Oceans' fish could disappear in 40 years: UN

$27 billion in subsidies for $85 billion in catch.

The article points out that the worldwide fleet capacity is about 50% to 60% larger than it should be and that there is little to no effort to conduct sustainable fishing. There are few refuges and there is little attempt at recovery of depressed fish populations.

Oceans’ fish could disappear in 40 years: UN.
By Sebastian Smith (AFP)





  1. Charles Newton Avatar
    Charles Newton

    Unless you have ever been involved directly with the seafood industry then you really don’t have a clue as to the amount of waste thats going on there. One night a trawler came in to the seafood plant, I know the skipper personally, these guys who have been doing it for a while pretty much know right on the nail how much fish they have in their net, but anyways he was bragging that he had pulled up close to 100,000 pounds of blackcod, back they had slot limits on blackcod, you could have some many pounds of 5lb blackcod, so many pounds of 8lb blackcod and so on, so if I remember right a boat could deliever somewhere around 5000-10,000 pounds of blackcod a week. So out of that 100,000 pounds they kept around 10,000 lbs and the rest was dumped back overboard to wasted, the fish were dead because of the depths they catch them at, it kills them when they bring them to the surface real fast. There are so many other stories I could tell. It all boils down to greed. These guys go out and buy the big trawl boats, fancy electronics, the best gear and go out and rape the ocean and then cry because they can’t make their boat payments.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      With the big oil gusher, the fish in the Gulf of Mexico and maybe even up the East Coast might be gone a lot quicker than 40 years.

  2. David Avatar

    There is an excellent book called “COD”, if I remember right, talking about the history and politics of the cod fishing industry in New England and Northern Europe. Apparently, Iceland and England’s Cod Wars were responsible for the birth of the 200nm line to international waters. Not only for these items, the book is fascinating. But the relevance here is the story of the ingenuity that allowed Icelandic cod fishermen to improve their techniques over time to compensate for the lower stocks. They almost didn’t miss the decline until they were gone. And now, we have a devastated fishery. It also covers the politics and momentum required to shut down a fishery. To this day, some cod fishermen feel the government is cheating them out of their god-given right to fish for cod. The EU would do well to remember this sad tale when they meet next on the bluefin tuna fishery, or BC on salmon policies…. Makes my blood boil.

    1. David Avatar

      “Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world” by Mark Kurlansky

      I should have mentioned… It can be a bit dry reading at times, but it’s packed with really interesting facts, or at least things that purport to be facts (I have not verified).

  3. Linda Hunter Avatar

    i think I have to stop reading this blog . . it is getting just too depressing!

  4. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    Last fall, I took a trip to the coast of Maine for the first time since the 1960s. It’s simply incredible how the groundfish in New England have been fished out. You would hardly know halibut even exist in the Atlantic – they’re just picked up incidentally here and there, not something in enough abundance you would ever think about going out and fishing for them. And yet, in the 1800s there was a major targeted fishery for halibut like we have in the Pacific – it was the subject of the book “Captains Courageous”, with a sail powered schooners of the time reportedly able to make landings of 15-50 thousand pounds in 2 days. Take a look at the commercial catch graph for Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine going back to the 1893 and consider that the fishery was already in decline a decade before that:
    Haddock and cod have been depleted much more recently. When Maine groundfish stocks declined in the 1980s, more people piled into the lobster fishery and landings have doubled or tripled in the past 20 years – here’s the graph:
    Anyone who wants to enter the lobster fishery can buy a license and add their 600 to 900 traps (depending on the area), to the half million already in the water for months a year. It’s incredible, boating out through miles of congested trap floats from Boothbay Harbor into the open ocean. Lobsters truly must be the cockroaches of the sea to have so far withstood that kind of exploitation. They now account for 68% of the value of Maine commercial landings (with another 17% in farmed Atlantic salmon – there isn’t much left of wild stocks of the other commercial species with all groundfish combined now contributing only 3%). At Monhegan Island an old guy told me people used to come out and sport fish and it “was pretty good up until about 40 years ago”. I have a friend who’s family fishes bluefin tuna off Maine and averages about 11 fish per year, but average size has decreased dramatically in recent years.

    It’s basically a story of the “tragedy of the commons”. Fortunately, in the North Pacific the state and federal governments and the International Pacific Halibut Commission have all shown more willingness to adhere to scientific advice and restrict fisheries, and have far more industry support for conservation than in New England. However, it’s important to have a lot of eyes, including conservation groups like Oceana, and not just industry and government involved in the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

  5. vickif Avatar

    This is just a more obvious example of global needs for conservation. The most obvious way to slow this down would be to have an international conservation program. But we can see how Japan is obviously not interested (their whale and dolphin slaughter is notorious).
    We, as humans, waste too much. That can change, beginning at home.
    Americans consume far too little for the amount of waste created for their convenience.
    Maybe we should all go back to eating things that are fresh, not dried, or canned?
    This is evidence, in a long line of recently headlined news, that we need to regulate and re-invent how we use resources.

  6. David Avatar

    Regarding the lobster fisheries here in New England… they closed LI sound for several years in the late 90’s… and where 2lb lobsters used to be in abundance (stories of colonists pulling 6 pounders out after 10 minutes wading are everywhere in the historical accounts), lots of regions are lucky to keep getting chicken lobsters. There has been SOME responsibility of this fishery though… Compared to the ground fish, tuna, and swordfish industries…

    That said, I think the 40 yr extinction estimates are inflammatory. Think about all the things that have been blamed on global warming… Fear-mongering can’t replace solid science, but the populace just isn’t informed enough t care.

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      I agree – the article definitely over-states the likelihood of world-wide fish species extinction. Widespread “commercial extinctions”, howerver, are happening and likely to get worse, where fish get so scarce it is no longer economical to pursue them (like Atlantic halibut). Even commercial extinction is a huge loss in both environmental and economic terms. Basically, in arriving at that point the fishery becomes more and more marginal with greater resources (including fuel burned) expended in comparison with the food obtained. Also, it affects other parts of the food web, including potentially other commercially important fish species that are higher in the food chain. Basically, overfishing is impoverishing both yourself and the overall ecosystem.

      However, the problems underlying most of these declines have potential solutions – but it takes a willingness to reject the tragedy of the commons. In studies that have addressed this, most economists and fishery scientists have concluded other regions of the world need to adopt a model very similar to Alaska. Basically, you have to limit entry into fisheries and establish transferable quota shares to give fishermen a more direct stake in conservation in a less competitive environment, eliminate the impetus for over-capitalization and deliver fish more regularly and economically to the market at better quality and price and often under safer working conditions. Salmon fisheries are one exception that doesn’t work because the available allowable harvest is not known ahead of time so the fishery, involving a limited number of individual participants, is managed day to day around a target range of spawning escapement. A local biologist is given great emergency authority to take whatever action (usually restriction by time and area) is needed to achieve the spawning escapement goal. This system was established largely as a reaction to pre-statehood federal management whereby decisions were made in Washington D.C. under lobbying pressure of corporations that controlled most salmon fishing, with their main objective being achieving a particular case pack for their canneries rather than sufficient spawning escapement.

      The limited entry system is anathema to New England fishermen who believe in open access to fisheries. This creates a wild, wild East situation where some fisheries end up being limited more by social constraints (occasionally involving gun play as happened last summer in the lobster fishery at Matinicus Island). This appears to be one case where westerners are more civilized and rational in using and conserving natural resources. Unfortunately, the individual fishing quota system is not in itself a comprehensive management solution for wide-ranging transboundary fish such as bluefin tuna that come within range of fisheries by different nations all over the Atlantic. The only solution there is treaty negotiated management, although an individual transferable quota system can work well within that. In addition, it helps to establish a culture and tradition of conservation in the management system. Examples and consequences of the lack of it in other areas have provided powerful incentive for it in Alaska.

  7. monty Avatar

    Like Linda Hunter wrote, this depressing news tears your gut out! Where in the hell is the main stream news media? Why do the vast, vast majority of Americans ignore the environmental holocaust that increases daily?

  8. Virginia Avatar

    monty – the American public doesn’t want the truth – they can’t handle it as Jack Nicholson said. Most people I know are in denial about the environmental holocaust and will not believe anything about global warming, destruction of resources, environmental degradation, glacial melting – it just isn’t happening. They live in their own little world and please don’t confuse me with the facts.

  9. Chris Harbin Avatar
    Chris Harbin

    I think that it is difficult to get people to care about the environment for three reasons:
    1. Environmental concerns are often ambiguous
    and/or amorphous and currently people are having enough trouble concentrating on keeping their house, their job etc. For example, I am sure there are a lot of people who are concerned about the plight of the polar bear, but if you don’t have any in your backyard the polar bear issue does not rate as your highest priority, which is sad.
    2. When our government can’t do anything except worry about the next election, they sure as hell are not going to weigh in on meaningful reform. The popular (TV news, newspapers, radio) media doesn’t help by making big headlines such as “Senator ButtonHead had a torrid love affair with a sheep. ” Real problems get buried deep inside newspapers or broadcast.
    3. Sometimes I think the government intentionally under funds education and educators so that they can maintain power or control. I realize that this reason is highly conjectural.

  10. Catherine Avatar

    There are ways to educate the public about climate change. Monterey Bay Aquarium opened a new exhibit in March on climate change called Hot Pink Flamingos and Stories of Hope in a Changing Sea. It is bringing the issue of climate change to the public. It presents the various issues and ways we can slow down the changes by making large changes like different ways of producing energy to small changes individuals can make in their lives that will benefit the environment. As a volunteer guide, I find most people are open to discussing the material presented and want to know what they can do. When the material is discussed in an interesting way based on real science and not in strident manner people do become engaged. There are guests who do not believe climate change is real or that humans are responsible, but we are able to start conversations that they can continue with their families and friends. To see a small portion of the exhibit go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/efc/flamingos.aspx

  11. Charles Newton Avatar
    Charles Newton

    Then another time at a different seafood processing plant, one of the bigger more decked out trawl boats would come in with a load of fish, at the time the brown rock bass and green rock bass had a 3000lb limit per week. This skipper would take the dock forman aside and let him know of his overage and the crew would take off the overage amounts first and get it right on the fillet line, then when all was said and done with the unloading this skipper, even though the seafood plant bought illegal fish from him and could have gotten a ticket would accuse the plant of stealing fish from him. That ticked me off, I had a buddy who is a OSP game cop, I would call him the night before this boat would unload and he would be down there first thing the next morning to monitor the unloading, needless to say this skipper did recieve several citations for being over the limit on several different type of bottom fish. It was hard to not to laugh in this morons face.

  12. monty Avatar

    Jared Diamonds book “Collapse” captures the irrationality of human kind in the blind destruction of “nature” The chapter about Easter Island, in particular, is a metaphor about the larger contemporary picture. Chris Matthews, on NSNBC TV, is the only national news spokeman who has recently been angrely commenting about the oil spill in the Gulf. The tone of his comments are important because, for the first time, someone on a national level is “pissed off” and is expressing the feelings for many of us.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole