fished that out as well. It’s in decline.

People say the state of the crab biomass in the rich area known as 3K was badly managed by Ottawa because of government response to industry pressure. Smaller cuts that should have been made all along were resisted and delayed.

Now the mistakes have caught up with the industry and harvesters and processors are sweating out this year’s 25 per cent reduction.

And it’s not just the feds who bob and weave when it comes to tough fisheries decisions. Former fisheries union president Richard Cashin did a study for the Newfoundland government in 2005 on a controversial proposal called Raw Material Sharing, a.k.a. the infamous RMS.

In his report, Cashin took a whack at former provincial fisheries Minister John Efford. Efford, he said, violated the policy of processing licence freezes ("a complete disregard for … and abdication of responsible public policy," Cashin called it), and doled out crab licenses like there was no tomorrow. More than 20 new crab processing licences in a five-year period!

Again, it was just politics.

But the price that we paid is that we are now left with enough crab plants to process the entire world’s supply. Processors scramble to keep plants running for a few weeks, plant workers scramble to get enough hours to qualify for EI.

How do you fix it?

The most pervasive argument asserts the fishery needs to be stripped of politics. In the U.S., the fishery is governed by a piece of federal law called the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It’s a non-political body that sets benchmarks and guidelines and goals for fisheries management and sticks to them. There is little or no political interference.

In Canada, the argument is that we also need something similar: a new Fisheries Act. An act that takes the federal minister completely out of the picture and allows the fishery to operate and flourish at arm’s length.

Maybe the province also needs to take the politics out and remove the provincial minister from decision-making.

Perhaps then people can address the problems, make the tough decisions and save what’s left of an industry that has been studied and politicized to near-extinction. Our outports, our young.

And, oh yes, the cod would all be better off.

The Catch

Chilean Sea Bass or as it is known in Canada as Jared Siebert I was looking on The Cooking Blog for something to make for supper tonight and I found a link to The Catch that Wendy posted a couple of years ago from the New York Times.  It’s a bit of a long read but later in the article it gets into how ruthlessly we are overfishing the oceans.

But seen against the background of historical overfishing, there is plenty of room for skepticism. The examples of fish populations being sustainably managed or restored are extremely rare. The New Zealand hoki fishery, another deep-water population certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, declined significantly last year, and the North Atlantic cod stocks are not recovering. And as some fisheries experts have pointed out, the goal of managing to achieve 40 percent of a fish population’s historical biomass is based in part on speculation. In most fisheries, stocks have been subject to substantial fishing pressure before scientists get to study them. The estimation of "historical biomass" is therefore something of an educated guess.

All of this causes scientists like Daniel Pauly of the U.B.C. Fisheries Center to take a dismal view of the future. "I have no reason for optimism," he told me after I described South Georgia’s progress with its toothfish. Over the years, Pauly has observed a kind of survival-of-the-fittest situation that allows overfishing to continue even after a hundred Elqui’s are caught. "What stays in are the very efficient operators," he said. "They are very efficient either at fishing or very efficient at eluding the law or very efficient at getting subsidies or all three.. . .The overall fishing pressure continues to increase even though the number of boats might decrease." Pauly’s theory is borne out in the difficulty prosecutors have in holding pirates accountable. The South Georgian authorities did eventually decide to dynamite the Elqui, sending her to the bottom of the ocean, never to poach again. But the owners of the ship were never found. The Elqui’s $400,000 fine remains unpaid. Spanish conglomerates, some of which may serve as backdoor financiers of pirate ventures, continue to receive hefty fisheries subsidies from the European Union. And elsewhere, more and more untraceable vessels appear to be roaming the high seas. A report prepared for the World Wildlife Fund last year noted that the number of large-scale fishing vessels on the Lloyd’s Register of Shipping whose flag is listed as "unknown" has grown by approximately 46 percent since 1999.

As for the toothfish, Dr. Pauly sees a fate for it similar to nearly every large marine predator that has come up against mankind. The toothfish "will have spent a few years in the sun of the Marine Stewardship Council, and then it will go back to obscurity as a collapsed stock, and then we’ll find something else." The only chance Pauly sees for the survival of fish stocks is to go beyond the framework of "sustainable management" and adopt a kind of crop-rotation system, where portions of the ocean would be allowed to lie fallow for long periods of time without any fishing at all.

If things continue as they are, Pauly foresees a future in which humans will gradually eat their way down the food chain or "trophic levels" of the ocean, taking out the higher predators like toothfish, white sea bass, halibut, cod and striped bass first, then moving on to smaller midlevel predators and eventually down to invertebrates like jellyfish and plankton. By some arguments this is already happening on the collapsed grounds of the Grand Banks. Whereas the Banks once supported the largest cod fishery in the world, it is now producing record numbers of snow crabs and other bottom-scavenging invertebrates.

Now the fish we eat is increasingly aquacultured

ldom will you see Chilean sea bass claiming the most elaborate sauce on the carte du jour. That spot is now reserved for the new fish of the moment – branzino, orata, tilapia. But there is a critical difference between these fish and the toothfish that your waiter will not likely reveal. All of them are grown on fish farms. Seafood importers I spoke with say that an ever-increasing percentage of the fish they deal in are aquacultured. As we reach the end of the big natural predators, farmed fish will replace wild, just as beef cattle replaced buffalo.

So after we are finished over fishing yet other species of fish, what do we move onto next?  For me the solution seems impossible to deal with as long as restrictions designed to stop fishing are just going to inflate the prices.  It’s like elephant poaching, as long as there is a market, there will poachers. 

Contextless Thoughts

  • I wanted to go to the cabin this weekend but considering the high was still going to be below freezing, I decided to stay at home and make some plans for 2009.  Here is my 2009 to-do list for the cabin.  The big debate Wendy and I are having is whether to go with wallboard or drywall inside the cabin.  The bigger focus will be creating two decks for the back and the front of the cabin.

Oliver chilling out at night with a sleeping cap on.

  • I snapped this photo of Ollie the other night.  Despite his peaceful expression on his face, he hates the sleeping cap with a passion.
  • After years of reading Alan Creech‘s fishing stories, I finally bought Mark a fishing rod.  Next spring we plan to empty Last Mountain Lake completely.  Of course we do have some competition from the bird sanctuary that is near the cabin and we have to try to convince Wendy that cleaning fish is fun.
  • I signed Wendy and I up to take the coffee house at the Community Centre every second Sunday night.  I am paying Mark to help clean up the mess (he is saving for a Nintendo DS or a PSP) afterwards.  Wendy fielded several marriage proposals and requests for dates.  We had over 100 people there for coffee house which consists of coffee, juice, soup, sandwiches, and a dessert.  In addition to people coming for coffee, we had a couple people there that were thwarted from making a drug deal (what happened to dealing drugs on street corners?).
  • Christmas shopping is almost done.  The hardest one to shop for is Ollie as he has all of Mark’s baby toys plus a bunch of new gifts from friends. 
  • I am shopping for a new desktop computer.  My trusty desktop has been a 900 mhz AMD Duron for years.  2 gigs of Ram and a big hard drive can only take you so far.  I was going to give it to Mark but Computers 4 Kids has 1.4 ghz machines that come with everything for under $50.  Mark won’t be going online without permission but I am wondering what software is essential for a kid in Grade 3.  Suggestions?   Leave them in the comments.
  • The lack of posting around here is from me being exhausted at nights.  Work has been really tough and when I come home, I have been heading to bed around 8 p.m. a lot of nights.  I have the next two days off which may be the longest stretch of days off I have had in a year.  So far, so good.
  • Wendy posted this cabin the other day on the cabin blog.  When we were first married, we wanted to build something like this, although this is nicer than we envisioned.  We were watching a show about cabin’s one time and this couple had one like this and a smaller one for their two kids.  They were far enough from each other that they had privacy yet they cooked, ate, and drank coffee together as a family.  Perfect for a family of introverts.

A Run on the Banks: How "Factory Fishing" Decimated Newfoundland Cod

From E-Magazine

A century after Cabot, English fishing skippers still reported cod shoals “so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them.” There were six- and seven-foot-long codfish weighing as much as 200 pounds. There were great banks of oysters as large as shoes. At low tide, children were sent to the shore to collect 10-, 15-, even 20-pound lobsters with hand rakes for use as bait or pig feed. Eight- to 12-foot sturgeon choked New England rivers, and salmon packed streams from the Hudson River to Hudson’s Bay. Herring, squid and capelin (a small open-water fish seven inches long) spawning runs were so gigantic they astonished observers for more than four centuries. Today, Newfoundland’s fish are gone and the seas, streams and rivers lie quiet and empty.

It goes on to say this

In 1951, a strange ship flying the British flag arrived on the Grand Banks. It was enormous: 280 feet long and 2,600 gross tons, four times the size of a large side trawler. It’s superstructure, tall funnels and numerous portholes, suggested an ocean-going passenger liner, but its aft deck confirmed it to be a fishing vessel. Gantry masts supported cables, winches, and gear the scale of which nobody had seen before. Its stern was marred by a gigantic chute, a ramp from sea to deck such as whaling ships use to drag aboard the 190-ton carcasses of blue whales. But the ramp was meant not for whales but for equally large nets filled with cod and whatever else happened to be in the water.

The Fairtry’s arrival marked the beginning of the end for the Atlantic cod fishery, indeed for many of the world’s fisheries. She was the world’s first factory-freezer trawler, a multi-million-dollar vessel equipped with all the technological breakthroughs of the war. Below deck was an on-board processing plant with automated filleting machines, a fish meal rendering factory and an enormous bank of freezers. She could fish around the clock, seven days a week, for weeks on end, hauling up nets during fierce winter gales that could easily swallow the Statue of Liberty. With radar, sonar, fish-finders and echograms she could pinpoint and capture whole schools of fish with chilling effectiveness.

The ships grew bigger. They eventually reached 8,000 tons, towing nets with openings 3,500-feet in circumference. In an hour they can haul up as much as 200 tons of fish, twice as much as a typical 16th century ship would have caught in an entire season. Re-crewed and supplied by ocean-going tenders, the ships could pursue fish anywhere in the world for months on end without ever visiting a port or even sighting land. Plying international waters, they were outside the jurisdiction of the nations off which they fished. By the 1970s the Soviet Union had 400 factory trawlers on the high seas. Japan had 125, Spain, 75, West Germany, 50, France and Britain, 40, and dozens more were operated by East Bloc nations. They plied the Georges Banks of New England, the hake stocks of South Africa, Alaskan and Baring Sea Pollock, Antarctic krill and, most of all, the northern cod off Newfoundland and Labrador. They were strip-mining the sea.

The catch peaked in 1968 and has been dropping ever since.

In 1977 Canada followed Iceland in unilaterally extending its territorial waters from 12 to 200 miles offshore. Foreign factory trawlers were kicked off the Banks except for a small portion called “the Tail” that lies beyond 200 miles. But by this time the groundfish stocks were so depleted that many factory trawlers had already moved on to strip-mine elsewhere. Still, the decision was greeted with euphoria in Atlantic Canada. Finally the Banks would be used for the benefit of Canadians. But in a remarkable display of shortsightedness, Canada proceeded to build a deep-sea trawler fleet of its own. Foreign fishing had shattered the ecology of the Northwest Atlantic fisheries. The Canadian government proceeded to finish off the survivors.

The expansion of the domestic industry created an economic imperative that more fish be caught. “Under-utilized” fish stocks had to be captured to keep processing plants busy. So while the new fleet was under construction, joint ventures were set up with foreign factory trawlers to capture fish on the banks; the trawlers would land part of their catch at Newfoundland fish plants and keep the rest to land at home. The collapse of the Banks was right around the corner.

Then it hit

The shock came in 1988. New modeling techniques and the latest stock survey revealed that many groundfish stocks were on the edge of collapse. The northern cod stock–by far the largest and most important–was in the worst shape of all. Fisheries scientists concluded that quotas had to be more than halved in order to prevent this stock’s collapse. Politicians were appalled; the proposed quotas would have caused economic chaos throughout Eastern Canada. So the politicians compromised what could not be compromised. Quotas were cut by only 10 percent.

More frightening data poured in confirming the stock was in serious trouble, that fishermen had been capturing as much as 60 percent of the adult cod every year for several years running. Plants closed and 2,000 people were out of work. Canada released $584 million in emergency assistance. Fishermen tried as hard as they could, but could only catch 122,000 of the 190,000-ton cod quota for 1991. The stock was in free fall.

When the 1992 fish surveys were released, politicians finally realized that regardless of what quotas they set, nature had spoken: there would be no fish to feed the plants and working families of Atlantic Canada. The estimated combined weight of the adult cod population was a mere 1.1 percent of its historic levels of the early 1960s. In 1992 the government finally closed the Banks altogether to allow the stock to recover. But by then it was far too late.

Too Little, Too Late

Even if left alone, the northern cod may never recover. Industrial technology and human greed may have so decimated these hardy fish that they can no longer hold onto their ecological niche. The crash could be irreversible.

It appears the damage has been done…

There is growing evidence that the trawlers may not only have scooped up all the fish but also laid to waste the entire seafloor environment those fish required to survive. In the late 1990s marine scientists began assembling evidence that modern fishing gear causes massive physical and ecological disturbances. The continental shelf–where most ecological and, thus, fishing activity takes place–is not a featureless plain of mud. Rocky outcroppings, boulders, cobbles and pebbles provide “structure” on and around which living communities can thrive. Here, juvenile cod and other fish can hide from predators and find small crustaceans, crabs and other creatures to eat.

Modern bottom trawls destroy these structures like gigantic plows. Dragging the bottom for cod or flounder, nets are spread open by a pair of metal “doors” or “boards” weighing tens to thousands of pounds. The bottom of the trawl mouth is a thick cable bearing the weight of 50- to 700-pound steel weights that keep the trawl on the seabed. Many drag tickler chains to scare shrimp or fish off the bottom and into the net. Scallop, oyster and crab dredges consist of steel frames and chain-mesh bags that plow through the seabed to sift out target species. With each pass, trawls and dredges overturn, scrape or sweep away boulders and cobbles, crush or ensnare bottom plants and structure-building animals, and kill or disrupt worms and other animals in the sediment. Most species take months or years to reestablish themselves, some take decades or centuries. None are given that much time.

I posted this with Fusion Publisher and meant to post it back here before I quit blogging. Believe it or not, this article was a major reason why I am stopping posting here for a while. Thomas Homer-Dixon talks about this in the Ingenuity Gap but looks at it from far more angles than just fishing. It gets sadder and more scary.