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May 17, 2007

Rec View on 2048

interesting thoughts from a thoroughly conservation-minded recreational angler…




by Ken Hinman, President of National Coalition for Marine Conservation

Last year, an international group of scientists (Worm et al, Science 11/06) grabbed a lot of attention when they warned we could run out of seafood by mid-century if trends in industrial-scale fishing continue. Fishing down so many stocks, they said, risks irreversible damage to marine ecosystems. Government and industry spokesmen, on the other hand, dismissed these concerns as outdated hyperbole, citing much progress toward achieving “sustainable” commercial fisheries.

Now, we’re not so good at predicting the future, but we’ve seen the past.

And we should be troubled by the fact that mankind has never succeeded at “harvesting” wild animals for commerce in anything like a sustainable manner for any length of time. On land, market hunting of wildfowl and game was phased out by the beginning of last century. Rising demand, advances in technology and inadequate regulation – sound familiar? – had driven a number of species near or to extinction. With few exceptions (some fur trapping, for instance), the killing of wild animals is limited to carefully managed hunting for personal use, i.e., sport or food.

But the sea is the last frontier where wildlife and commerce still struggle to coexist. Can we do in the ocean what we couldn’t do on land? Two of the most highly-hyped answers – one coming from the seafood industry, the other from environmentalists – suggest many believe we cannot. And that suggests a future that scares us no less than the one described by Worm et al.

A Future Worth Fighting For

Years ago, when marine reserves were first touted as an answer to the oceans’s problems – with proponents pointing to our system of parks as a terrestrial model – we wondered whether we really want to mirror that system. On land we give extraordinary protection to a few pockets of relatively pristine wilderness, but outside those borders, development is generally out of control. Meanwhile, opportunities for the individual to hunt and fish are diminishing, mostly due to lack of access to wildlife habitat.

Food comes almost exclusively from agriculture and animal husbandry. Which is where seafood production seems headed. In 2003, one-third of the fish consumed by humans came from aquaculture. Fish farms are expected to double production over the next decade.

While we worry about the environmental problems associated with aquaculture, we also must ask ourselves: Is this the future we want for our oceans? Preserves surrounded by farms? How will the millions of individual anglers, who simply want to catch a few fish for the home table, or who release their catch because it’s the experience they value most, fit into this scenario? Or, for that matter, those conscientious commercial fishermen who fish selectively and with restraint, scaled-down to serve their communities, not corporations?

To secure a future for the fishing public, we will have to find a way to keep the ocean wild in order to preserve our wild fisheries. It won’t be easy, it may be unprecedented, but it’s worth fighting for.

See more stories by Ken Hinman