Tag Archives: South America

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.