The destruction of the marine ecosystem

About 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water and with the energy of the sun this environment should be teeming with life. That it isn’t is purely down to man and his ability to raid the aquatic world for food sources. The destruction wrought is massive because firstly the seas have been open for anyone to go and take what they wanted out of them and secondly the damage is not visible like it would be on land. Out of sight out of mind.

Fishermen are hunters and have the attitude that if they don’t take a fish then someone else will and with modern technology they have the means to take every fish, which they do whenever they can. The Grand Banks off Canada was one of the world’s greatest fisheries, they said that if you lowered a basket in the water you could pull it out full of cod. So by 1968 they were taking 800,000 tons of cod a year out. And by 1992 the fish were all gone. In the Mediterranean just now the same is happening to the tuna and in our North Sea many species, including cod and haddock, are endangered.

The EU implemented a system of quotas for its sea areas in order to make fishing a sustainable food source. This hasn’t worked because it is flawed in many ways:

  • The scientific advice it is based on is at best a guess.
  • Politicians ignore the scientific advice when it suits them.
  • Once the quota limits are reached caught fish are just thrown back into the water dead.
  • Fishermen catch and land fish illegally, ignoring the system.

As if this weren’t bad enough we allow one of the most ecologically destructive practices on earth and that is beam trawling. This involves pulling a long beam across the sea bed in order to catch, in the attached net, some of the fish species that are bottom dwelling. However the practice destroys the whole ecosystem of the sea bed. If the equivalent was tried on land there would be an outcry and it would be made illegal instantly.

Then there is the fate of the sharks. Demonised by the film Jaws they have few friends, yet they are essential for the health of the sea as they balance whole ecosystems and clean up the dead and dying. They are far more important to the marine environment than the whales are. And they are being exterminated, with many species now over 95% depleted, in order to make soup in China. Watch the film Sharkwater and have your eyes opened.

Amazingly there is proven way to maximise our food from the sea whilst preserving eco systems, and that is no take zones. These mean precisely what they say, areas where nothing is allowed to be removed from the sea. Sanctuaries where all creatures can grow to maturity and breed without being prematurely caught and killed by man. And the amazing thing is that every time a no take zone has been enforced the total fish yield goes up, because the areas around the no take zone become super abundant with fish. Everybody wins.

There is something else that needs to be done. At this time of the year you will find cod’s roe in fishmongers. These are the millions of eggs that a female cod was just about to lay. By taking such fish out of the water the fishermen kill off the next generation of their livelihood, yet they are happy to do so. There really needs to be seasonal constraints to allow breeding.

Most people reading this probably don’t care and turn over when fishing policy comes up on the TV news. But the marine environment is just as important as the land environment and just because you can’t see the damage being done doesn’t mean that it can be ignored. We are doing more permanent damage to the sea than anything that is happening to the rain forests.

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