Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Where did the fish go? Overfishing and the fizz-less oceans … by gimleteye

In Tokyo, on a recent visit to the world's largest fish market in Tokyo, workers zipped intensely on electric carts through enormous open air sheds. Moving $18 million of fish per day requires impressive efficiency. Styrofoam containers, molded to fit individual or pairs of fish, testify to the value of the cargo.

Despite acres of warehouse space, there is no smell of fish. What is brought in overnite, mostly goes out the same day. Tsukiji is one of the great tourist attractions in Japan, and just to observe the scale of commerce one would be hard pressed to identify a crisis in the world's oceans.

But there is trouble and it is right in front of the most casual observer.

The fin fish are small. Even stacks of frozen tuna for which Japan and now world markets have an insatiable appetite are smaller. The fish are dwindling.

Here in Miami, Biscayne Bay was one of the most productive fisheries in the United States -- yielding hundreds of thousands of pounds of Spanish mackerel a year. Fishing was once the principal draw for visitors who bought real estate on Miami Beach. The tear-downs on Palm Island still have fishing tables, but it has been a long time since those fishing tables were important to the real estate market.

The Gulf of Maine, another water body I know well, lost its cod fishery more  than one hundred years ago after millions and millions of pounds were harvested.

If you want to eat fresh wild-caught fish from Florida at the market today you will be paying around $25 per pound. In the Mediterranean basin where I've also visited recently, the market price for fish is even more expensive, by the gram.

Virtually all media attention on dwindling fisheries is devoted to over-fishing. Each year, the international long line fishing fleet puts more than 4.5 billion hooks in the world's oceans. The application of information-gathering technologies by the industrial fishing fleet has had a massive impact on the ocean food chain. Recent science reports estimate that the fleet is roughly two times the size that could protect a sustainable fishery.

Then there is coastal pollution and the acidification of the world's oceans, caused by the interaction of higher levels of carbon dioxide with salt water. The subtle changes in water chemistry have profound impacts on the food chain.

But there is another phenomenon that has been attracting the attention of the world's oceanographers: the dramatic expansion of vast areas in the world's oceans where dissolved oxygen content is dropping to levels that cannot sustain fish. This is a documented result of climate change: warmer ocean temperatures heat the water with the same effect as a glass of soda left open in the sun on a warm day.

The result is that the world's remaining ocean fish are being concentrated by climate-driven chemistry in smaller areas and compressed layers closer to the ocean surface.

So what one sees in the Tokyo fish market or your local grocer's fish display is this: nine billion people on the planet hungry for food are pushing the fish to the edge. It is not just the fish. The same holds for terrestrial food supply, damaged by man-made climate change. It is happening right now, with massive drought in California's Central Valley.

Yes, the polar ice caps are melting and the permafrost is releasing heat-trapping gases, but before sea level rise impacts world economies, the crisis and costs to the world's food supply will drift into first world nation's like ours.

This is not a matter of speculation. It is happening. Now. And it is a good reason that this November voters should spurn the radical right and its representatives who profess the economy is their primary concern but skip through daily life as if no one notices what is happening around us.


Malagodi said...

PRabbino said...

Unknown said...

I've wondered if our best solution here in Florida is just to require that any fish sold in Florida waters be sold as "fresh". Never frozen, never canned, etc.

No expert on this, but I imagine it would mean far more fish over time, larger weights, etc. And that would attract more fishing tourists willing to pay the same fishermen much more to take them fishing on their boats, etc. In other words, raise the value of the fish and everyone benefits (except those who want cheap tasteless, frozen/canned fish).

At Key Biscayne and Haulover, you can get fresh fish straight off the boat sold by the guys who caught them. Safe enough to be eaten raw. Someone needs to start a fish CSA, because truly fresh fish is hard to find.