BOOKS: World Without Fish

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2011:
World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky
Workman Publishing (225 Varick St., 9th floor, New York, NY
10014), 2011. 181 pages, paperback. $16.95.

No sharks, or catfish or major fish predators such as
dolphins? It’s possible, says Mark Kurlansky in World Without Fish,
produced for a young adult audience.

The threats to fish are many. Fishing fleets, including
those of the U.S., have depleted the oceans through over-fishing to
meet increasing demand from the growing human population. Long gone
are the days when fishers mostly worked from small boats that set out
at dawn and returned to harbor at dusk. Trawlers have for decades
now dragged the ocean floor with giant nets that sweep up tons of sea
life besides fish–for example, destroying the coral reefs where
fish breed and find food. Countless young and immature fish die in
the nets too. The effects of overfishing have been increasingly
recognized for more than 40 years, but little has been done to stop
the harm. As fishers deplete targeted species and regions, they
move to catching other species, in other areas.
Pollution has also increasingly harmed marine life.
Awareness of catastrophic oil spills was renewed by the April 2010
Deep-water Horizon sinking in the Gulf of Mexico, but the effects of
such mega-disasters may be matched by the cumulative harm from
smaller incidents, like the 1969 break-up of the barge Florida,
which dumped 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel near Cape Cod–a mere 4%
of the 4.9 million gallons spilled by the Deepwater Horizon–but
still having visible ecological effects.
Warmer ocean temperatures cause rising sea levels and
increasing oceanic acidity as result of more carbon dioxide forming
than the natural alkalinity of sea water can buffer. Fish prefer
cooler waters, Kurlansky explains. Entire fish species are now on
the move in search of more temperate climates. Some species may not
acclimate to the changes overtaking them. More acidic waters can
actually dissolve the shells of shellfish faster than the shellfish
can grow them, an effect altering much of the oceanic food chain.
Governments and the fishing industry must cooperate to halt
harmful fishing practices, Kurlansky rather predictably recommends.
Kurlansky also mentions avoiding consumption of species at risk,
such as bluefin tuna. Kurlansky further notes that just as some
people eschew eating meat or dairy products from land animals for
ethical reasons, giving up eating any fish at all would help.
The illustrations in World Without Fish add to the book’s
theme that “kids can get the planet back on the right track, one
fish at a time.” –Debra J. White

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