Friday, October 2, 2009

Aquacalypse Now

Here's hoping Daniel Pauly's excellent article "Aquacalypse Now" in The New Republic this week gets a lot of attention. It focuses on what Dr. Pauly calls the "fishing-industrial complex" of lobbyists, commercial fishing interests, and willing government officials who have contributed to declines in fish stocks worldwide. The influence of these fishing interests is often far out of proportion to their economic influence, yet they get huge subsidies. Even if you don't care about fish populations, and don't believe that they are in trouble, you might be annoyed to learn that your tax dollars are subsidizing large corporations. As with agricultural subsidies, fisheries subsidies not only prop up otherwise unprofitable businesses, they lead to unwise resource use.

Meanwhile, small scale fishermen in developing countries, who typically lack the ability to cause the kind of depletions larger commercial operation do, have seen their catches decline, Pauly reports. These are people who don't eat fish because they want to keep their skin wrinkle-free, but rather people who vitally need the protein fish can provide. It's morally wrong for big fishing nations to keep subsidizing big fleets that are probably quite literally snatching their catches from low-income people who don't have other options - for food or for work.

Pauly makes the excellent point that we just can't keep treating the oceans as a global commons. As every environmentalist knows, this inevitably leads to tragedy as fishermen maximize short-term gains without really being worried about the long term - they'll just move on to a species that isn't as heavily fished. But what happens when we run out of new stocks to exploit? Disaster. Which is why I agree with Pauly that it's primarily the job of government to rethink fisheries management. I personally try to avoid certain seafood, but it's unlikely that enough people will ever have the knowledge to really make a dent in the seafood market. But governments do have the ability to put a stop to some of the ridiculousness. Will the public listen, though, or be taken in by fishing lobby arguments that overreaching environmentalists are harming everyday folks?

You know the situation's dire when Jon Stewart has to explain to Sean Hannity why even a small fish is important, and thus how food chains work, on The Daily Show:

1 comment:

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