Just as they have with climate change, environmental groups have promoted and profited from "doom and gloom” regarding the world’s ocean fisheries.
They have been aided and abetted by movies such as End of the Line and publications such as Nature. In 2005, the latter published a piece that said, “Fishing in the ocean is no longer sustainable. Worldwide, we have failed to manage the ocean’s fisheries --- in a few decades, there may be no fisheries left to manage.”
And with Jane Lubchenco from the Environmental Defense Fund and her allies taking over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Obama administration, this philosophy now permeates government policy. It’s evident in the National Ocean Council, the Catch Shares scheme, and the push for marine protected areas.
But just as the climate change scenario has been discredited by discovery of falsified data, so too do facts belie doom and gloom for the world’s ocean fisheries.
In other words, it ain’t happening.
Dr. Ray Hilborn confidently put a stake in the heart of such fear-mongering during a recent presentation at a Saltwater Summit sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. In fact, the professor from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington received the loudest and most enthusiastic applause of any of the speakers during the two-day event.
The title of his presentation, “The Sustainability of America’s Fisheries: Will All Fish Really Be Gone by 2048?,” was adapted from a 2006 Science article, which proposed such a catastrophic occurrence.
Using science and statistics, particularly stock abundance, Hilborn systematically dismantled the three main myths of the doom and gloom crowd. Those myths and his responses are as follows:
1. Myth: We are fishing down food chains and will have nothing left but jellyfish. Response: Fisheries begin with the most valuable, not the top of the food chain. The most valuable include species such as sardines and crabs.
2. Myth: 80 to 90 percent of the large fish in the ocean were gone by 1980. Response: Catches have increased three times since 1980 for tuna and billfish. Bluefin tuna are overfished in some waters but stocks are rebuilding and they are not in danger of extinction.
3. Myth: If current trends continue, all stocks will be collapsed. Response: Rebuilding of stocks is happening. There is no silver bullet, but the broad range of tools being used is sufficient. MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) and ITQs (Individual Transferable Quotas) are not necessary or sufficient.
But why didn’t you hear about Hilborn’s repudiation of these arguments?
“We didn’t make the New York Times or the Washington Post, as did that 2006 report,” he said. “We were on the ninth page of the Times. This stuff (good news about fisheries) doesn’t sell.”
The world catch from industrial nations has been stable for 20 years, the professor said, and he emphasized that MPAs are not an important part of the management system in rebuilt fisheries.
“Foundations and NGOs (non-government organizations) spend more than $100 million per year on marine issues,” Hilborn said.
“They thrive on doom and gloom about the survival of our fisheries.
“But data has begun to convince many NGOs and foundations that many fisheries are well managed and sustainable.”
Charts and graphics used by Hilborn for the presentation can be found here, along with other summit programs. When I view Hilborn’s, however, some sort of technical glitch eliminates letters “f” and “g.”