You’re Paying to Kill the Ocean

From Scientific American Observations:

Overfishing and pollution have pushed life in the high seas to the brink of collapse, according to a new report from the Global Ocean Commission. “The oceans are a failed state,” David Miliband, co-chair of the commission, told Reuters.

The report warns that a combination of technology and big fuel subsidies have enabled industrial fishing fleets to heavily exploit 87% of the fish species there. Eighteen countries hand out billions of dollars in subsidies; the United States bestows fleets with $137 million for a catch worth $368 million.

Read the rest at: Scientific American Observations blog

This is the first I’ve heard of fishing subsidies, but it stands to reason they’d be there right alongside the equally damaging oil drilling subsidies and farm subsidies. So, thanks to subsidies, we pay for our fish dinners three times. First by paying over one third the value of the entire catch to fishermen, to overfish. Then by buying fish (and fertilizers and pet food) that are overpriced because the supplies are dwindling. And our final payment – a depleted ocean.

Here’s a story I’ve avoided telling for years because it upset me so badly that I couldn’t mention it without screaming:

Once upon a time, I walked into an upscale suburban supermarket and nearly fainted in the seafood
section. It was enormous. They had every kind of sea creature on display. Seven bins of different kinds of clams, shipped in from all over the world. An equally over the top selection of oysters. Whole sea bass, snapper, salmon and a huge halibut were laid out on beds of ice. The arms of a giant octopus were draped artfully around mounds of shrimp, mussels and scallops. There was far too much food for one community to eat before it all went bad.

seafood market

I roused myself from my shock and asked the fellow behind one of the counters what would happen to all this if it wasn’t sold in time. He said, “Oh, we figure the waste into the price.” He honestly thought my concern was for the store’s bottom line.

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One Comment

  1. Hey Nan,
    Honestly this short blog left me wondering what to say in responding. After many days I can find compassion and solace to send. The changes from the days when your grandfather took me fishing and hunting from the age of six are profound. Both in Canada and Puget Sound I was made aware of the way of things along the coast and the need to protect what we were used to seeing locally. The “down fall” of the fishing industry began with bigger boats leaving the seasonal sounds, bays and estuaries in favor of almost year long ocean fishing. And foreign neighbors moved in also since those fleets increased more quickly than ours. Since the Pacific Coast is so long and in some cases remote from population centers it seems to change slowly and thus hides areas of damage.
    The most surprising things I have become familiar with in the last couple of years are from the Atlantic Coast where I have seen and read about the devastation of marine fishing and shell fishing in the big bays and rivers of the coast. The huge volume of pollution by chemicals, garbage, manufacturing, animal and poultry waste runoff, and sewerage disposal is systemic to the way of things historically along the East coast and there may be no way to turn off the loss.
    I have beautiful memories of the way things were in my youth that I will share as I can but the specter of the “monster” fish market you described intrudes in a very disturbing way.

    Thanks for provoking me,


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