When I’m sitting at Ocean Basket in Sea Point munching on some fresh hake I find it strange to think that until very recently that individual fish was swimming in the sea. A lot of the fish we eat was born in the wild, grew up in the wild, avoided predators in the wild, but was eventually hauled out of the wild by a fisherman.
The problem is that unsustainable numbers of fish are being pulled out of the wild. Long ago unsustainable hunting on land caused wild reserves of land animals to collapse. Now we must farm animals like cows for food in dedicated industries, but the wild populations of many species have been decimated.
If you agree that this is a great pity, then you should realise that the same thing is busy happening in the world’s oceans. Across the globe fish populations are being mercilessly hunted towards extinction. National Geographic has this article about overfishing and specifically the damage being done to Mediterranean Tuna populations.
From the article:
- “The world’s oceans are a shadow of what they once were. With a few notable exceptions, such as well-managed fisheries in Alaska, Iceland, and New Zealand, the number of fish swimming the seas is a fraction of what it was a century ago.”
- “In the Mediterranean, 12 species of shark are commercially extinct, and swordfish there, which should grow as thick as a telephone pole, are now caught as juveniles and eaten when no bigger than a baseball bat.”
- “Would it be different if, as one conservationist fantasized, the fish wailed as we lifted them out of the water in nets?”
The problem is that because nobody owns the ocean’s fish reserves so it pays everyone to go nuts. There is no incentive for any one person to fish carefully if he knows that nobody else will. This kind of problem is known as a tragedy of the commons and can be quite tricky to solve.
So overfishing continues unabated and fish reserves are getting hammered. The article contrasts two catches at a particular tuna fishing spot in the Mediterranean:
- “In 1864, Favignana’s fishermen took a record 14,020 bluefin, averaging 425 pounds (190 kilograms). Last year, very few fish were caught—about 100, averaging 65 pounds (30 kilograms)”
Another thing about overfishing that really gets to me is the waste. In the photo below the fisherman is holding everything that he will keep – the rest goes overboard!
I grew up in Knysna where we have a beautiful estuary (we call it the lagoon). I am told that 50 years ago there were many large fish living in the lagoon. Now people hardly ever catch fish in the lagoon, and when they do they are small. What a pity…