No fish, no rain, no bees

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, August/September 1996:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Reform of the Magnuson Act, governing U.S. fisheries
management, is stalled in the Senate after passage by the House due to conflict between
Republicans Slade Gorton of Washington and Ted Stevens of Alaska over whether fishing
quotas should be bought and sold like private property. Stevens and the House majority
oppose individual transferable quotas. Gorton favors them.
While the Senators dispute over whether what’s good for the fishing industry in
their own states will be good for the nation, fish are in desperate trouble the world over
––and so are the other animals and people who depend upon them for food.
Even scarier, the fish crisis looms as just one of a triad of disasters bringing global
famine closer than at any time since the Dust Bowl ravaged the midwest 60-odd years ago
while millions starved during Soviet forced collectivization.

Potentially deadly scarcity results not so much from human overpopulation as from
neglect of warnings that the earth is warming, the ozone layer is thinning, and aquifers are
depleted. Humans could still grow enough food––in theory––to feed 10 times the present
numbers, but at the current rate of resource use can no longer feed even present numbers the
familiar flesh-centered diet.
The U.S. World Agricultural Outlook
Board warned in June that global grain
stocks are at their lowest ebb in recorded history.
Drought and possible effects of increasing
ultraviolet radiation due to ozone layer
damage have crippled soybean production in
the U.S. and Brazil; Oklahoma has its worst
wheat crop since 1971; the Ukraine has its
worst wheat crop since 1979; and droughts
broken by flash flood cause crop failures in
much of China, where quadrupling meat consumption
over the past 18 years translates
into diverting the equivalent of the entire
Illinois soy crop every time residents eat one
more chicken per capita.
Drought also afflicts other major
food-producing nations from India to Mexico,
which until now have mostly kept production
ahead of population growth.
Belatedly aware of the possible consequences
of growing meat consumption
combined with drought, government officials
and business executives from Bangladesh,
Bolivia, and Malawi are spending the summer
attending the International Soybean
Program and the University of Illinois in
Urbana-Champaign, learning production
techniques to encourage farmers to raise soybeans
instead of livestock, and consumers to
eat homemade soy products instead of meat.
“There are so many starving and
malnourished children in my country,”
Malawian food and nutrition officer
Kupingani Kumwenda told Ronald Yates of
the Chicago Tribune. “Unfortunately the
soybean has never been considered a food for
human consumption in Malawi. In most of
Malawi’s villages, the main source of protein
is still animals. But we don’t have enough
animals to go around. Meat is a very expensive
source of protein in Malawi. Most people
can’t afford to buy it. Eating soybeans or
soy products is one answer.”
Despite the World Agricultural
Outlook Board warning that even soybeans
may be in short supply, and the certainty that
they will be if livestock consumption exceeds
the harvest due to drought, President Bill
Clinton on July 1 authorized the sale of 16
million bushels of grain to aid livestock
growers––more than a third of the 45-million-bushel
Feed Grain Disaster Reserve.
The agricultural good news, of
sorts, is that soaring feed prices, in the U.S.
and abroad, have caused many farmers to
rush animals to slaughter, even at half last
year’s prices. Increased slaughter has eased
grain demand somewhat, and brought a glut
of cheap meat to U.S. supermarkets. The
grain savings could provide the margin necessary
to weather the global scarcity, if
Americans don’t demand as much meat again
next year––but now a less anticipated crisis,
pollination failure, threatens North American
fruit and vegetables, about 60% of which are
normally pollinated by bees.
Suddenly there are no bees across
broad swaths of the continent.
Agricultural ecologist Gary Paul
Nabhan of the Arizona-Sonora Desert
Museum and entomologist Stephen
Buchmann, of the Carl Hayden Bee
Research Center in Tucson, sounded the
alarm in their book The Forgotten
P o l l i n a t o r s, just published by Shearwater
Books/Island Press. Heather Dewar of
Knight-Rider Newspapers summarized their
findings in an April 21 syndicated expose.
“In some wild areas,” she wrote,
“three out of four hives have recently died.”
As summer fruit crop failures show,
her sources underestimated the damage.
“Feral honeybees used to be common
as dirt. We took them for granted,”
James Tew of the Ohio State University
Honey Bee Laboratory told Michael
Sangiacomo of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in
early June. “Now they are virtually gone.
We believe that 95% of the country’s feral
population has been wiped out,” along with
“more than half of the kept bees,” who “died
over the winter because of the mites and the
cold. We have been watching the mites for
several years,” Tew said, “but we never
expected things to get this bad, this fast.”
But ANIMAL PEOPLE e d i t o r
Merritt Clifton and Canadian correspondent
P.J. Kemp foretold the situation down to the
details in “Beeline to extinction,” an expose
published in the September 1979 edition of
The Townships Sun, a now-defunct Quebec
newspaper. It cited the combination of collateral
damage done by careless pesticide use,
the arrival of bee mites from abroad, and the
success of government efforts then underway
in both the U.S. and Canada to exterminate
wild honeybees as an alleged disease reservoir
afflicting commercial hives.
“Of course I feel clever for having
been 17 years ahead of my time,” Kemp
says, “but what did it accomplish?”
Grain crops can come back in a
year, with rain. Insects breed so fast that
while the wild bee population might take 50
years to recover unaided, it is theoretically
possible for assisted reintroduction to bring
bee numbers back within one year––if
agribusiness makes a determined effort.
Restoring oceanic productivity is a
more complex matter. Human demand for
seafood now claims more biomass each year
than the sea can replace. The effect is multiplied
because most fish eaten by humans are
near the top of the aquatic food web, using
the energy of many other creatures to grow to
an edible size. Daniel Pauly of the
University of British Columbia and Willy
Christiansen of the Manila-based International
Center for Living Aquatic Resources
in early 1995 estimated that although humans
indirectly consume only about 8% of the
ocean’s algae overall, humans take a third of
the algae from the continental shelves.
Shoes & horses
The plights of horseshoe crabs and
sea horses tell the story. Descended from
trilobites, horseshoe crabs have thrived for
450 million years; their first known ancestors
came as long before the dinosaurs as the
dinosaurs preceded us. They are now declining,
however, probably due to excessive
capture, in much of their mid-Atlantic range.
Sea horses, meanwhile, among the most
widely distributed creatures in the ocean, are
vanishing from many habitats. Asian medicine
dealers pay up to $1,000 a pound for
dried sea horses. China consumes six million
sea horses per year; Hong Kong, Taiwan,
and Singapore consume three million apiece.
Another million sea horses a year are sold
alive to aquarium hobbyists–– but they rarely
live long or breed in captivity.
“The volume of sea horses traded
appears sufficient to threaten wild populations,”
Oxford University zoologist Amanda
Vincent warned in a recent study for TRAFFIC,
a division of the World Wildlife Fund.
Believing the future of sea horses
will be determined by captive breeding,
Vincent and colleagues at the London Zoo
are trying to coax them to reproduce in tanks.
Studying wild sea horse reproduction
off southeastern Australia, Vincent and
Laila Salder of the University of Melbourne
found clues to persistent failure just last winter.
As London Times science editor Nigel
Hawkes reported, “Sea horses form pairs that
apparently last until death. Each morning
they greet each other, circling in a stately
dance while changing color. On the death of
a partner, the newly single sea horse pairs up
with the nearest unpaired creature: displays
made to paired sea horses are rejected.”
Sea horses’ exceptional fidelity,
almost unheard of among fish, may be
because sea horse males rather than females
bear the fertilized eggs until the young hatch.
Some little understood aspect of
behavior inhibits reproduction of almost
every oceanic species humans have tried to
breed. Even species whose offspring can be
hatched by the million, like salmon, tend to
fare poorly upon release. In the mid-1980s,
multi-million-dollar hatcheries built in the
Pacific Northwest by firms including British
Petroleum and Weyerhauser turned out generations
of salmon, expecting rich returns
when the salmon swam back to spawn. But
the hatchery-bred fish mostly didn’t survive.
A handful, however, did hybridize with wild
stocks, possibly to the detriment of the wild
fish, then thriving, now in marked decline.
“We are finally beginning to recognize,”
said Michael Sutton, director of the
WWF Endangered Seas campaign, at a May
press conference, “that some fishes are as
threatened as rhinos, tigers, and elephants.”
Of the 152 fish species whose status 32 scientists
reviewed for WWF, 131 were found to
be threatened and 15 imminently endangered.
Of the world’s 27 sturgeon species,
26 were threatened or endangered, primarily
by caviar poachers. American University of
Natural History geneticists Rob De Salle and
Vadim Birnstein have reportedly found a way
to use genetic markers to trace caviar to specific
stocks––and thereby nab poachers.
However, sturgeon are most at risk from
poaching in Russia, where the will and ability
to use such technology is weak.
Another notable scarce species is
the giant Mekong catfish, the world’s largest
freshwater fish without scales. Weighing up
to 660 pounds and selling for $20 a pound
along the Thai/Laotian border, the habits and
migrations of the catfish are so little known
that even recommending a conservation plan
is difficult. Dams are believed to be interfering
with catfish reproduction, with 11 more
large river dams and 150 tributary dams
already planned in the area.
Excuses for the decline of fisheries
are as abundant as the species of marine life
that are becoming scarce.
“The eels never came,” lamented
Paul Dragon, of Ellsworth, Maine, who
earned less than minimum wage eeling this
year, just a year after eelers exploited an
unusual abundance of baby eels possibly
caused by the loss of some other predator.
Explained Jerry Jackson, co-owner
of North Atlantic Products in Jackson,
Maine, “We feel that due to weather conditions,
they didn’t run normally.”
The Maine Marine Patrol meanwhile
arrested as many as 70 eelers a night
for violating regulations imposed in 1994 to
keep an estimated 2,200 licensed eelers and
an unknown number of outright poachers
from wiping out the stock in pursuit of prices
for baby eels reaching $340 a pound.
The Maine eeling story mirrors that
of lobsters. Maine hauls in 60% of the U.S.
lobster catch: a record 39 million pounds in
1994, and 37 million pounds last year, each
nearly twice the average catches of the 1980s.
But the big catches result from more people
lobstering, not more lobsters. Former
groundfishers are lobstering due to the collapse
of cod and haddock. Despite the
Maine tradition of
releasing females,
experts believe
unsustainable numbers
of lobsters
have been caught
for 10 to 15 years.
The National
Marine Fisheries
Service is now
counting lobsters
for the first time
since 1993, and is
believed likely to
limit the take.
New Jersey
crabbers blame a
cold winter and wet
spring for a lack of blue crabs.
“When it’s that cold, the mud on
the bottom can actually freeze,” Ramapo
College marine biologist Angela Christini
told Kirk Moore of the Asbury Park Press. “I
suspect a lot of the big jimmies and older
females just didn’t make it.”
Meanwhile, heavy snowmelt lowered
the coastal salinity, harming the survival
rate of hatchlings. “There are still a lot
of crabs out there,” Christini guessed. “They
may be back later this summer.”
But the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
predicted the crash last fall, noting that
the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife
had recorded lower crab catches each year
since 1989, with a 75% drop in 1995––contrasting
with New Jersey counts, which indicated
all was normal.
This is a pattern. New Jersey also
says Atlantic sturgeon are thriving in the
Hudson River. From 1987 to 1990, the New
Jersey sturgeon catch rose from under 20,000
pounds, cleaned weight, to over 220,000
pounds; then fell to barely 30,000 pounds.
New York, controlling most of the Hudson,
in 1995 followed a federal recommendation
and banned sturgeon fishing. The ban is
expected to last 15 years. New Jersey,
ignoring the feds, has done nothing.
“Farmers are as dumb as you can
get,” crabber Harry Smith told Sandy Bauers
of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “and I can say
that because I am one, but at least they let
their cows and pigs have their young before
they kill them.”
The scarcity of blue crabs on the
Atlantic coast has raised crabbing pressure in
the Gulf of Mexico. Not all is well there,
either. Drought to the north has cut the flow
of the Trinity River, raising the salinity of
Galveston Bay and warming the water, creating
ideal conditions for both an oyster predator
called the southern ocean drill and a protozoan
parasite known to oyster fishers as
“dermo.” The Galveston Bay oyster catch is
thus expected to be less than 20% of the 4.2
million pounds collected in 1994. County
crews meanwhile shovel up successive dieoffs
of Portuguese man-o’-war, jellyfish,
hardhead, and gafftop sail catfish, also
apparent drought casualties. Hardheads have
now suffered die-offs three years in a row.
Phosphate from factory hog farm
effluent including last year’s South Carolina
manure lagoon spills may be stimulating
lethal red tides that have depleted fish and
manatees along the South Atlantic coast.
While a record 305 manatees died during the
first half of this year, the major victims were
catfish who washed up en masse during the
third week in June. North Carolina State
University biologist JoAnn Burkholder has
identified the deadly red tide phytoplankton
as Pfiestria piscallia, which thrives in phosphate-rich
sediment. “Pfesterica spends
much of its life as harmless looking micro
scopic cysts,” the March/April 1996 edition
of E magazine reported. “But introduce large
numbers of fish and, under the right conditions,
the cysts stun the fish by unleashing a
powerful toxin, and then, after the fish die,
transform themselves into large amoebae and
eat the carcasses. As they’re feasting, they
photosynthesize, using chloroplasts they’ve
‘stolen’ from algae they’ve eaten previously.”
Trouble is also plentiful on the west
coast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist
Roy W. Lowe in late June blamed unusually
warm waters for both poor salmon catches
and the starvation of as many as 10,000
common murres, Oregon’s most numerous
sea bird. Tracing the crisis to the El Nino
weather phenomenon, Lowe said warm currents
had slowed the turnover of water layers
that brings microscopic nutrients to the surface
to feed plankton, which in turn feeds the
small fish such as smelt and sand lances that
are the primary food of both salmon and murres.
About 700,000 murres, two-thirds of
the west coast population south of Alaska,
nest in Oregon, but this year, as in 1993,
another El Nino year, thousands of murres
abandoned their nests.
“It can’t get any worse for a bird,”
Lowe said.
Along the British Columbia coast,
where Stellar sea lions and even orcas have
starved in recent years, unprecedented numbers
of North Pacific deep sea predators are
washing ashore, including lancetfish, hatchet
fish, barracudas, electric eels, and king of
the salmon, no actual relation to salmon but
possibly related to lancetfish.
“I believe these oceanic fish are
getting sucked into the Strait of Juan de Fuca
by strong tides,” Royal British Columbia
Museum ichthyologist Alex Peden told Mark
Hume of the Vancouver Sun. Peden didn’t
mention the growing number of fishers who
have turned to netting the deep sea prey
species these predators depend on, already
badly depleting one fish, the orange roughy.
Also in B.C. waters, trawlers during
the three-month spring groundfishing season
dumped overboard accidental bycatch
including 635 metric tons of turbot, 544 metric
tons of dogfish sharks, and 146 tons of
halibut. The figures were produced by the
introduction of government obervers to B.C.
fishing crews. After Catherine Stewart of
Greenpeace criticized the waste, Chris Day
of the Deep Sea Trawlers Association objected
that her remarks “assumed all those fish
were dead. There is no evidence,” he insisted,
“that any of the fish were dead,” though
he admitted a probable loss rate of 25%.
Marine mammals are frequent
scapegoats for poor fishing. Atlantic
Canadian fishers, having destroyed cod to
the point that commercial cod fishing won’t
again be viable until well into the 21st century,
took bloody vengeance on harp seals and
grey seals this spring, not only killing and
retrieving 285,000 harps and twice their
quota of 8,000 greys, but also killing and
leaving thousands more seals, whose corpses
washed up along the Newfoundland coast in
April and May. Public officials worried that
the stench might drive off tourists.
“The Canadian Department of
Fisheries and Oceans has steadfastly argued,”
pointed out Animal Protection Institute program
director and Animal Alliance of Canada
board member Barry Kent Mackay, “against
all evidence to the contrary, including a marketing
report from the Northwest Territories,
that there are viable markets for ‘all’ of each
seal; that the mature penis, recovered from
about one seal in eight, is only one of many
products from sealing that is of value to the
international market. It is an absolute and
undiluted lie. The dead seals washing ashore
are a sure indication that this year’s slaughter
was a bloodbath, pure and simple. The sealers
took advantage of the government sealing
subsidy and tragically ideal ice conditions to
vent their spleen by butchering as many seals
as they could. By the way,” Mackay continued,
“I’m not sure why it is that we are supposed
to be reassured by the use of the entire
seal. I think that part of it stems from
Newfoundlanders not wanting to think that
they are working so hard on behalf of the
Asian sex market, which involves abuse of
children. Newfoundland has had its own
problems [involving sexual abuse of orphanage
children] and is a culturally and geographically
isolated part of the world not
comfortable with such concepts. But I think
it may equally be some sensitivity to responsibility
for the collapse of so many fish
stocks, partly due to massive waste.”
Killing much of the Atlantic
Canadian seal population certainly didn’t
help salmon. On June 7, Atlantic Salmon
Federation president Bill Taylor asked that
the Labrador and Greenland commercial
salmon fishery be closed, citing findings that
there are now fewer than 200,000 large
breeding salmon in the North Atlantic. Ten
years ago, Taylor said, there were a million.
A hue and cry from fishers simultaneously
brought the removal of sea lions
from the vicinity of Ballard Locks, near
Seattle. Overfishing and habitat destruction
put the steelhead who traverse the locks near
extinction, but the sea lions drew the death
sentences from the National Marine Fisheries
Service and Washington state Fish and
Wildlife Department. They were reprieved
only when Sea World offered to take them
for display. NMFS is reportedly probing the
shooting deaths of at least 30 other sea lions
elsewhere on Puget Sound.
Sharks and sea lions
In California, the Fishermen’s
Alliance of Monterey Bay on June 14 asked
Congress to “manage the uncontrolled population
growth” of sea lions, accused by some
of stealing up to 80% of their catch. Recent
sea lion herd growth has apparently resulted
from the destruction of sharks, their main
predators. The shark species who prey most
on sea lions give live birth to no more than
two offspring at a time, don’t reach sexual
maturity until age nine or older, and are
endangered in actuality, if not yet in law,
due to increasingly intense fishing to supply
both Asiatic demand for fins and domestic
demand for shark cartilage, reputed to have
cancer-fighting properties. NMFS estimates
there are up to 181,000 sea lions on the west
coast, still a fraction of their numbers when
the first European market hunters came.
Until 1995, fishers were allowed to shoot sea
lions who damaged nets or stole a catch, but
current regulations allow shooting sea lions
without first obtaining a permit only in direct
defense of human life. The regulations were
tightened in 1995 because frustrated fishers
were shooting first and making up stories
about their alleged depredations later.
But the shooting has escalated with
decreasing salmon catches.
“Seals and sea lions have always
been targets of the guys who fish,” says Ray
Bandar of the California Academy of the
Sciences in San Francisco––adding that he’s
never seen so many shot before. Four dead
sea lions washed up in one day near Half
Moon Bay in mid-May: three definitely shot,
one while eating a salmon, and the fourth
probably shot after fouling a net. Dawn
Smith, director of animal care for the Marine
Mammal Center in Sausalito, told Richard
Cole of Associated Press that of 345 sea lions
rescued in 1995, 10% had gunshot wounds,
including one who was hit with buckshot,
birdshot, and .45-caliber bullets, indicative
of having been hit by at least three gunners,
possibly on separate occasions.
“Many have bullet holes in their
mouths,” Smith said. “That’s what you see
when they’re shot following a boat.”
Wrote Cole, “Killing or harassing
sea mammals is a crime. But enforcement by
the National Marine Fisheries Service is virtually
nonexistent. Only a handful of agents
patrol the California coast, and protecting
sea mammals is just a small part of their
responsibility. Even with more agents, the
chances of discovering who shot an animal at
sea are small. Dawn Smith says she knows
of only one fisher who has been prosecuted in
the past eight years for shooting a sea lion.”
Media notice of the slaughter of sea
lions followed by two weeks the unprecedented
theft of 500 pounds of dried shark fin,
worth an estimated $60,000, from a fish market
in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Explained
San Francisco Chronicle outdoor columnist
Glen Martin, “Demand for the fins has far
outstripped supply since the January passage
of a state law regulating the taking of sharks,
say fisheries experts.”
A more immediate stimulus to the
demand may have been the April 29
announcement by Johns Hopkins University
researchers and executives of Magainan
Pharmaceuticals, at the American Association
of Neurological Surgeons annual meeting,
that the chemical squalamine seems to
be effective in fighting malignant gliomas,
the most common deadly form of brain
tumor. Squalamine may eventually be commercially
synthesized, but meanwhile comes
chiefly from sharks’ livers and cartilage.
Fishers and farmers of pen-reared
salmon off the Scottish coast also have a long
bloody record of seal-killing, but with the
fish scarcity the mayhem has spread south
into England–though as marine biologist
Simon Foster of the Sea Life Centre in
Scarborough points out, “Research shows
seals are only the fifth highest consumer of
fish, way behind humans, who are first. The
effect on North Sea fish stocks is negligible.”
North Yorkshire holiday beachgoers
were horrified in late May when seven
seals were bludgeoned and disembowled at a
public beach. Marie Sweeting, 45, and her
daughter, 13, saw three men approaching
the seals, and heard them uttering threats.
Someone else photographed the men. Yet at
last report there were still no arrests.
While seals and sea lions had nothing
to do with depleting fish, besides giving
fishers someone to blame, climate change
and pollution are major factors. The bottom
line, however, is overfishing.
Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau,
85, is optimistic that fish can recover, given
the chance. “In the sea,” he recently told E
magazine editors Jim Motavalli and Susan
Elam, “the species that have disappeared [in
the last 200 years] are counted on the fingers
of the hands. Take for example the herrings
of the North Sea. They were considered
wiped out by overfishing four years ago.
Now the fishing has stopped for a couple of
years and now there are more herring than
ever before. Why? Because in the sea,
marine animals lay hundreds of eggs every
year, like insects. The repopulation is
extremely quick. It is almost impossible to
exterminate a species in the sea without leaving
at least two of them to reproduce.”
There may be no great extinctions
of fish, though the slow-breeding sharks and
other large predators may be severely affected.
But marine mammals are at risk, being
warmblooded and therefore needing more
than 10 times as much food as coldblooded
fish and reptiles to sustain the same body
mass. The friendly bottlenosed dolphin is a
far more voracious fish predator than the
fearsome great white shark, with far less
ability to outlast a famine.
The baleen whales aren’t at risk
from the decline of fish stocks, but are
imperiled by the collapse of krill and phytoplankton
in much of their range, believed to
be caused by climatic change and holes in the
ozone layer which allow enough ultraviolent
radiation to strike the ocean to kill many of
the fragile microscopic plants and animals
that are the very base of the oceanic food
web. If baleen whales starve, or even fail to
reproduce because of a food shortage, a collapse
of fish stocks on a scale beyond the current
failures won’t be far behind, because the
whole oceanic food web depends on the same
source. Baleen whales will just suffer first
because, as mammals, they need to eat more
food, more often, relative to their mass.
The solution to overfishing is simple:
stop fishing until stocks recover, if
recovery is possible. Sometimes this is done:
Senegal on July 5 imposed a two-week emergency
ban on octopus fishing. But politics
dictate what can be done to a greater extent
than nature. That’s why the Senegal octopus
fishing ban won’t last longer. A two-week
halt may slow depletion, and if properly
timed may enable a stressed species to spawn
in greater numbers, yet won’t solve the problem
of too many people trying to catch too
few marine animals.
Even WWF, a leading advocate of
managing wildlife like a factory for maximum
sustained yield, agrees that overfishing
is the primary problem for sea life. On June
8, WWF study pointed out that governments
worldwide pay $54 billion a year to subsidize
fishers, whose catch is valued at $70 billion.
The subsidy level shows the clout of the fishing
industry, which some fishers trace
straight to God, through the former fishers
who became disciples of Jesus––even though
they all apparently quit fishing.
The easiest way to deal with fishers
is to buy them out. The U.S. spent $2 million
in 1995 to buy and dismantle 11 New
England fishing boats, and will spend $56
million on buyouts this year. But each vessel
costs from $50,000 to $1.5 million: the government
money won’t go far.
A similar program is underway in
British Columbia. The Canadian federal government
hopes to halve the B.C. chinook
salmon fleet, putting 2,200 fishers permanently
out of business. The fishers, however,
aren’t eager to change jobs, even though the
catch is so poor this year that 3,000 of them
are either out of work or underemployed,
along with 4,100 cannery workers. Hoping to
survive the shakeout, commercial fishers and
the Haida tribe have called for comparable
action to cut recreational fishing.
The Haida in late June lost a bid for
an injunction to halt catch-and-release salmon
fishing, which they claim kills a third to half
of all the chinook handled, but said they
would appeal. Their case drew backing on
June 5 from Jim Fulton, executive director of
the David Suzuki Institute, who cited federal
findings that more than 90% of fish hooked
in the gills die after release, and 40% die if
caught with barbed hooks. The official estimate
of catch-and-release mortality is an
incongruous 15%, because the government
believes relatively few fish are either hooked
in the gills or caught with barbed hooks.
Caught among the conflicting realities,
B.C. fisheries minister David Zirhelt on
June 13 ordered his staff to “gather information
that will substantiate the impacts,” and
“recommend what steps will be needed to
mitigate the effects.” This is likely to amount
to an appeal for more money from Ottawa.
To sufficiently reduce fishing pressure
to enable stocks to recover, governments
must not only buy out fishers, but also
regulate the volume of fish the rest catch.
That doesn’t sit well. It means telling working
people not to work, and perhaps means
paying them public assistance.
“How would you like it if they told
you that you could only work 88 days next
year?” third generation fishing boat owner
Harriet Didrisen, of New Bedford, Massachusetts,
recently asked Reuter reporter
Leslie Gervitz. “Try living off that.”
The United Nations Convention on
the Law of the Sea allows nations to protect
fisheries by setting their boundaries 200
miles out to sea. This carries the risk of conflict
when nations claim the same waters, but
also allows nations to trade fishing rights.
Aware of the advantages, and the risks of
trying to keep open access to fisheries when
other nations are adopting the Law of the Sea,
the Japanese lower parliament ratified the
convention on May 28, days after China ratified
it, and four months after a series of
clashes erupted with South Korea over fishing
rights in the Sea of Japan.
European Union fisheries ministers
meeting in Luxembourg to set new catch quotas
on June 10 quickly “put down markers
that the 40% cuts in the fishing fleet sought
by the EU Fisheries Commission will be hard
fought,” as Patrick Smyth of The Irish Times
put it. Ireland argued that reducing the relatively
small Irish fleet wouldn’t help, and
that Spain should take the brunt. British fisheries
minister Tony Baldry refused to discuss
fleet cuts without changes in the quota system,
which has allowed Spanish firms to buy
46% of the “British” quota––and then overfish
it by about 10%, subjecting Britain to
penalties. This could only be changed by
amending the EU fishing treaty itself; the
European Court of Justice has already overruled
British attempts to keep quotas at home.
On July 2, the EC halved the North
Sea herring quota, and slashed the quota for
some Scandinavian fishing areas. Sir Patrick
Neill, Queen’s Counsel, speaking for the
pressure group Save Britain’s Fish, argued
that Britain had signed away sovereignty to
the EC-administered Common Fisheries
Policy. Under the CFP, Neill argued, British
waters will be open to the Danish, French
and Spanish within five years. Baldry insists
foreign vessels will still be barred from the
six-mile British coastal zone and will be regulated
from six to 12 miles out.
Britain maintains the 200-mile limit
around the Falkland Islands, off Argentina.
Also on July 2, in a public show of muscle,
Baldry sent Kenneth Parker, QC, to the
Falklands to prosecute the Chilean-flagged
Antonio Lorenzo for alleged poaching. The
owners contend, as does Argentina, that
Britain doesn’t own the waters because
Britain doesn’t legally own the islands––for
which Britain fought the 1980 Falkland
Islands War against Argentina.
Getting other nations to honor offshore
claims and treaties on paper is the easy
part of fisheries regulation. The rest is
enforcement. The EC negotiations began
five days after the Exeter Crown Court fined
the Spanish-controlled Hallfend Company
$150,000 for allowing the Mount Eden, registered
in Britain but sailing from Spain, to
exceed its monkfish quota twice last
September. Hallfend was also banned from
fishing for four months. Illustrating the complexity
of fishery politics, the busts were
made by the Irish Navy––and the court
couldn’t confiscate the Mount Eden’s gear
because it had been reregistered as the
Pembroke, owned by the Bellbeat Company,
sharing the same address as Hallfend.
Problems and pressures don’t
diminish even with only one nation involved.
Upsetting the Clinton administration’s
hope that a nasty fight over the future
of vanishing salmon, steelhead, and trout
could be postponed until after the November
election, U.S. district judge Susan Illston
ruled on June 27 in San Francisco that NMFS
must decide within 30 days on whether steelhead
trout should be protected under the
Endangered Species Act. Illston is also to
rule soon on a parallel case pertaining to chinook,
filed on June 18 by California senator
Tom Hayden. The California Fish and Game
Commission in April rejected Hayden’s petition
seeking the same action.
In a verdict similar to Illston’s,
U.S. district judge Donald Ashmanskas ruled
July 5 in Portland, Oregon, that NMFS has
enough data to decide by July 31 if Umpqua
River trout and steelhead should be protected.
Already, the cost of protecting
salmon, steelhead, and trout runs previously
designated under the ESA is astronomical.
Shasta Dam, located in California at the confluence
of the Sacramento, Pit, and
McCloud rivers, recently required $80 million
worth of retrofitting to insure that the
water behind the dam keeps turning over, to
keep the fish from getting too hot. This came
on top of losses estimated at $40 million
since 1987, due to turning off the Shasta turbines
whenever necessary to cool the water.
No attempt to regulate U.S. fisheries
escapes court. In other pending cases,
three commercial fishing organizations on
June 26 opposed the allocation of about 18%
of this year’s Pacific whiting catch to the
Makah tribe, of Neah Bay, Washington. On
July 1, the Associated Fisheries of Maine
challenged New England Fishery Management
Council measures to protect cod.
Quotas vs. jobs
Even when the issue is regulated
entirely at the state level, fishery politics are
explosive, as the New Jersey Division of
Fish, Game, and Wildlife learned in trying
to pace the flounder catch. Large offshore
vessels intercepted a late flounder migration
in late April, filling their remaining spring
quota; then wiped out their summer quota
within just eight hours on May 1. But closing
the season proved unviable due to the many
small-vessel fishers who hadn’t gotten any of
the action. On June 18, the state “borrowed”
75 tons from the fall quota so that small-vessel
fishers can fish throughout the summer,
with a 500-pound catch limit per trip.
Battles over the status of species are
ubiquitous. The World Conservation Union
may add the northern bluefin tuna, fished to
an estimated 4% of their natural level, to this
year’s edition of the annual WCU Red List of
Threatened Animals. This would make likely
the addition of northern bluefin to the list of
animals protected by the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species,
as well––along with lookalikes, often protected
under CITES to help prevent clandestine
traffic. That could put southern bluefin,
albacore, yellowfin, and big-eye tuna off
limits, killing the export tuna fisheries of
Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Predictably, New Zealand National
Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
pelagic fisheries project director Talbot
Murray contends that neither albacore nor
yellowfin are overfished, and even says the
global yellowfin catch could be doubled.
Such disputes have long raged in
Canada, where the ruling coalitions of the
past 30 years have all depended on manipulating
fishing quotas to keep support from the
maritime provinces: New Brunswick,
Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince
Edward Island in the east, plus British
Columbia. Put together, the five have fewer
voters than either Quebec or Ontario, but
often provide the swing votes that determine
who holds Parliament, and fishery estimates
accordingly have often resembled political
promises more than hard science. Both cod
in the east and sockeye in the west were overestimated
until collapse.
The British Columbia Fraser River
Sockeye Public Review Board, the B.C.
Fisheries Survival Coalition, and the Toronto
Sun, among others, now call for reform of
the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to
depoliticize DFO “science,” a demand
already issued for more than 30 years by foes
of the Atlantic Canada seal hunt.
For rich nations, the issue is jobs.
For poor nations, it’s food––and sustenance
versus satiety. Among the few poor nations
to opt decisively for sustenance are China,
which for the second year in a row banned
fishing in the Yellow Sea and South China
Sea, July 1 through August, and Cuba,
whose Decree Law 164, imposed on July 12,
protects manatees and hawksbill sea turtles;
regulates the capture and export of lobsters
and prawns; requires permits for fish-farming
and all forms of fishing except for personal
use, from shore; and forbids fishing
with scuba gear. Cuba was able to impose
Decree Law 164, however, because it
remains a dictatorship. Whether enforcement
can be maintained if and when Cuba moves
toward democracy is anyone’s guess.
Chinese enforcement last year was
reportedly stringent, but fishers may be bolder
and more desperate this year. Issuing
7,000 licenses to Yangtse River delta eelers
in May, authorities with just 20 boats available
to them proved unable to stop 30,000
eelers aboard 15,000 boats, who blocked the
Yangtse for more than 12 hours on May 16,
causing cargo ships with tight schedules to
leave freight on docks rather than miss the
outbound tide. Eelers who make a good
catch can earn up to 20 times the average
urban Chinese annual income of $636, but
the competition is so fierce, according to The
Workers’ Daily, that one eeler dies in a
brawl for every 550 pounds of eels landed.
Added Reuter, “Fine-meshed nets
used to trap the tiny eels were snaring large
quantities of fish, shrimp, and other marine
life, threatening the ecological balance.”
The Kenya Wildlife Service tried to
conserve fish by establishing marine reserves
along the Kenyan Indian Ocean coast last
year. That effort failed when fishers rioted.
“The truth is,” senior warden Godfrey
Wakaba admitted July 2, “ that drug traffickers,
using local leaders, incited people with
financial rewards to oppose the plan. At first
we thought the fishers were acting on their
own volition, but our investigations later
revealed that drug traffickers were behind the
riots,” because they feared that increased
policing would interfere with the export of
hashish. Over the past two years, European
officials have confiscated 240 metric tons of
hash originating from east Africa, believed
to be a fraction of the total traffic.
False hope
As ever over the past 40 years,
visionaries and hucksters push fish-farming
as an antidote to further oceanic depletion.
Option #1, practiced for decades
with freshwater “game fish,” is to hatchery
rear the fish past the months of their greatest
vulnerability to weather shifts and predation,
then release them. Techniques developed to
stock fish not expected to live past the next
weekend are now used in attempts to recover
scarce oceanic species. Atlantic sturgeon, for
instance, not seen in Chesapeake Bay since
1927, were reintroduced on July 9, when
Maryland officials released 3,000 fry bred at
the Northeast Fishery Center in Lamar,
Pennsylvania, from specimens captured in
the Hudson River in June 1995.
“This is a longterm preservation
project,” understated Maryland Fishery
Service director of aquaculture and hatcheries
Ben Florence. The sturgeon won’t sexually
mature until age 9, if male, or age 15 if
female. Males live up to 30 years; females as
long as 70. Because sturgeon mature so
slowly, nine states ban sturgeon fishing outright;
five more have restricted seasons.
Longterm conservation projects
may have longterm import, but won’t restore
fisheries soon. Alaskan chum salmon are the
one big success so far in hatchery-rearing
oceanic fish. Amid fallng catches of almost
everything else, this year’s chum run on
Prince William Sound is expected to reach a
record 2.3 million, up from 750,000 last year.
Across Alaska, the chum run will approach
or exceed the record of 220 million, set in
1995––the seventh record or near-record run
in a row. Glutted canneries are paying only
half of last year’s price for chum, limiting the
amount they take. The Alaska Agriculture
Department is buying $14 million worth of
chum for school lunches and food banks, to
keep prices from falling farther.
The chum salmon “success” may
reflect the failures of other species. Record
chum catches began in 1990, a year after the
Exxon Valdez oil spill drove most chum
predators out of Prince William Sound. The
predators have yet to recover.
Otherwise, hatchery-rearing and
releasing has just begun to restore the Atlantic
salmon, after a decade of effort, while the
defunct Pacific Northwest chinook hatcheries
offer examples of abysmal failure.
Thus option #2: aquatic agribusiness,
confining fish throughout their lives.
As with hatch-and-release, millions of dollars
have gone into various schemes, but successes
are few: catfish farming in the Mississippi
basin, clam farming on Virginia’s eastern
shore, and scattered trout ponds run as aquatic
canned hunts.
Economically successful but environmentally
doubtful are the offshore salmon
pens of northern Europe, each depositing as
much feces into the sea in concentrated
amounts as a small city. Marine mammals
are often killed, both legally and illegally, to
protect the penned fish. In addition, the Irish
activist group Save Our Sea Trout blames
salmon pens for spreading sea lice, a contributor
to the collapse of the sea trout fishery.
Sea trout, wild salmon, and the
captive salmon all could be in trouble next
year due to this year’s spring drought in the
British Isles, the British environment agency
warned in early May. The drought devastated
this year’s sea trout and wild salmon runs,
and because there is less runoff, the pollution
build-up has increased in the coastal bays
where the salmon cages are anchored.
Disastrous, after brief promise, are
Southeast Asian shrimp farms, which have
devastated the mangrove swamps formerly
stabilizing the coastline of half a dozen
nations––and now fail to produce shrimp, as
well, because the damage has ruined the
habitat for shrimp as well as other species.
But faith in aquaculture dies hard.
On June 11, the selectmen of Provincetown,
Massachusetts, unanimously authorized the
New England Aquarium to attempt cage-rearing
bluefin tuna off Long Point, Cape Cod.
Fifty bluefin would be netted at sea, towed
to the site, and released into the cage for four
to six months of study. A similar New
England Aquarium experiment is already
underway off Virginia.
“We’re looking at the possibility
that aquaculture may relieve pressure on wild
fish and help maintain coastal communities,”
explained New England Aquarium associate
director for research Scott Kraus to Jon
Marcus of Associated Press.
Kraus apparently didn’t mention the
mid-April storm that destroyed southern
bluefin tuna ranching in Australia. Sediment
killed an estimated 60,000 tuna, valued at
$50 million––two-thirds of the bluefin population
of South Australia state.
A month later, on July 11, the
University of Pennsylvania School of
Veterinary Medicine, threatened with closure
in recent years, announced a scheme to save
itself, help wild fisheries, and create jobs in
the blighted district around the former
Philadelphia Navy Yard. The Delaware River
Port Authority has only to sink $450,000 into
turning the Navy Yard into a giant fish farm.
“Penn has already invested over
$325,000 in studying the idea,” reported
Anthony S. Twyman of the P h i l a d e l p h i a
Daily News. “With the DRPA’s help, Penn
hopes that by 1998 a private business will
take over the proposed facility. Penn and the
DRPA would share a portion of the profits.”
The goal is to raise fish like hogs.
From the viewpoint of government and industry,
three questions must be answered: can it
be done, can it be done without cost to wild
fisheries, and can it be done economically?
If bluefin could be raised to their
peak weight of 1,200 pounds and sold for
the $50 per pound obtained for wild bluefin,
would there still be profit in it?
If the Navy Yard idea could produce
anything but suckers, would the fish
be in demand or, like Alaskan chum, would
they become low-priced surplus?
Unasked are ethical questions.
A world which has yet to respond
to the sentience and suffering of hogs and
poultry isn’t likely to consider the suffering
of fish.

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