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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fisheries Policy - Lets change tacks

Our history
We have shown conclusively that as a species we are not worthy of having dominion over the beasts of the field and the fish in the sea*. Every first people, when they arrive in a new land, wipe out whatever portion of the native fauna that their technology is capable of. When Europeans arrive, some time later, they wipe out even more.**

* I've always been rather puzzled at the attitude of devoted Christians.  After all in that passage of the bible, Dad was passing on the family business to us.  Presumably his hope was that we would look after his legacy, guard it and even improve it (sorry, that is not possible.  Anything God created is by definition perfect already).  Why then is it the religious people who want to mine, clear fell, drill, and over exploit virtually every resource we have while the non believers seem to be the ones that are trying to protect Gaia.  I just don't get it.

**read the chapter "Goodby" in Bill Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything to get a taste of just how destructive we have been.  Better still, get a book by Schouten and Flannery titled A Gap in Nature.   Sea of Slaughter by Farley Mowat is also an eye opener.



In North America a rich fauna of Mammoths, giant ground living sloths, a beaver the size of a black bear and many many other species disappeared soon after the first people arrived. Europeans arrived and a bunch more disappeared including the passenger pigeon and very nearly the American buffalo.  Europeans rounded off their orgy of destruction by  almost eliminating  the first people.  Europeans, when they arrived in North America were astounded by the abundance.  They had no idea of the incredible fauna that existed in North America before man arrived.  The abundance they observed was in contrast to their homeland where they had long since destroyed their own fauna.

In Eurasia, as the level of hunting technology improved and as Cromag's replaced Neanderthals, a fauna as rich as that of Africa vanished.*

*Read Jean Auel's book, Plains of Passage to see what we have lost. It is a novel but Jean did her homework.

In  Africa the Elephants, Rhinoceros and a host of other game almost disappeared.  At the 11th hour the Europeans realized that everything they held dear was about to vanish and, in a couple of game reserves in Natal Kwazulu they brought these species back from extinction.  Back under African rule, they are once more on the way out.

Here in New Zealand, almost within living memory, the Moa and a giant eagle were wiped out. Sea birds* which once abounded on the mainland vanished from all but offshore islands and many "dicky birds" were eaten to extinction.  Sea birds once contributed a huge supply of nutrients (guano) from the sea to the land.  That all ended.

*New Zealand was dominated by birds.  Our only mammals were bats.  Google Mike Joy, an ecologist from New Zealand's Massey University to get a feel for what is still happening today in New Zealand

In Australia, perhaps the greatest extinctions occurred.  The destruction began, following man's first incursions into that land forty to fifty thousands  years ago.  95% of Australia's large animals, mostly marsupials, were eaten to extinction.  So much for "the first people" - the guardian of nature.  Extinctions  continue apace with 'European man's' ever increasing ability to destroy whole ecologies.


But we don't have to go  that far back. In the oceans of the world, in my lifetime, or at most, in the lifetimes of me and my grandfather, animals which have come within a hairs breath of extinction include the seals of many lands, the whales, many fisheries including most of the tuna#, the salmon of Europe and North America, the cod of the grand banks*, the cod and halibut of the North Atlantic (Dogger Banks)  and most of the shellfish beds of the world.  On and on the list goes.  If we go further back, sail boats used to harvest more fish than our modern diesel powered trawlers just 150 years ago.  Fortunately most of these species have remnant populations and could possibly be brought back.  Once we thought that a simple cessation of fishing would be enough.  We have had a rude awakening in, for instance, the Grand Banks of Newfoundland which haven't recovered despite a fisheries ban.  There is some hope though.  Off the horn of Africa where the pirates have denied access to industrial fishing boats, the fish stocks have bounced back with a vengeance.

# It was announced on the radio in Oct 2013 that the Chinese are building a fleet to plunder the tuna of the south pacific, the last significant tuna population in the world.

* Note that it was reported in New Scientist (30 July 2011, p5) that the Grand Banks are finally recovering.  Of course what they call recovering is back to a state "remembered" since scientific man began to monitor the fisheries.  Scientific man isn't ready to use pre-scientific reports of the abundance that once was because it "isn't scientific".

How clever we are
  If a system is complicated, clever bureaucrats, lawyers, and businessmen will find a way to thwart the system. Think of taxation as an example.  If we are going to put in a policy to stop and reverse the destruction of our oceans, it has to be simple.  It should be able to be expressed on one side of a double spaced piece of A4 paper.  A simple system is far more difficult to rort*. A necessary partner to a simple system is that repercussions to rorting the system must be swift and harsh.  Of greatest importance, though,  repercussions must be inevitable.

* common Kiwi term for a scam, often political

The failure of the Commons
If we continue with the 'commons' no system will work.  We need to have the oceans divided up and in the hands of individual governments.  Only the country in question is responsible for their area and only they can fish in this area. If they destroy the resource: tough!!  That is all they get.  They must also be ready to use extreme force and sink pirate fishing vessels which fish in their waters.We have gone a good way toward this with the 200 mile economic exclusion zone measured from headlands and offshore islands.  The more of the ocean that is removed from the commons, the more likely we are to succeed in conserving our oceans.  If small nations which are being preyed upon by industrial fishing nations think that they are too small to do anything*, learn from the pirates# off the horn of Africa.  With modern shoulder launched anti tank weapons, a wooden proa becomes a very effective stealth delivery platform.

*New Zealand's Pacific Island neighbours, for instance 

#this one is tongue-in-cheek (isn't it???).  You can look up your own serious ones. There are lots of them on the net.

Fisheries Biology
Ocean biology is quite different from land biology.  On land, before humans arrived, the flora and fauna of the different land masses were very different from each other.  Compare, for instance the pre human fauna of Australia, North America, New Zealand and Madagascar.  They could have been on different planets.

The situation in the oceans is quite different.  If you have dived on coral reefs around the world you will have seen that with minor variations, they were all the same.  Sea animals send their progeny far and wide on ocean currents.  Even sessile animals such as oysters have pelagic larvae.  Even animals which guard their young such as the clown fish (nemo) send their young far an wide once they are hatched.  Because of this, if there are protected areas, they will seed unprotected areas.  If these areas are large enough, they won't only seed unprotected areas with larvae but with adults which have become overcrowded and are looking for 'fresh pastures'.

Our fishing methods
Our fishing methods over-fish resources and take the largest and the best instead of leaving them to breed* and produce the next generation. Bottom trawls destroy the environment that nurtures the fish we catch.  Within a couple of years of starting bottom trawling in a new area, all the bottom attached fauna has been removed leaving a sterile plane.

Drift nets catch huge amounts of 'by-catch' and when a drift net sinks, it continue to fish and deplete the fish stocks.

We allow floats to be set (FAD's) in the ocean to attract fish and then we harvest the whole lot.  This leads to a criminal level of 'by-catch' which is dumped back into the sea.   For a smart species, we seem totally unable to do what our own intelligence tells us  we should be doing.


*A nice land-example of selective pressure  is the reduction of the size of the ivory of the African Elephant.  We always hunted the 'tuskers' and left the elephants with small tusks.  A nice example of evolution in action as male elephants are now maturing with small tusks. What farmer in his right mind would harvest the biggest and best and leave the runts to breed.  That's what we do in the oceans.


Salmon fisheries are my favorite example of human stupidity.  All we have to do is to wait for the fish to return to the streams where we can harvest them.  We only have to leave enough of the biggest and best to spawn and fill the redds and harvest the rest.  Instead what do we do.  We send expensive, polluting, dangerous (to the crews) fishing boats to catch these fish before they are mature and  hence, fully grown.  We dam up rivers without adequate measures to allow the fish to bypass the dams on the way up and down, and worse still we allow fish farming along the salmon migration routs which trashes the natural fisheries (see link).  We don't protect the riparian environment and so degrade our rivers and we allow domestic, agricultural and industrial pollution to further degrade the salmon rivers not to mention clear-fell logging which silts up the redds.  So what do we need to do.

                        The solution 

1.  Firstly,  we need to put  as much of the ocean as possible under the control of individual governments.  The National Area is the only place in which they are allowed to fish and only they can fish there.  Fishing boats must be based in their country, owned by their citizens and must land all catches in their country.  Allowing foreign fishing boats to fish national waters* puts the citizens of the country out of work, reduced the tax take to the government and strangles businesses which would service the national fleet and in turn also pay taxes.  Allowing foreign fishing boats to fish your waters is as short sighted as sending your manufacturing overseas and is, economically speaking,  the same thing.  If a particular nation is unable to fish their waters, their whole area becomes a fisheries reserve.  They might opt to start a tourist fishing business, earning far more from their area than is possible from commercial fishing.  The choice is theirs.

*You would think that an educated, technological, modern country like New Zealand would fish her own waters.  Not so.  Since foreign fishing boats, with their abysmal labor laws and tiny wages can land fish cheaper than New Zealand boats, we allow them to do our fishing for us.  This takes jobs that could be done by Kiwis, lowers our tax take and obliges us to borrow more money as a country to keep ourselves afloat.  All the fishermen would also be shopping in local stores, raising the taxes they pay. Instead we leave our potential fishermen on shore and pay them welfare.

Nov 2013.  I just learned that we send our fish for processing to China.  Are we totally our of our minds.  I thought that at least we processed our own fish even though we allow foreign fishing.  Apparently not.

2 Secondly and most importantly, instead of making tiny areas here and there into no fishing reserves, each country must designate at least half of their area a no fishing reserve.  Don't get me wrong.  The existing tiny reserves are extremely valuable.  They allow marine animals to breed  and seed areas far and wide with their progeny.  But just imagine the effect of putting at least 50% of the best fishing grounds off limits. In this way, you are not only seeding fishing areas with juveniles but also with adult fish as the reserve areas become  crowded and the fish look for greener pastures.  The catch per unit effort* in the permitted area would be incredible.  Imagine getting back to the productivity that was reported from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and the Dogger Banks of the UK, of the huge densities of tuna that once existed, of salmon runs that are many orders of magnitude larger than our present pitiful returns.  The good part about this is that if we eliminate the commons and put all of the oceans under the control of individual countries, it would only be necessary for one country with a reasonably large zone of economic exclusion (guess who??)  to  institute this policy.  The results would be so spectacular that all the rest would follow.  As a species we are  sheep and  we  show a huge level of  ecological amnesia.  We hardly innovate at all and only advance as a species because we follow the few who do think outside the box.  We forget from generation to generation what 'was'  and hence what  'could be' again.

*"Catch per unit effort" is measured in various ways.  One of the most common is to calculate how many dollars are needed to catch a kg of the desired fish/prawn/crayfish/oyster.

Note:  If the only function of marine reserves was to supply tiny juvenile organisms to re-seed fishing areas, we could arguably manage with a few hundred small reserves of, say, 10 square nautical miles each, scattered strategically around our (New Zealand) coastline.  You only have to observe sport fishermen to realize the value of reserves to supply adult fish.  Fishermen cluster just outside marine reserves where the fishing is great.  In the reserve, fish grow up unmolested, outgrow their area and go looking for new areas with abundant food.  A marine reserve not only seeds areas with larvae but with adult fish.  Let half of the Economic Exclusion Zone be off limits for fishing and just watch what sort of fishing you have in the other half.  Better still, if the fisheries returned to pre-human levels, we could achieve huge catches with hook and line methods instead of destructive bottom trawls and drift nets.  This would further increase our fisheries as the bottom recovered from the abuses it has suffered to date.


3.  Thirdly, each fishing boat must carry a transponder AIS) which tells where it is at all times.  This is done with oil tankers (who often switch them off when engaged in nefarious activities)  A world wide computer system rings an alarm when a fishing boat is traveling at fishing speed in a no fishing area or if the signal goes off.  If after investigation, the fishing boat has been found to be fishing in a no fishing area, it is simply taken to a no fishing area and sunk* 
**.  No if's and's or but's.  The most important part of any regulation is the inevitability of the sanction.  The best place to sink such a boat is where  bottom trawling was once done.  This provides a snag for the nets of anyone who tries to bottom trawl in such an area.  The boat also becomes an artificial reef and provides niches for fish breeding that were destroyed by bottom trawling. No fair trying to make money out of selling the boat.  Each fishing boat we destroy is one less boat catching fish.  Take off the crew*** and send them home (first class with lots of presents and Kiwi memorabilia and their full wages), pump out the oil tanks and open the sea cocks.

*Such a policy greatly simplifies the policing and regulation of fisheries.  You almost get down to a one sentence fisheries regulation system.  If you fish the restricted area, we sink you. You almost eliminate the need for monitoring fish stocks (which won't make the researchers happy).

**Note that as of 1015, Indonesia has started to sink illegal fishing boats.  We need a few more countries to follow their lead to give them moral support and take the heat off them.

***Treating the crew really well will garner much good will and support from crews when other boats must be boarded. 

4.  Fourthly, all fishing boats must have an observer monitoring the catch.  This is done today in many fisheries and is very effective.  Observers must be shifted around between boats so that cosy relationships do not develop between observers and captains.  Stats are kept on catches vs which observers are on board.  Any curious 'anomalies' are investigated.

It is curious, in the case of New Zealand, that the abuse of foreign fishermen was not reported.  Did we not have observers on these boats* or were they in the pocket of the captain.  More likely, the fish processing companies that hired these foreign Charter Boats didn't want to hear anything that would effect their profits.

* In a news report after this blog was written it turned out that we did have an observer on the boat.  What was she doing???

5.  Fifth, all catches are landed and processed by the country in who's water the fishing is done.  The country then sells quality, value-added-products to the world and hence has the incentive to manage its fisheries well.  At least, New Zealand has this right*. 

*She did have.  If my information is correct we are now processing our fish overseas!!!!!!

6.  Sixth, for all the fisheries of the world, we stop bottom trawling and drift netting.  Once the fish resources have recovered, the fishing will be so good that such methods will not be necessary for economically viable fishing**.  With recovered fish stocks, long line methods will result in great catches and there will be no need for the various destructive methods of fishing.

**Note that on Jan11, 2012 in an interview with Dr Callum Roberts of York University in the UK, he gave some figures for the catch with just hook and line in the 1800's when the Dogger banks were still full of fish.  The total catch, percent of hooks with fish and the size of the fish caught were astounding.He would make a great advisor to the New Zealand government.

7.  Seventh, off great importance, we change the quota system in our areas of influence.  A fishing boat should be licensed to catch a certain number of kg of fish*.  They must keep and process whatever they catch.  If the catch is what they consider trash fish, too bad.  None of this nonsense of throwing back a net full of fish because the concentration of the desired species is too low.  The on-board observers must see to this.  Why on earth do we insist on catching and keeping the largest fish who are the breeders and likely to be the best genetic stock and throwing back the young and the runts.  If we had always utilized the biggest and best in our farms,  our cattle, sheep and other livestock would now be tiny scrubby little things instead of the magnificent animals they are.  No sane farmer would behave like this.

* In a later news report it turned out that the Korean fishing boat that was abusing their crew caught a particularly valuable net of fish.  Lacking room in their holds they tossed the earlier catch overboard to make way for the new fish.  Why would we have expected anything else from a company that treated their workers the way they did.

8.  Eighth, I suggest that the island nations of the Pacific declare themselves the United Island Nations of the Pacific.      The only common policy they need to have  is Fisheries.  In all other matters they are sovereign.  There is a precedent for this.  Many of the Pacific Nations already run a shipping company they own in common, The Pacific Forum Line.

For fisheries policy, the Pacific Islands draw their zones of economic exclusion from 200km beyond the border of a line drawn between the outer most of their islands.  They then negotiate which areas are to be fished by which islands.  No foreign fishing boats of any outside nation are allowed in the exclusion area.   No foreign boats are licenced.  All catches are landed and processed on-board or on one of the islands . All fish, processed at sea are landed on one of the islands.  Any foreign fishing boat found within their territorial waters is sunk.

9. We must stop the harvesting of  whales.  It turns out that whale poo made from deep water prey and even surface prey is a major resource for the primary productivity of our oceans. Whales are not just a nice thing to have around, not just valuable for tourism.  They are vital to the productivity of our oceans.  Just imagine if we could stop the whale fishing nations of the world from killing whales so that once again we had as many "whale pumps" enriching our surface waters as there were in pre-whaling days. 

The potential productivity of our oceans is immense but not unlimited.  As usual, the problems are not technical but of vested interests.  The necessary technical measures are obvious and simple.    Let's use vested interests by having the long term vested interests of the  whole country the determining factor rather than the short term vested interests of companies. We have seen conclusively, recently, that unregulated capitalism is very destructive (crash of 2008).  We need sensible regulations that take a wider view than the immediate bottom line of individual companies*.  The true function of governments is to take this wider view.

* We vitally need a wider-view set of policies in many other aspects of our economy including our lumbering industry, acquisition of new rail stock and our selling off of our farmlands to vertically integrated foreign companies.

As a young lad, ocean products of all sorts were inexpensive and readily available.  Whenever my parents took me out for dinner in Vancouver in the 50's,  I had a choice of ocean scallops, oysters, top quality salmon, halibut and so forth.  Just in my short lifetime, they have become rare and expensive.  It doesn't have to be this way.


One last thought.  Perhaps the most important function of fisheries reserves is that it allows us to reset our baseline.  Each generation has a base line of the number of fish, the size of oyster reefs, the ease of catching a meal and so forth from their youth or at most from tales from their fathers.  Scientists are trained not to accept anecdotal evidence so if in an old book from the 14th century someone talks about the abundance of fish in some area, the information is not trusted.  A fisheries biologist needs numbers; catch per unit effort, Lobsters counted on a standard transect and so forth.  The trouble is that this sort of information has only been generated over the past 50 years or so.  A marine reserve allows us to get a little closer to what once was.  It may only be a shadow of what really was if bottom trawling has trashed the breeding ground of fish but it is far closer to what once was than the tales of our fathers.  Given time, even the bottom environment will re-establish itself and we can really see what was.

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