We're killing the oceans

By MIKE MILIARD  |  November 18, 2009

Those include halibut, redfish, and some of the longer-lived flounder species. Meanwhile, says Annala, Gulf of Maine cod stock is "on the road to recovery," yet still not scheduled to be rebuilt until 2015 or so, 10 years ahead of when cod stocks in Georges Bank (the undersea shelf running from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia) are hoped to reach sustainable levels.

In the interim, that means agita for New England fishermen, forced to pay for the sins of the past.

In his New Republic story, Pauly describes a global "fishing-industrial complex" of corporate-owned fleets and lobbyists, "hiding behind the romantic image of the small-scale, independent fisherman." For the past half-century, he argues, these fleets have relentlessly scoured the seas.

"As the bounty of coastal waters dropped, fisheries moved further offshore, to deeper waters," he writes. "And, finally, as the larger fish began to disappear, boats began to catch fish that were smaller and uglier — fish never before considered fit for human consumption. Many were renamed so that they could be marketed: the suspicious slimehead became the delicious orange roughy, while the worrisome Patagonian toothfish became the wholesome Chilean seabass."

(A recent Mother Jones article had a particularly piquant description of a run-in with another of those renamed species: one couple dined upon "escolar" — actually a type of bottom-feeding snake mackerel — and not long after their meal found themselves frantically googling "anal seepage.")

Pauly singles out these huge fishing fleets, from "vertically integrated conglomerates, such as Taiyo or the better-known Mitsubishi" in Japan, as the prime culprits in the decimation of the world's fish populations.

But, says Bob Vanasse, executive director of the Project to Save Seafood and Ocean Resources, if the oceans are indeed plied by "floating factor[ies] with underpaid workers who use technology that was developed to fight wars, high technology that is deployed in a war-like fashion against fish" (as Pauly described commercial boats to NPR's Terry Gross), "I don't think they're in New Bedford."

While there are corporate-owned vessels operating in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank — especially out of southern New England — Annala says the region's fleet is comprised primarily of "very small companies that might own one or two boats, where the owner is either an active fisherman or an ex-fisherman."

Yet even as America struggles to manage its depleted stocks — and those independent fishermen are subjected to ever more draconian regulations — corporate overfishing continues at alarming rates in places such as the European Union and Asia, with governments showing little inclination to rein it in.

Perversely, at the same time, "we're importing 80 percent of our fish," says Vanasse. "We're being extremely cautious and conservative in what we allow our fishermen to take out of the water, but then we supplement our consumption from countries that are known to be non-compliant. How is that a good thing?"

0911_oceans3_main3
HIGH-TIDE TECH: A far cry from anglers of the past, corporate fishermen today employ “war-like” technology, including automatic trawlers and fish-finding radar, to snare their prey.

Rules of the game
New England fishermen are feeling the effects of this severe recession from all sides. "I'm ready to lose my home," one man said at that Gloucester protest, according to the Gloucester Daily Times. "I'm ready to lose everything."

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