Summit 'flop' says fish

Feature story - 2 September, 2002
Our expert marine correspondent C. Creature is in Johannesburg this week and is reporting from the Earth Summit that there is something fishy about “the first victory of the summit” and the great claims to protect threatened fish stocks.

Our correspondent in Johannesburg reports about something fishy happening inside the summit.

I'd like to thank Greenpeace for providing me the opportunity to speak here. Since I am a fish, I'm not allowed into the halls of the Earth Summit, except on a plate.

I've already put my fin print on a petition of protest to Kofi Annan, since I believe that by any standard, I ought to be considered a "major stakeholder" at the Earth Summit.

But I have been following the news closely, on behalf of myself, my family, and all my Osteichthyes brothers and sisters who have been likewise excluded. And on behalf of fish everywhere, I want to denounce the news that the Earth Summit has made "major progress" or that agreements on restoring depleted fisheries are somehow the "first environmental victory of the summit." That, if you'll pardon me, is a whale of a tale of unprecedented scale, and none of the fish I know are bubbling with enthusiasm.

Scientists published a report last year that made a lot of waves. They reviewed over 100,000 years of fishing data and its impact on the oceans. They found that the numbers of big animals in the ocean (whales, sea lions, sharks, tunas, rays and others) were "fantastically higher" even several hundred years ago then they are today. Driven by overfishing, you humans are threatening whole ecosystems with collapse.

What should the Summit have done?

Governments should have agreed real targets to cut back on industrial fishing of the oceans. They should have committed to restoring the world's depleted fish stocks within a targeted time with NO EXCEPTIONS. They should have moved international law protecting the seas forward instead of backward.

"Backward?" asked my friend C. Turtle this morning. "Backward" I responded. You see, the United Nations has already agreed binding action on fisheries restoration under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. Those same targets have been simply reproduced at the Summit, but now as "voluntary" agreements. Excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me. You call THAT a victory?

And what about this subsidies business. "Hip hip hoorah" roars the press about a decision to end subsidies to illegal fisheries. Listen, I may have a brain the size of a pea, but it doesn't take a biped to know that ending subsidies to fishing activities that are already illegal is not exactly a giant leap forward for conservation.

Now I'm not out to stir up the waters - I'll give them credit where credit is due. I'm tickled pink that there's a clear call for elimination of subsidies for big industrial fishing boats. These are the giant ocean "strip mining" ships that can wipe out 1000 tonnes of fish a day.

And the creation of marine protected areas by 2012 could help. That'll make whole areas of the ocean which are important to our recovery safe from fishing. If (and only if) they are big enough and in the right places, I know where I'm heading for my summer vacation.

This summit was supposed to be working out solutions to poverty and the problems of the environment. Let me tell you something. They're failing, and don't let them tell you otherwise. We fish are not about to let them off the hook, and neither should you.