Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The tragedy of the oceans: How bad is it?

RALPH SURETTE

Chronicle Herald

EVERY TIME a page turns on the saga of the world’s oceans, the story gets more hair-raising. Now, according to an international report released this week, the large fish remaining out there are going hungry because we’re wiping out their prey fish in an accelerating race to nowhere.

Add to that picture the proliferation of huge oxygen-starved oceanic "dead zones" caused by a combination of pollution and rising temperatures (over 400 and counting, up by a third in only the last couple of years), acidification of the seas leading to destruction of the coral reefs and other noxious effects, plus vast algae blooms, and the story is on the verge of being a full-blown horror show.

One of the more grabby bits in the report, by the Washington-based Oceana research group, is that up to 80 per cent or more of this prey fishing – for herring, mackerel, krill, anchovies, squid and others – is not directly for human food, but as feed for finfish aquaculture, notably salmon farms.

This, in passing, throws an interesting light on the dispute over a huge new salmon farm in Port Mouton Bay, which residents are opposing on grounds it will hopelessly pollute the bay and destroy the local wild fishery. According to this report’s calculation, new salmon farms shouldn’t be going up anywhere, let alone in a sensitive bay, because of their role in the relentless destruction of ocean life generally.

These alarms about the state of the oceans have been coming with increased frequency in recent years, in some cases in fulfilment of predictions that were made decades ago about the ultimately catastrophic effects of overfishing and pollution. The best that can be said about their impact is that there is none. There are more scientific conferences and more studies, and here and there some initiatives like no-fishing marine reserves or tighter fisheries and pollution management, but action is woefully short of preventing the gathering devastation.

In fact, since out of sight is out of mind, the most prominent feature of the whole thing is our capacity to ignore it. As with global warming generally and other facets of environmental destruction, the scientists keep saying there’s a window of opportunity to reverse matters if we act now. But since there’s no clear and common will to deal with it on a global scale, and no sign of one coming, we must assume that the tragedy will simply continue to unfold mostly unchecked with full consequences for human life and for nature as a whole, whatever those are.

With regard to fishing, aquaculture now accounts for almost half the fish consumed in the world. One of the easy assumptions about fish farming is that it will displace the wild fishery. But since farmed fish require prey fish for food, the practice is actually hastening the worst for the wild fishery, aided by the world’s high-tech fleets probing ever deeper and harder.

Complete Article

( rsurette@herald.ca)

Ralph Surette is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County.

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