On it’s website, Oceana (the environmental organization which received $10 million in start-up funds from the Pew Charitable Trusts and is carrying on as if its primary mission is to make life miserable and earning a living impossible for U.S. commercial fishermen) claims that “Each year, commercial fishing strips bare an area twice the size of the contiguous United States beneath the sea.”
Yet, in spite of this alleged stripping, these same ocean waters continue to produce fish, fish that are being continuously harvested by commercial fishermen at undiminished levels (according to the FAO, fish production from the world’s oceans in the years 1994 to 1999 were 84.7, 84.3, 86.0, 86.1, 78.3 and 84.1 million tons - with the lower 1998 production attributable to El Nino affects).Who’s Zoomin’ Who?
We’ve written before about the propensity of anti-fishing groups to rely on hyperbole when trying to sell their doom-and-gloom messages (see “A good image is hard to find” at http://www.fishingnj.org/njnet14.htm or “Anatomy of an anti-fishing campaign” at http://www.fishingnj.org/netusa6.htm). We’ve been exposed to this over-the-top Chicken Little rhetoric for the better part of a decade, a decade when our fisheries clearly haven’t self-destructed and in many instances are rebuilding, yet the shrill hysteria continues. Recent examples:“The House Resources Committee adopted a bill last night that rolls back ocean protections and puts fish populations at risk of collapse. The measure attacks fundamental provisions of current law including bycatch, overfishing, and habitat protections in ways that diminish safeguards essential to the survival of many fish species.” (Audubon)
These pronouncements certainly raise questions. Have the world’s fisheries been overharvested? Does commercial fishing gear have an impact on habitat? Do commercial fishing techniques sometimes catch unwanted organisms?Overharvesting
Of course some commercial fisheries have been overharvested, but not all nor even most. The anti-fishing groups invariably ignore the fact that every year more fisheries are removed from the “overfished” list and that many, at least in the U.S. where the massive anti-fishing campaigns are focused, are now in a rebuilding phase. They also, because it gives them much scarier numbers to bounce around, habitually lump overfished and fully exploited fisheries together. But with the growth in the world’s population there’s no reasonable - at least if you have any humanitarian instincts at all - arguments against having fisheries that are fully exploited.Habitat Impacts
Sure, commercial fishing gear can have an impact on habitat, but which human activities don’t? We’re harvesting almost 100 million tons of seafood from the world’s oceans each year. That’s a lot of fish and crabs and clams. To put this level of harvest in perspective, the world’s annual production of beef, pork and poultry is 50 million, 80 million and 60 million tons respectively.Bycatch
Without argument, commercial fishermen catch untargeted fish and other organisms, but what – if any - impact does this have on the ecosystem? Commercial fishermen are continuously working to reduce bycatch; not just because it’s such an obvious waste, but also because catching it, handling it and getting rid of it involves more wear and tear on the gear and more work on deck.
If the author is referring to U.S. waters in the Gulf out to 20 miles, a reasonable estimation of where the U.S. shrimp fleet fishes, then he was writing about somewhere around 18 or 20 million acres of water. Less than two red snapper killed by shrimp trawls per acre of water – and remember that this was back in the days before the use of Bycatch Reduction Devices was mandatory – seems not so horrendous at all. In fact, biologically it could be argued that it reduces the red snapper bycatch issue to a “so what.”
Chicken Little in the non-fishing world
“The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World,” a book by Danish professor of statistics and ex-Greenpeace activist Bjorn Lomborg, convincingly debunks the “science” that underlies many of the “end of the world” pronouncements that the current crop of eco-alarmists are using to swell their coffers (see Tom DeWeese’s “Massive Wealth Drives Green Agenda” at http://www.sharetrails.org/mag/07index00/story2.htm ) and skew public policy. Not too surprisingly, Dr. Lomborg has come under attack by just about every “environmental” organization out there. Very surprisingly, he has also been targeted by the scientific establishment, even having Scientific American devoting 11 pages to debunking his debunking. In an article discussing the various assaults launched against Dr. Lomborg (personally) and his book, (The Mau-Mauing of Bjorn Lomborg, Commentary; 09/02) David Schoenbrod writes:The release of Lomborg’s book last fall was attended (as I have already noted) by a great deal of publicity all over the world, and the book itself immediately garnered respectful notices in places like the Washington Post and the Economist. This positive reception challenged the power of the environmental movement at a pivotal point: its claim to represent scientific truth. Lomborg may not have been the first to threaten this power, but he was far and away the most dangerous.
A recent article by Roger Pielke, Jr. ([Policy, politics and perspective]in, to its credit, Nature [March, 02]) helps explain why. Writing about the making of environmental policy, Pielke identifies what he calls an “’iron triangle’ of mutually reinforcing interests:’” politicians, scientists, and environmental activists. According to Pielke, politicians are loathe to make controversial decisions on environmental issues and so pass the buck to “science.” The scientists are happy to be given the power, not to mention the research grants that come along with it. The environmentalists lean on the scientists for justification of their policy agenda. Each leg of the triad depends on the others for support.
We would add to this, at least in the fisheries world, yet another element; large grant-making foundations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts. These foundations, with seemingly unlimited - at least in a fisheries research context - abilities to fund research and with strong commitments to particular agendas, in many cases have much more influence than the involved federal agencies (see A consumer campaign that missed by a mile at http://www.fishingnj.org/njnet15.htm).What’s this mean for the fishing industry?
The so-called “conservationist” groups can very effectively sell their skewed view of conditions in our fisheries to elected officials, to the media, and to the public. Taking advantage of the complexity of fisheries and ocean issues and the difficulty of ferreting out reliable information, they are finding a receptive audience. In spite of increasingly stringent management plans for virtually every fishery being managed, in spite of many “recovering” fisheries, and in spite of statistics that show that fisheries production - and fisheries income - is not plummeting as their prognostications would lead us to expect, conditions are not yet bad enough for the commercial fishermen. So, bankrolled with tens of millions of foundation dollars, they continue to lobby, to litigate and to propagandize in a seemingly coordinated campaign that the fishing industry can’t afford to counter. Fishermen are the immediate victims, but theU.S. consumer is ultimately going to suffer.
Supported by the Fishermen’s Dock Co-op, Lund’s Fisheries, Atlantic Capes Fisheries, Viking Village Dock, Export, Inc., Agger Trading Corp. the Belford Seafood Co-op Hi-Liner Fishing Gear, Marine Conservation Alliance and Trawlworks