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First blue marlin, then sailfish, and finally swordfish in the tropical Atlantic Ocean started to become scarce ever since industrialized fishing managed to ruthlessly over fish. Codfish, and flatfish off Newfoundland’s Grand Banks have now become endangered.
As one species was fished out, another would rise temporarily, spurred by the extra food available in the sea. Then it too, would be targeted and heavily fishes (or killed by accident when the commercial fish were caught), and driven, to dramatic population declines.
Today, not only one region or ocean has been declared hopelessly over fished, but all five of them (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Southern and Northern Ocean).
The tragedy is that all species are over fished. Clearly, greedy fishermen and an unrelenting human appetite for fish have created this untenable situation.
While only a few decades ago pisciculture was never contemplated, today it is a multibillion-dollar industry in many countries including Norway, Chile, Canada, the U S A, Spain, Scotland, Israel, China, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The situation will likely continue, because now there are fewer fish then ever before. Species after species, scientists have found the same pattern; thriving populations speedily crashed as the indiscriminate commercial fishing fleets moved in.
In the Gulf of Thailand, 60 percent of large finfish, sharks, and skates were killed off during the first five years of industrialized fishing. This situation was partially created by advanced engineering to locate fish schools (sonar) and governments offering loans to fishermen to buy huge modern factory boats equipped with the latest technology. In developing countries fishermen simply throw in dynamite and dead fish float to the surface for easy gathering. In the process the whole aquaculture under the sea is destroyed forever.
The fish had no chance of survival. In the past, fishermen working with primitive tools and active close to shore were limited in their efforts to catch huge amounts of fish, and the fish had a chance to survive.
It is puzzling how Canada allows Portuguese, Spanish, even Japanese factory boats to sail to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland which at one time teemed with cod, but now cannot even feed a fishermen and their families.
Of course Newfoundland fishermen contributed to the tragedy too, but to a lesser extent.
The cod stocks have been so decimated that scientists claim that there will never be a return to normal levels. Consider the proportions of this tragedy since for more than 500 years cod was plentiful enough to sustain several countries’ fisheries, and Canada used to export substantial quantities of salted cod to the Caribbean. Now, we import cod from Norway! Such a situation would have been unimaginable in the 1980’s. How this happened was a simple case of greed and over fishing and failing to heed the advise of marine scientists.
Salmon runs on the west coast are also declining at alarming rates, Government hatcheries release million, if nor billions of fingerlings annually, but fewer and fewer are retuning to hatch. The only logical conclusion is that they are being caught before they have a chance to return.
Shark populations are also in terrible shape, partly the result of them being caught in kilometres of lines set for commercial fishing, but also because of the growing and barbaric practice of shark-fining: sharks are pulled out of the water just long enough for the fishermen to slice off fins and tails for the cartilage remedies and food popular in Hong-Kong and China. The finless sharks are retuned to the ocean, where, unable to navigate, they perish.
Oceans make up 70 percent of the surface of earth. They regulate climate, temperature, humidity, oxygen, and carbon systems – essentially the very ability of the planet to sustain life, but mankind has blindly allowed the very system to fall prey to greed and politics. The repercussions of this rape of nature are unpredictable, but certainly harmful to all.
Fifty years ago, the Baltic Sea was full of big tuna and whales; today the biggest feature in its waters is jellyfish. It is in effect, a sea without fish!
Even if all North American chefs stopped offering fish on their menus, the situation will not improve. What we need is a fishing policies that are reasonable and enforceable to maintain balance.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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