Fishing is not quite what it used to be. Even in the Pacific where images of sunny shores, palm tress and little canoes may prevail, reality underneath the waves is quite something else. Some of the biggest and most powerful fishing powers as well as those with most destructive gear in the world roam around these waters that were once were rich in tuna, sharks and marine life. Now many species have declined to such low levels we may never have them back in sufficient numbers.
One such species such as oceanic white tip sharks, one of the most evolved predators on the planet, that even if all fishing was stopped to protect them it could take hundreds of years to recover. It devastating to think we are emptying our oceans of it’s inhabitants, species after species, stock after stock.
The fish are getting fewer and fewer, smaller and smaller. The host nation of this week’s pacific tuna commission’s negotiations, the Philippines, declared an overfishing crisis a few weeks back. The tuna being landed in it’s ports is now almost all juveniles. If you don’t have any big mamas left in the oceans who is going to produce the next generation?
One would think that because of declining catches and more time needed to search for fish, scientific warning and reality that our oceans are becoming empty were enough to stop the industry from building more and bigger boats, and developing even more ruthlessly efficient fishing methods. But no, perverted subsidies from governments are driving ship building in many countries still and apparently the ship yards around the world are busier than ever, pumping out new purse seiners, longliners and other fishing boats that soon will have no fish to catch. To compensate the increasing scarcity of fish, boats gladly load on more fish aggregation devices that will help find and capture the last fish.
What will coastal communities with no alternative protein do when they only have empty nets? Action needed to halt increases in fishing boat numbers and capacity is needed more urgently than ever.
Unfortunately, here in Manila this week, the political will to make these changes happen seems as low as ever, notwithstanding recent analyses by scientists showing that overfishing of bigeye tuna continues to be a problem. Short-term corporate profits are again steamrolling over the future of the Pacific ocean and those most dependent on it for livelihoods and food here.
Countries have no problems postponing important decisions that can be taken right now to long-winded process that will take years and years to resolve while wanton overfishing continues. Perhaps we have to get ready to hand over empty oceans to next generations of hungry bellies on Pacific shores. It's now up to us, consumers, to make that choice for seafood that's sustainable and empowers people who rely on them for food and livelihood.