Environment Page

When I was younger, there was talk about how the food of humanity is in the future going to come from that vast untapped resource, the oceans. At the very time people believed that, the worlds oceans were beginning to run out of fish in viable quantities. You cannot simply commercialise a natural system, and think that interfering with it is not going to have a detrimental effect on it.

The same errant mythology now turns to aquaculture, as with open fishing another attempt at a magical fix that will let us continue our current lifestyle. Many times the amount of fish it produces is harvested from the ocean to feed it. The pollution and conditions of the animals living in these conditions is atrocious. Ethically factory farmed fish are a step backwards for humanity, when we can see the suffering our current system of factory farming inflicts on other animals. Yet this is the brave new world that they envisage.

The following paragraphs taken from the International Politics of Whaling by Peter J Stoett are a good indication of the current state of global fishing :

"...More generally, overfishing has become an epidemic in this century. There are as many as fifteen major marine fishing regions on earth, most of them coastal areas in the Pacific and Atlantic, with others in the Mediterranean and Black seas and the Indian Ocean. In all but two regions, the catch has fallen from past peak years. In four regions the catch has fallen by more than 30 percent. This decrease is not from lack of trying, as more fishing vessels operate today than at any other time in history: between 1970 and 1990, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization recorded a doubling in the world's fishing fleet, from 585,000 to 1.2 million large boats, and from 13.5 million to 25.5 gross registered tonnes. This capacity far exceeds the available catch. Peter Webber, a fisheries expert with the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, believes this mismatch is because fishers are too good: modern technology makes mass fishing too easy, and, what's worse, 'counterproductive government policies...have led to more people and boats into the business even after the point of no return.'"

"It is well known that fishers waste vast quantities of their catch, with strict quotas in fact encouraging this loss since all non-targeted species are often thrown back, dead into the water. For example, for every tonne of wild shrimp trawled, an estimated four tonnes of fish are discarded. This kind of mariculture has resulted in the loss of 25 percent of the world's mangrove forests, which grow in the shore-mud. Trawlers routinely disturb seabeds by dragging nylon nets weighed down with chains, and driftnet fishing drowns dolphins and whales as well as takes everything else in its path. There is also a disturbing trend towards fishing the deep seas, which has already decimated fish stocks such as the orange roughy, and is now harming more exotic fish such as smooth oreos. In the Pacific, the sablefish (or blackcod), which reproduce very slowly and can live up to seventy years, are fished at depths of up to a mile. The long term effects of this trend remain to be seen, but disturbing the deep-sea ecosystem will have an impact on the squid and many species of whale (most notably the deepest diver of all, the sperm). The effect of countless 'ghostnets' - which have escaped their moorings and continue to 'fish' nonetheless - is unknown."

Killing more of the oceans fish is not the answer to human nutrition requirements. I am yet to see a reputable study that suggested that continued indulgence in animal products was a sustainable way for our culture to eat. Certainly just plundering the oceans and expecting them to keep providing is ridiculous.

Like the land we have to take care of the oceans environment as well. Currently going into the sea are thousands of large chemical and oil spills every year, runoff of pesticides and nutrients from farmland, as well as some of the most toxic chemicals ever known just being directly poured in. The USSR dumped nuclear waste in barrels into the North Sea for decades, against all international treaties, and it still lies there today as an ecological timebomb. Mercury levels in fish from human waste are still a concern which has direct results for human health. Fish and sea birds are being born with all sorts of previously unknown genetic deformities due to the huge levels of dioxins and hormones our chemical production and disposal creates.

"At least 150,000 anthropogenic or human made chemicals at a total that increases by 2,000 each year end up in the oceans" - Kevin Brown, Durham University, England

The way we treat the ocean just shows no respect for the delicate natural environment it is. Cruise liners which have thousands of staff and customers on them at any one time have been banned from some ports because of the atrocious pollution they create, so they just sail on to others hungrier for the dollar. Parasites and invasive species are spread by the bilge water from ships, putting even more pressure on local populations. Mangroves are cut down so not only do tsunamis kill more people, but some of the most productive marine eco systems in the world are extinguished, for oyster farms and other environmental disasters. Recreational boats run over dugongs and dolphins, are covered in toxic chemicals to keep barnacles off, and cause pollution, all so that wealthier sections of society can satisfy their social needs.

Even what is apparently the most popular sport in Australia, fishing itself is strange and barbaric. Ripping creatures with a nervous systems of similar sensitivity to our own, out of their natural environment by a barbed hook through the roof of their mouth. To then stand next to it holding it up and smiling for a photo is ghoulish in the extreme. Why it doesn't hold the same distaste as hunting lies perhaps in the fact that the fish looks less like us and we therefore give its suffering less consideration.

As for the rivers of the world, the United Nations says there are only two healthy major river systems in the world, the Amazon and the Congo which have not yet been conquered completely by people. A huge percentage of the lakes in America are so toxic that swimming and fishing in them is not recommended, and this is a pattern repeated throughout the world. Siphoned off for farming, dammed, used to get rid of waste, full of sediment and runoff from poor farming practises, and many freshwater fish species of the world have just ceased to be. Pollution from burning fossil fuels ends up in the sky and then comes down as acid rain, which has made many smalls lakes uninhabitable for many species.

We need to reduce our consumption of fish, at least until it can be done sustainably. Greenpeace and other organisation have bought out (so called) ethical fish eating guides, and a web search should find you one easily enough. We also need to look after the water of our world, it's rivers, seas, lakes, oceans, glaciers and clouds. It is one of our most precious resources, and it is the world for many of our most incredible and intelligent creatures.

By Cameron Green

Cameron Green
Last Updated - Fri, 30 Jan 2015 07:04:32 -0600