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Fisheries in Transition: The Planet

This is the last in the “Fisheries in Transition” series.We have been looking at several fisheries over the last few weeks in an effort to see where they are going. Their prognosis was not as bright as some may have wanted. Since the Gulf of Mexico is only one part of a much larger planetary resource if might be helpful to look at the big picture to put ourselves in context.Every now and then we all take a look backward with longing at what we remember as a better time. Back then we were younger there were not so many regulations and fish just jumped right into the boat or so my father told me. The water was pure, air clean and the sea held all the fish that anyone could want – all there for the taking. Since it is impossible to attach numbers to myth or feelings surveys are needed to determine the health of the environment and fish stocks.If you’ve lived on the Coast for more than a few years you’ve seen both commercial and recreational fishing under go some significant changes. For various species and types of fishing there have been increases in length limits, decreases in number allowed, changes in gear types, area restrictions, seasonal closures, turtle and fish excluder devices and closed areas.Every summer the oyster beds are closed due to sewage pollution. There is mercury in our fish, the price of seafood goes up, imported seafood is under cutting our commercial fleets and when we charter a boat for half a month’s rent only to throw back nearly all the fish we catch because their too small to keep.If you have experienced some or all of this then you have probably realized that the ocean’s fishery resources are not infinite.The Gulf Coast is not alone in its marine resource related problems. The cod fishery in the north Atlantic was closed over 12 years ago and will be closed for another 20 years due to over-fishing. Alaskan salmon runs are down 40% to 60% over the last 20 years. The red snapper season in the Gulf seems close earlier each year. The fish we see in our markets are smaller and are not available for as long. Will there be seafood in 20 years and what kind?Fishing has changed rapidly in the twentieth century especially after WWII. During that war fishing was curtailed all over the globe especially in the Atlantic. When the war was over recreational and commercial fishing expanded rapidly.Nations like the Japan and Russia developed large trans-global distant water fleets of trawlers, long liners, deep-water crabbers and purse seine vessels. Japan, which spent decades collecting oceanographic data, developed new and innovative fishing methods and equipment that greatly increased their catch.There is no planet wide agency that manages and enforces international fishing regulations with any great effect. The United Nations and organizations like the International Committee for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) make motions in that direction but nothing is being done that has any real effect.The United States has its fishery management councils with their regulations and 200-mile limits but it is a big planet. The bottom line is that a constantly expanding human race is taking more than a finite resource can provide.Aquaculture has and is being touted as a way to fill the gap between the fish that we want and the fish our oceans can provide. Farmers know it is easier and more profitable to “raise deer than wolves“ which are lower on the food chain and require less intensive care. Fish like mullet, tilapia and the carps (which have been cultured for centuries) will start to fill this gap over the coming years.When and if the stocks now under increasingly strict regulation recover there will never be enough fish to supply our markets like they did in the past without risking a protracted collapse.

Think Global – Act Local!

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