The Last Fish Tale…

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Mark Kurlansky’s:

The Last Fish Tale: The fate of the Atlantic and survival in Goucester, America’s Oldest fishing port and most original town.

Kurlansky has written some really interesting books: Salt: A world history; Cod: Biography of the Fish that Changed the World; The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell and some others. All pretty good reads.

The Last Fish Tale is about a disappearing way of life: fishing.

As stated on the book jacket:

The culture of fishing is vanishing, and consequently, coastal societies are changing in unprecedented ways. The once thriving communities of Rockport, Nantucket, Newport, Mystic and many other coastal towns from Newfoundland to Florida and along the West Coast have been forced to abandon their roots and become tourist destinations instead.

Yeah, gee, anyone been to Tofino lately – or how about Ucluelet (fancy condos popping up like gopher heads on a prairie field). Or Prince Rupert working feverishly to get cruise ships into docks. Or even Steveston in Vancouver – more touristy than fishy industrious.

Have you seen Oregon coastal towns, or Northern California over the last decade?

With the disappearance of the logging industry coupled with the disappearance of the fishing industry in the Western States – not much left but tourists (at least when the global economy is thrumming along and not beset with H1NoFun or SARS or other nasty acronym).

Kurlansky has a great little section in the last quarter of the book in a chapter titled: The Fish is in us. He discusses the sometimes uncomfortable alliance between fishermen and environmentalists. Specifically in reference to the community of Gloucester, on the U.S. eastern seaboard, he discusses how some alliances formed between the two – as there was a common goal “of preserving fish stocks” – however the alliances have been shaky at the best of times.

One particular 2006 incident involved a fight over potential for a liquefied natural gas terminal (LNG) to be built just offshore from Gloucester. Environmentalists were quite silent on the issue as apparently natural gas is seen as a decent environmental alternative to oil; however, fishermen were furious – not just because of environmental issues, but the fact that the offshore platform would mean an area closed off to fishing.

The fishermen felt that the environmentalists, who had lobbied to have so much taken away from fishermen, owed it to them to keep the energy lobby from taking away their closest fishery.

It seems to fishermen, not completely without reason, that environmentalists are insensitive to their sacrifice. The fishermen accepted the need for fishery management and submitted to endless waves of regulations and restrictions to their ability to earn a living. But environmentalists have often characterized fishermen in ways that are unfair and, to them deeply insulting… [such as] overseers in a slaughterhouse for wild animals.

Fishermen have tried hard to avoid a slaughterhouse, and they have done all the sacrificing. What have environmentalists sacrificed to save the seas?

Kurlansky explains how in 2000 many environmental groups sued the federal government over apparent mis-management of fish stocks. “Gloucester fishermen responded by demonstrating in the harbor with large signs that read, ‘Out of work and hungry? Eat an environmentalist.'”

The more fishermen suffer, the more money environmentalists raise for themselves. When the question is asked, “What can out-of-work fisherman do?” fishermen have been known to reply, “Become a regulator; that is the growth industry.”…

Fishery regulation is a growth industry. Fishing is not.

Apparently, fisheries certification is too… a rough count suggests the Marine Stewardship Council has over 60 staff worldwide (at least listed on their website). Add in other certification schemes (Suzuki Foundation, Monterrey Aquarium, etc.) independent certifiers, scientists, support staff, industry liaisons – and, wow, can you say growth…? Unlike fish stocks.

If you read my earlier posts – or are familiar – with world fisheries. In 1979, over 70 million tonnes of fish were caught by world fisheries – and this was deemed unsustainable by the mid-1980s United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development – the Bruntland Commission.

Yet, in 2005 world fisheries caught over 141 million tonnes – with 80% of these focussed in developing countries seas (and largely not caught by developing nations fisherfolks).

So, one might ask, are well-funded environmentalists, and fisheries certification schemes making a difference?

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