Unlike agriculture, where investments in technology and capital can increase long-term yields, the process of technological development in fishing can, in the absence of regulation, only lead to a more rapid depletion of the resource. Fishing can only remain renewable when exploitation does not exceed regeneration.
That balance must be at the core of any sensible fisheries policy, such as those that are emerging in Iceland and New Zealand. The comparative barrenness of the North Sea and the Grand Bank shows that this balance has not been respected - even when the states in question are the richest, most technologically capable, and most scientifically advanced in the world.
Dr. Daniel Pauly, of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Fisheries Centre, equates this process of fishing outwards to a hole being burned through a piece of paper. At the centre are the now depleted waters of Europe and much of the Atlantic. Two thirds of Europe’s commercial fish stocks are already outside their biological safety limits, according to Charles Clover, while cod stocks have collapsed from Canada to Sweden. The flames have now reached the coasts of Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand, Africa, and elsewhere. They have reached into trenches and onto sea-mounts previously inaccessible to fishermen.
This process is concealed by a system of world trade that keeps kitchens and restaurants throughout the developed world supplied with fish, many of which come from thousands of kilometers away. This both perpetuates the process of fishing outwards and conceals the fact that it is happening.
It should be obvious that this is not a trivial matter. Fish is a critical source of protein in much of the developing world. Evidence from West Africa, in particular, indicates that as industrial fisheries deplete wild fish stocks, rates of malnourishment, protein starvation, and related ailments all increase in parallel. This is a humanitarian disaster that is being openly and obviously manufactured. Moreover, there is no uncertainty about what is happening. Rigorous scientific assessments, like those of the Sea Around Us Project present an extensive and alarming body of evidence that world fisheries are in trouble and that, at present, nothing effective is being done about it.
I'd like to believe that most of us won't live to see most of the world's major fish stocks critically depleted but, if that is to be the case, we need to start doing dramatically better than we are now. As many of these articles suggest, the creation and vigorous enforcement of marine protected areas would be a good start.
This article is also featured on my blog: http://www.sindark.com