Sunday, November 05, 2006

Something smells fishy in the world's seafood supplies

You're sailing along on a clear day while the sun is setting. You look out over the ocean and everything looks beautiful. But underneath the swells, all is not well.

Last week the Science journal released an article by Boris Worm of Dalhousie University. It reports that if current trends continue, the populations of most seafoods will collapse by 2048. By collapse, Worm means that the populations will be so decimated that they will be insufficient to sustain harvesting. In fact, the catch of 29 percent of the seafood species humans consume have already crashed by ninety percent.

This does not bode well for humans. Seafood is high in protein, and is an excellent source of omega oils essential to normal growth in young children. Furthermore, more than a billion people -- many of whom are poor -- rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. And let's face it: seafood is just plain delicious.

The primary source of this problem is the loss of ocean biodiversity caused by humans. Worm's study found that the increasing pace of diversity loss threatens the "ecosystems services" that many human populations depend on for survival. An example of a practice that is highly destructive to biodiversity in the deep ocean is bottom-trawling. Fortunately, international effort is being made to curb bottom-trawling, but this is just one of many ways humans are contributing to the loss of seafood harvests.

Another contributor is the increase in "dead zones" scattered around our planet's oceans. A dead zone is a large area in the ocean devoid of oxygen that leads to the widespread death of animals that cannot swim or crawl away from it. For example, in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a dead zone the size of New Jersey that forms each April and lasts through the summer. It is caused by agricultural and urban runoff and wastewater treatment.

Fortunately, it's not too late to reverse the impending loss of our seafood populations if we act now. Worm's study found compelling evidence that ecosystems can recover if action is taken to protect them. But we have to act soon and it will take coordinated international efforts. Some areas will need to be protected from fishing altogether. Additionally, commercial fisheries will need to be provided with incentives to fish any given species only to the extent where a sufficient population remain in any given area to sustain the reproduction of that species so the biodiversity is not lost.

Obviously, this is contrary to the short term financial interests of the fisheries. To address this might mean the implementation of unpopular programs like governmental regulations or subsidies to fisheries. However, such actions could not be as unpopular as humans no longer having seafood on the table would be.

1 comment:

Charlie the Tuna said...

All those years I wasn't good enough for you guys. Well, suck on this, Starkist! In a couple years you'll be wishin' you took me up on that deal with the fish hook. Ha! Sorry Charlie, my dorsal fin!