Posted by: graemelaidlaw | April 25, 2010

final blog

As this is the last blog I’m going to try and pull together what we’ve been taught over the last semester into one blog, to show how all the topics impact on one subject.  So this blog, rather randomly is about fishing.

Climate change – the increase in the climate of 0.7℃ since pre-industrial times has impacted on the ocean in many ways.  Coral bleaching, which is a stress response in coral to high temperatures has had a huge impact on coral mortality, reaching 70% in some areas.  The oceans are also becoming more acidic as they are absorbing more carbon dioxide, much of which is thought to be the result of human activities.

Energy – Peak oil will have a massive impact on the industrial fishing fleets which travel further out from land to catch fish, and rely on refrigeration units to keep the fish fresh until it is landed.  Trawling, which is an extremely destructive fishing method is also highly energy intensive.  The price of fish may rise as fishing becomes more expensive as a result in oil prices.

Food production – Aquaculture is touted by some as the answer to the problems of over fishing, but it also has many problems.  Fish stocked in small pens are more susceptible to disease which is by-and-large treated by drugs which then enter the environment.  They also cause huge damage to the ocean floor due to the high concentrations of faeces which falls on a small area.  The food fed to farmed fish is also mostly wild-caught fish, often from already depleted stocks.  It also takes much more wild-fish to produce farmed fish, 22kg of wild fish for every 1kg of farmed tuna, or 4kg for every 1kg of salmon.

Future perspectives – The Irish fishing fleet is heavily subsidised and finds it difficult to compete with cheaper foreign imports

Responsible production and consumption –The transportation of goods vast distance is almost a necessity in the modern globalised economy.  There are as a result over 50,000 merchant ships in use today.  These huge ships are responsible for the depletion of the oceanic environment due to accidental spills of waste and sewage, and oil and chemicals.  They are thought to be responsible for a large amount of ‘hits’ on cetaceans.  Although shipping has a lower carbon footprint that flying, the shipping trade is still almost completely reliant on fossil fuels.

Critical thinking – There is a paradox in how the media handles the slippery issue of fish.  While on one hand they report the demise of fishing stocks, and the plight of fishermen, the lifestyle media often extols the health benefits of fish.  We are often told to eat more fish, the Irish Heart Foundation recommends eating oily fish twice a week to maintain a healthy heart.  Again the individual health of the western middle classes is more important than the average Mauritian fisherman who tries to compete against the massive Irish owned Atlantic Dawn trawler which can catch 7,000 tonnes in one trip to sea, but fished Mauritian waters thanks to a private deal with the corrupt dictator Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya until he was ousted in a coup d’état in 2005.

Corporate responsibility – The large processed fish companies, such as Birdseye, have in recent years come out with their own sustainable fishing policies.  While companies make much of their move away from cod in their products, the replacement fish will no doubt follow the fate of the cod if sustainable fishing remains just a buzzword and the mode of fishing remains unchanged.  Donegal Catch in their TV advertisements try to portray their fishing fleet as small scale, and local.  But as a subsidiary of Green Isle it is unlikely that this is the case.

Sustainability metrics – catch quotas is the buzz word in fishing.  This aims to restrict the amount of fish caught.  There are of course huge arguments between the scientists who suggest the quota limits, the governments of countries who share the common stock, and the fishermen who see their livelihoods threatened by reduced catches.  The catch quotas also mean that non-targeted species are often thrown back into the water, dead or dying, so as not to be included in the quota. As seems to be the case with most other metrics laid out in regard to the environment, the actual catch quotas are always significantly higher than those suggested by scientists who study such things.  The immediacy of the economic issues seems to outweigh the future problems which the industry will face if fish stocks are depleted.  The problem, as highlighted in the book ‘the unnatural history of the ocean’ is that the decline of fishing has been ongoing since the medieval period.  Fish bones recovered in archaeological contexts show that fish were much larger than modern examples.  As decline has occurred generation after generation.  I suppose it is the same as not really seeing a friend you see every day age, whereas if you saw them after a ten year absence they would look much older than you remembered them.  The levels that scientists put forward are trying to sustain fishing numbers which are well below those that at the start of the 20th Century were seen as worryingly low.    

Law, policy – Since the 1970 in principle all EU fishermen should have equal access to member states water.  In an Irish perspective this means  that of the 1.9 million tonnes of fish taken from waters around Ireland, only 10% were taken by Irish boats.  Each country seems unable to impose its will on its own waters without infringing in European law.  Plans to restrict fishing quotas throughout Europe will also be opposed vigorously by countries with large fishing fleets, such as Spain.   An example of the ‘The problem of the commons’

Building sustainable communities – If fishing, and the oceanic food web is not to collapse completely drastic and urgent changes have to take place.  For centuries as soon as one fishing ground was depleted technologies advanced so that new grounds could be reached and fished.  There are no virgin grounds left to fish.

A sustainable fishing will probably need to see the demise of the destructive practise of bottom trawling, which removes 5-25% of the area’s seabed in a single run.  The virtues of line fishing

• Proportionately the amount of fished caught dead is almost nil.
• Proportionately the amount of fish undersize is almost nil and are almost always returned to the sea live and as such participates in a sustainable fisheries regime.
• Proportionately line fishing is almost entirely species selective, very few fish other than cod are caught.
• With line fishing – no lost nets or netting contributing as ghost nets or seabed debris.
• Line fishing provides jobs in terms of infrastructure support from shore i.e. baiters.
• Line fishing is even carbon friendly needing no high power options unlike trawling.
• Fish are always fresh and undamaged at point of sale thus creating a better product for the consumer


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