Entries tagged with “fisheries”.

I like Grist, most of the time . . . and then there are times when it grates a bit.  Jess Zimmerman got me with one of the latter today – in a post about the grave condition of our oceans.  First, I guess I just like my info delivered straight, not . . . well, this:

Ocean ecosystems are taking a faster nosedive than anyone predicted. Without urgent action, coral reefs and entire fish species could disappear in a generation. Why is this happening? Do you really need to ask? Hint: It rhymes with shmarbon shmioxide.

Shmarbon shmioxide?  Really?

CO2 in the atmosphere increases the temperature of ocean water, throwing off the pH and making the oxygen-hogging algae population explode. Result: OCEAN DOOM.

Ocean doom?  That is the summary of this report?  This does not enhance the readability or accessibility of the report.  Hell, I feel like it trivializes the report, which I suspect was the opposite of Zimmerman’s intent.

But here’s the thing: Zimmerman’s summary mischaracterizes the report.  The title of the press release is the first hint:

“Multiple ocean stresses threaten ‘globally significant’ marine extinction.”

The second hint is the first bullet point of the press release:

  • The combination of stressors on the ocean is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth’s history

And finally, just reading down a bit, it becomes clear that climate change is one of three major stressors that combine to cause the challenges we face.

The group reviewed recent research by world ocean experts and found firm evidence that the effects of climate change, coupled with other human-induced impacts such as overfishing and nutrient run-off from farming, have already caused a dramatic decline in ocean health.

Increasing hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and anoxia (absence of oxygen, known as ocean dead zones) combined with warming of the ocean and acidification are the three factors which have been present in every mass extinction event in Earth’s history.

So, to Jess Zimmerman and Grist, please, please take a bit more time reading press releases (God forbid you read the report before reporting on it) and try to get the messages right.  The collapse of our oceans is an incredibly important challenge that is vastly underreported and very poorly understood by the general public (earlier post on this here), and addressing the causes of the depletion of the oceans (and some really significant terrestrial impacts as people look for new sources of protein – see chapters 2 and 13 in Delivering Development) will require addressing how we grow our food and dispose of our waste, and how we choose to fish the oceans for generations to come.  Climate change and CO2 emissions are part of the problem, no doubt, but without a comprehensive approach, we will collapse our fisheries no matter what we do on climate change.

A while back, I had a blog post on a report for ActionAid, written by Alex Evans, on critical uncertainties for development between the present and 2020.  One of the big uncertainties Alex identified were environmental shocks, though in that version of the report he limited these shocks to climate-driven environmental shocks.  In my post, I suggested to Alex that he widen his scope, for environmental shocks might also include ecosystem collapse, such as in major global fisheries – such environmental shocks are not really related to climate change, but are still of great importance.  The collapse of the Gulf of Guinea large marine ecosystem (largely due to commercial overfishing from places other than Africa) has devastated local fish hauls, lowering the availability of protein in the diets of coastal areas and driving enormous pressure on terrestrial fauna as these populations seek to make up for the lost protein.  Alex was quite generous with my comments, and agreed with this observation wholeheartedly.

And then today, I stumbled on this – a simple visualization of Atlantic Fisheries in 1900 and 2000, by fish haul.  The image is striking (click to expand):

Now, I have no access to the datasets used to construct this visualization, and therefore I can make no comments on its accuracy (the blog post on the Guardian site is not very illuminating).  However, this map could be off by quite a bit in terms of how good hauls were in 1900, and how bad they are now, and the picture would still be very, very chilling.  As I keep telling my students, all those new, “exotic” fish showing up in restaurants are not delicacies – they are just all that is left in these fisheries.

This is obviously a development problem, as it compromises livelihoods and food supplies.  Yet I don’t see anyone addressing it directly, even aid organizations engaged with countries on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, where this impact is most pronounced.  And how long until even the rich really start to feel the pinch?

Go here to see more visualizations – including one of the reach of the Spanish fishing fleet that makes clear where the pressure on the Gulf of Guinea is coming from.